Link Data Analysis: A Beginner's Guide

Boy, do I love link data. I love generating a list of backlinks and digging through them to get an idea of what a client has so that I can figure out what a client needs to do. I love all the cool charts that certain tools give you and I really, really love slapping in some competitors and making comparisons.

However, I've been dealing with link data for years and it all makes sense to me. What if it's your first time? What do you do with all this data?

I've divided this post into three sections: how to get the data, how to analyze it, and how to quickly see if you have problems.

How to Get Link Data

All of the following tools are user-friendly and make getting a list of your link data quite straightforward:

While Google and Bing's tools are good for giving you an idea of what those engines see as your backlinks, you'll probably be better off using a more robust link tool for analysis, as they don't give you all the information that you might want.

How To Analyze The Data

Make sure your tool of choice can give you the following pieces of information:

  • URL linking to you.
  • Page the URL links to on your site.
  • Anchor text used.
  • Whether the link is nofollowed or followed.

If you can get information on whether the link is an image or a text link, that is helpful but not necessary.

Here are a few basic steps to follow when looking at a backlink profile:

1. Check Anchor Percentages: Brand/URL, Money, Compound, and Other

Here's what you're looking for:

  • Brand/URL anchors: These are terms that use your brand name or URL as the anchor text (e.g., "Search Engine Watch", "searchenginewatch.com")
  • Money anchors: These are the terms you or your client really wants to rank for (e.g., "blue widgets").
  • Compound anchors: These are combinations of anchors (e.g., "blue widgets from Search Engine Watch", which combines money and brand anchors). 
  • Other: Any anchors left over.

How can you do this? Some tools do it for you (Link Research Tools lets you categorize each anchor and will report the percentages) but if you're doing it on your own, you have a lot of work ahead of you if it's a large profile.

Each anchor needs to be assigned to a category so you can figure out the percentages. Majestic has a nice little pie chart that shows you anchors and percentages so check whatever tool you're using and see if the data it gives you is sufficient for your purposes.

You might not need to categorize every individual anchor if you only have 100 backlinks and most of them are similar.

What can you do with the info? Use it to see if anything looks strange and dig into it.

This is where competitive analysis can be very useful.

For example, if you have 65 percent money anchors, 25 percent brand/URL anchors, and 10 percent other, you might think that's too heavy a reliance upon money anchors. However, if you analyze five competitors and they all have 75 percent money anchors, it might tell you that you're better off than you thought you were. If you have 10 percent money anchors and everyone else has 50 percent, you could go after more money anchors, to give another example.

The thing to remember here though is that there really is no standard for these percentages. Some industries and brands can get away with different things. Use these numbers only to help you make plans, not as the sole way you formulate them.

2. Look at Ratio of Homepage Links to Deep Page Links

As mentioned above, competitive analysis will show you what the standard was for the industry.

In some cases, a homepage might have barely any links, but subpages have a ton of great ones, and the competitors show the same pattern. Or the homepage may have 99 percent of the links and barely any of the subpages get any good ones.

It may be or may not be a natural linking pattern. You need to get the ratios and see if yours differ substantially from those of others in the same niche.

How do you do this? Grab a list of the linked-to pages on your site and compare the list of deep page links to the list of links to the home page. Link Research Tools gives you a Deeplink ratio, but you may have to calculate this on your own.

deeplink-ratio-link-research-tools

What do you do with the info? If everyone else has a lot of great deep links and you have none, that would be an area to work on for the future. If everything looks good and is consistent with your competitors, then you could keep on doing whatever you've been doing.

3. Perform Geolocation Analysis

The biggest reason to look at this is to help identify potential issues. For example, one of the last profiles I looked at was a U.S. site that shipped its product only to U.S. customers, but more than 65 percent of their links were from sites outside the U.S. (mainly in Asia) and were on foreign-language sites. They had decent PR so a quick PR check wouldn't have immediately alerted me to them, but seeing the hosting country did, and yes, they were all spammy links.

