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Most agencies now offer an SEO Audit. An SEO audit is an essential task at the beginning of any new SEO contract. I’ve yet to take on a client who got the SEO “right” from the start, or didn’t have areas that required significant improvement (and more importantly, would drastically improve their organic visibility with a little TLC).

Yet, in this industry, we rarely stress the importance of a backlink audit. Which is surprising, as it is one of the single most effective services we offer here at Receptional. There hasn’t been a week pass by since I’ve worked here that we haven’t been working on a Link Audit.

So why do you need to audit your backlinks, and what are the benefits you can expect from digging a little deeper?

Reason 1: Improve the Quality of Your Existing Links

Once you’ve got your link data, either from Webmaster Tools, MOZ or Majestic SEO (though preferably all three!) you’ll quickly be able to identify links that aren’t working as hard for you as they should be.

Less is More

The easiest opportunities to identify will come from filtering your link data to look for several links to a single Target URL from a single Source URL.

We know that only the first instance of any anchor text link is likely to transfer link equity or SEO benefit. By having multiple instances of the same link with the same anchor you’re “wasting link juice”. The more links on a page, the less link equity is left to pass through to your target page.

Let’s look at a grossly over-simplified example. In the diagram below, URL A links to URL B three times. Each link is automatically assigned one-third of the total link equity available for that page, but only the first instance would really count in terms of anchor / link juice:

An image to demonstrate how link equity (pagerank) is passed from one URL to another

 If you removed the other two links, your site would benefit, because the first link would then receive 100% of the link equity available to be passed to your target URL.

An image demonstrating that a single link focuses more link equity to a target URL, than several identical links

Sometimes, you can easily increase your link power by identifying these sorts of opportunities and removing extraneous links. A good link audit will reveal the possibilities.

Anchor Text

You can also review your anchor text and look for opportunities to change the ratios of brand : keyword : universal anchors to better suit your SEO efforts.

Look for those links that might not have used the best anchor text (or empty anchor text), and get in touch with the webmasters and have them change it – this might mean losing a few instances of universal anchor text (website, click here, visit, read more etc) and gaining a few brand or keyword links. Carefully building the right keywords into your anchor text can improve your visibility in organic search. Just be careful not to over-optimise your anchor text, or you might face a penalty.

Image displaying an Anchor Text Report

In the example above, there might be some opportunity to adjust the anchor’s that use the word “website” and have these read as the Client’s brand name.

Reason 2: Begin to Win with Images

Identifying image links in your backlink profile that aren’t optimised is a good next step. If you begin to optimise these images (and you’ll need to work closely with the webmasters hosting them) you not only improve these as backlinks, but also start to pick up searches that you and, more importantly, your competitors are missing out on. You’ll do this by exploiting Google’s Image Search.

What to Optimise

There are four main elements you can optimise to get the best out of your image links. These are:

  1. Context of the Image
  2. Alt Attribute
  3. Title Attribute
  4.  Image File Path

Context

The context surrounding the page that your image is attached to will affect the way Google treats it. If you’ve got a picture of a CAT digger, it might seem obvious, but having it captioned with relevant text will help Google understand what the picture is about, and also improve the relevance of the page that the image link is sitting on, making it that much more powerful. You also want to encourage click through, so you might want to include some sort of call to action there too.

If you’ve been linked to with an image, provide the webmaster with some useful, unique copy to caption it with. They should be grateful for the effort you’ve put in, and should be more willing to link to you in different ways in the future.

Alt Text

The Alt text that you assign to an image is there for those users who can’t (or don’t want to) view images in their browser. When an image is not displayed, the Alt text is displayed in its place and this quite literally gives the user an “Alternative” to viewing the image – a text description.

Google confirmed some time ago that the Alt text was taken into consideration when trying to understand an image, and so optimising this with your brand name, keyword and related terms will increase the relevance of the target URL that the image is pointing at – providing of course, that the image is related to your brand and keyword.

Image Title

The image title doesn’t seem to have as much emphasis for search engines, but that doesn’t mean it should be neglected. The Image Title is not the same as the Alt Text, and should not be treated as such. The Image Title is there for you to provide EXTRA information to the user. You should still include your brand and keywords, but above all you should aim to include some extra information for the end user (again, this could be a call to action to encourage clicks back to your site).

Image File Name

The image file name and location will also impact how it is treated by search engines. If an image is hosted on a third party site and the file path is something like:

Image showing the file path of an image on a sample website

That’s not going to help anyone.

But if you can have this changed to something like:

An image showing an optimised image file path

Then you’re already starting to allow search engines to understand exactly what that image is about, and how it fits in with the URL it is embedded and linked to.

Again, it’s pretty tricky to have a webmaster make these sorts of changes, but it is going to be down to your approach that is going to spell success or failure.

How Will This Help?

Google are displaying image results more and more, and since making huge improvements to their image search functionality, there are a fair few different places where the images can then appear – namely Google Image Search, within the integrated image search that can appear at the top of regular Web SERPs, or even in the knowledge graph.

Google Image Search

The great thing about image search is the “suggested” feature which finds subcategories of images and related searches (in the screenshot below, “Cute” Cats, “Black” Cats and Cats “The Musical”). This allows you to refine the users search for them, and steer them in your direction should they not see what they’re looking for in the rest of the search results.

