Backlink Analysis - How To Assess Inbound Links

How to evaluate backlinks so you can identify the right link-building opportunities and remove harmful links
Account Manager
Published on 
September 10, 2022
Updated on 
September 18, 2023
Posted in 

Backlinks are an essential part of a well-rounded SEO strategy. They indicate to search engines that other pages validate your site and pass authority to your domain. However, not all backlinks are created equal; some could negatively affect your ranking.

In this article, we’re going to explain how to read a backlink so that you can identify the right link-building opportunities that benefit your site and remove the ones that might be doing harm.

What Is Backlink Analysis

Backlink analysis is the comprehensive assessment of the quality, quantity, and relevance of links pointing from one site to another. We can think of it as the journey of a backlink: where it starts, the destination, and how it reaches there.

Benefits Of Backlink Analysis

Analyzing the backlinks of both your site and your competitor’s site have the following benefits:

  • Seeing your site from the eyes of search engines
  • Removing harmful links to avoid penalizations
  • Determining which content on your and your competitor’s site gets the most endorsement and mapping out a content strategy accordingly
  • Determining internal linking opportunities to pass authority between your pages
  • Identifying link-building opportunities by finding who’s linking to your competitors, what pages they’re linking to, and in what fashion

How To Analyze Backlinks

There are a few key parameters to look for when analyzing backlinks. You’ll need a third-party SEO tool to read these pieces of information. Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, SEMrush, and Moz are some of the most used backlink checkers, offering free and paid versions. Choosing depends on your needs, budget, and work scope, but they all provide the insight you’ll want to obtain from a backlink audit.

Total Backlinks

The first metric to look for on a third-party SEO tool is the total number of backlinks pointing to a domain or a page, depending on what you’re analyzing. It will be visible on the top of the page like this:

Total backlink view on Ahrefs

This is the cumulative number of all backlinks pointing to your site/page. In theory, the more, the merrier. But in harsh reality, more backlinks don’t always lead to a better ranking—other factors influence where a site appears in the SERPs, which we’ll explain below.

Referring Domains

Also known as linking domains, referring domains are websites that link to the domain or the page you’re analyzing. In other words, they are where a backlink starts its journey.

Referring domain view on Ahrefs

While having multiple backlinks from the same referring domain is still valuable for SEO, Google states that their value doesn’t increase incrementally. This means that Google’s algorithm doesn’t necessarily see each new link as new vote of confidence.

It is still a good practice to have more than one inbound link from a single referring domain. This helps create a natural backlink profile.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the clickable words that take you to the target page. It usually appears underlined and in a different color than the rest of the text on the page.

Anchor text in blue

Here’s how Ahrefs shows anchor texts:

Anchor text view on Ahrefs
Search engines use anchor texts to understand what your page is about when crawling backlinks, so they should be relevant.

Descriptive keywords hinting at the target page make for a good anchor. But it’s also important not to use the exact words repeatedly. This can look unnatural. There are several types of anchor text that you can use to create a healthy backlink profile:

Exact Match

These include the main keywords that the page is targeting—for example, on-page SEO to a page about on-page SEO. Exact match anchor texts have the most value in improving search rankings. However, overoptimizing can lead to a penalty.

Partial Match

These anchors include the main keywords plus some variations. For example, improve on-page SEO to a page about on-page SEO.


Related anchor texts use a variation of the targeted keywords. For example, rank higher in SERPs to a page about SEO best practices.


As the name suggests, a branded anchor text includes the brand name—for example, Ahrefs linking to


These include the URL as the anchor. is a naked link anchor.


These can be defined as a call to action. Click here, more info, read here are all examples of generic anchors.


Image anchors are the alt texts that you add to your images. They help understand what the image is about when not displayed properly on the page. Also, Google reads them as the anchor.

Use a variety of anchor texts to have a natural backlink profile.

Top Pages

These are the pages that get the most backlinks. Typically, the homepage will appear in the first row. But content that went viral can take the lead, too.

Top pages view on Ahrefs

It’s important to analyze top pages for two reasons. You can see what’s ranking on your and your competitor’s site to map a content strategy and develop a link-building strategy accordingly. Improve what’s getting the most attention and reach out to sites you want links from. You can also use top pages to link internally to the lesser-endorsed ones to pass authority within your site.

Link Quality

We’ve gone over how to deconstruct a backlink. Let’s look at what makes a spammy link, apart from the metrics we discussed. Use Google’s free disavow tool to unlink them, so you keep your site healthy.

Site Overview

Before analyzing any numerical indicators, do a smell test to get an overall view of a backlink's source. This is the first step to avoiding spammy links.

Does the website exist to sell a product or provide valuable and relevant information on its resource pages? Or does it consist of unrelated, low-quality content that won’t pass much authority to the outbound pages? Does it have an easy-to-navigate and straightforward design? You can answer these questions by simply browsing through the site. You don’t need a third-party tool to determine what your eyes can see.

The traffic source of the site where inbound links generate is also important. You don’t want links to your accounting business in the U.S. from a website in the Italian language.

A good-quality site will be relevant; it will make sense and feel right. At Dofollow, we only build links on these high-quality sites that are related to your niche. Contact us if you'd like stellar links to your website.

Spam Links

Spammy links come from bad-quality and unrelated sites that we’ve mentioned above. Other common places for such links are directories and comment sections of blog posts. This is how they appear:

Examples of directory backlinks

These may have worked in the stone age, but Google’s algorithm now knows they’re mostly lousy attempts to manipulate SEO. So, it is best to stay away from them.

Broken Links

A broken link is a backlink that doesn’t work. It doesn’t take the user to the once-targeted page when clicked on, instead displays an error message.

Broken backlink view on Ahrefs

There are a couple of reasons why a broken link occurs:

  • The target page no longer exists.
  • The wrong URL was entered when adding the link.

You can try fixing broken links by recreating the target page or by redirecting it. If the page still exists, you can try contacting the linking domain and asking them to look into it. Broken links may or may not hurt SEO, as Google might just disregard them. However, they create a negative user experience. So if it can’t be fixed, disavow them.

Build Links Through Competitor Backlink Analysis

You can identify good backlink opportunities by looking at who’s linking to your competitors. You probably know who your competitors are. They’ll most likely be on your preferred SEO tool. You can also type in related keywords on Google and see who comes up.

Competing domain view on Ahrefs

Have a look at your competitors’ backlinks to identify:

  1. Who’s linking to them? Reach out to these and ask if they’d be willing to link to you.
  2. What pages generate the most backlinks? Use this information to create similar but better content. Email the linking site and ask them to link to your page instead. This is also known as the skyscraper technique, a well-known link-building strategy.  
  3. If they have any broken links. Get in touch with the linking domain and ask them to replace the broken link with a backlink to your website.

The trick lies in determining your competitors’ strengths and using them to your advantage.

To Sum Up

Backlinks aren’t just some pieces of text that point to a site. There’s a lot of thought and effort that goes into them. However, thorough assessment of inbound has multiple benefits. So, make sure you analyze both your site's and your competitors' backlinks periodically.

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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