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Tutorial: How to use SEMrush for Link Building

Link Building with SEMrush: 6 Steps to a Healthy Backlink Profile

Links are one of Google’s top 3 search ranking factors, which makes high-quality link building a key part of any SEO professional’s job. Creating a good backlink profile can give you the opportunity to improve your search engine rankings and, consequently, increase visibility among your audience. What’s more, links can serve as a source of highly targeted traffic to your website.

SEMrush uses its own large database of over 8 billion backlinks and collects new links on a daily basis. It publicly updates its database no less than every two weeks, allowing users to stay up to date with their competitors’ link profiles and monitor their new and lost backlinks within no longer than two weeks of them being created or removed.  

With the help of SEMrush tools and reports, you can perform various link earning activities as part of your growth strategy: research your competitors’ backlinks in detail, discover fresh link opportunities, spot backlink gaps in your profile, and even start an email outreach campaign to build more links to your site.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to pave your path toward link building success with the SEMrush toolkit.

Tip: If you don’t already have an account try SEMrush 30 days for free.

1. Track down your backlink competitors

Whether you are new to link building or an experienced SEO specialist, it’s always important to assess the competitive landscape in your niche. The Backlink Analytics reports allow you to pinpoint your backlink rivals and discover every detail about their links. Once you’ve entered your domain in the search bar, go to the Competitors report. There you’ll see a list of competitor websites that share the most common backlinks with you.

Besides a list of competitors, you’ll see the total number of referring domains that link back to each of your rivals, the number of common referring domains that link both to your and your competitor’s site, and the number of backlinks to a particular domain. Also, for each competitive domain you’ll be able to check its Authority Score. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

The results will be listed by competition level, which is based on your and your competitor’s number of backlinks and the number of backlinks that you and your rival have in common. 

2. Refine your search and narrow down your list

Once you have a list of competitive domains, you can dig deeper and analyze them in detail.  With the help of Traffic Analytics, you can discover the amount of traffic that’s going to your competitors’ websites, find their traffic sources, and understand how much of their traffic is referral traffic. You can also see where they get most of their traffic from among referring domains that you’ve found in Backlink Analytics.

In the Traffic Sources tab within the section, you can check the amount of traffic that’s coming to a particular website through hyperlinks. If some of your competitors get a large portion of referral traffic, it may be worth observing those domains in greater detail and learning from their link building practices.  

Below this graph is another useful table with a list of referring domains that send traffic to your competitor’s website. Look through this list to identify your rival’s most valuable backlink partnerships. If you spot the domains that are sending your competitors the most traffic, you can try to offer them useful information on your site that your competitors don’t have, so they can refer to your site where appropriate. This can help you supply your backlink portfolio with relevant links.   

You can then head back to the Backlink Analytics section to perform a deep link analysis of your major competitors. The Overview report provides a wealth of functional data on the overall size of their backlink profiles, their recently built links, and other useful information. To increase the depth of your research, check the domain’s Authority Score. This is an SEMrush proprietary metric that scores the overall quality of a domain and is based on compound SEMrush data, such as referring domains, follow and nofollow links, website traffic data and more. The score can help you better understand how valuable a backlink from a referring domain is, or would be, to your website’s SEO.

Use the New & Lost Backlinks graph to find out how many new links your competitors have acquired recently and how many links they used to have but lost. These insights can shed some light on their link building efforts and provide you with some insider information on potential backlink partners for your website. 

3. Detect gaps in your backlink profile

Now that you know your main backlink opponents, you can compare your and their backlink profiles in the Backlink Gap tool. Enter up to 5 competing domains, including your own website, and the tool will show a list of the referring domains that are sending links to all these sites.

If you want to spot fresh backlink opportunities that you might be missing out on, select your website to find domains that are linking to your rivals but not to you.

Pay attention to the referring domains that provide backlinks to your rivals but not to you and analyze them in detail. Identify the most authoritative link sources which can serve as prospective backlink targets for your site.              

4. Identify domains that are worth working with

With the Bulk Analysis report, you can easily check out important backlink metrics for a wide scope of domains and URLs from various websites. Bulk Analysis is a simple tool which allows you to explore up to 200 domains/subdomains/URLs and identify potential link building opportunities. Just enter URLs that you consider to be possible link sources and begin your analysis.

For each domain, subdomain and URL that you’ve entered into the box you’ll see various helpful metrics, including Authority Score, number of backlinks, number of referring domains, number of follow and nofollow links, number of text, image, form and frame links, and more. Dive deep into this data to figure out which of these sources are worth working with, so you can improve your link building strategy.

