Competitor analysis is a crucial part of any good marketing plan (at least one that’s going to succeed), but perhaps nowhere more than online.
Because everything is catalogued neatly for us online, and there are so many tools that let us see precisely what our competitors are doing, it’s a lot easier to replicate their success.
When it comes to search engine optimization and building links, there is no better source of backlinks than your competitors links.
If you can find opportunities where sites are linking to your competitors, especially if they are high quality backlinks, you can reverse engineer competitor links and essentially a competitor’s domain.
If you know how and where to look and if you have the content, you can make your competitor’s backlinks your backlinks too.
What Are Competitor Backlinks?
Competitor backlinks is essentially just a term used to refer to the incoming backlinks pointing towards your competitors’ domains. They include both nofollow and dofollow backlinks gained through things like forums, guest posts, social media platforms, referral sites and good old organic search.
The way you discover competitor backlinks is through the use of an SEO tool like Ahrefs, MOZ, Semrush and the like.
You run a competitor domain through a backlink checker tool and then peruse the results.
Your competitors are any sites in the SERP with which you are competing for ranking. Your backlink analysis should almost always focus on the sites that rank at or near the top of the search engine results page.
Search engine optimization is a never-ending struggle for search engine supremacy. Google processes some 5.6 billion searches each day, and a small fraction of sites enjoy the vast majority of the traffic.
The ten domains on the first page of the SERP get 92 percent of that traffic, while the sites on page two fight for 5%.
To determine where a page will rank, Google applies its (allegedly) 200-factor-strong PageRank algorithm, assessing everything from a page’s UX, domain authority, site-level factors, page-level factors and, of course, backlink profile.
These ranking are applied in different, largely unknowable ways, but some are (again, allegedly) more important than others for ranking.
Andrey Lippattsev, a Senior Search Strategist at Google, contends that the 2 most vital ranking factors are backlinks and content.
This means your content marketing and link building are, perhaps, the two most important variables when it comes to how well you perform relative to your competitors.
But not all links are created equal. An analysis of over 11.8 million Google search results found that a site’s backlink profile (both the quantity and quality of links) is what determines whether and by how much site A outperforms site B in the SERP.
All of this is why you want to pay close attention to the backlinks that your competition has gotten and continues to get. This lets you lay out a viable link building strategy that can position you in one of the coveted first page SERP positions.
So Why is Competitor Backlinks Analysis Such an Important Part of Good SEO?
The modern versions of SEO tools like Ahrefs and others are really advanced and they provide you with amazing insight into a competitor’s site, including how and where your competitors are building their backlinks.
Of course, a lot more goes into coming up with a competitor backlinks strategy, and that’s just the beginning. Once you’ve got your links, then the outreach begins.
Because of how much work goes into this, a lot of people prefer to outsource link building to an experienced link building service. At dofollow.io, we’ve been building our clients stellar backlinks for years.
Here are some of the places we’ve secured high quality backlinks:
We use Google-approved techniques to find link building opportunities and, using our time-tested content creation and outreach method, build you relevant, natural backlinks that pass on SEO value and move you up the SERP.
In addition to viewing total competitors backlinks, you can delve even deeper and look at things like how many high authority backlinks they have, the anchor text they use, etc.
Armed with so much information, you can exploit competitor backlinks in the following ways.
Determine viable SEO benchmarks for yourself
When you do your competitor analysis, you aren’t looking at any random competitor’s site, but those that are ranked near the top of the search engine results page.
These sites have managed to establish a reputation for trust and quality with Google, most of which comes down to their exemplary SEO and link building strategy.
These are your competitors who are good at building links, content marketing, optimizing page speed, building a mobile-friendly site, etc.
As you analyze your competitors, you can look at a broad range of specific ranking factors. Once you’ve combined all that data, you have a template to follow for a bunch of critical metrics.
For example, let's say you discover that the top sites have 100 backlinks on average but you are lacking in this department. Well, now you know where to devote a substantial amount of time.
What’s more, if the data indicates that infographics are attracting the highest number and highest quality backlinks, you can tailor your website content and guest posting to recreate this.
