I am absolutely O.C.D. when it comes to tracking, measuring, and recording data. One of the best skills you can have in SEO is to be able to stay efficiently organized. Only by keeping track of what actions you’ve taken, will you be effectively able to make correct decisions about what to do next.
Famous management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same nerdy obsession I have over collecting data. Every week, I perform SEO consultations for various clients. When someone doesn’t show up with a list of the links pointing to their site, I simply can’t help diagnose their offsite SEO problems. There’s simply nothing to talk about.
I decided to make this post to help make your (and my) life easier by explaining how to properly track and manage your backlinks.
The importance of staying organized in SEO
It is said that there are over 200 ranking signals that Google uses to determine SERP placement. This means, that in your ranking equation, there are over 200 variables that are constantly changing from day-to-day.
Your only chance at wrapping your head around this equation is if you successfully reduce as many variables as possible. If you can confidently answer questions like “do I have enough nofollow links pointing to my site?” then you’re one step closer to understanding your rankings.
This is not possible unless you keep track of your backlinks.
Why you can’t rely on Majestic to track your backlinks
Do not count on the 3rd party backlink crawlers to track your links for you. Why is that?
- 3rd party crawlers are extremely flawed and will not pick up all your links. If you’ve ever tried comparing Majestic vs Ahrefs vs Moz results, you know what I’m talking about. Their results are highly varied and grossly incomplete.
- You’re likely blocking your PBNs from being picked up by them anyways.
Imagine you start a new project money site. A few months go by and you’re not ranking where you’d like to be. You decide that it’s possible that you were too aggressive with your anchor text and you’d like to compare your sites anchor text profile to the niche-specific average ratio.
Well, my friend, if you didn’t keep track of your website link building efforts yourself, you’re completely screwed. Majestic, Moz and Ahrefs are going to all give you conflicting and incomplete data. Even Webmaster Tools won’t display all of the links to your site.
If you want to be able to debug your sites, it’s time to start tracking your backlinks in detail.
What you need to track
I recommend keeping one large master spreadsheet for each of your projects. Each spreadsheet should contain the following data:
First and foremost, you’ll want to track your backlinks: all links coming from PBNs, Web 2.0s, Press Releases, blog comments, etc. Namely, track every link that is pointing to your site that is indexed. This does not include social signals which play a different role in ranking altogether.
Here’s exactly what you should record:
- When was the link placed?
- What is the referring domain?
- What is the target URL?
- What is the anchor text used?
- Dofollow or nofollow?
- Is the link indexed?
Anchor Text Distribution
This is definitely the most important thing to track. Keep an ongoing record of the overall anchor text distribution pointing to your site and how it measures up to the niche-specific target anchor text. This is best accomplished with an automatically-updating pie chart.
Whenever you place or purchase links, keep track of what the rankings were before you placed the link. This will allow you to see what links/anchors were most likely to have caused positive or negative movement.
This is most easily accomplished with a rank tracker, but I also recommend adding weekly ranking notes to your spreadsheet every time you place a backlink. It’s simply going to make your life easier. You’ll see what I mean.
A List of Keywords and Which Pages Target Them
Keep track of each of the keywords your site is gunning for and which pages on your site are gunning for them.
In most situations, I recommend you don’t send the same exact anchor text more than 1-2 times. Each time you send a keyword’s exact anchor, mark this down in your spreadsheet.
Social Fortress Tracking
List all of your social fortress profiles, including your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. and denote whether or not they are indexed.
Also if you’re trust pulling and linking to your social fortress, keep track of the links and anchors that you’re sending to each social profile.
Keep a weekly update on what actions you took for the week as well as what actions you recommend yourself to take next week. This will help you make quicker decisions from week-to-week as you won’t need to re-familiarize yourself with what your goals were.
But probably the most valuable outcome of keeping a proper weekly log is when you start to deploy multiple websites and dominate a niche. Once you’ve figured out how to rank one site in a particular niche, you have a blueprint on how to rank other sites moving forward. You simply need to follow the same weekly actions until your 2nd, 3rd, etc. pages are ranked on page 1 as well.
This can be huge when you really want to scale. High-level responsibilities such as anchor text selection can be outsourced to a VA with very little SEO training. As long as they can follow the instructions outlined in your weekly log, they can rank a website.
