“Failure to plan is planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Let’s say you want to get in shape. Naturally, most people know that they need to get to the gym and eat better. So maybe they just cut out some doughnuts, sign up for the closest or cheapest gym, and start going straight to the bench press or curling dumbbells. Fast-forward 2 weeks and you’ve shown no signs of improvement in fitness or weight-loss. What went wrong? (Hint: See the above quote).
Your course of action always needs to start with a clearly defined goal. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to increase mass? Do you want to improve fitness? Are you looking for a six-pack of abs? From a defined goal, you can develop a workout plan with a clear set of exercises. Combined with a specific nutrition plan, you’re on your way to hitting your fitness goals.
We must apply the same course of planning when it comes to developing a link building campaign. For example, you’ve arrived to this article because want more traffic. But that’s not what you really want. If you’ve come to this post, you specifically want more organic search traffic, which means you want higher rankings in the search engines, which means you want to see improvement in your SEO, which means you want links. (Even then, we could break down that goal further, but that would take a few more blog posts). To keep things simple, you’ve established your goal that you want links that will lead to higher rankings in the search engines for your targeted keywords.
Now that we know your goal, one of the first steps in any link building campaign should be to perform an audit of your current link profile. In this blog post, we’re going to discuss 8 factors to evaluate in your link audit.
1.) 404 Errors
404 errors is a basic site usability and SEO issue to address. There is no reason to have any broken pages on your site. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds or thousands of pages you may have, 404 pages are not good. It’s like having a restaurant with 100 tables, but 3 of them are broken. Though they may not have a huge impact on the other tables or your restaurant in general, it’s still not a good idea to keep broken tables as part of your business.
Did you know that 404 pages provide a specific issue when it comes to link building? The specific issue is that you’re losing the value of your backlinks. At some point in your site’s lifetime, you made some updates to pages and its URLs. During the process, you forgot to update the older pages and now you have 404 errors. But you still have links pointing to those pages. So now you have sites linking to broken pages on your site, and you’re losing value from those links.
Use Google Webmaster Tools to run a check of all the 404 errors on your site.
After checking your site for 404 pages, use a 301 redirect to send users (and search engines) to the updated page or the URL of your preference.
2.) Canonical Issues
Sometimes an issue occurs where you have the same page on two separate URLs. A common issue is the homepage where someone may have http://abc.com and http://www.abc.com going to the same page. This is known as a canonical issue. Ideally, you want only one of those 2 URLs. Either establish http://abc.com or http://www.abc.com as the URL for your homepage. (I would recommend the “www” version as opposed to the “non-www” version. In the bigger picture, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to pick one and stick with it). The URL you choose becomes the canonical URL.
What does this have to do with your link audit? Because http://abc.com and http://www.abc.com will have different backlinks. Like with 404 errors, you’re losing the combined link value because the backlinks are being split between two different URLs. You want the full strength of your backlinks pointing to a single page. Check your site to see if you have multiple URLs for the same page, and address any duplicate URLs by implementing 301 redirects and/or indicating the canonical URL to search engines.
3.) Search Engine Penalties
You see the doctor when something’s wrong or for a general health checkup (although most likely you just go when something is wrong). Either reason is justifiable to make the doctor’s visit.
It’s the same thing when checking your site to see if it’s been affected by Panda, Penguin, or any of the major algorithm updates. You check because you’ve experienced a sudden decline in organic traffic or if you just want to do a basic checkup.
Barracuda Digital has a great tool for checking to see if your site’s been affected by any search algorithm updates.
Knowing if you’ve been hit with any search engine penalties can help you develop a solid plan to fix your link profile. (Hint: If you’ve been affected by Panda or Penguin, your course of action should be to look through your backlinks for any sites that may be raising flags to Google.)
4.) Lost links
Many of the major link tools provide an important metric: “Lost Links.” See below for an example of data shown in Majestic SEO.
Every site experiences “lost links.” Check the lost links and see the reason the links were lost. If there’s an opportunity to reclaim the lost link, then action should be taken to get it back.
5.) Anchor Text Profile
Though Google’s Penguin update punished sites with over-optimization of anchor text in their backlinks, it’s still a good idea to examine your anchor text profile. As demonstrated with the release of Penguin, too many links with exact-match keywords in the anchor text is a flag for attracting a major penalty. However, you still want to maintain balance and diversification in your link profile. Google wants you to have a natural, balanced link profile. That means you need to have links with a diverse set of anchor text, that includes miscellaneous terms (click here, visit here, website), branded terms (company name, www.companyname.com), images, no-follow, and targeted key terms (target keyword 1, target keyword 2).
Here’s a graph that Majestic SEO provides to breakdown the anchor text profile of a domain.
As seen above, 83% of this domain’s anchor text is miscellaneous. The ideal course of action would be to identify opportunities for new backlinks to provide anchor text to help diverse your link profile (Hint: It would not be ideal to contact the sites linking to you and ask them to modify the anchor text. Remember, you want to avoid over-optimization of anchor text and not risk being penalized by Google).
6.) Top Linked Pages
Check to see which pages on your site are receiving the most backlinks. Although the homepage will generally be the most linked page on your domain, it’s not uncommon for sub-pages to be the most linked page (this particularly occurs on major news sites with popular articles, sites with frequently used tools, or major media content).
Use Google Webmaster Tools to view your most linked pages.
By seeing which pages are the most linked on your site and understanding why, you can look to develop a plan to replicate the popularity of your top linked pages throughout other pages on your site.
7.) Popular and Authoritative Links
As with the same idea as viewing your top linked pages, it’s also a good idea to examine the sites providing the most link value.
Below is Majestic SEO’s evaluation of the link value provided by the top referring backlinks.
By looking at the type of authoritative sites linking to your site, you can produce a strategy that can attract similar, high-authority sites to link to your domain.
8.) Social Strength
Social signals have become increasingly influential in search ranking factors. Every link building campaign should contain some component to improving reach through its social channels.
Moz’s Open Site Explorer provides a solid breakdown of a URL’s social influence.
Increasing your social reach can lead to drastic improvement in your link profile and overall rankings.
By conducting a thorough link audit, you can create a solid link building plan to build your domain authority, improve your link profile, attract links, and achieve the ultimate goal of more organic traffic. Listen to Benjamin Franklin’s wise words and develop a plan for link building success.