5. Keep your backlink profile healthy and natural

A good backlink profile is a clean profile. Since Google implements intelligent algorithms to spot potential spammy links and can penalize websites for actions considered as black hat SEO techniques, every site owner should ensure that their backlink portfolio remains neat. More importantly, when Google imposes its penalties, it doesn’t show you exactly which links caused the penalty. So without the right tools it’s practically impossible to figure out which of your backlinks led to Google’s sanctions. Backlink Audit allows you to take a closer look at your domain’s backlinks and detect the toxic ones.

In the Audit report, you will see all your backlinks broken down into 3 groups: For review, Whitelist, and All links. There will be an equal number of links in the For review and All links categories, but as you progress with cleaning up your portfolio, the former list will be decreasing, which means your link profile is healing nicely!

All your links will be analyzed for more than 60 toxicity markers and sorted by their Toxic Score. You have two options for what should be done with detected toxic backlinks: either reach out to the domain owner, asking them to remove or change the link, or add them to a Disavow list. If the link poses no threat to your rankings, you can keep it as it is. Click on the Toxic Score value to dig deeper and see the list of toxicity markers associated with a particular link.

Be sure to add all suspicious backlinks to the Remove list and then start contacting the site owners. Another good option is that you can send emails right from the SEMrush tool. You can use the ready-to-go template or customize your own email.

Another key element of a good link portfolio is that your links should be gained naturally, at least in Google’s eyes. That’s why it’s important to build a diverse anchor profile. Anchor text plays a crucial role in your site’s SEO, because it tells search engine bots about the level of relevancy to a page an anchor link is leading to. What’s more, natural anchors look better in the eyes of users and tend to have better CTR.

In the Anchors report of Backlink Analytics, you’ll see a list of top anchor terms, which have been used most frequently in anchor texts linking to your domain. What’s more, the report shows you all the domains that refer to your site with specific text. Start typing in the words you want to check, and you’ll see the drop-down menu with suggestions based on the anchor texts that you have in your backlink profile.

Be sure that your anchor text is natural and relevant. Otherwise, it’s better to start an outreaching process asking to change the text of your anchors.

As a website owner, your job is to keep your backlink profile in check to protect your site from Google penalties.

6. Collect link building opportunities and start an outreach campaign

The SEMrush Link Building Tool embraces the 3 main steps of the link earning campaign: ideas search, outreach process, and progress monitoring.

Start with hunting for relevant backlink sources. When configuring the tool for your website, add up to 10 keywords that you wish to earn a higher ranking for. You can also enter up to 10 competitive domains. This will allow SEMrush to find websites that are sending the most links to your rivals. These sites can serve as your link building opportunities.

The Prospects report will provide you with a list of outreach targets. The good news is that you can connect your Google Search Console to your Link Building Tool project to exclude the backlinks from sites that already provide you with a link. All the potential backlink prospects will be broken down by their sources, as shown in the screenshot below:

The targets are listed in order of their Rating, which is analyzed according to over 50 factors and calculated based on the link’s quality and accessibility. Explore different link building opportunities by expanding the preview. If some of them look more promising, you can add them to your In Progress report. When adding your prospects, you can use one of the suggested outreach scenarios or customize your own strategy.

Once you’ve decided which prospects are worthy of your attention, it’s time to contact this domain with your pitch for a link. With the SEMrush automated wizard, you can send outreach emails directly from the interface. Customize the provided email template or save your own version for future use.

Now that you’ve sent your email, you can keep track of the status of your inquiry, knowing whether it was delivered, replied to or nor delivered.

Monitoring your progress, while working with your prospects, can be a good idea. Use the Monitor report to see how your backlink profile has changed over the past 60 days. Be sure to keep as many active links as possible. If you notice that some of your newly acquired links are lost or broken, you can start working on them, trying to figure out what happened and earn them back.

The power of link building

Despite all the speculation about the “death” of link building, it’s here to stay. Link acquisition has certainly changed, and today a healthy, diverse, and high-quality backlink portfolio means giving up on the old-fashioned black hat tricks.

Modern link building requires deep analysis and an elaborate strategy, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Multiple backlinks from authoritative sources tell search engines about the high quality of your website content, improve your chances of ranking higher in search results, and bring quality traffic to your site. With the right tools at your disposal, you can streamline your work, building links that help your site and not links that harm it.      

About the author

Daria Voronina  – LinkedIn, Twitter
(Guest contribution)
Content strategist at SEMrush. Fond of telling stories and writing novels.


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