Backlinks are a cornerstone of SEO. They send your pages the “juice” they need to rank higher in Google search results. And despite being old-school, they still play a big role in determining your search rankings.
According to John Mueller, trends analyst at Google, “there are still algorithms that look at link quality.”
They remain an important signal.
Backlinks, though, don’t last forever. Sometimes they disappear. And when that happens, you lose the SEO benefit they bring.
You can also get unwelcome backlinks.
That’s why monitoring backlinks is essential. Keeping tabs on which links are helping you, and which aren’t, lets you optimize your SEO strategy. You are more likely to rank higher in search engine page results (SERPs) if you operate a backlink maintenance schedule.
In this guide we will detail exactly how to monitor backlinks, in a systematic, easy to set-up way.
Let’s get started…
No matter how professional your link building campaign is, backlinks won’t always function perfectly. Things will go wrong.
Given this reality, you need to monitor them. But why? What are we looking for?
You Might Have Broken Links
Getting links from third party sites often requires significant effort. You have to reach out to them, create content, and get them to accept it. When links break (that is, they no longer connect to your web pages), you lose your investment.
Broken links occur for two main reasons:
- You make changes to your website.
- The referring domain makes changes to their website
Changes to your website, for instance, could include things like changing the URL structure. If you modify your page addresses, old links won’t work anymore.
Changes to the referring domain could be things like moving to a different content management system (CMS). Doing so may result in a 404 error message when people click the link.
Checking broken links manually is time-consuming. Fortunately, you can do it automatically with the backlink monitoring tools we list below.
The Owner Of The Referring Domain Might Have Changed
Changes in referring domain ownership can also affect your backlinks. New owners may decide to completely change pages, eliminating your links in the process.
Worse still, they might keep your link but change the content of the page to something irrelevant. Google may then interpret the backlink as spam, hurting your ranking.
Fortunately, you can avoid these pitfalls by monitoring your backlinks effectively. Here we cover some general principles before listing specific tools.
Keep An Eye On Key Links
Key links have two main features:
- They are “do-follow” links
- They come from domains with high authority
Search engines can crawl backlinks with the do-follow attribute. That means that when Google’s algorithms scan the referring domain, they can follow links directly to your site. This ability to follow through adds SEO juice to your linked pages.
You can determine ‘high authority’ domains through a mixture oif their own reputation and external metrics such as Domain Auhtority. Domain Authority is a metric developed by Moz. It measures how high a website is likely to rank in Google. You can think of it as an indication of how established and trustworthy a site is. SEOs believe that the more reputable a site is the more value a link from that site will have.
Unfortunately, key links can sometimes fail for the reasons discussed above. So what should you do?
First, reach out. If the website is still active, there should be someone you can contact. Try to find out what went wrong and why the link disappeared. Then include these details in an email.
Here’s a broken link email outreach template you might want to follow:
I was recently reading an article on your website and noticed some broken links. When I clicked on them, I got an error message: 404 Not Found. I believe this occurred because the article was recently updated.
Please could you restore these links so I can access these resources in the future?
I look forward to your response
With that said, you don’t need to obsess over all broken links. Some drop-off is natural. Trying to avoid it entirely requires manipulation, which is something you’ll want to avoid. Google may view it as spammy and manipulative.
See Which Pages Are Doing Well
You’ll also want to measure which pages are doing well. Doing this shows you if you are building the right types of links. It also lets you compare high- and low-performing pages.
Generally, you’ll find that pages with backlinks from older sites do better. These referring domains may have higher domain authority and more trust.
You should also check the anchor text from each referring domain. Certain linking texts may perform better than others if they are more relevant to your pages.
You may find that some pages attract fewer broken links. Take time to find out why. If it’s random, bad luck. However, if it has to do with relevancy it could be that referring domains are removing links because of relevancy issues, and you may need to adjust your link building strategy.
Compare Yourself To Competitors
Finally, take a look at how you compare to your competitors. Just like you, they also lose links naturally over time.
Backlink monitoring tools let you check their link profile in real-time. You can search for broken links and then ask website owners to redirect them to your domain.
You can also see which sites your competitors are using to gain links. You can then approach them to host your backlinks, too. Chances are, your pages will also be relevant to their audience, and they will agree.
If you see one of their resources is doing particularly well, why not try to “Skyscraper” it and then pitch your article to the site owner as a replacement? Need help with Skyscraper Content? Check out our post on Link Building tactics here.
Backlinks monitoring tools are your secret weapon in the fight for better SEO. They tell you pretty much everything you need to know about your own backlinks and those of your rivals.
Some tools are basic – ideal for beginners. Others are much more sophisticated. Both, however, have their merits.
