15 min read

How to Beat Your Competitors at the Backlink Game

Competitor backlinks

Backlinks can be a controversial subject when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Some SEO experts swear by them, and other SEO experts say they are no longer relevant, and yet, some companies try to sell you backlinks that will do your website more harm than good. What is the real backlink story? Find out how to find your competitors backlinks, perform backlink analysis, and use that information to develop a backlink strategy of your own.

The following is a no-nonsense guide to backlink analysis for those business owners who understand that paying someone to do SEO for them defeats the entire purpose of getting free, organic traffic from the search engines. If you are paying someone to do SEO for you, that traffic is no longer open because you are paying for your SEO results. If that is the case, it is better just to pay for ads on the appropriate search terms as you will be guaranteed to be at the top of the page.

What Are Backlinks?

Links that are coming to your website from an outside webpage are backlinks. They are linking “back” to your site. An example of a backlink is a link that is created on social media when someone shares an article or blog post from your website.

Another example of a backlink would be a link to your restaurant’s website from a local newspaper that reviewed your food. Other directories for consumer reviews such as Yelp can also generate a backlink to your site. Here is a visual example:

Competitor backlinks

Any source that links to your website creates a backlink. For the most part, you do not have direct control over who links to your site, but there are things that you can do to create high-quality backlinks to your website.

Why Do I Need Backlinks?

High-quality backlinks are considered an indicator of the authority or legitimacy of your website content. Backlinks are used by the rank algorithm to determine how other websites regard the quality of your content. The rationale behind this is that if more sites are linking to your content, then it must be a good source of information for the searcher.

However, low-quality backlinks will hurt your search engine rankings. A low-quality backlink would be one that comes from a site on an unrelated topic or ones that have multiple backlinks linking to questionable sites, which is the case with many backlinks that are sold to unsuspecting website owners. Never purchase backlinks. Never. Here is what Google has to say about link schemes:

Competitor backlinks

Who Are My Competitors?

Before you begin any kind of competitor analysis, you first have to identify your competitors. The best way to do this is to utilize the keywords you’re using for your content, and then see who is ranking on the first page for those keywords. Those are your competitors. Since the goal is to gain Search Engine Rank Position (SERP), it makes no sense to spend time on competitor websites that do not rank more highly than you. You want to emulate success.

Remember, you are looking for those competitors who are ranking organically, not those listed with “Ad” in front of their entry. You will never be able to rank above an advertiser for a given search term. You are looking for those competitors whose content ranks without a paid ad position. Check out the difference:

Competitor backlinks

How to Find Competitor Backlinks?

To find competitor backlinks, you will be using a tool called a backlink checker. Ahrefs, SEMRush, and MOZ all have excellent backlink checkers. If none of those appeals to you, do a Google search for “backlink checker” to yield lots of options for you to use. Here is an example of the SEMRush backlink checker tool:

Competitor backlinks

Which backlink checker you use is entirely up to you. They all provide similar results, but some may be easier to work with than others. A tool that allows you to download the results to a spreadsheet is preferred. This will become obvious later on when you need to reanalyze a site — you will need something to compare your new results to, and without a spreadsheet of your initial research, this would be impossible. You have to be able to catalog all of your results.

What Are the Different Types of Competitors

Honestly, although there are three different types of competitors (direct, indicted, and replacement), do not believe the hype that only an SEO agency can identify your competitors. They are trying to sell you services that you can easily perform yourself. The type of competitor really does not matter, what matters is who is performing better SEO than you are, and that can be determined easily by the keyword method listed above.

Competitor backlinks

(Image credit: Marketing Sherpa)

You should be focused on website performance, not the theoretical direct competitor to your business. This is about SEO. If you own a local business, say ABC Plumbing, and your direct competitor is XYZ Plumbing, but their website is not performing as well as yours is, then why spend time chasing their backlinks? These analyses take time. Therefore, you should confine your efforts to those who are more successful than you are, regardless of whether or not they conform to some marketing jargon.

Why You Should Do Competitor Backlink Analysis

Because backlinks are one signal to the search engines of a domain’s authority on the topic at hand, understanding who your competitors are and what backlinks they are receiving is a good method of developing a strategy for SEO.

Now that you know how to find competitors’ backlinks, you can also see competitors’ backlinks that may be harming their sites, such as those from off-topic websites or spammy sources. Make sure that you don’t have those links to your website as well.

