The importance of backlinks in SEO is absolutely indisputable. When it comes to ranking factors, they can single-handedly skyrocket your positioning faster than many others. Today, we will give them a complete introduction, and we will see how to check site backlinks to get awesome insights for your business.
But before I continue, there is something quick that I need to add:
This article contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small commission if you end up making a purchase from clicking on a link.
However, affiliate links do not impact my content. I really care about providing the most truthful and non-biased information possible, in a way that you can make the best choice for yourself and your business.
With this said, let’s go!
1. What are Site Backlinks?
According to Wikipedia, a backlink for a given web resource is a link from another website referring to any page of that referent web resource. In other words, if we are checking the backlinks of your website, we would have two players:
- The referent – your website, which someone is referring to;
- The referrer – the site who is linking to any page within your website;
For example, if we take a look at the citation that I used above, Wikipedia will be the referent, and my website will be the referrer.
In other words, I linked to Wikipedia with the purpose of using an authoritative source to support my statement. And this is exactly why backlinks are so important – we will see the details in a second.
From this section, the most important takeaway is that backlinks are no more than links placed within the content of a website. These links can be:
- Internal – pointing to other pages or posts within your own domain;
- External – pointing to other, third-party websites.
Now, you might ask: why would I use links referring to third-party websites? Wouldn’t that take users off my page and make them leave?
Good question. The answer? Well…yes, and no. Let’s discover more:
2. The Importance of Backlinks in SEO
Before we learn how to check site backlinks, it is important to understand why they are so crucial for any website.
There is a reason why site backlinks are among the most important SEO factors for ranking higher on Google. In today´s article, our main focus will be on external backlinks, but we will mention briefly the importance of internal ones as well.
Internal backlinks are extremely useful for various reasons:
- Website navigation – they ease website navigation for both users and search engines.
- For users, it means that it will help them find related content from one article or page to another.
- Also, search engines can better understand how all of your content is related to one another.
- Information hierarchy – internal backlinks help search engines establish information hierarchy. In other words, they help you build a crawable link structure so that Google knows how your content is structured around your website.
- Link juice (ranking power) – internal links can help your content get a higher ranking power. This means that, if many internal links from different articles (or pages) are pointing to a single cornerstone article or page, it will increase its authority and trustworthiness for Google.
To understand the importance of external backlinks, think about the fact that Google crawls billions of websites every day, across the whole Internet. Because there are so many, and artificial intelligence is…well, artificial, Google can´t possibly know if a website is trustworthy just by reading its content.
Yes, of course, content is key, but it is not enough.
As we already mentioned, external backlinks can take a user off your website, so companies use them very carefully. Although Google highly encourages websites to include external links to relevant sources, this has to be done in a very calculated manner.
Usually, external backlinks are used as a reference or a source that gives more credibility to a statement. For example, if I am writing a post about the best vegetables for guinea pigs, I could refer to a reliable source such as the RSCPA. (Rocial Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
By doing so, I am telling two things to Google:
- Even if I am not an expert in guinea pigs, I am using trustworthy sources to support my statement. This means that I care about being helpful, and about providing actual facts and studies. This increases my trustworthiness in the eyes of search engines.
- On the other side, I am telling Google that the website that I mention, in this case the RSCPA, is an authoritative source. This means that I am putting my faith in the fact that the site provides me with truthful and fact-proven information.
As you can see, using external backlinks is highly beneficial for both the referrer and the referent. And it can significantly boost your domain authority and positioning on SERP. (Search Engine Results Page).
Google uses backlinks as a tool for evaluating the trustworthiness and authoritativeness of a website.
However, this is not the only benefit of using them:
In addition to credibility evaluation, Google also uses external backlinks to find and index pages.
Each time you publish a new page or an article, it takes time for Google’s spiders to discover your content. And most importantly, to index it – or to make it appear on the search engine’s pages. Sometimes, it can take up to a few months for this to happen!
Note: if you are not familiar with this Google term, spiders are simply search engine bots. They crawl through the web, indexing (registering) public pages through sitemaps or previously generated URLs.
Backlinks from other websites increase the possibility of Google finding and indexing your content faster. That’s why it’s important to check site backlinks every once in a while, and see if you are actually getting found!
And of course, the most obvious benefit is having a better reputation and driving more traffic to your website.
When a third-party website uses you as a reference, its users will probably want to check up yours as well. For example, let’s say that I am writing about the best veggies for guinea pigs, and I make a reference to the RSCPA within my content.
