Backlink Analysis: Verification and Control of incoming links

Analysis of backlinks, links Pruning also called, is a fundamental process of SEO campaign. Publishing backlinks without knowing your link profile is like running in a minefield with an eye patch. Many site owners who tend to do this are systematically penalized by Google.

The quantity and above all the quality of the incoming links to a site are factors that affect Google's ranking algorithms. Increasing the number of backlinks using the optimized anchor text with the keyword to be positioned inside is considered the most important signal.

There are several indications on the quality of a backlink, including the level of authority of the page from which it originates and the relevance with the linked site (if the two pages deal with the same topic, similar topics or different topics).

In trying to improve the visibility on a site 's search engines , the increase in incoming links to a domain actually determines an increase in positioning. For this reason, more and more companies are investing in Link Building to speed up positioning and increase organic traffic.

Therefore, schemes for taking advantage of these link building strategies through the use of tactics that artificially inflate the number of backlinks are seen as a manipulation of the ranking algorithm.

Google has the objective of neutralizing or even penalizing the positioning of the sites with manipulative intent. The search engine has shown a drastic effort to discourage this form of manipulation with the introduction of the Penguin algorithm. The sites affected by Penguin suffer an instant decrease in traffic due to the downgrade it inflicts, as can be seen in the following example:

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Main stages of backlink analysis

I personally participated in multiple backlink analysis projects and cleaning up questionable link profiles. My experience in detecting and removing malicious backlinks, a process I call "pruning", has been in great demand following the launch and various updates of Google Penguin.

Below is my methodology for identifying backlinks that damage a site's organic positioning and visibility , for requesting removal and tracking the process for its management flow and for communicating its removal efforts to Google. The stages are:

  1. Backlink collection
  2. Check Backlink
  3. Backlink control
  4. Toxic Backlink Removal
  5. Disavow File and Disavow Tool
  6. Google reconsideration request

Backlink collection

Before you can begin the process of clearing incoming links, you need to inventory your current backlinks . So we must detect as many backlinks as possible of the site for which we have to analyze the link profile.

For this purpose I use link intelligence tools , which allow me to find out which pages are linking your site. In addition to providing a list of inbound links, these tools also provide us with multiple information about each backlink.

There are multiple link intelligence tools, I personally use:

  1. GSC
  2. Ahrefs
  3. Majestic

It is necessary to use multiple link intelligence tools, to get as many backlinks as possible and get closer to reality, as no single tool contains all the backlinks to a site.

Backlink verification: Link Profile creation

After collecting all the backlinks that point to our domain, in this phase the backlinks collected by the various tools are verified to obtain the following information:

  • Source URL: the pages that host the backlink to your site;
  • Destination URL: the pages of your site to which the backlinks point;
  • Anchor Text: the text used as an anchor for the link;
  • Anchor Type: Branded, Navigational and Transactional;
  • Typology: DoFollow, Nofollow, image link, redirect, frame, etc .;
  • Status code: 200, 404, 500, etc.

Among other things, the backlinks reported by the link intelligence tools may no longer be present and therefore it must be ensured that they are actually published.

Backlink Control: Link Profile Analysis

After manual analysis of the backlinks, a list of toxic and unnatural backlinks is generated. The list is created based on irrelevant niches, position, domain authority, type of linking page and many other factors.

In this phase, the effective removal of the backlink is evaluated whenever possible. Therefore, we collect the contact information of the sites from which we want to remove the backlink and contact them through the contact form, e-mail address or any other possible approach in order to continue further with the process of removing the links.

From an operational point of view, the contact information of the site owner or webmaster may be available on the site. In other cases, you can use a whois directory to search for information about the site owner. I include the following information on a spreadsheet:

  • Date of initial contact;
  • Date of receipt of the reply;
  • Verification removal: if the response received after the contact claims that the backlink has been removed, we will have to verify and confirm that it has actually been removed. We can then enter the removal date in this column;
  • Other types of replies: it is possible to receive replies that are not compliant with the request. I therefore register any response received, including requests for payment to remove the backlink;
  • Dates of subsequent contacts.

Toxic Backlink Removal

The analysis of the backlink profile is the most important phase of the whole process. All links are checked and verified. The backlink audit process must be done very carefully, in order to avoid the removal of inbound links from valuable sites.

To identify low quality backlinks , you need to order or assign a value to each backlink that we have collected and verified previously. This process requires a lot of time and attention from the SEO consultant , as it is necessary to manually check the pages hosting the backlink and judge each resource on its authoritativeness and relevance to our site.

In this phase the backlinks are mainly labeled in this way:

  • Low Quality : backlinks showing low quality signals;
  • Suspects : backlinks that are likely to be unnatural, but do not show obvious symptoms of manipulation;
  • Unnatural : backlinks that clearly demonstrate manipulative practices and should be removed or discarded;
  • Irrelevant : all those backlinks that do not pass PageRank or are therefore safe because they do not affect positioning;

There are also tools that can help you in this process, including the MOZ spam score , or the SemRush Backlink Audit tool , which provide a score regarding the quality of the backlinks.

I personally believe that these tools can only provide an indication, but they are not completely reliable. Therefore, I prefer to proceed with the manual analysis  of at least the most suspicious backlinks: after a certain amount of analysis, I can get an idea of the backlinks that are unnatural or irrelevant based on the anchor text or the domain name that links.

Disavow File and Disavow Tool

After performing the manual backlink removal process, we have to work on those that have not yet been removed for the most varied reasons (for example, because many times the site owners request a payment to remove the link, or we simply have not had a response ).

In this case, backlinks must be rejected via Google's Disavow Tool . For this purpose, the disavow file must be filled in with all the domains or URLs of the backlinks that we want to be removed.

A disavow file allows a site owner to tell Google which backlinks they don't want counted in the PageRank calculation. It is actually a message to Google to say "please ignore these backlinks".

Before starting to create the disavow file, we will have to make a decision on each backlink if we want to refuse at the single URL level or at the whole domain level:

Reject URL : it means that Google will ignore any backlink coming from a specific URL, such as Sito.com/pagina-col-backlink.

Reject Domain : means that Google will ignore all backlinks from any URL in that domain, such as Site.com.

In my personal experience, I've never felt the need to decline at the URL level. The reason for this choice is that sites that have posted an unnatural backlink are unlikely to come from a domain from which you might want a link in the future.

Google reconsideration request

In the case of manual penalties , after trying to remove all the backlinks deemed harmful and uploading the disavow file, a reconsideration request is sent to Google so that it can review your site and remove the penalty. It may take a few days for the request to be processed by the Google team.

Why request the backlink analysis service?

Now that you know my method of backlink analysis, if your site has suddenly lost a lot of organic traffic, this verification can probably solve your problem.

If you regularly run Link Building campaigns, monitoring your site's link profile is a prudent and defensive SEO strategy. It allows you to avoid or in any case minimize the risk of algorithmic and manual penalties.

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