A Simple Guide on How To Conduct Backlink Analysis

Backlink Analysis: The Key to Unlocking Your Site‘s SEO Potential

When it comes to SEO, backlinks remain one of the most critical ranking factors. The quantity and quality of links pointing to your site can dramatically impact your organic search rankings and traffic. But simply building links blindly without a strategy is unlikely to move the needle. To get the most SEO value from link building, you need to conduct a thorough backlink analysis.

What is a backlink analysis? It‘s a comprehensive review of the current backlinks pointing to your site (and your competitors‘ sites). By carefully analyzing these links, you can assess your current performance, identify opportunities for improvement, and guide your future link acquisition efforts.

While the concept is simple, there are many layers to an effective backlink analysis. In this post, we‘ll walk through the essential metrics to look at, outline a step-by-step process to follow, discuss how to interpret the data, and share advanced strategies to take your analysis to the next level.

Backlink Analysis 101: The Key Metrics That Matter Most

At the highest level, a backlink analysis seeks to understand the three Qs of your backlink profile:

  • Quantity: How many links are pointing to your site?
  • Quality: How authoritative and relevant are the linking sites?
  • Query Relevance: Are the links topically relevant to the keywords you‘re trying to rank for?

Within those buckets, there are several specific data points to look at:

Total Backlinks – This is the total number of links pointing to your site, including multiple links from the same referring domain. While total links is a vanity metric on its own, it‘s useful to track over time to see if your overall link acquisition is trending up or down.

Referring Domains – A referring domain is a unique site that links to you. So if Website A links to you three times, that counts as three total backlinks but only one referring domain. In most cases, referring domains are a more important metric than total links because link diversity has a bigger impact than sheer quantity.

Domain Authority – To assess the relative quality and value of a linking site, SEOs often look at domain authority (DA). DA is a score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a site is to rank in search results. The higher the DA, the more "link juice" that site is likely to pass. However, don‘t just chase high DA and ignore relevance.

Anchor Text – This is the actual text in the hyperlink pointing to your site. Ideally, your anchor text should include keywords you‘re trying to rank for. But be careful – having too many links with exact-match keyword anchors can look spammy and trigger a penalty.

Link Relevance – Is the linking page/site closely related to your site‘s content and theme? Or is it totally irrelevant? In general, the more topically relevant the link, the more valuable it will be. You want links from sites in your niche, not random unrelated sites.

Follow vs Nofollow – By default, links are "followed" which means search engines will crawl them and pass link equity. However, site owners can add a rel="nofollow" tag to links indicating that search engines should ignore the link. While followed links are ideal, nofollow links from highly relevant, authoritative sites can still be worthwhile.

By tracking these key metrics, you can start to paint a picture of your site‘s overall link health and authority. Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Majestic, and Moz‘s Link Explorer make it easy to pull this data.

How to Conduct a Thorough Backlink Analysis

Now that you know the key data points to look at, let‘s walk through how to perform an actual backlink analysis for your site:

  1. Pull your backlink data using a tool like Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz. Make sure to export the data into a spreadsheet.

  2. Look at your total links and referring domains to get a snapshot of your overall link profile size. If you have historical data, assess the trends over time. Is your link acquisition accelerating or plateauing?

  3. Identify your most frequently linked pages. These are often blog posts, free tools, or other linkable assets. Consider how you can build more links to your high-priority pages.

  4. Review your top linking sites to get a sense of your backlink quality. Do you have links from highly relevant, authoritative sites in your industry? Or are many of them from spammy, low-quality domains?

  5. Audit your anchor text to see if it includes your priority keywords. According to a study by Ahrefs, there is a clear correlation between keyword-rich anchor text and higher rankings:

Anchor text study results

Source: Ahrefs

However, be wary of over-optimizing. Penguin 4.0, Google‘s latest link spam algorithm, targets sites with too many links using exact-match anchor text. Aim for a diverse, natural mix.

  1. Look for any unnatural links coming from irrelevant, low-quality sites. Consider disavowing these links using Google‘s disavow tool to avoid any risk of a penalty.

  2. Use the "Best by links" report in Ahrefs (or a similar report in other tools) to identify relevant sites that are linking to your competitors but not you. These sites represent low-hanging fruit for link outreach.