A lot of people will not really know what the RSCPA is, so they could click on the link to find out. Or maybe, they want to find additional information about something specific that I haven’t detailed that much in my own content.
Either way, the RSCPA will be getting more traffic from the audience on my own website.
With all this said, there is one last thing that I need to mention before moving on to the next section.
Having a good quantity of backlinks is good, but having a good quality of backlinks is better.
For Google, the number of links pointing to your website doesn’t mean anything if it is coming from spammy or suspicious pages. That’s why it’s really important to check site backlinks every once in a while and see where they are coming from.
If you notice that a lot of them are not trustworthy, you will probably have to take action.
And this is how we arrive at the next section!
3. How to Check Site Backlinks
Okay, so we already understood the importance of having other websites talk about you on the Internet. Now, the next step is to see who exactly is talking about you. And of course, what are they saying.
There are various tools that you can use to check site backlinks. In fact, I already talked about Moz recently, even though I focused more on the topic of domain authority.
Today, however, we will see another tool: Semrush. And I will show you how to use it for backlink analytics to check the overall health and credibility of your website.
What is Semrush?
Semrush is a Boston-based Software as a Service company that offers a variety of Digital Marketing tools for:
- Competitive Research
- Keyword Research
- Link Building
- On Page & Tech SEO
- Rank Tracking
- And Lead Management.
In this article, we will focus on their tools for Link Building, and more specifically Backlink Analytics.
To get started, go to this link, and paste the domain name that you will use to check site backlinks:
You can use your own domain name to look for external backlinks pointing to your website. However, you can also check those of your competitors!
If you are new to Semrush, it will probaly ask you to register. You can do this for free, and start using the tool immediately without entering any card details.
For this example, I decided to check the backlinks that point to the page mailchimp.com/features/crm/ within the domain name mailchimp.com.
Depending on your goals, you can check site backlinks to the whole domain of a website, or to a particular page to see who is talking about it specifically. In this case, I decided to go with Mailchimp´s page about their CRM tool.
Once you´ve typed in the selected URL, you will be taken to a page that looks like this:
As you can see, there are a lot of different metrics that provide you with valuable insights on the credibility and domain authority of your website.
Let´s see them in detail:
This metric refers to the total number of backlinks pointing to the domain that you are analyzing. They include all links coming from specific pages within the same website.
For example, let´s say that people are going to Quora to look for information about Customer Relationship Management tools, and users link to Mailchimp´s CRM platform in three different conversations:
For Semrush, this means 3 different backlinks added to the total number, even if they are coming from the same domain.
You can check all the backlinks pointing to a specific domain by clicking on the Backlinks section:
In this tab, you will see a list of the exact URLs that are talking about your website. Keep in mind that with the completely free version, you will only be able to see the first 3 or 4 results:
To see the full list of URLs, in this case over 500, you will have to upgrade to a paid subscription plan.
If you go back to the Overview section, you will also see an evolution of your total backlink number over a specific period of time:
Additionally, you will notice that links are ranked by type, also called link attribution. Let’s see what each one of them means:
- Follow – when you mark a link as “follow”, you are telling Google and other search engines to consider it for ranking among their search results. In other words, you are giving them a green light to count it towards your SEO efforts, because it’s a valuable content and you want people to be able to find it. All links are “follow” by default.
- No follow – if you mark a link as “no follow”, it means that you don’t want Google to rank it, and you don’t want it to count towards your SEO efforts. Which means that it will not be used as a ranking signal, as Google only counts dofollow links in their algorithm.
- Sponsored – Google counts a link as “sponsored” if it has been identified as a part of an ad, a sponsorship, or another similar agreement.
- UGC – those are links that appear within user generated content, such as forums and comment posts.
Check site backlinks: Link attribution
In this case, we can see that the majority of links that are pointing to this section of Mailchimp’s website are nofollow, and only a few of them are dofollow. Which means that 93% of these links will not count towards Mailchimp’s SEO efforts.
You can also check the backlink type of the analyzed domain. In this example, the majority of them are coming from text, which is the most popular way to use links within a piece of content.
And last but not least, Semrush allows you to export all your backlinks into an Excel or a CSV file. This will allow you to analyze them easily, and take further action.
New and Lost Backlinks
Another interesting metric that Semrush tracks is the number of new and lost backlinks. What does that mean?
Well, links that are placed within a piece of content, such as a page or a post, can change.
