By now, you likely know about the important role that links play in search engine optimization (SEO). Google’s search ranking algorithm depends heavily on links to evaluate the trustworthiness of various sites, judging the number and quality of links pointing to a site (and individual pages on that site) to determine how to rank it. It’s why no SEO strategy is complete without some kind of link building strategy.
The trouble is, not all link building strategies are effective, and sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether all that time you spent building links is truly paying off. Add to that the complexity of keeping track of all the links you’ve built or naturally earned over the years, and it’s easy to see why link building evaluation is such a struggle for marketers.
Fortunately, there’s an approach that can help you track everything you need to build links effectively, and it’s not especially hard to learn: link profile analysis.
What Is Link Profile Analysis?
Depending on the nature of your site and how much effort you’ve put into building links, there are probably hundreds to thousands of links pointing to the various pages of your site. Maybe you were referenced in a press release or noted as a sponsor for a charity event, or maybe you were featured in a series of offsite articles. The sum total of these links, as they exist today, is your backlink profile (or simply, link profile).
Link profile analysis, then, is the art of studying and evaluating this link profile. There are many ways to use this in your favor; for example, you can use it to track how far your reach has grown over a period of time, including how many new publishers you’ve been featured on. You can use it to spot and correct mistakes. Perhaps most importantly, you can tie factors like the quantity or quality of links you’ve built to the results you’re seeing on your website.
You can also use link profile analysis as a means of competitive analysis. Instead of evaluating your own link profile, you can look at the profiles of your close competitors to examine differences between your approaches, or gain inspiration for new strategies.
Where to Analyze Your Link Profile
Before we get into specifics on what your link profile should look like, you should know how to view and analyze your profile itself. Google doesn’t publish information related to links (since it wants to avoid incentivizing link schemes, so you won’t find this in your Google Analytics dashboard. You may keep track of the links you’ve built manually, but this won’t tell you any information on links you’ve naturally attracted, which are also important.
One of the best tools to use is Moz’s Link Explorer, which is free to access with an upper limit on the queries you can make per month. There, you can search for any domain and see a breakdown of how that domain is performing, including an estimation of your domain authority (which can help you track the authority of your site over time), the number of inbound links that are currently pointing to your site, the number of different domains that have links pointing to your site, the number of keywords for which your site ranks, and other information. You can also view how many links you’ve gained or lost over a specific period of time, and of course, see the actual links pointing to you.
There are other tools available to evaluate your backlink profile, but so long as they provide you with accurate information, the differences come down to UI, so your choice should be based on personal preferences.
The Ideal Link Profile
As an evaluative tool, your backlink profile’s main function is to help you measure how far you are from the ideal, and whether your efforts are being translated into measurable results. If you’re not seeing results, you can dig deeper into your link specifics to see which areas are lacking. Even if you’re seeing moderately good results, you can identify key areas for improvement, based on whether they adhere to “ideal” standards.
So what are these “ideal” standards? You should be able to judge a backlink profile on the following dimensions, and reasonably determine whether it’s going to be effective in building your search rankings:
Link quantity. Anyone active in the link building or SEO community knows that there’s a danger in excessively linking to your site. If you build too many links or build them too quickly, it will look suspicious, and you could face a penalty. That said, link quantity does play a role in how your site’s trustworthiness is evaluated. Essentially, the more links you have pointing to you, the more trustworthy it’s going to seem (so long as you meet a number of other important conditions, which we’ll cover momentarily).
Accordingly, it’s good to keep a close eye on the number of links in your profile. This will help you ensure that you’re executing on your goals, like if you have a target of publishing 10 new links a month, but will also help you notice and evaluate links that come to you naturally. Perhaps even more importantly, finding a deviation in your link numbers can clue you into a problem with your strategy, such as a publisher removing your links from publication.
Link quantity also matters for your individual pages, since you’ll need to focus on both domain authority and page authority. For a general strategy, you’ll want to build links pointing to a variety of internal pages, but if there’s a specific landing page or a specific piece of content you want to emphasize, you may want a disproportionate number of links pointing to it.
Linking Domain Authority. You’ll also need to pay attention to the domain authority, or DA, of the linking domains pointing to you. In general, the higher the DA, the more valuable the link is going to be. One strong link from a high-authority source could potentially be more valuable than dozens of links from low-quality sources.
By that same token, you should keep an eye out for links from low-quality or questionable sources. If Google notices one or more links from a source that could be considered spam, it could diminish your domain authority and hurt you more than help you. Hopefully, you aren’t actively seeking these low-authority sources, like article directories and shady forums, but it’s still possible that a link to your site could show up there.