  3. Beyond individual link metrics, look at your overall backlink distribution. Do you have links coming from a diverse range of unique domains? Or are too many concentrated in a small number of sites? According to a Backlinko analysis, "the number of referring domains has a very strong influence on rankings."

By working through each of these steps, you can start to gain valuable insights into your backlink profile. But the analysis process is just the beginning. The key is to turn those insights into action.

Benchmarking Against Competitors

Another key part of backlink analysis is benchmarking your site against top competitors. By comparing link metrics side by side, you can identify gaps and opportunities to inform your link strategy.

Some specific areas to look at when assessing competitors‘ links:

  • How many total backlinks and referring domains do they have compared to you?
  • Which of their pages are attracting the most links?
  • What types of sites are frequently linking to them?
  • Do you see any specific linkable assets (free tools, studies, etc.) that are driving links?
  • How does their link acquisition trend compare to yours over the past 6-12 months?

For example, if you see that a competitor is getting a ton of links to guest-contributed articles, you might double down on your guest posting efforts. If they have an ultimate guide that‘s attracting a lot of links, consider creating a similar in-depth resource.

Competitive link analysis is one of the fastest ways to generate new link acquisition ideas. By seeing what‘s working for other sites in your space, you can replicate and iterate on those same tactics.

Advanced Backlink Analysis Strategies

Beyond the standard backlink analysis process, there are a few more advanced techniques to get even more insights:

  1. Second-Tier Link Analysis

A second-tier link is a site that links to a site that links to you. So if Website A links to Website B, and Website B links to you, Website A would be a second-tier link for you.

While second-tier links don‘t directly impact your rankings, they do help boost the authority of the sites that link to you. As a result, links from those sites can become even more valuable.

Tools like Ahrefs allow you to see second-tier links under the "Linked Domains" report:

second tier links report

By identifying high-authority second-tier opportunities, you can reach out and try to convert those into first-tier links over time.

  1. Anchor Text Analysis by Category

Earlier, we discussed auditing your anchor text to see if it includes priority keywords. But you can take this a step further by segmenting your anchor text into categories:

  • Branded (your brand name, e.g. "RankSense")
  • Topically relevant (non-branded keywords, e.g. "SEO agency")
  • Call-to-action (e.g. "click here" or "read more")
  • Naked URLs (e.g. "ranksense.com/blog")
  • Generic (e.g. "website" or "article")

By looking at the distribution across categories, you can identify potential issues like over-optimization of exact-match anchors.

Here‘s an example of an anchor text distribution analysis from Ahrefs:

anchor text distribution

  1. Link Velocity

Link velocity refers to the speed at which you‘re acquiring new backlinks over time. By tracking this trend, you can see if your link acquisition is accelerating, holding steady, or declining.

Most link analysis tools allow you to see a graph of your new and lost links over time. According to Google‘s John Mueller, link velocity is not a direct ranking factor. But a graph like this can help you spot potential issues:

link velocity graph

For example, if you see a massive spike in links in a short period, that could potentially trigger Google‘s link spam detectors. On the flip side, if you‘re not seeing steady growth in links over time, it‘s a sign you need to step up your link acquisition efforts.

Bringing It All Together

We‘ve covered a lot of ground in this post, from key link metrics to the step-by-step backlink analysis process to advanced strategies. By now, you should have a solid grasp of how to assess your site‘s link health and identify opportunities for improvement.

But performing the analysis is just the first step. The most important part is taking action on those insights. Prioritize your next steps based on what you learned:

  • If you have a lot of spammy, low-quality links, start by cleaning those up through link removal outreach or Google‘s disavow tool.
  • If you found a list of relevant, high-authority sites linking to competitors but not you, make those your top link prospects.
  • If you‘re lacking links to key pages like your homepage or important product pages, build a targeted link acquisition strategy to boost those pages.
  • If you have a shallow, low-quality backlink profile overall, invest in content marketing, digital PR, and other scalable link strategies.

The specific action plan will vary based on your unique situation. But if you put in the work and make backlink analysis a regular part of your SEO process, you should start to see your link authority and rankings improve over time.

Achieving SEO success is never just about blindly building links. It‘s about being strategic, intentional, and data-driven. By mastering the art and science of backlink analysis, you‘ll be well on your way to maximizing your site‘s organic potential.