You can end up with lost links for multiple reasons:
- You changed and redirected a URL internally, but the company making a reference to you with this link didn´t know about the change. So they end up with a 404 page within their content, and you – with a lost link. In this case, you can try to contact the referrer to let him know.
- The website who was linking to you changed the link to another source. Or maybe, they made changes to their content in a way that didn´t make sense to refer to you anymore.
- They could have also removed the link for any reason that they could possibly have.
- Or maybe, the website itself, or the specific page/post that used to link to you no longer exist. Which means that your backlink doesn´t exist any longer!
New links are simply backlinks that have been recently discovered by Semrush to be pointing to your website.
It is important to know that the date in which Semrush discovered the backlinks is usually not the same date in which the link was created. This happens because it takes some time for Semrush and also search engines to discover this information, and index it.
While the Total Backlinks section incorporates all specific pages from a single domain, the picture changes a little when it comes to Referring Domains.
In this case, if you have multiple conversations happening on a website about your product, the tool will only count them as one if it´s coming from the same domain.
Back to our Quora example, the three links that we mentioned above would only count as one unique referring domain. Because they are all coming from the same one: Quora.
In the referring domains tab, you will be able to check all the referring domains that are pointing to the analyzed website. You will only see a couple of them if you are using the free version.
In this section, you will also find additional details about your referring domains, such as:
- Which countries have the highest percentage of domains pointing to you;
- What is the top-level domain type, such as .com, .org, .edu, etc;
- Which domain has the highest number of backlinks to your website;
- And you can even see the specific IP address.
Again, Semrush allows you to export all this data so you can analyze the information further!
In the overview section, you can also check your referring domains by percentage and category:
Check site backlinks: Referring Domains by Category
This metric refers to the number of unique IP addresses that are pointing to the analyzed domain.
If there are multiple websites hosted under the same IP address, they are all going to count as one referring IP. For example, if someone is an owner of various sites about pets and is managing them from the same IP address, even if he mentions you in all of them, it will still count as one IP.
In the Referring IP tab, you can find a detailed list of all unique IPs that make a reference to your website:
Additionally, you can check which country is the IP coming from, and how many domains and backlinks are associated with it.
Page score is an evaluation of your website assigned from 0 to 100. It is used to measure the popularity and importance of your website in front of search engines.
The way it’s measured will depend on the backlink tool that you are using. For Semrush, Page Score is calculated considering the following factors:
- Quantity of links – if you have a lot of backlinks pointing to your website, it is a signal that it is popular on the Internet for its niche.
- Quality of links – of course, volume itself doesn’t mean anything if the links are not qualitative.
Obviously, the higher the page score is, the better it is for your website. It means that it will have a higher chance for positioning better among search engine results compared to low-score pages.
The trust score metric is very similar to Page Score. However, instead of popularity, it focuses on measuring the trustworthiness and the credibility of your domain. Obviously, websites that are known to be spammy will have lower trust score than other ones.
There are also websites that are more trustworthy than others by default, such as:
- The government of a country – aka websites that end with .gov;
- Universities and other educational institutions, whose domains end with .edu;
- Official associations within a certain industry or a niche;
If you notice a significant difference between your Trust Score and Page Score results, you probably have a high number of low-quality links contributing to Page Score but not Trust Score. As a result, your site might be penalized by Google.
The Backlink Analytics of your Semrush report will also show you the anchor texts that are pointing to your website:
Check site backlinks: top anchor texts
An achor text is simply the hyperlink text that someone uses when making a reference to you.
In the example below, the anchor text is “this link”:
Anchor texts are really important because they can give a little boost to your SEO efforts. For example, let´s say that you have an article about kittens, and someone hyperlinks you in the text “read this article about kittens”.
This means that they are linking your article to the keyword that you are trying to position for. For you, this has much more value than an anchor text like “click here”, which has no keyword.
This section is very helpful to see what keywords people use to talk about you in their content.
Another interesting metric to check with Semrush is your domain competition.
The platform will give you a list with all domains that have a similar backlink profile and background to yours:
To be honest, there is little you can do with this information unless you find actual competitors for your product or niche there.
But competitors that don´t have anything to do with your business and only have a similar backlink profile? I wouldn´t waste too much time on that.
I hope you enjoyed my article on how to check site backlinks for beginners! For today´s example we used Semrush, but there are other tools that you can check out as well.
Let me know if you have any questions in the common below!
As always, thanks for reading this article, and I hope to see you in the next one!