A link audit is the first step in developing any link building strategy. Before you can start doing any new link building, you need to have a clear picture of what has been done. Even if you have never engaged in any intentional link building before now, chances are you still have some amount of one-way links pointing to your site. These natural links develop over time as other sites link to your. A blog review of one of your products, for instance. Or an article quoting your VP of Marketing from an interview they gave to an online industry publication. These natural links just happen, regardless of whether you intended for them to occur or not.
A link audit is going to give you a baseline of where your site is in terms of link building. You need to know what kind of links are passing on their link juice to your site. A link audit is going to find almost every link that is pointing to your site—the good, the bad and the ugly ones.
Everyone should sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools account, if you haven’t already. This free tool allows you to see a list of internal and external webpages that link to your site. This is going to be one of the most accurate link audits you’ll find for your site. If you don’t use Google Webmaster tools, you can also use Link Diagnosis to run the link audit. Another free tool, Link Diagnosis is also a great way to run a link audit on the competition.
Once you have your set of links, you need to visit every single one that points to your site. Depending how much link building you’ve done, this could be hundreds or thousands of links. It’s time consuming and not at all glamorous, but it needs to be done at least once a year. You have to visit every link because you need to determine what kind of link it is. You also need to know if there are any unacceptable links pointing to your site that could end up hurting your SEO efforts (i.e. links from pornography or gambling sites).
If this is the first time you’ve run a link audit and you haven’t done any previous link building, don’t be surprised to see a lot of the same types of links—link exchanges from partner sites is probably the most common. However, if you have done link building before, you should be seeing a variety of many different sources of links including: blog comments, directory listings, business profiles, articles, news stories and blogs, press releases, video marketing, social media sites and more. Search engines like to see a diversified approach to link building and a link audit is going to help you see where you’ve been concentrating your efforts.