At this point, we’re not even drawing comparisons between competitor link profiles and that your own but merely understanding what you currently have and how closely it aligns with A) your goals and B) recommended practices.
I’m not going to get into a white hat versus grey hat discussion here, when I say best practices, I am talking about what is generally accepted within an educated audience as ‘sensible’.
A blissfully unaware client, and a website full of spam, for example, is something that an SEO needs to be wary of (and it is important to make the owner aware of pitfalls) before any further work is carried out. You are not nit-picking at the steps taken by the previous agency but from now on you are likely to be in charge of the performance of that website’s visibility in the search engines (and links making up a big part of that particular aspect).
It can be hard to explain to a website owner with any amount of credibility why their property has fallen off the popularity charts just months into your engagement if you didn’t bring issues like this to fore. It may well be the case that all these links were acquired in days gone by, but the client is probably going to hold you responsible to a certain extent.
What to look for?
- Link type
- Anchor text
- Clusters of similar kind of IPs
- Link position as on the page
- Quality (defensibility) of any site the particular link has originated from
- Is the page where it originates actually indexed?
- Assessment of internal link-structure as well
Some of the above can well be automated and that will help you to reduce the number or percentage of links that you are required to audit by hand.
- Talk to the client – get previous reports, lists of links developed and understand what has been done up until now
- Listen to the client – to understand their goals and their current appetite for risk
- Fire up your favorite link analysis tool