Backlink Bummers: 5 Clues to Off-Site SEO Trouble


To fix a client’s floundering SEO campaign, an SEO manager needs to do three checks.

  1. Review what has already been done to see if any mistakes were made along the way.
  2. Run an SEO Index check to make sure Google is indexing the site correctly.
  3. Use Google Webmaster Tools to see if there’s a manual action being reported.

What should be done when all the checks have been completed and the problem still hasn’t been found? Make use of the many tools that are available to check and analyze the backlinks.


First, Gather the Data

Download the site’s backlinks using Google Webmaster Tools and then pull reports from,, and/or Make sure to review at least three reports to have a good cross section of links.

Once the backlinks have been exported, consolidate all the different sites’ files, putting each site’s data into an Excel sheet. Separate the different sites’ data packets on to different tabs, and then consolidate it all on one, new tab. Keeping them divided like this makes it easy to go back and review the raw data.

Before going any further, be sure to de-dupe the data. The data should be as clean as possible so that there are only unique domains/links.

Once the list of backlinks is all set, look for these five clues:

Anchor Text Ratio

The site’s anchor text ratio is crucial. The money terms, i.e., the highly competitive keywords or phrases that the client is trying to rank on, should not outweigh the branded terms. If the site’s brand name or the website’s actual URL is more common, then it’s probably OK, but if the targeted money terms are the majority, there’s some cleaning up to do.

DoFollow Links vs. No NoFollow Links

Next, take a look at how many NoFollow links there are. If 99 percent of them are DoFollow links, then the profile will look unnatural. A high number of DoFollow links shows that the site is spamming the Internet with articles and trying to gain rank with its content, as opposed to contributing in a way that benefits the audience. A healthy backlink profile should be about 80 percent DoFollow links and 20 percent NoFollow links, like comments, social media, and anywhere the site shows engagement.

IP Diversity

Now, take a look at the IP diversity of the backlinks. It’s bad if a lot of the links are from domains on the same IP blocks. That’s a clear sign the site is using a link network, which Google will swiftly punish. The IPs should be diverse, not siloed under one server.



If the site is hosted in the same block as spam sites, it’s in a bad neighborhood and should be moved. Shared hosting services are a lot like apartment buildings. A site can end up with a bunch of lower-quality sites living in its server, decreasing its property value and dinging its rankings. has a neighborhood checker that can be used to see if this is the problem. If it is, the client should move out and find a new server hosting solution.

Domain Authority of Linked Sites

The backlinked sites’ domain authorities could also be causing problems. Plug each site through Moz and check. Any site whose domain authority is lower than 20 isn’t that good, and should be disposed of accordingly. A plug-in for Google Sheets is another available resource, though this method does require a bit more work.


If a client’s website isn’t ranking as well as it should be after 90 to 120 days of work, the issue could be the backlinks. Gather them all up and check for these clues. Once the necessary fixes are implemented, the campaign will start heading in the right direction.

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