Performing a backlink analysis of your competitors will give you an insight into how difficult it will be to outrank them. If they have very few backlinks, grabbing more relevant backlinks will be easy, and you will soon be outranking them, assuming that your content quality is equal to theirs. If they have hundreds of backlinks to their content, it will be a long road to travel. The Diib® Backlink Analysis tool will give you all this information and more. Take a look at just what that looks like:

Competitor backlinks

How to Conduct Competitor Backlink Analysis

Now that you know how to find your competitors backlinks, the analysis process is quite simple.

  • Choose the competitor sites that you want to analyze using the keyword method described above. You will start by analyzing your website so that you have a basis for comparison.
  • Choose your backlink tool. Avail yourself of the free trial option for paid tools, and initially use several to find the one that best suits your needs. You can pay for a tool once you’ve settled on what works best for you.
  • Enter in the top-level domain name and collect the output from the tool.
  • Enter the results in a spreadsheet to be used for analysis.
  • Filter out duplicate referring sites, you’ll then be left with a list of unique references to the site.

FACT: 55.24% of pages don’t have a single backlink. What’s more, the more backlinks a page has, the more search traffic it gets from Google. 

Research Competitor Homepage Links

Using your chosen tool, attempt to analyze the specific URL for your competitors. “Attempt” is used because it is not always possible to isolate the homepage from the top-level domain. In general, entering xyz.com will analyze the entire set, while entering xyz.com/home.html (or however the homepage is identified) will yield results solely for that specific page.

Many times, there is no distinguishable homepage from the top-level domain name. You can sometimes figure it out by seeing if there is a site map for the competitor website, in which case you will be able to locate all the page-specific URLs for the site. As with anything else, if you are struggling and it is taking up too much time, discard that approach and try something else.

Does Your Competitor Write Guest Blogs?

You are actually in luck if a lot of your competitor’s backlinks are coming from guest blog posts. Guest blogging is one of the best ways to build authority and get new readers for your site. A guest blog is a blog post that you actually make on a competitor’s site that has a bio at the bottom with a backlink to your website.

Competitor backlinks

Why would a competitor want to let your blog on their site? Well, if you’re doing content marketing, you already know the answer. Creating a content-rich website is hard work. Good content is often hard to come by, so website owners turn to guest bloggers to create content for their site in exchange for a backlink to the author’s website.

Write Guest Blogs for the Same Sites

Because content is always desirable, if your competitors are guest blogging, then those sites that they have written for are obviously looking for high-quality content. One of the most difficult aspects of guest blogging is identifying sites that actually accept guest content. In this case, your competitors have done the work for you.

First, start by seeing if the site has a link to either a call for authors or a set of writer’s guidelines. This will give you the basics of what they are looking for in terms of content for their website. 

Next, reach out to these sites and pitch them with a good idea. Pretty soon, you’ll have a backlink of your own. If you can write better content than your competitors, then your backlink will generate more traffic than theirs did. Here is an example of a friendly request to write a guest blog:

Competitor backlinks

Identify Their “Superfans” and Make Them Yours

A superfan is defined as a fan of a website that buys all the products, shares all of the content, and provides a lot of support to the company. Superfans can be hard to convert, however, based on the exact nature of your business. This is especially true for retail products, such as sports apparel.

A superfan for Nike is someone who is decked out from head to two in Nike gear. They share all the company blog posts and talk incessantly about the Nike brand. It’s going to be difficult for Adidas to win over this superfan without throwing some major swag their way.

Luckily for you, most website superfans in smaller niches are not as hard to sway. Look for questions in their comments on your competitors’ sites, and then email them with an answer to their question, address them by name in comments or DMs, do something to catch their attention and get them to begin to frequent your site. Example:

(Image credit: Marketingland)

This kind of relationship-building takes time but is usually well worth the effort. A superfan is far more valuable to your business than a casual reader who rarely, if ever, purchases something from you.

Get Links From Page-Level Competitors

A “page-level competitor” is just a fancy term for the competitor discovery method discussed above. So what you will do here is:

  • Identify the keyword you wish to do the analysis for
  • For the competitors whose content rank the highest on the SERP, explore the backlinks to that specific page using your tool — NOT the top-level domain name

This will yield a much smaller, more specific, and relevant list of backlinks that have factored in ranking that content higher than the content you have written for that keyword.