My Free Website Tracking Template
Keeping track of everything I’ve listed above is quite an organizational feat, so I’ve helped you out by providing you with the exact template that I use to keep track of my projects (must be opened on desktop).
And here’s a demo on how to use this spreadsheet to its fullest potential.
Epic stuff and thanks for the spreadsheet.. will help out a lot.
Glad to help, Ayush.
Grt post. Still posible to get the sheet?
Sure… just click away.
Added my glasses and I found it hehe. Blind from new imputs.
Awesome post! Thanks for sharing your backlink tracking template.
Thanks for stopping by, Neil.
I absolutely love this post, and yes I’m a little O.C.D. also. I’ve been thinking about the best way to track my progress when building up sites and now I don’t have to thanks to your post. Thank You!
My pleasure, fellow O.C.D.
Great info as always Matt! You’re in my critical few sources that I always read when I get your email and consistently get something useful from each new post. I’m already filling in a spreadsheet based on today’s article/video.
Thanks for the kind words.
The most practical and pragmatic advice for ages. The gift of the spreadsheet is greatly appreciated.
Always a pleasure hearing from you, Ian.
Great info as always Matt – and thanks so much for template. Data, organisation, and tracking are the the real difference makers, perhaps even more so than some of the seo skills – if used without a tracking system..
You’re onto something!
Nice Matt! Getting organized is really where I’m struggling. Until I get my own shit in check, there’s no way I’m outsourcing this mess… lol.
Question: When acquiring the data for the competitor’s anchor text ratio, do you just use the typical tools available (moz, ahrefs, majestic, semrush) or do you have any “not so typical” that you recommend as well?
The obvious issue is that so many people use PBNs now, and block spiders from crawling, so you can end up with a very skewed sense of actual anchor text ratio (and authority/power of domain).
I did become aware of one, not-so-typical tool out there called http://openlinkprofiler.org which is not always blocked. (Though I guess it will be now! Lol) Do you have any other sources like this you could share? Thx!
Openlinkprofiler is rarely blocked, but its not the best crawler in the world. You can always uncover backlinks if you use search parameters to cleaverly dig them out. Perhaps another blog post.
great post as always! I have a question, though. If I set a link into a blog comment, like in your form below, in the “website field”. And that link appears on 20 pages on the domain, for example. Do I count the link once or 20 times? Sorry for the noob question, but I am a bit confused there.
Thank you Matt! I´ve one follow up question, if I may. Considering the anchor texts of an pmd. If the Money KW is “Blue shoes” and the URL is: Blueshoesinfo . org (sorry if that is a real site!) and I fill that website in eg. the contact detail form below. Does that count as money anchor?
Can you please rephrase? I’m lost about what we’re talking about with a contact form.
Sry Matt! I meant what if I put a link in to the column “Website” of a blog contact form. When my KW is “Blue shoes” and my website is blueshoesinfo. org. Does Google think that I used my Keyword or does Google sees that as a naked URL anchor?
If you type in “Blue Shoes” its a target anchor. If you type in “blueshoesinfo.org” then its a URL anchor. This applies to any link type, not just comments.
Great article Matt, you made some great points! I do the same thing in a more automated way. Staying organize is truly important.
One tool that I use to manage my backlinks is a program called “backlink monitor” by inspyder, it does all the things you outlined. It’s a one time fee software and you can add your links into the software as you build them and it keeps track of your anchor as well as if the link are still on the page. It can also track the PA/DA of a link, the date the link was added, the date the link was submitted to be index, etc…This is great if you manage a large PBN network as well since you’ll know if one of your PBN’s are down without checking them one by one.. Also, if you do tiered link building, it can keep track of all your tiers and let you know when a link whiten your tier is dead/broken.
It makes life that much easier!
Thanks for the pointer!
Hi Matt, thanks for another great post! You really make our SEO lives easier 🙂
One question: lately I’ve been seeing a lot of URLs with anchors like this one, “you can read the best product reviews at http://www.thebestproductreviews.com“.
How would you classify such a long anchor text like the above one?, brand?, url?, misc?
If it contains a target keyword, then its a target anchor.
Great post as usual Matt! I have something similar but yours is more neat!
