Basic Backlink Assessment

by on March 22, 2014

in Search Engine Optimization

Identifying links that may be damaging a website’s ability to rank can be a time-consuming manual process, however adopting a methodical approach can maximize the likelihood of success. In this post I’ll discuss a basic backlink assessment methodology that anyone can use to assess the quality of their backlink profile.

Basic Steps in Backlink Assessment

To commence, there are a number of basic steps that should be pursued and these include:

  • Identify the Symptoms – Isolate and describe any signs that suggest a rankings decrease may be due to detrimental links, including:
    • Dates
    • 3rd Party Services
    • Optimization Campaigns
    • Internal Changes
  • Perform a Technical Audit – Confirm that there are no internal site conditions that may be the source of an underlying problem.
  • Confirm Suspicion – Assess gathered evidence to confirm belief that external links are likely the cause of the symptoms
  • Gather Backlinks – Gather backlinks from multiple data sources including Moz OSE, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, Google Webmaster Tools & Others
  • Assess Backlinks – Evaluate backlink criteria to identify those that may be damaging. Common metrics for appraising individual linking root domains include:
    • Toolbar Page Rank*- Does the site have a PageRank assigned?
    • Indexation – Is the site indexed?
    • Social Metrics – Are there active signs of social sharing?
  • Revisit the Appraisal Regularly – Backlink monitoring services vary in their accuracy; to ensure a complete review, the assembly and assessment of backlinks should be performed several times. Note: After the initial review, it is only necessary to review those domains that are discovered during subsequent research.

Required Tools & Services

To adequately perform this assessment there are a handful of tools necessary, such as:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Net Peak Checker
  • SEO Service Subscriptions (Free & Paid):
    • Google Webmaster Tools
    • Moz
    • SEM Rush
    • Ahrefs
    • Majestic SEO

The Link Evaluation Process

Unfortunately there’s no quick and easy way to assess a backlink profile for remediation. Frankly, if anyone ever tells you that it can be done in one shot, they’re probably full of it. Any that has any experience will understand that link evaluation tools and crawlers are imperfect, so getting a complete crawl of an entire backlink profile takes time. Regardless, here are the individual steps necessary to complete the process:

  • Create a Clean List of Linking Root Domains
  • Check PageRank Distribution – Create a Pivot Table to develop a graphical distribution of the PageRank of linking domains. An abnormal spike of 0 or N/A values suggests that there is a problem.
  • Check for Deindexed Root Domains – Use NetPeak Checker to find deindexed root domains (low quality).
  • Check Social Mentions – Low incidents of Likes, Tweets and +1s suggest little engagement and low value.
  • Revisit Analysis – Perform this analysis regularly to identify changes.

Some Limitations

The assessment process described is intended to provide a systematic approach to link assessment, however it’s important to clearly identify its limitations. Some of these include:

  • Backlink Measurement Is Flawed & Imprecise
  • Toolbar PageRank is Not a Dependable Metric of Value
  • Deindexation Can Be a Natural Occurrence

Conclusion

Unfortunately there’s no quick and easy way to assess a backlink profile for remediation. Frankly, if anyone ever tells you that it can be done in one shot, they’re probably full of it. Regardless, I hope that this post will offer some guidance in how to determine whether you’re online visibility is being limited by low quality backlinks.

Appendix: Net Peak Checker

Having recently discovered Net Peak Checker, I continue to evaluate this tool but so far it appears promising. Having appeared on the scene in 2012, it received a significant amount of publicity but now that it’s almost two years since I don’t know how up to date it may be. As I continue to use it, I will update this post to offer any guidance or tips I uncover. In the meantime it’s free and can be found here: Net Peak Checker

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dermot Gilley March 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm

‘Assess gathered evidence’ – that already is something that goes beyond many website owners’ ‘forensic’ SEO abilities. ‘Backlink monitoring services vary in their accuracy‘ – you can say that again. To me it seems anyone who isn’t below 500,000 in Alexa or about 3 million in SEMRush need not really bother. Data are incongruent across the various services you mentioned and they fluctuate wildly. In Majestic recently for the same site I got 1,773, then 4,567, then again below 2,000 backlinks on three consecutive days. Theory must employ people throwing dice. However, your step-by-step ‘The Link Evaluation Process’ is really a good summary for the rookie to go by. Most other explanations are rather convoluted. Unfortunately checking a lot of domains by hand to see if they are “bad neighborhood” resp. in the supplemental index is such a lot of work that not many will find the time to do it coherently.

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