Evaluating your link profile in this dimension can help you remove links from questionable sources; to do this, usually all you have to do is send an email to the webmaster (though in some rare cases, you may need to disavow the link). You can also determine whether you’re meeting your high-DA linking goals, and take action if not.
Linking domain relevance. Each domain linking to your site should have some kind of relevance to that site, either due to the purpose of the domain or because of the topic of the article. This isn’t a strict necessity, but you should consider it as a general rule. For example, if you run an ice cream parlor, but all your links are coming from auto manufacturers, it could raise suspicions that you’re receiving your links illegitimately, or that your links aren’t providing value to the people encountering them.
This can alert you to any sites that are linking to your pages nefariously or without link quality in mind. Again, it’s a good trigger to reach out and remove them. Otherwise, this can help you stay on track with your goals by giving you a bird’s-eye view on the relevance of your linking domains.
Linking domain diversity. Backlinks have diminishing returns when they exist on the same domain. The first time you earn a link to your site on a domain, you’ll get tons of authority (and value) from it. The second link you earn will still have a measurable impact, but it will be significantly less so than your first. After building multiple links on a single domain, you’ll stop getting authority benefits from new links, incentivizing you to seek out newer domains. For similar reasons, if it looks like your domain is consistently “swapping” links with another partner domain, it could render both efforts counterproductive.
Ideally, you’ll get links from a diversity of different sources, and your link profile analysis will inform you how close you are to that goal. If you notice lots of links from the same source or series of sources, it should motivate you to branch out.
That said, it’s worth noting that even if you aren’t getting authority benefits from inbound links on certain domains, they can still be valuable to you, earning you referral traffic and brand exposure. Keep these secondary effects in mind
Branded and keyword-based anchor text. Despite getting nerfed by the Hummingbird update and Google’s increasing focus on semantic search, keywords are still an important part of SEO. In addition to playing a massive role in your onsite optimization strategy, your keyword choices in your links’ anchor text can influence your site’s relevance and rankings.
A link profile analysis is the perfect opportunity to evaluate which keyword terms you’re using, and how much brand exposure you’re getting in that anchor text. Generally speaking, anchor text that features your brand name (or a variable of your brand name, like a product name, abbreviation, or nickname) is more valuable than other kinds of anchor text.
You can also use keywords in your anchor text to improve your relevance for search queries that include or are similar to those keywords. Chances are, if you’re planning a keyword and/or link building strategy, you’re already orchestrating your keywords intentionally. Still, observing your anchor text patterns is valuable in a link profile analysis because you’ll see what types of keywords or brand-related terms are being used in natural links, and you can see whether certain types of anchored links are being removed.
Relevant anchor text. Even though including strategic keyword terms can be valuable for your ranking strategy, you still need to consider their relevance. For a truly strong link, the anchor text of that link need to be semantically relevant both to the article it’s linking to and to the article in which it’s included.
For example, if you’re writing an article about roof repair and you’re linking to your law firm’s homepage, the anchor text “repair a roof” might be relevant to the core article, but won’t be relevant to your law firm. The anchor text “contact an attorney” might be relevant to your home page, but won’t be as relevant to the core article.
Your anchor text relevance doesn’t need to be perfect, but you should examine the patterns of anchor text you use and make note of trends of irrelevance. The more semantically natural and appropriate the anchor text is, the better it’s going to be for the integrity of your link.
Anchor text diversity. Link profile analysis is also a good time to check your anchor text diversity. If you use the same anchor text over and over again, Google’s algorithm is going to catch it—and you could end up with a penalty as a result. Too many link builders get fixated on a single keyword or phrase, and use that as the anchor text for every link they build, regardless of the article housing that link or the nature of the domain. This is bad practice, and should be avoided at all costs.
If you notice too many instances of the same anchor text, but you still want to target the same keywords, you can experiment with synonyms and different phrasings to achieve a similar result. After all, Google takes synonyms and similar phrases into account when populating results.
Link destination diversity. Even if you’re trying to push for one key page on your website (like a landing page for a product or a piece of content you’re particularly proud of), it’s still a good idea to feature a diversity of links in your backlink profile. Building links to many internal pages, as well as your homepage, will make your link profile seem more natural, and give you more page authority throughout your site.