The following section lists all the tools you might want to consider, from entry-level to advanced. Try simple tools first, and then, if they don’t meet your needs, move on to more advanced ones.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is about as basic as you can get. Even so, it’s great if you want to check your site’s links. It’s also free. Thanks, Google!
To open the backlinks monitor tool, activate your Google Search Console account and verify your domain. Then go to Links>>External Links for your property.
Clicking this will show you the pages linking to your site. It’ll also reveal which internal and external URLs and keywords link to you most.
Be warned, though: you don’t get any in-depth backlink analysis. Plus, you can only view links to your site, not your competitors.
Open Link Profiler
Open Link Profiler is second on our list. It’s a nearly-free option that provides more functionality than the regular Google Search Console. ..
To use the service, open the home page and then enter a URL into the search bar provided. It’ll then spit back a report containing details of all the backlinks to the page.
Lists of backlinks can be long, so the tool lets you export them in .csv file format (so you can open them as spreadsheets). It also shows you your most popular anchors and which countries your links are coming from.
You get reports with up to 100 links in the free version. If you want more than that, you’ll need to subscribe.
Ahrefs is significantly more sophisticated than free options. Its tool offers backlink monitoring for any website plus additional analytics and keyword research assistance.
To check the backlink status of any site, click Site Explorer. Then add the URL to the banner at the top and hit enter to analyze. Then click Backlink profile>>Backlinks to get the full report.
Ahrefs shows you the page authority of each referring link. You can then use this data to eliminate unwanted links.
It also updates the link status of the page from the last time you checked. Here, you can see any lost or broken links requiring follow-up. Just click Backlink profile>>Broken backlinks for all the details.
Note that Ahrefs is a paid service. Monthly subscriptions begin at $99.
Majestic is another popular, feature-packed tool SEO professionals use to monitor backlinks. Like Ahrefs, it’s a premium service, but you get your first search on the house.
The tool provides basic information, such as the number of referring domains and external inbound links. It also shows distinct links, and duplicates, where links are coming from, referring subnets, referring IPs, the geographical breakdown of inbound links, and links from .edu and .gov sites.
Majestic creates backlink history charts automatically, showing you whether links are gaining ground. This feature lets you decide whether you want to remove a link or keep it.
It also shows you “trust flow.” This metric is an indication of how trusted you are versus the top sites in your category.
Semrush is a classic backlink monitoring tool that’s been around for years. Like other premium apps, you can use it to check the link profile of any website.
Start by logging in or registering. (If you are signing up for the first time, you get 10 free requests). Then go to Link Building>>Backlink Analytics to monitor your backlinks. Click the Overview tab at the top of the output page to get the full analysis of your backlink profile. Semrush shows you your authority score, the number of referring domains your site has, the number of backlinks, and the domain authority of sites linking to yours.
Critically, it also shows you graphics depicting new and lost backlinks from the last six months. To see where you are losing backlinks, click the View Full Report button. On the report page, click the Lost tab at the top. The tool will then show you when the link was last seen so you can check up on it.
Semrush comes with a helpful feature that lets you export lists of spammy links to Google’s disavow tool automatically. This feature takes all the manual labor out of the process.
CognitiveSEO is another sophisticated premium tool that lets you monitor your own backlinks and those of your rivals. Using the tool is pretty easy. Just enter the URL you want to analyze into the bar on the home page and click Start. Then, to see lost links, click the New/Lost Links tab at the top of the output page.
CogntiveSEO will then show you a graph of all the new and lost links, plus a list detailing all the links below. To see all of them, you’ll need a subscription.
CognitiveSEO comes with a notification feature that alerts you if your site receives a backlink. This way, you can disavow unwanted links immediately, rather than waiting for your next audit.
It also has a helpful ranking tool. This composite measure shows you your domain’s overall visibility in Google across thousands of keywords.
Monitor Backlinks is an affordable option for those who want a little more than basic monitoring functionality, but don’t want to pay full premiums. Moreover, the backlink checker is free.
To use the tool, type in the URL of the site you want to monitor into the search bar and hit enter. Monitor Backlinks will then spit back a host of metrics, including referring domains, subnets, and more.
The app comes with many helpful features to make your life easier. For example, you can see at a glance how individual backlinks influence your position in SERPs. You can also get email alerts every time you gain or lose a link. Most importantly, you can get competitors new backlinks emailed to your inbox weekly – super helpful when you want to spy on them.
Hopefully, this post demonstrated why monitoring your backlinks is essential. Maintaining them in the proper way keeps Google happy and helps you take advantage of SEO opportunities. Plus, it maximizes returns on your link building investments. We advise you to start monitoring yours today.