Ranking Higher With Competitive Backlink Analysis

Having quality backlinks that point to your site is still a big win in terms of ranking better, even as recent algorithm changes have taken aim at lower quality backlinks. But how do you achieve those quality backlinks? Just one of the many ways is to look at something companies aiming to achieve more business have always focused on: their competitors.

You can probably rattle a number of companies off the top of your head that you consider to be your biggest competitors. However, for the purpose of backlink analysis, you’re going to want to take it one step further – you’ll want to figure out exactly which sites are beating you in search. Break this down based on your key search terms.


How to Do It

Hopefully if you are reading this, you have already implemented a thorough keyword plan for your site, integrated the terms you’re trying to rank for, and included corresponding title tags (if not, that’s a step you should take before looking into backlinks). Assuming you’re ready, here are the steps you’ll want to take:

  1. Set up a simple Excel or Word file and list the keyword terms you’re targeting.
  2. Go ahead and drop the first keyword term into Google’s search field. Press enter.
  3. Scroll down through results until you find where your site is listed (this is the manual way to do it; meanwhile, a marketing/SEO tool can save time and help you keep closer tabs on where you rank for each term).
  4. Take note of which sites appear above your own (not all sites outranking you will necessarily be true competitors; instead, there may be some industry publications/organizations).
  5. Determine which sites are “true” competitors (not the online publications, etc.) and list them under the said key term.
  6. Repeat the above steps for the rest of your phrases. When you’re done, you may have something that looks like this:

comp backlinks1

Congratulations! You’ve identified your true competitors in terms of search rankings.


Analyze Their Backlinks

Now that you’ve compiled an organized list of your competitors, you’re going to want to use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, Majestic, or SEMrush to figure out exactly where your competitors’ backlinks are coming from.

Note: Not all the competitors will outrank you with their root domains (www.example.com), and some may instead be the webpages on root domains (www.example.com/example). In such instances, it’s worth examining backlinks for both URLs (enter both www.example.com and www.example.com/example into whatever backlink tool you’re using).

The Backlinks You Find Will Likely Fall Into These Three Categories:

Not immediately attainable… Understand that everything isn’t attainable, at least not immediately. Your competitors may have quality backlinks that come from conventions/tradeshows where they’re “gold” or “platinum sponsors,” for example. Others may come from membership organizations, or even advertising. While these are all likely paid, they’re not usually the type of paid links that Google considers to be in violation of its Webmaster guidelines. These aren’t necessarily the types of links Google wants to reward websites for either, but chances are they’re probably passing some kind of “link juice.” While these efforts may eventually be worth pursuing for networking and other reasons, these aren’t the best options to go after if you simply want more links.

Links you don’t want… Understand that just because they have it, doesn’t necessarily mean you should want it. Quite a few times I’ve seen the situation where a site is getting outranked, most likely because the competition has backlinks on bad websites – I mean, the kind you’d expect the site to get penalized for. These can include links that are reciprocal, included in low quality web directories, featured as keyword rich anchor text hyperlinks in forum and blog posts, or included in some other kind of link scheme. While these types of links may be helping that site outrank you in the short term, Google is most likely to hit them with a big penalty in the near future.

Links you want… Most importantly, you want to figure out which link opportunities are worth going after. Maybe your competitor has some kind of resource/linkable asset on their site that publications covering your industry are linking to within their content. In the SEO world, this is the most natural kind of backlink you can get. It’s all about building unique content on your website that people want to link to – then, providing an extra nudge to make sure people are aware that it exists. Sharing on social media is great, but it’s never enough in today’s always-evolving SEO landscape. Meanwhile, you might find that your competition has really good backlinks, such as the following examples: Photos of their work in blog posts/reviews linked back to their website, a quote in an article attributed to someone at their business, embeddable content, a link to their site listed on a resources page, etc. Such links are all within reach!


Get Organized!

Once you’ve thoroughly audited all the backlinks belonging to your competitors, I recommend arranging them into a spreadsheet of their own. Add columns for: Site title, URL where you may able to get your link, info for who to contact at the website (sometimes this could be a URL for a contact form, instead of an email), and the way in which you’ll reach out (whether it’s through your own email, an account creation, or perhaps even a phone call). Once you’re done, your spreadsheet may look something like the following. After you’ve created your list, you can start to reach out to everyone in a well-organized manner.

comp backlinks2


Take It a Step Further

Going after your competitors’ backlinks and achieving a similar backlink profile to theirs isn’t going to necessarily allow you to outrank them. You will also need to pay attention to onsite SEO factors, in addition to going after even more high quality link opportunities. If you find a site where there’s a great link opportunity, make sure to look for more like them (Type in “related:example.com” in search, for example). Sooner rather than later, you’ll find yourself moving past the competition.