January 12, 2014

The Step-By-Step Guide to Performing a Backlink Analysis


CC Image courtesy of Scampion on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Scampion on Flickr

SEO has changed for the better. Old blackhat and spammy SEO practices are now virtually abandoned and rejected. Instead these agencies are now helping their clients to produce unique, high quality, useful content that is share worthy. Technically they help their clients to improve their site’s speed, architecture, and meta data to help Google present them in their listings in the best possible way. In this new world, I can be proud to call myself an SEO professional.


picture of trash

CC Image courtesy of Public Domain Photos on Flickr

There is still a mess to clean up! Many websites are infested with low quality backlinks, which are driving down their rankings. How do you know if your site has been affected?

At J-Town we recommend a free tool called Panguin 2.0 by barracuda. This tool makes life simple by comparing your Google Analytics data to Google’s historical updates and then compiling it for you in a pretty chart. panguintool

If you determine that your website has been affected by low quality backlinks, it is almost a give-in that you will need to perform a backlink analysis to disavow (or manually remove) your low quality backlinks. If that’s the case this guide is right for you.


Let's Go!

Step 1 – Getting the Backlinks

I have found that the best way to compile the most comprehensive list of backlinks is through Google Webmaster Tools. If you have not yet registered your site with Webmaster Tools, this is your real first step. You will need this not just to compile your backlinks, but also to submit the disavow later on.

A. Import your backlinks to Excel

This is easy to do, just login into Google Webmaster Tools and follow this path:

Webmaster Tools 1 (2)

“Search Traffic” –> “Links to Your Site” –> “More” (Below “Who Links the Most”)

Webmaster Tools 2

–> “Download Latest Links”

Save the file as an Excel spreadsheet and then open it up. You will find that the sheet is populated with two useful bits of information – 1. “Links” and 2. “First Discovered” (this is when Google found the link). However, this is not enough information to perform a backlink analysis – you also need the backlink’s “Domain”, “Anchor Text”, “Target” (which tells you where on your website the backlink is linking to), and “Link Status” (which tells you if the backlink still exists). In preparation to compiling this information, title the first sheet in your new Excel document “Raw” (right click on tab –> Rename), and create 4 new columns titled “Domain”, “Anchor”, “Status”, and “Target”.

Your spreadsheet should now look like this: full columns

Congratulations! You are now ready to pull all the remaining information needed for your analysis.

B. Get the Domain

There are 2 ways to do this:

1) SEO Tools for Excel-

If you use SEO Tools for Excel (a free SEO Excel tool by Niels Bosma), use this function within your “domain” column to return the domain for each backlink:

*Where A1 is your backlink.

For the newbie SEO professionals out there, download SEO Tools for Excel and play around with it. It is a very useful tool.


2) Manual Manipulation

Some of us, however, are Mac enthusiasts and while we pride ourselves on using a computer built to near perfection, we suffer with an inferior Excel for Mac that doesn’t support thistool (yet!) and many others.

In this case we can return the backlinks manually. Lucky for us, this isn’t very difficult.

Use this function within your “domain” column to return the domain for each backlink:

*Where A1 is your backlink.

Then use “find and replace” to remove the “http://www.”

C. Get the Anchor Text, Target, and Link Status

This crucial next step requires you to buy a tool. Luckily the tools out there work well and are not expensive.  The tool I use and recommend is called Scrapebox. The tool lists for $97 but usually through a simple Google search for “Scrapebox discount” you can find it for less. Here is one site advertising it for $57.

This step cannot be avoided as the “anchor text” and “target” will be key indicators in your backlink analysis and the “link status” will save you hours of work by indicating whether the backlink is still relevant (a “Not Found” or “Error” status indicates that the link as been removed)

The tool itself is self-explanatory. Once the program has finished scraping, export the information to Excel and title the sheet “Scrapebox”. Then move the sheet (right click on desired tab –> Move or Copy) into your original spreadsheet. For each column (“anchor text”, “target”, and “link status”) you will need to perform a vlookup function to pull in the data from the “Scrapebox” sheet.

For those of you that don’t know how to do a Vlookup take 6 minutes to learn it here. You will need it time and time again.

With your “anchor text”, “target”, and “link status” columns now populated, you have all the information you need to start your analysis!

Step 2 – Sort the Data

Pivot Tables

Yes they do!

We will now create a handy pivot table to sort all the data we collected to make it useful and readable for our analysis.

Like Vlookup, if you don’t know how to create a simple pivot table – stop what you are doing and learn how immediately. I promise you can pick it up in less than 2 minutes. Watch this video for help.

Here is how you should sort the data in the pivot table:
*Filter should be “Status” and to only include “Found”
*Rows should be “Domain”, “Anchor”, and “Links”
*Values should be “Count of Links”

Step 3 – Analyze each Domain for Quality

The moment we have all been waiting for! The final countdown! The big show! The BACKLINK ANALYSIS!

Buckle up

Actually, this is the part where you should take out your headphones, find some good soft music, some nice tea, basically get comfortable, because you might not be leaving your seat for a while 🙂

Before we start though, you should keep in mind that ultimately you are performing this analysis to determine which low quality links to submit to Google for a disavow. When submitting a disavow to Google, you can either disavow the whole domain or an individual backlink. Thus you are reviewing both the quality of the domain and the quality of the URL in the process. You should also be aware that some backlinks you might be able to manually remove yourself. Keep a note of these links because this is always preferable.

The quickest and most painless way to perform a backlink analysis is to review one backlink URL from each domain. If you see that the domain is low quality, then you should disavow the entire domain. Indicate this in your spreadsheet by highlighting the domain. Most of the time you will be disavowing the entire domain of a website.

Sometimes, however, the domain might be quality, but the backlink is low quality (i.e if the backlink is completely unrelated to the information around it). In this case you should not disavow the domain and instead disavow just the backlink. The reason is that if you disavow the domain, you will never again be able to collect a backlink from the site and it could be that at some point there will be a good reason that this site should link to you. In this case, highlight just the individual backlink link URL to remind you to disavow just the backlink and not the whole domain.

Okay, here we go. Time to:

Analyze that

By tapping into this post I wrote last week: 15 Indicators That a Domain Should be Removed

If you made it this far – white off your sweat, go to the bathroom, and take a nap. You deserve it.

Step 4The Removal


Okay, back to work. Compile all the links you have determined as low quality and then perform the removal in the following order:

A. Manually remove those links that you are able to manually remove.

B. Perform a “whois” scrape of all the remaining links using Scrapebox. This will retrieve for you many of the domain owners email addresses. You should then email the domain owner requesting for a backlink removal. Use this guide by Search Engine Watch to learn how to craft the perfect email. You should then follow up a week later.

C. For all the remaining links you should request a disavow from Google using the Webmaster disavow links tool. For a detailed walkthrough on how to perform the disavow, I recommend the Guide to Using Google Disavow by Eliyahu Speiser.

And that is it! You did you. You are a hero.


Please feel free to leave feedback and comments you have and check back weekly for more great blog posts by J-town Internet Services.

3 Responses to “The Step-By-Step Guide to Performing a Backlink Analysis”

    Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thanks a ton!

    Take a look at my blog :: chiropratique spécifique Sherbrooke

    Dorine says:

    We had a lot of trouble with the previous SEO
    company we hired, I have been researching it in my spare time and next time we are probably going to
    hire temp staff to have a go
    Shared on Reddit, someone will like it!

    raghavendra says:

    thank you so much for publishing this article and very thanks giving such information

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