How do you do this? Depending upon the tool, you can get this information from top-level domain (TLD), hosting location, country popularity, or other tabs that list the info you need. Majestic has a very cool map:

majestic-seo-map

What can you do with the info? See if anything looks odd.

If you're a U.S.-hosted site targeting U.S. customers and the majority of your links come from sites in India, you should definitely take a closer look at that. If you're targeting Australian users and your hosting is set up there but all your links are on U.S. sites, again, that doesn't look quite right.

Look for anything that doesn't look natural, basically. If you're targeting users for country-specific searches, this info can be extremely valuable.

4. Check Out the Sitewides

Sitewide links can be completely fine. There are relevant blogroll links, for example.

However, sitewides can be quite spammy. You've surely run across sites that have a footer full of 100 unrelated links or a blogroll that has 20 links to payday loans sites mixed in with links to eco blogs and a few gambling companies.

My main concern with sitewide links is that it's very difficult for any tool (or algorithm) to determine if they are actually relevantly and naturally placed links. You would be amazed at the amount of people who insist that they have a fantastic link profile because they have 18,000 links, but in reality, those links are coming from 500 different domains. That's a lot of sitewides.

How do you do this? Ahrefs has a nice little pie chart and they list out the numbers:

sitewide-ahrefs1  sitewide-ahrefs2 


In any tool, you can simply make the calculation yourself by dividing the number of referring domains into the total number of backlinks.

What can you do with the info? Figure out what your percentage of sitewide links is. If it's extremely high, you should consider going after non-sitewide links so that the percentage gets diluted.

I can't say that I have ever seen enough concrete examples of which percentages are good and which are bad though, but if the bulk of your links are from sitewides, you might encounter a problem down the road. Many penalized profiles tend to have a lot of spammy sitewide links on networked blogs.

It's difficult for a machine to determine whether those are actually good or bad links. If you have mostly sitewide links and they get hit next, you'll be looking at problems similar to those faced by people who relied on networks for their backlinks.

Note: if you use more than one tool for analysis, realize that many use their own databases for the information, while some will pull from a variety of sources, so getting the exact same numbers from multiple tools doesn't usually happen. That's completely natural, but you should find a go-to tool and stick with it so you can use the information for trending purposes.

How To Nail Down Problems

Link Research Tools' Link Detox and the Link Risk tool are great to run down a list of your potentially problematic links, but before you pursue removal, have a look at those links first. Data isn't always 100 percent correct.

How do you do this? Link Risk lets you upload a list of the links you want to check (so you have to pull a csv file yourself from another tool like Majestic) whereas Link Detox just requires you to enter a URL.

linkrisk

What do I do with the data? Look for potential problems:

  • Overly high anchor percentages for money phrases.
  • High percentage of sitewides.
  • Too many links coming from geographic area way outside your range or in foreign languages.
  • Too many links from sites not indexed in Google.
  • Too many links from networked sites

Now, in my opinion, the information given in both of these tools is somewhat dangerous. If you know what you're doing and you actually think about what you're seeing, you're going to be much better off than someone who immediately runs to have any risky links removed.

Both tools do a great job of narrowing down where problems may be. However, you should always manually review the links shown as being risky ones.

For example, when I ran a profile for a site I own in Link Risk, one of the most offensive links (in the tool's eyes) was what I consider to be one of our best links. It drives traffic and is relevant.

Obviously no tool like that can determine what benefits you may be getting from a link. They can only use available metrics and make determinations based on those numbers, which are usually pretty accurate from my experience, but certainly not always.

If you see links listed as high risk or toxic and you've checked them out manually and aren't getting any benefit from them, you might want to pursue their removal. There are differing opinions about cleanup and I can say that it's very, very tedious, but if you have very few links and many of them are toxic ones, you would probably be better off removing them.

Link Analysis: Dive Right In

The amount of link data available to you really is amazing isn't it? It's also overwhelming.

Even though I wade through tons of link data every week, I still feel a slight sense of panic about it when I grab it and see all those rows in my spreadsheet. The tools available today just keep getting better, too, but the types of reporting they can do can add to that overwhelmed feeling.

My advice? Just take a deep breath, look at what you have, and dive right in.