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With the average small business now devoting 35% of their marketing budget to digital marketing, the value of SEO and backlinks is at a premium.

If you’re devoting resources and budget dollars to digital marketing, you need to constantly make sure your investments are paying off. Running a well-organized backlink audit will ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Search engines rank websites for multiple criteria including not only keywords but also how often they post, how fast their site is, and the reputability of their links. Having dead links can get your site severely penalized by search engines. Even just having nofollow links could be a waste of your brand’s resources.

Running a backlink audit can take the temperature of your backlinks and ensure they’re providing the value that you’re paying for. Follow this simple 5 step checklist to ensure your backlinks are in tip-top shape.

1. Gather Your Data

Start by getting together with your site administrator to make sure you’ve got access to all the data you need for your audit. If you’re already using a site monitor tool, make sure you’ve got admin access to your tools. Make sure that if data is dispersed across several apps, you’re coordinating your efforts.

You should be able to get specific data related to your backlinks where you can see all of the links pointing back to your site. Several tools offer the ability to export all of the data as a CSV, XLS, or even XML sheet. With this data in hand, you can get to the work of managing data.

Once you have the data, your backlink audit can begin.

2. Organize the Data

Depending on the size of your company, you’ll have a lot of data to look at. Organizing and ordering this list will allow you get assess it easier and search for any redundancy issues.

See if you can filter out your dead links and nofollow links. Dead links could return an error page like a 404 or a 503. When users come across these pages, they will often head somewhere else in frustration.

If you’re looking to increase traffic to your site with a backlink audit, you need to eliminate dead links. If any of your backlinks result in an error, you need to fix it ASAP.

If you have nofollow links, you should find a way to switch them out. They don’t pass value to your site because they don’t get crawled by search engines. They’re a lower priority concern because, unless they’re spammy, they won’t be counted for or against you.

3. Classify Your Links

Filter through your links in search of those hitting live and operational URLs. If another site is hitting your site from multiple URLs but the same domain, you might see multiple backlinks. But only the authentic URL from that site will count.

If you’re using a backlink audit tool, you might be able to filter out those authentic links. Otherwise, you might have to filter everything by hand.

Now you can create a list to classify the links that you have. If you’re getting a series of bad or unnatural links, you need to find a way to measure them. Every company or brand will have a way to determine what’s a natural link and which isn’t.

Thankfully there are some common signals to look for in a bad link. Look out for links on foreign, lower-quality, or sites that seem irrelevant. If you run into a repeated anchor text that’s an exact match, you might want to change these up. Flag them for later.

If you see sites that low authority scores, or have what you think is low-quality content, flag them as well.

If you find a de-indexed domain, beware. That could get your SEO score penalized by search engines.

4. Check Every Link

Once you’ve got a list of what elements you’re looking for, you have to audit every link. This process is sure to be time-consuming, especially for a large website, so ensure the proper amount of resources has been allocated.

While you can use tools to help you, you should do a second run of manually checking these links. The accuracy will depend more on your own discretion than the success of an algorithm.

While you might seek to speed this process up, taking shortcuts won’t be worth the trouble.

Review your links carefully according to the criteria you’ve created. Be systematic and diligent and you’ll end up with a tight set of links at the end. If this is your first run through, set up a system that other auditors can follow in the future.

5. Prioritize Links For Removal

Everyone will have their own system for marking links. One way to do it is to mark those links red and then pull them into another list. You’ll need this list when you decide to develop a link removal plan.

Once you’re completed, you’ll have a pretty long list that needs to be removed. Since you’re talking about a lot more work that needs to be done, you’ll need to organize them by priority. The ones you want to fix first should be the links that are connected to your most critical pages.

The pages your customers are more likely to see should have the cleanest links. Non-critical pages with fewer inbound links can be saved for later. After you go through this process you should see your traffic go up and your SEO score improve immensely.

Run A Backlink Audit On A Regular Basis

You never know when even a high-quality, heavily trafficked site could go under. Even major sites reshuffle their URLs every few years. To stay on top of the SEO results, you need to constantly check your pulse.

If you’re looking for more information on how to keep on top of your site’s rankings, contact us for tips and tools.