Track Competitor’s New Links

Here is one method for tracking new competitor links:

  • Repeat the process that you used initially to identify your competitor links.
  • Change the color of the text in this spreadsheet to be different from the one initially created in your research.
  • Merge the two spreadsheets together and sort. Duplicate entries will be obvious because you will have the same links repeated, one in each color.
  • Any link appearing in the new color will allow you to now see competitors backlinks that have been added to their site.

Or, if you want to avoid a spreadsheet, Google alerts will allow you to track your competitor backlinks. It will alert you whenever this competitor adds a new backlink.

Competitor backlinks

Find Broken Links and Claim Them

if, in your research, you come across a link to a competitor’s page that returns a 404 not found error, reach out to the linking website and offer them a link to similar content on your site instead. Be polite, tell them you found a broken link on their site and were wondering if they would like to link to similar content on your site. It’s a long shot, but it works often enough to make an effort. Here is an example of that kind of email:

Competitor backlinks

Qualify & Prioritize Link Prospects

It’s possible that your competitors have hundreds, if not thousands of backlinks to their websites. It is imperative that you prioritize your efforts when deciding what backlinks to pursue your site.

Start with the traditional major news outlets such as TV stations, newspapers, and magazines. Then, move to the online-only news sources such as HuffPost, etc. Next would be links from manufacturer sites, etc. Basically, you’re working your way down the list from the external sites with the most traffic to those with the least traffic. Concentrate on the big names unless the smaller site is a dominant player in your niche.

Prioritizing from the top down is based on the principle of diminishing returns. The backlinks that are most valuable are the ones generating the most traffic to your competitors. Therefore, they are the ones you should target with your own backlinking strategy.

Diib®: Analyze Competitor Backlinks to Improve Your Own!

Through analyzing your competitors backlinks, your own backlink campaign can become more successful and profitable. It is a truly wise business person who learns from others successes and failures. Diib offers these vital metrics for, not only your own company, but that of your top 6 competitors. Learning what works and what doesn’t is half the battle and you can often find that through effective sleuthing. Some of the many features of our analytics tool that can improve your overall backlink health are:

  • Objectives to help you isolate and remove bad backlinks and fix older backlinks that point to pages that have been deleted from your website.
  • Alerts that tell you about your Domain Authority and number of follow/no-follow links pointing to your website.
  • Competitor keyword research and monitoring
  • Competitor backlink research for up to 6 of your most intense competitors.
  • A monthly call with a Growth Expert to see how you can grow your domain authority.

If you are looking for a more effective backlink strategy by analyzing your competitors backlinks, let a diib® Growth Expert speak to you about the best ways to use this information to your advantage. Call 800-303-3510 or click here for a complimentary 60 second site scan.

FAQ’s

Competitor backlink analysis is a review of websites in the same industry as yours or that share similar audience members with you. This analysis will give you insights into their number of backlinks, website performance, where they acquire their backlinks and overall authority.

This is one of the most underrated and valuable strategies today. Start by making a list of your most intense competitors. Then, with your backlink tool of your choice, find their traffic sources through hyperlinks. This should give you a good idea of where to begin acquiring backlinks of your own.

CognitiveSEO’s Site Explorer is just one way to find a specific website’s backlink profile. The Diib analytics tool also allows you to delve into your competitor backlink strategies and use them to improve your own backlink profile.

Yes…YES, YES, YES! Backlinks are still one of Google’s most important and effective ranking factors; this isn’t going away anytime soon.

The better question in the situation is whether the links you are building are valid, high-quality links. If this is the case, the number is unlimited. However, buying or building questionable backlinks can lead to being penalized by Google for “link schemes”.

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Daniel Urmann

Author Bio:

Daniel Urmann is the co-founder of Diib.com. Over the past 17 years Daniel has helped thousands of business grow online through SEO, social media, and paid advertising. Today, Diib helps over 150,000 business globally grow online with their SaaS offerings. Daniel’s interest include SMB analytics, big data, predictive analytics, enterprise and SMB search engine optimization (SEO), CRO optimization, social media advertising, A/B testing, programatic and geo-targeting, PPC, and e-commerce. He holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) focused in Finance and E-commerce from Cornell University – S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management.

0 thoughts on “How to Beat Your Competitors at the Backlink Game

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  • Hello Daniel,

    Great, “What a Fantastic Information You have given Here”.

    Really, “When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, backlinks may be a contentious topic (SEO)”.

    Thanks for your Beneficial and Informative Article. Ok, Bye Have a Wonderful Day.

    Regards,
    Jyotish

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