Over time, it is normal for your website to be linked by other websites. This process is quite natural and is what makes the Internet as we know it today. Search engines use these links (backlinks) as a ranking factor, in which you are ranked by:
- evaluate the quality of the linking website
- check if the linked content is relevant to the topic
If your website has already existed for a long time, it can happen that many links no longer match the content of your website (e.g. old yellow pages), the linking domains have atrophied into spam (e.g. because they are no longer maintained), or domains link to your website that can have a detrimental effect on the rating (e.g. through pornographic sites, gambling, etc.)
Allthough Search engines have become very good at recognizing which backlink was set naturally and which backlink has nothing to do with your industry, and may even have been set with malicious ulterior motives, these protective mechanisms may still not always work.
Sometimes site operators pay hackers or spammers to devalue your backlink profile by adding thousands of links on such sites. These methods are also known as Black Hat SEO. They serve the pure manipulation of the search engines.
There is a reason that search engines like Google regularly advise webmasters to check the backlinks of their domains regularly and, in an emergency, to invalidate them using the Disavow Tool of the Search Console.
Our customer ae-muc.de was also affected by a negative link building attack without having known about it. FirmCatalyst identified this vulnerability in a backlink audit and took immediate action to invalidate the negative links. Only a few days later, the rankings for the client jumped up.
As a webmaster, you have two possibilities to check the backlinks of your website and to disavow them if necessary.
Use Google’s Search Console for backlink analysis
Validating backlinks via the Search Console is very easy and is available to everyone free of charge. However, this method takes a bit more time, because all backlinks have to be evaluated individually.
To do this, call up the Search Console. In the navigation, under “Previous tools and reports” > “Links”, you will find a tile with the heading “Top referring websites”. Under “more” you will see a report showing all domains that currently link to your domain.
Use the icon in the right column to export the list of referring domains.
The next step is to check every single domain that appears in your Excel spreadsheet:
- Quality of the website
- Quality of the content of the linking URL
- Relevance of the content of the linking URL
Tip: As a local company, please make sure that your opening hours, telephone numbers, and address data in business directories (Citations) match with your website.
Any domain that does not meet any of these factors should be devaluated / disavowed later. We advise you to create an additional column in the Excel table where you can mark these domains for later.
If you have finished the analysis of your backlinks, you still have to enter these domains in a text file, which you will upload later in the Disavow Tool. This files name is “disavow.txt”. The content looks like this:
# is for comments to yourself, your team, or Google. Below this, you enter the domain you want to invalidate in the tool. You have the choice to validate a whole domain or only the sub-URL of a domain.
You can upload this text file under the Search Console (Disavow Tools)
It will be processed within a few hours and you will be informed by e‑mail about the current status.
Semrush Backlink Audit
Another way to analyze the backlinks of your website is to have them checked by Semrush’s backlink audit tool. The way it works is simple. You give Semrush full access to the backlinks of your search console and Google Analytics.
The data stored there is then imported into the Semrush tool and each backlink is checked for quality. Semrush then outputs a value between 0 and 100, which determines the toxic value of the website and should serve you as an indication whether that domain should be disavowed.
Possible toxicity indicators are:
- suspicious follow/no-follow relationship of a domain
- bad layout of the website
- Mirror pages (duplicated web pages)
With the button “Delete” these links can be uploaded by Semrush directly into Google’s Disavow tool. This is an enormous simplification of work.
Check your anchor texts
This method has lost much of its importance in recent years. We are talking about optimizing your anchor texts. Anchor texts are the linked text content of a link.
In the best case, this text is relevant to the topic or the brand name/domain name of your website. The brand name usually makes up the main part of your backlink profile.
Shortly afterward, anchor texts follow, such as author names (authority & trust), the managing director, attending physicians, etc. and, not to forget, the linked services on your sub-pages.
As search engine optimizers, we at FirmCalayst can use the anchor texts to quickly track how and in what quality the link building has been done so far.
We notice often on new client websites that sub-pages (service pages) are given less attention and backlinks refer almost completely to the root domain. For a natural backlink profile, however, a balanced mix of both linking methods is important.
To check the anchor texts of your website, go to the “Search Console” > “Links” > “Top referring text”.
Check which pages are linked most often
Similar to the anchor texts of the website, this step serves to recognize how the backlinks of your website are distributed. Fortunately, the Search Console gives you an overview of which URLs are linked most often.
It is normal that most links point to the root domain “/” of your website. In a natural backlink profile, however, the remaining subpages of a website should also be linked, especially if these websites are strategically important (e.g. services/products). These backlinks should also have qualitative backlinks, which are used by search engines to evaluate the quality of their subpage.
Tip: A big problem of many website operators face in link building is, that they only set links on other websites that refer to the root domain. This is often the case with citation link building (link building through yellow pages). The Search Console module helps to reveal such weaknesses quickly and effectively.
Search engines recognize spam, but are not perfect
Search engines like Google invest enormous amounts of effort in the fight against link spam and the detection of link networks. These efforts are recorded annually in a report.
Even though the systems have become extremely good at quickly detecting people who want to maliciously abuse algorithms for their own benefit or to hurt others. But these systems are not perfect, so we recommended to check your backlink profile for possible spam at least once a year.
In the next step of our series: “Do an SEO audit yourself”, we will show you how to examine your current rankings and the resulting organic traffic.