There is one thing a lot of businesses fail to do, which can end up slowing down their SEO gains. I’m talking about performing a link audit. While focusing on securing new links is always a must, if you haven’t dug deep into your backlink profile in some time now might be a good idea to do that.

Having low quality links pointing to your website can make your efforts (and money) less effective, and they can even lead to a possible Google penalty if you don’t address the issue.

You might say, “Yeah, but we don’t build any low quality spammy links,” and that might be the case, but that doesn’t mean your profile isn’t full of them. There are spam blogs that scrape content, which could be linking to your content without you even knowing. In fact, it’s a very common practice, especially if you have a lot of links on the top websites — those are often the targets of these scraped blogs.

The Google disavow tool is something you really need to get used to using. Back in the day many SEOs said that submitting links and telling Google to ignore them was basically admitting that you were trying to game the SERPs, but that is nonsense.

Google is well aware of scraper sites and websites being linked to and maintaining and submitting a disavow file is part of SEO these days. Manual penalties still get handed out, so why not do what you can to avoid the dreaded Google slap?

Following these tips will help when performing a link audit.


How do you audit a link profile?

There are several tools to use when performing a link audit. The most common (and helpful) are Google Search Console, MOZ, Ahrefs, Majestic and SEMrush. There is not one single tool that will find every single link pointing to your website, and if you use all of the available tools you still might not find them all.

The web is massive and it grows daily. It’s impossible for these tools to crawl every single page out there and find your links, but if you use them all you will find a very large percentage of them. If you are serious about cleaning up your link profile I’d suggest using all of the available tools on a quarterly basis to perform an in-depth audit.

Large websites do this monthly, weekly and even more often, but for the average website a quarterly audit is ideal. Here are six things you need to look for when auditing your backlink profile.



1. Your no-follow/do-follow ratio.

Let me clear one debate up quickly: Yes, do-follow links are great because they pass the most authority. No, no-follow links are not useless, because they are part of a natural link profile and the majority of the largest, highest authority websites are now no-follow.

When performing a link audit I see so many websites only building do-follow links thinking they will quickly shoot to the top of the SERPs and while this strategy can work, it can also come back to bite you hard in the event Google manually reviews your website.

The key is to be natural, so don’t have an anti-no-follow point of view. They are still something you need, and as more large publishers flip the switch to the no-follow model you will see the algorithm adopt. Know why people pay thousands of dollars for links on websites like Huffington Post, Forbes and Inc.? Because they contribute to a strong link profile and help pass authority.

Do you think Google disregards links from these top media outlets because they have the no-follow tag? Of course not. If a website is being linked to from these outlets it means they are relevant and have something of value to contribute. I can promise you that Google’s algorithm takes this into account.

Are do-follow links going to command a premium moving forward? Yes, because they are becoming harder to secure, as the top publishers are no-following links to avoid link schemes and paid links. But that doesn’t mean you should just avoid no-followed links. Ensure you have a good natural mix.


2. Use common sense to identify PBNs that aren’t private.

If you see a link that is on a blog that is unrelated to your niche or has blog posts about weight loss right next to posts about a Los Angeles dentist and the best laptops, then you need to dig deeper and make sure you aren’t being linked to a “PBN” that is far from private.

These instances usually stem from hiring a shady SEO agency in the past or purchasing links back in the day before search engine optimization evolved into more of a quality over quantity approach. A large percentage of the link farm blogs that were used years ago to game the SERPs are still alive and kicking and remaining on these blogs is just asking for trouble down the line.

If you identify these links that are questionable when performing a link audit I suggest trying to reach out to the blog first, asking them to remove the link. A lot of these networks are owned by SEO agencies and they are monitored. If this is the case they will usually remove the link. If they blogs are just sitting there unmonitored you may not get a response. In this case throw the link into your next disavow upload.

Now, some blog network links are solid and work well, as long as they are fairly niche related or if your link is placed in a way that makes it relevant to the content. This is where common sense plays a big role in your audit — ask yourself this: “If Google saw this link, what would they think?”


3. Links to referring domains ratio.

If you have 3,000 links in your profile and 5 referring domains that means on average you have 600 links form each website. That is a major red flag. Google rewards websites with a very diverse link profile. It is completely unnatural to have so many links from one website and this is one of the easiest ways to get penalized.

Back in the day footer and sidebar links were the rage. Why? Because you could buy a link in these positions from a large website and instantly receive thousands of links. This was back in the day when it was only about the quantity of links. The websites with the most links would rise to the top.