Google Image Search Results Page

 

Google Web Results with Integrated Image Search

The great thing about integrated image search is that they appear above normal SERPs, and receive a good click through rate, allowing you to push the competition down, even if your regular page wouldn’t normally rank at the top.

An image of Google Web Search displaying Image Results above Web ResultsGoogle Semantic Search & The Knowledge Graph

Google’s knowledge graph completely dominates the entire right hand side of SERPs. Again, this encourages greater click through on the images and information it chooses to display.

Google Web Search with Knowledge Graph on Right Hand Side, showing relevant Images

A last note on images

Don’t forget that some image links might link directly to the image on your site – in cases like these, the same guidelines apply as to self-hosted images, but there are other ways you can use these in your link building efforts – I’ll leave you to figure that out. If you’re really stumped, or want to chat about some advanced link building techniques using images, then feel free to ask questions in the comments box at the end of the article. Or alternatively, get in touch with your questions.

Reason 3: Find Natural Links and Engage With New Audiences

Google Alerts aren’t perfect, and if someone’s linked to you without triggering your alert criteria, then you might miss out on a conversation about you. And who knows more about you, than you?

Luckily, link mapping tools will find a link to you regardless of pre-defined criteria, so keeping on top of your backlinks with regular audits will allow you to identify those mentions, and act on them accordingly.

Strategy

If someone links to you in a blog post, then leave a comment. You can do as little as saying “Hello and Thanks” or you can reinforce or dispute a point, or you can give your side of the story. On the surface, this is great brand exposure for you, and allows you to handle potentially damaging PR at the source, and in front of the right audience.

As an advanced link building strategy, you can create some content for publication on your own site that will expand on, debate or reiterate the story you’ve found, and then you can pop a link to this in your comment, which acts to pull their audience onto your site. From there, you can either aim to convert them in some way, or deliberately aim to encourage further debate (and hopefully gain a few backlinks in the process).

An image displaying a typical comment box on a blog format website

Social

Whilst you’re being mentioned by someone else to their own followings, why not tap into their social space? If they’re not sharing the article that they’ve mentioned you in, why not share it yourself, mention them, and tap into their existing social following?

Twitter Feed Mention

 

Reason 4: Repair Broken Links

If you start to audit your links regularly, you might find that occasionally, links become broken. More often than not, repairing these links is straight forward, but nonetheless, it is an essential part of managing your links.

If you’ve got a very small backlink footprint, then a few broken links are going to drastically impact your organic impressions, but if you’ve got a much larger number of backlinks in place, then the odd few aren’t going to have a huge impact – providing you keep on top of them.

An image to show what a soft 404 page might look like

How to Repair a Backlink

Firstly, establish why the backlink no longer resolves – 9 times out of 10, this is because you’ve changed a URL on your website, and you’ve not redirected the redundant URL yet.

Occasionally, it’s because the source of that link has a misspelled URL, or has linked to something that doesn’t exist. Broken links make for poor user experience as links are primarily for navigation.

Personally, I think that a misspelled URL is best corrected. I’d rather keep the number of redirects on my site to a minimum and the number of direct links to the maximum. Usually, webmasters are more than happy to correct a broken link.

If the webmaster is linking to something that you no longer have, and you can’t redirect the URL for various reasons, then you’ll need to be clever and create some content that will plug the gap. If a user was to click on this link, and end up on your site, what would give them the best chance of converting for you?

Reason 5: Avoid Link Based Penalties

Link based penalties are all the rage at the moment – especially Penguin. It has never been so important to exercise control over how you are linked to on the internet, even if most search engines are stressing the importance of “natural” links.

Auditing your backlinks regularly will allow you to identify negative SEO attacks (they do happen), scraper sites and more.

Warning Sign Image representative of an Unnatural Link Warning

Jealous Competitors & Negative SEO

Negative SEO attacks normally take the form of mass link building on link scheme websites (directories, social bookmarking, article syndication etc). These rarely happen in isolation, so it’s often traceable to a jealous competitor.

Seeing these happen in the early stages will give you a head start and avoid a penalty before it happens, especially if you’re able to use the disavow tool to block them before they have a negative impact.

Penguin & Scraped Content

During our Penguin recovery projects, we’ve found that scraper sites play a large part in triggering the algorithmic penalty. These sites literally copy content from you, or other sources that have linked to you, and syndicate it. Sometimes, they syndicate it across hundreds of duplicate domains.

Again, you can quickly identify these and get them disavowed or send the webmasters link removal requests before any negative impact takes hold.

Your Past Will Catch Up With You

If you’ve engaged an SEO agency in the past they might not have been transparent with you, or if you’ve employed an agency to build links using spammy methods, it’s likely that Google will catch up with you sooner or later. You’ll receive a manual or penguin penalty – and you’ll lose traffic and sales.

A link audit is the perfect opportunity to begin to identify spammy links before you get hit. If you’ve got a link report from your old SEO Agency, then you’re already ahead. You’ll be looking for anything that is an obvious violation of Google guidelines, and flag this for immediate removal. This includes hidden links, paid links and spun articles. If you’re not ready to delve into a full manual audit (looking at every link individually) then you can use your link mapping tool’s Trust metric as a compromise, and still make a good judgement call. However, you might want to consult a specialist link building agency to double check before you make any drastic changes.

If you’d like to know more about how Receptional can help with a link audit, contact us using the form below.