Making these changes takes time but, if done right, and with perseverance, you should start to gain new backlinks and notice an improvement in your sites rankings.
Uncovering link building opportunities is an important part of a backlink strategy
In addition to giving you insight into SEO tactics, analyzing competitor backlinks also shows you where you could potentially be building backlinks as well.
If you know that certain websites are linking to your competitors, you know they are open to linking to sites in your industry, which means, in theory, they should be open to linking to yours too.
The idea with link analysis is to find your competitors backlinks, take note of the pages with the inbound link, then set out to create similar content–only better. This approach is known as the Skyscraper method and it has produce a lot of success.
Caveat: One of the issues people tend to have with Skyscraper is that because it has been so successful, it has been done to death in a lot of niches. Webmasters and site owners get outreach emails of this kind all the time and it can be hard to break through the noise.
When you do, you are often asked to pay for a link, which can be risky and many SEOs are against.
You could also use this approach to uncover guest posting opportunities. Simply find the sites that your competitors have published guest posts on and then reach out to the same sites with your guest post ideas.
Uncovers competitors weaknesses and opportunities to exploit them
When you track your competitors incoming links, you aren’t just looking for high quality backlink opportunities, but also the lower-quality ones that have the least impact on PageRank.
These are your competitors weak spots. When you examine a competitor’s backlink profile, you get to see all of the spammy links, bad backlinks from low quality/ low domain authority sites, and, crucially, their broken backlinks.
A broken link means the URL isn’t valid anymore (it gives a 404 error when you click on the link). Having broken links on a page is bad for SEO, so websites want to know about them and get rid of them.
A broken link is the kind of weakness that you definitely want to know about and exploit as a link builder. It is one of the best link opportunities. You can reach out to the referring domains, let them know about the issues, and then offer solutions in the form of new, functional backlinks to your content as replacements.
The optimal strategy here is to focus on broken links that feature your target keywords.
6 Steps for Finding Competitor Backlinks
Now that you know why targeting competitor backlinks is so important, below we’re going to lay out exactly how to find those backlinks.
Step 1: Keyword Research
Competitor backlink analysis is premised on first knowing who your competitors are, and to identify them, you have to actually see who you are competing with for rankings.
In Google search, this means you need to know who is currently ranking in the top positions for the keywords you are targeting. The leaders set the tone for everything from backlink profile to content, which are the two biggest factors in your SEO strategy.
People performing competitor backlink analysis are in one of two boats: they’ve already planned out their keywords optimized their content for them; or they got content that wasn’t keyword optimized.
If you are in the latter camp, you’ll want to first determine the specific keywords that you are ranking for (wherever you are ranking for them). You’ll need an link analysis tool like Ahrefs, SpyFu, SE Ranking or SEMrush to do this step.
SEMrush and Ahrefs are probably the two most commonly used industry standards.
Both let you look at which search keywords drive traffic (any amount of traffic) to your site currently.
This is what the organic keywords page looks like for Backlinko.com, one of the biggest and most successful sites in our niche.
You can see which keywords are getting the most amount of traffic.
Step 2: Find your main competitors
After you’ve determined which SEO keywords you want to target, you then need to find all of the competitor sites that you are competing with for these keywords.
A run through the Google search results will usually do the trick.
Be aware, however, that you don’t want to just search the plain keyword. This is only going to generate personalized search results for you, which can be quite different from what an average user sees.
If your keyword was something like “messenger bags,” for instance, and you searched those search terms, your search results might look something like this:
Notice how Amazon is the top page.
For the sake of accuracy, you should compose a search string that will generate a list of related and relevant websites.
“Best messenger bags,” on the other hand, yields this:
If you were an affiliate website targeting this keyword string, these top ranking pages are more in line with the results you would be after because they are more relevant to your website. Still huge sites but much closer to your true competitors.
You can also do the following.
Start by entering the following into your Google search bar (but don’t include the parentheses):
Related: (your website)
If you were searching for the nytimes.com, it would look something like:
Here’s what the screenshot for that search query would looks like. See how Google has filtered the results based on similar large news sites:
If you want a much more detailed analysis, you will need to use an SEO tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs.