Take a look at any website that has a footer link from the company that designed the website, for example, and you will more than likely see that they have voluntarily added the no-follow tag. A web design company wants the exposure here, as they may attract new clients, but they know if the link was followed it could cause a major penalty.

This ratio is very important, and if it looks a little out of whack you need to focus on removing any spammy links while also building new ones in order to dilute the ratio. If Google is looking at two similar websites and one has 5,000 links from 10 referring domains and the other also has 5,000 links but they come from 4,683 referring domains what website do they see as more helpful?

The one with more referring domains is likely to provide better content and information, as more websites have linked to it. The other one looks spammy compared to it side-by-side.


4. Links from irrelevant websites.

If you are a local dentist and have links coming from a pet blog and a consumer electronics blog doesn’t that look suspect? Again, back in the day the link game was strictly about the numbers. The website with the most links won, and it didn’t matter if they were niche relevant or not.

Link swaps were popular among businesses, even if they were totally unrelated. This strategy is so outdated, yet I still see irrelevant links in the profiles that I audit personally. It’s all about the context, as there are clever ways to drop links on blogs in different niches.

But it has to make sense. Again, you want to always put yourself in Google’s shoes and ask what they would think if they manually audited a link. Let me give you an example.

I will use the local dentist example for this. If a Los Angeles dentist office has a link on a marketing blog with the anchor text “Los Angeles dentist” in the middle of a blog post that has nothing to do with dentists it looks very suspect and would get that site slapped silly under a manual review.

Now, same situation, but it’s a marketing article about click-to-call buttons on mobile website designs and in the article it uses the dentist’s website as an example and the anchor text was “this example used by this dental office” it would be relevant to the article and still pass link juice without being spammy.

There is a big difference between links that will get you in trouble on irrelevant websites and links that are worked into irrelevant websites in an intelligent way that are perfectly fine. You have to know the difference and how to spot them — and remove the offenders.



5. Over-optimized anchor text.

Anchor text diversification is so important these days. Most people now understand that exact-match anchor text is bad and generic or brand name anchor text is the safe play. You can mix in a couple exact-match if you are willing to dance on the gray line, but too much keyword anchor text is playing with fire.

If you have a lot of exact-match anchor text from link building back in the day you need to focus on watering that down by building a lot of brand name anchor text and generic reference anchors like “this website,” “this blog post,” “here,” or “check this out,” etc.

It’s very hard to clean up past anchors and removing the links could result in lower rankings, so instead just make a cautious effort to try to water down the profile if you do in fact have a high percentage of exact-match anchor text that appears to be spammy.

These days, your website content needs to be optimized to be very specific in regard to what it’s about. When you do this right, links (regardless of the anchor text) pass authority and tell Google that the content on the page is helpful and informative. Again, it comes down to looking as natural as possible. An anchor text of “this local dentist” looks natural while “Los Angeles dentist” looks spammy as hell.


6. Abundance of blog comments, directory and forum links (old school).

It amazes me that people still buy blog comments, fake directory links and forum links by the thousands. Don’t believe me? Go check out Fiverr sometimes and see how many people are selling XRumer blasts of 20,000 to 50,000 links at a time. Read the recent reviews of these gigs and you will see that there is no shortage of buyers.

While they are still purchased by clueless and naïve website owners, they were much more used (and accepted) back in the day. If you have them in your profile it’s best to disavow them, especially if you have tens of thousands of them pointing at your website.

If you have a handful of them and they represent a very small percentage of your link profile you can let them be, but if you have ever purchased Fiverr gigs and blasted tens of thousands of this crap at your website you should be thanking your lucky stars you aren’t penalized already.

Don’t be afraid of submitting large disavow files. It’s the right thing to do if you are serious about cleaning up your link profile. Google isn’t going to penalize you, as they know a lot of these situations occur due to shady SEO companies and these gig sellers that take advantage of business owners that have no idea what SEO is and the difference between ethical strategies and pure spam.




It really comes down to one thing these days: looking as natural as possible. It’s no secret that links are the number one ranking factor and what has the most influence on the algorithm, both for local intent search terms and national broad terms.

Links are king, but you have to tip toe through the process of link building and make sure you “look” as natural as possible, even though we all know the websites dominating the top of the SERPs are paying for links and their entire SEO strategy is far from natural. They have unlimited funds to stack their link profile with the authority signals that push them to the top.

But it doesn’t matter if you are spending six-figures a month on SEO or you’re a local business trying to make a dent with a $500 monthly budget — the same principles apply to everyone.

While these are the more common things to keep your eye on when performing a link audit, there are always other, smaller, details so check out. Do you have any suggestions? What other things do you look for when auditing a website’s link profile? Let me know in the comments below.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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