I have several questions:
1. If you add internal linking, would you also add that to the spreadsheet (in case we want to do something like you suggested here: https://diggitymarketing.com/how-to-get-unstuck-by-establishing-topic-relevance/)?
2. Would internal links counted towards the anchor text percentage distribution?
1) If you care about ranking those inner pages, then yes, add them to the XLS.
2) Nope. Anchor text distribution is calculated on a per-page basis.
Da*n Matt, this stuff shouldn’t be free.
That thing with the pie chart though.. super cool!
So what does one do if working on a client site with a prior backlink history?
Or if an expired domain is picked up and used as a money site?
This seems to apply to brand new sites with no backlink history so everything can be tracked.
But in the scenarios above what would be the best approach?
Use all the crawlers and WMT and hope for the best.
What’s your opinion on using Automated software as was mentioned above to input all of the data from the crawlers? Or is this something you feel should be done manually? Thanks Matt!
Sure, but software is failiable.
Thanks Matt, great post. Where do you pull your competitor anchor text profile from? I’d assume majestic? Maybe as the pie chart was similar
Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, Open Link Profiler, and manual checking.
Excellent post as usual. Your post was recommended by John V, as a few of us have joined together for a “100 links in 100 days” Challenge and this is an excellent way to keep track of our links. Thanks a ton Matt.
Good stuff. Let me know how that goes. You white or black-hatting those links?
All white hat. 15 so far via roundups, testimonials and content mentions 🙂
Crazy. Keep fighting the good fight!
Thanks Matt, Got backlinks from Sue of Successful Blogging, Stuart from Niche Hacks, etc so far so pretty pumped 🙂
This was an eye opening post Matt. Thanks a lot!
I took action and started going through the spreadsheet and I’ve got a couple of noob questions:
1. I should count links from press releases, right?
2. What if inside the press release there is one Brand and one URL anchor type? Do I count them both?
1) That’s correct, but I don’t assign them an anchor for every indexed PR syndication. Pretty sure Google treats them differently. I usually count a PR as 5-10 URL anchors then call it a day.
2) If the link is going to the same URL, whichever anchor is on top is the one that’s counted.
Another epic post! Great stuff Matt, gona make life much easier. Something I have been overlooking is building links to social profiles. I currently have a client stuck with rankings between 11-18 for tons of keywords so that may do the trick. Do you have your own aged tumblrs? Can you recommend a vendor? I like to save my/ your PBN’s for the money website, maybe I’m missing a trick. Cheers
Hey John. No I don’t really mess with aged social accounts.
Hey MAtt, thanks for the great info and for the spreadsheet. I am wondering however, what you do in the case of the top sites not having many (if any) backlinks pointing to them, but are just huge authority sites (amazon or yelp etc.) and you have a pretty new site (or 2 year old site with not much done to it). Thx for your feedback.
Is your question regarding how to reverse engineer the target anchor text distribution for the niche?
Hey Matt – awesome with the spreadsheet share, was just in the midst of creating one with the circle graph you have when I saw your post and I was like HELL YEA.
Anyways, are you counting for example every citation you might throw at a site as well for percentages – I just wonder if I have 50 citations if that will just throw everything off?
Thanks again though, for real!
I typically count press releases and citations as 5 URL anchors each for an entire set.
Got it – thanks man!
Thanks for the spreadsheet! As always your content is a cut above the rest of the industry.
Awesome content fellow O.C.D , I’m reading you for the first time and I must say the spreadsheet is totally worth my email. You win my email Matt. (y)
Thanks for the email. Thou shall not be spammed.
which methods are you using for finding hidden PBNs of Competitors or other links of them?
OpenLinkProfiler.org is a good start.
Great article Matt, I have a couple questions regarding classifying Target & Brand Anchors. In the case that your Target keywords are also the brand name how do we classify these anchors into the applicable sections of the sheet.
Lets say the keywords I am working on are as follows
Where to buy Bintang Beer
The Brand name is “Bintang” but the keywords Im trying to rank for is also “Bintang Beer” how do I classify these into the sheet correctly as a target..
Also do variations of my target keywords like “where to buy bintang beer” is this classified as a target keyword or would this be considered topic?
Thanks for the help and keep up the great work, enjoy reading your articles.