Again, your strategy may already specify which pages you want to target, but your link profile analysis is a good opportunity to evaluate how you’re doing (and potentially make adjustments). As you add more valuable content to your site, you can work it into your rotation and ensure there are always new destinations to target.
Link history. Finally, you’ll want to pay attention to the overall history and integrity of your links. Monitoring your link profile is the best way to see whether your links remain up for an extended period of time; if an abnormal number of your links end up being removed, it could be a sign that the quality of your content is lacking, or that you aren’t targeting the right publishers. Ideally, you’ll want most of your links to last for years.
Google also wants to see fresh links. If all your links are from several years ago, with minimal recent links, or if your new links come in massive spurts (rather than being built iteratively), it could be a bad sign. Make sure you have plenty of new inbound links to keep your link profile modern and relevant—though if you’re already working on your link profile analysis, you’re probably investing in new links regularly.
These are the areas you should bear in mind when evaluating your current links, at least in terms of authority and SEO contributions. However, as briefly referenced above, links have more than just authority or SEO value. When evaluating the overall effectiveness of your link building strategy, you should keep in mind other, secondary benefits, like brand exposure, thought leadership demonstration, referral traffic, and earning you future publication opportunities. Because some of these factors are difficult to measure, you may not be able to objectively assess them during your link profile analysis.
If you’re interested in evaluating your competition’s backlink profiles, keep an eye out for the following:
Missed opportunities. Are there domains or publishers where your competitor is frequently mentioned, but you have no real presence? These could be missed opportunities. The fact that your competitor is using them frequently means they’re either highly accessible or they’re extremely valuable (or both). They’re worth considering if you’re looking for new ways to distribute or promote your content.
Brand differentiation. This is also a chance to find unique ways to differentiate your brand. Look for patterns in the types of publishers and keywords your competitor is targeting. Is there a key demographic they’re overlooking? Is there a keyword niche they aren’t taking advantage of? If you swoop in and take over that niche, there may be nobody else to compete with.
Keywords and strategic insights. Once you get experienced in link profile analysis, it will be easy to see the hallmarks of a focused strategy; you’ll notice specifically phrased anchor text, similarities in posting titles and publishers, and a rhythm to the posting schedule and/or publication frequency of their work. If there isn’t much competition vying for the same online space, it should signal you to kick your strategy into higher gear; after all, nobody’s going to stand in your way. Otherwise, you can get a feel for what types of strategies they’re using, specifically, and craft a strategy that can complement it.
Link Profile Monitoring Habits
Consistency is key if you want your link profile analysis to be effective. You can start by committing to a regular schedule; at periodic intervals, you should be checking your progress, keeping an eye on your domain authority and number of inbound links. If and when those results deviate from your expectations, or on a defined rotation, you can dig into the “meat” of your link profile, identifying lost links, inconsistencies, mistakes, or potential areas of improvement.
The exact timing here depends on your brand and your goals. For example, if you’re managing links for a large company and you have significant competitors and a high volume of outgoing content, you should be checking your link profile at least a few times a week, and doing a deep dive once a week. For smaller businesses just getting their feet wet in SEO, a monthly deep dive may be plenty.
Link profile monitoring also shouldn’t be your only mode of evaluation; for example, you’ll need to study the patterns in your referral traffic closely if you want a better understanding of how your strategy is panning out, and evaluate other elements of your strategy (such as onsite optimization) if and when you notice deviations from your expectations. Your link profile, while important, is only one piece of the bigger puzzle of SEO analysis.
Making Actionable Changes to Your Link Building Strategy
The insights you glean while studying your link profile aren’t going to mean much unless they lead to real, actionable changes in your link building strategy. For example, if you lose a link, the knowledge might help you find peace with the fact that your domain authority is taking a hit, but it isn’t going to restore or replace that link. And if you notice you aren’t accumulating a diversity of linking domains as quickly as you intended, that knowledge is only going to benefit you if you change your approach.
Accordingly, the best way to structure a link profile analysis is to summarize it with action-focused takeaways. Instead of making a bullet point that “anchor text lacks diversity,” make a memo to come up with new keyword targets and/or phrases, and designate a point person to be accountable for seeing the change through to fruition. From there, check in regularly to make sure you’re following and/or achieving those action items.
Alternatively, you could work with a link building agency to make sure you’re building links as efficiently as possible. If you’re ready to conduct a link profile analysis on your site, or if your link building strategy is in need of an overhaul, contact us today! We’ll work with you to get your brand featured in the best publications out there—and your link profile will look better than it ever has before.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies. Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.