How To Manage SEO Links Like a Pro
Link management continues to be a powerful SEO signal to search engines. In general, search engines like Google are secretive and stingy about the information they share with Webmasters. So how can you manage your SEO and link profile like a Pro? I’ll share the SEO link tools in my toolkit along with the strategies I use to manage and build SEO for our clients.
Digital marketers love their tools. And there are a lot of them to love. And hate. If you haven’t discovered already, it’s a very crowded marketplace. And not all tools are created equal. Be aware there are varying levels of data quality and reporting capability. So, comparing tools features isn’t simple or straightforward.
Because link management is complex and time-consuming, it can also be tempting to use automated reports for decision-making. No tool can replace common sense or a human’s ability to analyze information and uncover actionable insights. Recently I noticed anomalies in client data with the link tool we were using. Unexplainable fluctuations in domain authority score and phantom in-bound links prompted me to embark on a 3-month quest to find the right link management suite of tools.
If you’re new to SEO or link building, keep in mind the following:
- Link management and link building is advanced SEO. It requires some technical knowledge and an aptitude for compiling, appending, and analyzing data.
- Not all third-party link management tools use an API to tap into Google’s data (e.g., Search Console, Analytics). Some systems are using other data points as a best guest of what information Google is using.
- No one tool is sufficient for monitoring and building links. Given my research, we chose four different tools plus Google Search Console and Google Analytics to aggregate the data we need.
More Data, Please
My research confirmed that no one link management system gives you a full picture of a link profile or opportunities. Google provides only a partial list of inbound links through Google Search Console (GSC). If you’re not familiar with this link list, go to GSC => Links > Export External Links > Download More Sample Links.
One criteria I used when evaluating various SEO/Link tools was the source of data. Some have a direct API (Application Programming Interface); this enables one application or system to communicate with one another. Even if a link tool has an API, it doesn’t guarantee all link-related data is passed through from a search engine.
For effective and accurate link management, be prepared to use a suite of tools. Defending your link profile and building inbound links isn’t a simple process. These benefits far outweigh the costs:
- Diversification of data. You won’t rely on any one tool for key data used in marketing decisions and strategies.
- Comprehensive picture. By using multiple data sources, you can create a more accurate and comprehensive picture of inbound links. And, you can analyze those links with a variety of data points.
- Spend less time on defensive SEO (monitoring and disavowing spammy links). SEO is a competitive sport. You’re vying for precious real estate on a SERP. By using professional-grade tools with the ability to cross-correlate data, I’m reducing the amount of time dedicated to disavowing negative-SEO passing links.
- Spend more time on link building to grow domain authority. Link building is analogous to business development. It’s time consuming to build relationships with other websites/Webmasters. The more time I spend on these activities — finding brand mentions, comparing competitor links, identifying broken links, improving internal link structure — the better results I gain for my clients.
After months of research and kicking the tires of several SEO Link Management tools, here are the top four that found a place in my professional toolkit:
- MozPro – great for a quick look at metrics such as: domain authority, spam score, top pages via links.
- AHREFs – source for keyword & content research, domain rating, top pages by links, competitor research (link intersect), and broken links.
- SEMrush – data related to link analysis and the disavow process, brand mentions, competitor link data, and determining trust and relevance of potential link opportunities.Their Domain Overview info shows organic value, authority scores and trends.
- MajesticSEO – source of trust and citation flow, plus their API with SEMrush enables the discovery of more links.
Starting with a Clean Foundation
When we begin working with a new client, our first step is an audit and clean-up. Once we know their SEO link foundation is solid, we can build upon it. We also allocate time for ongoing monitoring, to make sure the profile remains clean.
If you’re new to link management or haven’t done a review/clean-up, be prepared to spend a significant number of hours to pull reports and manually examine inbound link domains. It’s not unusual to spend eight or more hours on this step, especially with large link profiles. Be aware that you need to examine inbound links beyond the domain. I’ve found that on the surface it may appear that the link can be relevant. However, when I’ve dug further, looking at content within the site and how it is presented to the audience, I may discover that the domain has a spammy profile. Therefore, even relevant websites can be passing negative SEO.
Industry Profiles Matters
Another important piece to the puzzle is understanding links related to an industry. A link profile is comprised of aggregated links from multiple sources, which should always include GSC links and a combination of tools. When examining and creating a domains link profile, I specifically use GSC, SEMRush and Majestic.
Routine Maintenance & Reporting
Once a link profile is initially cleaned up, I can then determine the frequency of the ongoing review cycle. For example, for particularly dirty profiles, I may review weekly. For others, monthly or even quarterly review may be sufficient.
Besides a recommended disavow file, I pull these link management reports to show progress:
- Total Number of Domains linking to website
- Total Number of links coming from all domains
- Keywords used within Anchor Text
- Total Risk & Spam Scores
- Recommended Domains for Disavow
- Current & Historical Trust Scores
- MOZ Domain Authority
- Majestic Trust
- SEMRush Authority Score
- Ahrefs Domain Rating
- Referral Traffic segmented by channel/domain from Analytics
Besides link aggregation tools, we also use several subscription tools to build and monitor local SEO. Note: local refers to the geographical component for SEO. In general, SEO helps search engines understand what product/service a business/website offers. Local SEO, and their related links, help search engines understand information related to where (location, service areas) and when (business hours).
So our link management tool list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning all the Local SEO tools we use:
- MOZ Local – used to manage Aggregator listings
- BrightLocal – used to discover new citation & link opportunities
- WhiteSpark – used to discover new citation & link opportunities
- Piglizza.co’s Citation Cheat Sheet – we use this resource to manually claim, update, and manage Local citations
Be aware that some Local SEO aggregator can hold you hostage. Meaning, that a business’ information can disappear or show incorrectly after cancelling a subscription. My general advice is to save time with the above aggregator tools to manage local profiles. You’ll end up paying either way — with dollars for tool subscriptions or with your time in chasing each directory listing.
Looking for Link Love
Link managing, especially link building, can be incredibly powerful. Yet, if you don’t understand the underlying technical underpinnings, the tools, and how various metrics work together, a wrong step could be detrimental to your SEO. Be prepared to work with (and not around) search engines and their guidelines.
In general, Google and Bing are secretive about inbound links because many SEOs aren’t playing by the rules. Don’t expect that Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, etc will give you the full picture. You need to research and find the right combination of link tools that’s right for your business.
Be realistic with your expectations. Building domain authority is a long-term strategy. After 5+ years of deep diving into technical SEO and link building, I know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Slow and steady progress is the norm, not the exception. Search engines actively seek out websites using techniques that don’t follow quality guidelines.
If you’re interviewing agencies or a link management partner, we strongly recommend that you are in administrative control of your digital marketing accounts. We’re adamant about our clients owning their own data, especially with tools like Google Analytics. We believe the work we do on your behalf belongs to you. Even if we use our agency account to provide link building services, we make sure any and all data can be exported. That’s just good SEO and good for business.