If you are reviewing your backlinks for the purpose of performing a link audit, in my opinion it is vital for you to do a manual link audit. I have done hundreds of link audits and have also reviewed a large number of other people’s link audits. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a site owner who has relied too heavily upon an automated link tool when creating their disavow file. These tools will often miss a large number of unnatural links. I have also seen them flag some fantastic links and call them unnatural.
If you want to be accurate in your assessment of your links, you MUST review them manually.
I have developed a system that allows us to create a simple spreadsheet for you to use to audit your links manually. My system takes all of your links from multiple sources and produces a spreadsheet containing the following:
- It chooses the best link from each domain to audit.
- Nofollowed links are marked (even the majority of links that are only available from Webmaster Tools are marked).
- Keyword anchors are identified.
- Each link that has already been disavowed by you has been marked.
- If doing monthly audits, the spreadsheet will only contain domains that you have not previously assessed.
- Your links are cross referenced against my blacklist that contains tens of thousands of domains that I have on my “disavow blacklist”. I have been doing link audits since long before the disavow tool. With each audit I do (and each audit I continue to do) this blacklist grows larger. Each of your links that are in my blacklist will be marked as such.
- Similarly, the spreadsheet indicates which links are ones that you can ignore because they are from a large list of sites that are known to be “not seo made” such as alexa.com, aboutus.org, known Dmoz scrapers, and many others.
Here is a screenshot from one of our spreadsheets. You can click it to enlarge:
Each spreadsheet costs $349 plus a site setup fee of $49 for a total of $398.
Once we have a site in our system, additional sheets (i.e. if you are doing monthly audits) are $149 each.
*Note. The fee may be more for a very large site. If a site has more than 1000 linking domains, please contact us for a quote.
What we need from you:
- The url of the site that is being audited.
- You will need to give us Webmaster Tools Access. Or, if this is not possible, you will need to send us the Webmaster Tools downloads for latest links as well as sample links.
- If you give us full access to Webmaster Tools, we will download your disavow file for you and apply it to our spreadsheet. Otherwise, you will need to send it to us for each audit.
In most cases, we will provide you with your link audit spreadsheet within one business day. Often we can complete it on the same day.
If you are having trouble deciding which links to disavow, coaching is available as well.
Request a link audit spreadsheet or more information:
Manual Link Audit Spreadsheet Instructions
The main purpose of this spreadsheet is to make your job easier when it comes to manually auditing your links. The sheet contains one link from every site that is linking to you as reported by the following backlink sources:
- Webmaster Tools (Sample)
- Webmaster Tools (Most recent)
In making these sheets I have used an algorithm that chooses the best link for you to audit. As such, you should not see many links from RSS feeds and the like. If you do, it means that this was the only type of link available from this domain.
You will notice the following columns on your spreadsheet:
This is the domain name of the site that is linking to you.
The url that was chosen as the best one for you to use when making your decisions in your link audit.
Where available, I have reported the anchor text used in each link. If a domain linked with different anchors, if one of those anchors was a possible keyword then this is the anchor that was chosen.
The majority of links will be marked as either “NOFOLLOW” or “FOLLOWED”. This is based on what has been reported by Ahrefs, Majestic or Open Site Explorer. If a link was only available in Webmaster Tools, as no information is given on the followed status of a link, we have crawled each of these urls to determine whether or not the link is followed. In some cases, you will see “link not found” or “page not found” for these urls if no link could be found.
For the vast majority of sites, I ignore nofollowed links. If you come across a link that is nofollowed but is obviously from an unnatural source, there is no harm in disavowing it. However, nofollowed links are not used in Google’s algorithms. Disavowing a nofollowed link will not accomplish anything. There is, however, a slight possibility that a site’s links may revert to followed, and for this reason some people disavow nofollowed links as well.
This column contains information that may be useful when making your decision on whether or not to disavow. If a link is in my blacklist (read below for more information on that) then this column will explain why. You may also see “Keyword anchor” or “URL anchor” in this column. A keyword anchored link is not always an unnatural link, but for most link audits I find that the majority of the keyword anchored links are the unnatural ones. Similarly, a link that is anchored with your URL is more likely to be a natural one. But, in some cases they are not. For example, a link from a really spammy directory that is anchored with your url is one that I would still disavow.
