How to Investigate Your Backlink Profile
Your backlink profile, broadly speaking, is just a list of all of the links that point to your site – whether they be ones you earn with great content or that you distribute through various means such as guest posting. Most likely, it is a combination of both, and preferably the balance is more on the side of links that you earn, or at least those that look earned. Links that appear to be earned, not distributed or bought, are called “natural” backlinks. It’s important to focus on these in order to escape suspicion or penalization from Google and the other major search engines. Google has designed its algorithm to punish sites with spammy or blatantly artificial backlink profiles. They even mention this in their How Search Works interactive infographic, explaining that they may penalize a site if they find “a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive or manipulative links pointing to [it].”
It is important to build your links carefully in order to protect your ranking and ensure success for the future. A variety of factors are considered, including the quality of the site where your link appears, the relevance of the link to the rest of the content, the chosen anchor text, and the location of the link on the page.
How to Figure Out Your Own Backlink Profile
A number of services exist for looking up your backlinks. Many SEOs are familiar with Open Site Explorer, a tool included in the suite of services from SEOmoz. Their bot crawls the web indexing sites in a way very similar to Google. Google Webmaster Tools is a free alternative and a great choice if you already use Google Analytics. In my experience Open Site Explorer has a more complete listing of inbound links, though the ones Google doesn’t list tend to be low-value ones anyway. However, this comes at a price; the service is not free and the index is updated only monthly. If you’re on a budget, you can still use a limited version of Open Site Explorer once per day.
Regardless of the tool, enter your domain or pull up your backlinks and take a look at what you have. From this point I’ll describe the process using Open Site Explorer, but you can do many of the same things in all backlink checkers. Remember that you can also use Open Site Explorer for free once per day.
What You Want to See
When you enter your domain, you will see your Linking Root Domains and your Total Links at the top. You want a low ratio of links to domains. After all, having tens of thousands of total links won’t do your site much good if they’re coming in from the same two or three domains – and there’s a chance Google will see that and not think it’s very natural, either.
Click the Anchor Text tab to see what kind of anchor text your inbound links have. Most likely your brand or name are in the top spots – and that’s completely normal. You may also have a lot of “click here” or “website” anchor text, which is to be expected, though if you have a ton of it, you may want to look into optimizing better where you can. However, if almost all your anchor text is extremely optimized, alarms should be going off in your head. This is especially true if search terms are greatly outnumbering your brand name.
Relevancy of your links is important, too, but measuring it isn’t nearly as cut and dry – for you, or the search engines. Still, if you have an online furniture store, posting furniture or interior design links on a sports blog isn’t going to do you much good. On the other hand, having the links on a blog dedicated to modern interior design would be a good choice for your backlink profile. If you have a website dedicated to background check investigations, for example, be careful where your links appear. Look for links from private security firms, identity theft websites, and career blogs – places that you could reasonably expect would cover your services. You can be creative too – a random furniture link in a post about sports might be unnatural, but what if you wrote about the best living room setup for a sports party?
Lastly, on the main Inbound Links tab, take a look at your links. Are they followed or nofollowed? A natural site will have some of each; many sites by default nofollow a user-created link, such as in comments or on social profiles. If you want to view only your followed links, change the show dropdown to “followed + 301” and click Filter to take a look. By default, links are ordered by page authority; you can click on other headings to list them alphabetically or by the anchor text or domain authority.
Keeping It Natural
When you are building links to your site, be sure to keep them as natural as possible. Avoid distribution services or shady linking schemes; the results are rarely worth the possible outcome of being penalized by Google. Build your links with care, and they will reward you over and over.
If your investigation into your backlinks revealed a few red flags, don’t be too alarmed; if you can easily remove some of the offenders do so, but focus on building better links. Scoring a high authority guest post or getting a nice legitimate testimonial link or mention on an important site can go a long way toward healing your backlink profile.
If Google finds you and serves you a penalty, it’s time to break out the cleaning crew, but if you haven’t been penalized yet for some pretty shady techniques, it’s time to break out the white hat and change your ways. Your website will thank you.