If your domain is Bintang.com, then your only brand anchors are “Bintang”, “bintang”, “Bintang LLC”, etc.
Matt, you honeslty have some of the best structured and informational SEO articles on the web. Great post, and thanks again for sharing.
My pleasure, Tyler. Thanks for stopping by.
Hey Matt, can you give me a quick example of what Topic Anchors are?
If your keyword is “best hockey stick” then some examples of topic anchors are “sports eqiupment” or “athletic gear”.
Thanks for the website management template, very cool!
One question though, how would you count social bookmark links for the anchor text distribution chart? For one of my sites I ordered 20 manual social bookmarks on Fiverr. As with a press release, these links probably are not very powerful. In your reply to another comment you said for a press release you usually count these as 5 for an entire set. Should I do the same for these social bookmarks or should I count them separately? And if I should group them, what would you use as a count for these 20 links?
I ignore them completely as Google does as well.
I think I have found something great to here and I am going to try it pretty soon on y blog. You xls format sheet also looks perfectly maintained. Will surely get it into work to achieve some SERP.
Thanks again Matt!
Thanks for sharing this guide. I appreciate the spreadsheet Matt.
majestic, ahref and moz, each provide a score for each backlink. I have read that the trust flow rating from majestic has the best correlation with google serp.
would like to get your take on this for 2017. To improve your rating across each platform, it requires different approach. For example, URL shortner concept has a positive impact on MOZ page authority and a little bit on AHREF url rating, but does not do any thing on majestic trust flow rating.
similar concept when you look at social signals. These signals also have different results across different platforms.
so, the rating from which platform has the closest correlation with improvements in google serp?
You’re going to hate this answer, but I ignore all ratings from third party tools. I only care about what Google thiks a link’s value is, and I assess that through testing.
Only just discovered your blog, wow. Most SEO’s charge a fortune for this type of information, great advise about tracking all links, I will be putting the spreadsheet to use!!!
My pleasure. Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Matt. If I’m taking a look at a competitor site in Majestic to get their anchor text ratios, should I be looking at “Root Domain” or “Path” or “URL”? Root seems to be a roll up of all the other ones.
Also, how did you count up the types of links you show in your sample tracker spreadsheet? I’m looking at the charts, where you say “target, misc, url, brand…” etc. Is that just a count you did by hand of the top 5 in a particular search? The chat is super cool and very powerful, but it’s not clear to me, other than by hand, how you got the numbers and how you update those charts to keep them accurate.
1) URL. 2) Not sure I understand the question.
Say you do a press release syndication of 150 to 300, and these get indexed. Would you also count all of them as URL anchors? In that case it can just seem pretty overwhelming to get a balanced anchor text distribution like the competition but hey, I’m probably overthinking it and should just enjoy the pillowing that allows us to then use PBNs for a lot of target anchors etc.
I just count it as 5 URL anchors. Who knows what Google does though.
Exactly what I was looking for! Thx!
Thanks for the spreadsheet!
One noob question for you: In the “Average of the Top 5 Rankers in the Niche” table, where do you get the numbers under the “Counts” column?
I’m asking because those numbers make up part of the calculation of the percentages in the column before it.
I did this manually following the directions from your post about choosing your anchor text, but I get different percentages.
Everyone is going to have different percentages. That’s why it’s “niche-specific.”
Agree completely on that point. I’m really asking the same question as Douglas a couple of comments up.
Maybe I need to phrase my question differently: Do you just get the total amount of links by type (misc, target,URL, etc), put them in the “Counts” column in the “Average of the Top 5 Rankers in the Niche” and then just let the spreadsheet calculate the percentages?
Awesome post! Thanks for sharing your backlink tracking template, Matt.
Matt, what do you do if the competition has many links, so it’s like impossible to count the anchors, you spend the days need on it?
And in some niches the top 5 ranks on authority and tropical and not the actual ancor.
I really get how vital that info is.
Note, when aim reading here i get thet popup all the time, like in massive all the time.
Anyways grt imformation you clearly know your stuff and have a talent.
Have your VA do the work. Skip over anomalies like sites hiding backlinks and authorities.