Using one of these, you will be able to:
- See who your top ranking organic competitors are
- Position track competitors
- Find your industry competitors
- Find competitors by backlinks
When you run a domain through an organic research tool, you will not only get their organic keyword list but also a list of the top SEO competitors.
These are the websites that compete with you for search keywords. Tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush analyze competitors based on the number of ranking keywords shared between competitive sites, as well as the total number of keywords your competitors rank for.
Position track competitors
SEO tools also let you track competitors by their position in the SERP for given keywords.
For Ahrefs, you would use the keyword explorer to search your specific keyword to see what the first page of the SERP looks like:
Identify your industry competitors
If the objective of your competitor backlinks analysis is to hone in on industry competition (rather than specifically SERP), then you will need to filter the SEO tool results even further.
When you do this, the aim is to take a deeper dive into market traffic analytics and compare competitors across things like market dominance and demographics.
You’ll want to look at competitor’s top shared keywords, traffic trends, sources of traffic, their growth history as well as target audience demographics.
Find competitor’s backlinks
When you enter your domain into something like SEMrush or Ahrefs, you can see your entire backlink profile, within which you can also see your backlink competitors.
These are the sites with which you share the highest number of referring domains. They have a backlink profile that is similar to yours.
If we were to enter “backlinko.com” into the site explorer in Ahrefs and then click on “competing domains” under “organic search,” this is what their list of competing domains would look like:
Step 3: Segment competitors
One thing you’ve probably noticed at this point is that you have different types of competitors.
Your organic search competitors and your industry competition don’t always perfectly overlap. It’s good not to get the two mixed up.
When you do competitor analysis, you need to segment your competitors and analyze them differently.
The way to do this is to first review what each competitor site appears to specialize in and then use the finding to determine whether you are dealing with a domain competitor or a page level competitor.
Domain level competitors
Domain level competitors are your primary competitors because they are in the same industry and target the same keywords.
You’ll usually notice that all of your domain-level rivals compete with your site at every level, which means all of their subdomains should be relevant when doing backlink analysis.
A domain level competitor for us, dofollow.io, might be someone like linkbuilder.io. For the New York Times it would be something like the Washington Post.
You can always identify your domain level competitors by whether their websites are in the same niche as yours. Pay close attention to those that appear to go after your target demographic across all search engine platforms (social, Google, Youtube, etc.).
Page level competitors are the single URLs or pages that compete with you for keywords. They aren’t in the same industry or space as you, but one or more of the pages on their site are going after the same keywords.
An illustration of this would be to consider all of the pages that appear in the SERP along with your site that are non-competitor companies.
Take, for example, a site like backlinko, a big site in our niche, and MOZ. Backlinko is an SEO service provider and MOZ is a SEO research tool.
If you search “on page seo,” there is page level overlap:
Both have pages that are targeting that keyword, but they are not direct competitors.
This means that competitor backlink analysis at the page-level focuses on just the single URL, rather than the entire domain.
There is also a difference between domain authority and page authority that is worth keeping in mind when segmenting your link building tactics.
Step 4: Run domain-level competitors through a backlink analysis tool
This is where you really get into the meat of competitor backlink analysis. You want to start with your domain level competitors because this is your biggest competition.
To do this well, you will need a powerful backlink checker from one of the big SEO tools that we’ve been mentioning throughout this article–MOZ, SEMrush, Ahrefs etc.
The Ahrefs backlink checker is what we at dofollow.io use and it is one of the most used tools in search analysis.
It performs backlink analysis using a database of more than 170 trillion domains and 30.29 trillion links, which is just huge.
The Ahrefs backlink checker will do a quick analysis of your competitor backlinks and then provide you with comprehensive backlink data. You enter the domain (in this case, ahrefs.com) into the site explorer and then you are provided the backlinks report for ahrefs.com:
It will give you:
- A website’s Domain Rating (DR) – Ahrefs’ proprietary score rating the relative strength of a site’s domain profile on a scale of 0-100
- The total number of referring domains a website has
- The number of backlinks a website has
- The URL Rating (UR) of the referring pages – The strength of a domain’s link profile (all linking pages) from 0-100.