This column gives our recommendations on whether or not a link should be disavowed or manually audited. You can see any of the following in this column:
If you have provided us with your disavow spreadsheet downloaded from Google then we have applied this to your spreadsheet. The disavow takes into account subdomains. For example, if you have disavowed example.com and we find subdomain.example.com in your spreadsheet, then this link will be marked as “ALREADY DISAVOWED”. You can ignore these links when you are conducting your link audit.
DISAVOW NOT NECESSARY
These are links that can be ignored because they are either nofollowed or they are known to be sites that link out widely to every site on the web. This type of link is not one that would be considered unnatural by Google. Examples would be links from Alexa.com, Dmoz scrapers and domain stats websites.
IN BLACKLIST – ADVISE DISAVOW
I have a blacklist of tens of thousands of domains that I almost always consider unnatural. For example, any link that comes from ezinearticles.com, freelinkdirectory.com, bookmarks4u.com and the link is going to be unnatural. Depending on the type of SEO that has been performed for your site, you may have a large number of these links. However, if you’ve had more sophisticated SEO done then a good number of your unnatural links may be on sites that are not in our blacklist.
The blacklist is not intended to be used to make blind decisions. What I do when I am starting my audits is filter the spreadsheet to show the “IN BLACKLIST – ADVISE DISAVOW” items and then I skim through the list. If any domains look to you like they possibly may contain a natural link then audit those manually. However, be tough on yourself. I have found that it is difficult for webmasters to objectively assess their links. If it is a link that was made for SEO purposes then it’s a link that needs to be disavowed.
ADVISE MANUAL AUDIT
The majority of your links will probably fall into this category. Do not assume that because a link is not in our blacklist it is a natural link. What I do when I do my audits is visit each link listed and make a decision as to whether or not this is a link that was made for SEO purposes or whether there is a legitimate purpose for the link other than to improve your Google rankings. If in doubt it is best to err on the side of caution and disavow. If you are dealing with the Penguin algorithm, in our experience the only sites that I have seen recover from Penguin are sites that have done an EXTREMELY thorough disavow. If you are not certain whether certain links need to be disavowed, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and consulting is available for an hourly fee.
How I perform my audits
This is the same spreadsheet that I use when performing my link audits. There are many different ways you can do this but in case it helps, here is the process that I use:
Upload to a Google Spreadsheet
I like to do my audits from a Google Spreadsheet. The reason for this is that I find it easier to click on links and get them to open in Google Chrome. After I upload the CSV to my Google Drive, I go to Format → Merge Cells → Unmerge and also Format → Wrap Text and click that to “on”. I find that this makes the data the easiest to see.
Freeze top row
I then freeze the top row with my headings (Domain, URL, Anchor, etc.) by going to View → Freeze Rows → Freeze one row.
I like to alphabetize my domains column. The main reason for doing this is so that I can easily see how far I am. Once I get to R,S,T I know I’m on the home stretch!
Create new columns
I then create columns called “Disavow?” and “Comments”. As I visit each domain to audit I’ll write either “disavow” or “keep” (or perhaps “debatable”) in the disavow column. If I’ve got debatable links then I review those with the site owner once my audit is complete. In the comments column I’ll write things that may help me make decisions once I am finished. For example, if I keep seeing a particular article about “Top 5 Widgets” and I am starting to wonder whether this is a purchased link then I’ll mark that column with “Top 5”. That way I can find those links and mark them as “disavow” or “keep” once I’ve made my final decision. I’ll also put things in that column such as “page not found” or “link not found” and many other things.
I’m not going to go through my whole audit process here as I could write a whole book on this. In fact, I have written a book on how I audit links for manual penalties. I’m working on completing a similar book to go over every aspect of auditing links in the eyes of Penguin. Most of this is covered in my manual penalties book which you can purchase here. If you have purchased a spreadsheet from me, then, until my Penguin book is completed, I’ll give you a free copy of my unnatural links book which is normally $89.
The main things to keep in mind though are that a link is unnatural if it is one that was made so that you can improve your Google rankings. If it wouldn’t exist otherwise, then it’s probably unnatural.
Again, I won’t describe my whole process of disavowing. If you’re not sure how to make your disavow file, it’s all described in my book which is available for free if you have purchased a spreadsheet…at least until my Penguin recovery book is completed.
If you have questions about your spreadsheet, email me at email@example.com. If you have detailed questions or need help with auditing I am usually available for consulting at an hourly rate.
Thank you for purchasing this spreadsheet. I am always open to suggestions if you can think of ways that the sheet can be even more helpful. If you haven’t purchased a spreadsheet but have questions about it then please leave a comment below.
Dr. Marie Haynes.