Yes we can track all in this one place now ^_^
Hi Matt. Regarding the spreadsheet for the anchor text distribution: Do you count nofollow links as well? I am talking about the sheet Website-Management-Template-Diggity-Marketing.xls. “Average of the Top 5 rankers in the niche” –> you calculate there the distribution between target / misc / url / brand / topic. For that distribution I wanted to neglect the nofollow links first. But I am unsure now as you mentioned another time that nofollows are used to dilute the hard anchors. Then I should count them
Yes I do.
thanks Matt. I appreciate your short no-BS answers in the comment section. I am sure you read Dan Kennedy
I have another question. You wrote “[…] I ignore all ratings from third party tools. I only care about what Google thiks a link’s value is, and I assess that through testing.”
For your own links you see the value of a single link by the ranking-boost you get or dont get. How about (old) competitor links? How do you assess their value and if it is worth going after for yourself?
If I see a blog post which is linking to a competitor and the title of the blog post is “Quick weight loss with intermittent fasting – Seven magic tricks” (just example I am not in weight loss niche) then I check if this blog post is ranking for “weight loss intermittent fasting” etc. If it is ranking well I assume that google likes the post and therefore the backlink is probably valuable. However, this is more guess work.
Would be interesting to know how you do it.
I won’t look too far into whether a competitors backlinks are worth getting or not. The answer is usually on the wall: they’re ranking and they have these links, so it’s probably a part of it. Normally, I’ll just look at the referring’s domain’s traffic, make sure its not spammy, then have my team get it.
last question then: Which tool do you use to look at the referring domain’s traffic?
I checked ahrefs traffic. I am surprised as it always shows very high numbers for the organic traffic (10^2 – 10^3 per day) even for trashy domains. Also for my own domains the traffic estimation from ahrefs seems way off. Could we still use it as a rough indicator? If so what do you consider the minimum ahrefs traffic to go for a a link?
First of all, I don’t look at traffic for PBNs. Traffic for PBNs is a nice to have, not a must have. I literally wrote the book on it.
That said, based on more recent tests, you can indeed get a 15-20% increase in ranking boost (this is handwaiving here as accurate testing for this is impossible) from PBNs with traffic. But PBNs work completely fine with zero traffic.
As for white hat links, this is where I do my future proofing. It indeed does make sense that Google would only want to honor sites that they rank, and thus have traffic. But that’s not the case right now.
So what I do is make sure my white hat links have 1k traffic or more per month.
Thanks Matt. “So what I do is make sure my white hat links have 1k traffic or more per month.” –> You mean the full traffic of the corresponding website, right? (not only the page where the link is placed)
Correct. That’s my threshold as of March 10, 2018.
Hey Matt, just found your Website Management Template and its awesome! I am already using some of your tips from this article for my websites, but I also found some other nuggets, thank you very much!
So I checked the Excel file and I have a question about it.
You have that Reference Section where the Keywords with their Search Volume are listed. Then you have the column with used (yes or no). Do I understand it right that here you list all the keyword combinations the site could rank for with their search volume and if you have used them as an (exact-) anchor?
For example in the casino niche:
888 casino – 100k SV – Used: yes
888 casino bonus – 2k SV – Used: yes
888 Casino No Deposit Bonus – 1k SV – Used: No
888 Casino bonus offer – 0,5k SV – Used: No
So in this particular example I would just use all those 4 anchor at any given time, track the rankings for them and then check them as used: yes?
Thanks for your answer in advance!
Best regards from Germany
How do you keep track of the indexing of your backlinks?
Do you use a backlink monitoring tool?
I keep records of my backlinks but it’s the process of tracking what backlinks are indexed that is throwing me off.
I can build a ton of backlinks but Google will only take evaluate those that are indexed which can throw off my anchor text ratios.
You can use rank trackers. Put in the URL of the backlink you want to track, then set the anchor text to “site:http://url.com“. Then set an alert to tell you when it drops off page 1.
Hi Matt – Thanks for the useful spreadsheet – one thing it does not seem to record – (maybe you do it elsewhere) is where you found the PBN to begin with – ie if you found a good “seed” site for PBN’s?
It’s been a long time since I sourced and built my own PBNs. These days I just buy from RankClub.io
Whoa! I saw the comments way back in 2016 but this article stays GOLDEN!
Thanks, Matt for another insightful topic. Plus, I enjoy reading the comments! I learned.