- Top backlinks, anchor text and pages
You need to pay to get access to these in-depth queries and reports, but if you are serious about doing a thorough competitor backlinks analysis, it’s hard to bear.
Again, SEMrush and Moz are also viable alternatives for doing comprehensive domain-level analysis.
Step 5: Examine your page level competitors URLS
This step involves a lot of similar work to the domain-level analysis, but instead of doing backlink analysis of an entire site, you just look at the pages you’re competing with.
All of the SEO tools we’ve touched on so far are more than capable of providing you a page-level analysis of competitor backlinks.
If you use SEMrush, for example, you can do the page-level analysis by typing in your competitor’s URL and hitting “analyze.”
This will give you information on the URL link profile, including:
- The types of backlinks pointing to the page
- Recurring anchor text words/phrases
- Industry categories for the referring domains
- How many inbound links gained and lost in previous 6-month period
- Total inbound links
- Total number of unique referring domains pointing to the page
It’s basically the same procedure if you choose to use Majestic or MOZ. Simply enter the URL and wait for the tool to provide you with the statistics.
If you’re going to use Ahrefs, you have to give the tool a few more commands before going ahead with the page-level backlink analysis.
You will need to change the default “subdomains” option in the site explore search bar to “exact URL”. This tells Ahrefs that you only want results that pertain to the particular pages you’r searching.
Whatever SEO tool you opt to use, the page-level insight is nice additional insight into competitor backlinks that you can combine with your domain-level analytics.
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of the quality of your competitor backlinks, the work required to outcompete them and the backlink opportunities available to you.
Step 6: Do a backlink gap analysis
Good SEOs will be able to develop a solid link building campaign using both domain and page level competitors backlinks. A great SEO professional will look beyond the obvious and research the gaps and exploit even more backlink opportunities.
Finding these gaps involves, perhaps unsurprisingly, backlink gap analysis and research. The idea is to compare and contrast the link profiles of several competitors to discover any linking opportunities you might be missing.
SEMrush lets you do backlink gap research on up to 5 sites simultaneously. It will cross-examine their backlink profiles to show you all of the referring domains they have in common but which you are missing out on.
Doing this is how you make sure no link opportunities are falling through the cracks. At this point, you should have a better idea of how to better compete with the top performers in your niche.
This is how it’s done.
- Head to SEMrush “Backlink Gap” tool and use your domain, along with four of your competitors. Try to use the ones that have the strongest backlink profiles because they will show you opportunities for the best quality links.
- After you’ve got your domains you want to analyze, hit “find prospects.” SEMrush compare the backlink profiles of each and present you with missed backlink opportunities.
Once you have the domains, sort them by:
- Best–high domain authority referring domains with the most backlinks to your competitors but none to yours. These are your premium prospects for new backlinks.
- Weak–Referring domains with links to all of the sites on your list, with yours getting the least
- Strong–referring domains that only have links to your site
- Shared–domains that all five sites have in common
- Unique–referring domains that only point to 1 of the 5 websites you’re analyzing
Competitor backlink analysis is extremely powerful
Analyzing and taking advantage of your competitors backlinks is a very involved process. A lot of work goes into narrowing down your backlink opportunities.
Once you’ve done that, you need to actually pursue them, which is a whole new project.
Both combined are difficult enough, but it is the outreach component which a lot of SEOs feel is the hardest.
For this reason, many people prefer to outsource the leg work.
dofollow.io is an experienced link building service that has been at this a long time. We know how to build lists, find contacts and secure backlinks.
We build backlinks using Google-approved link building techniques, combined with a strong editorial process, strategic approach, and transparent, performance-based pricing to get our clients amazing results.
We’ve helped skyrocket our clients’ traffic and conversions:
If you want to find out more about how we work and why we are so passionate about link building, contact us today to learn more about our pricing and book a discovery call with us.