A Guide to Analyzing Competitor Backlinks to Build Your Own Strategy

Competitor Analysis

Link-building is a major influencer for your website ranking on either the first page or further back in organic search results. Gaining leverage over the higher organic search result positions for commercial keywords in any competitive industry relies on how well-crafted your backlink acquisition method is – check out this awesome article on other important SEO metrics if you’re interested in further reading.

This guide breaks down such a method which involves spying on your competitor’s backlink strategy and obtaining backlinks from these sites. The five micro-steps listed here involve spying on competitors by analyzing and learning the secrets of their successful link-building strategies and formulating your own for better organic traffic and conversions.

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1. Start by identifying your competitors by share of voice

Begin your journey by highlighting your top nine competitors from a share of voice reports. It’s important that you only note the direct competitors in this process. If any non-commercial (Wikipedia), editorial (New York Times), or social communities and review sites (Trip Advisor) show up then be sure to cull them from the list. The remaining results should be a list of sites offering identical services to your business.

However, what is a share of voice? A share of voice (SoV) is the representation of your brand’s visibility for one or more keywords in comparison to other websites in the same niche. In other words, your goal is to have a higher SoV% than your competitors by ranking for more keywords than them.

The image below highlights how an SoV may seem for the Australian finance industry. For demonstrative purposes of an SoV report, the green and red figures highlight the SERP’s visibility change over the four-month period.

Share of voice is a whole chapter in itself and rather than go off-track, please have a read of this expert guide.

2. Find the websites which link to your competitors

A competitor link intersects lists the sites that have distributed links to your competitors but not to yours. There can be as many as a hundred or as few as ten of such sites – it all depends on the number of links your competitors have acquired from common denominator domains.

We can determine this by importing the URLs of competitor websites (based on a share of voice) into Ahrefs. Then we can review the number of websites linking to three or more competitors.

The Ahrefs Link Intersect tool makes this process less daunting as it can generate a user-friendly report containing a total for link intersects (the common denominator websites). Your aim should be to include between 5-10 competitors and download the data into an Excel sheet. Another way is that you can export the total referring URLs of SoV competitors to formulate a pivot table.

The link intersects report shows 12,000 results with vastly varying domain ratings of the referring URLs. The domain ratings of these sites are crucial to identifying their value. These results can be further refined by toggling the domain rating score to view the high-value opportunities (sites with a domain rating of 30 and above).

3. Extract competitor backlink profiles

Next, we export the top 1000 results to view them as a spreadsheet in Excel. A tip – adding filters to the top row and labeling columns by referring domains, domain rating, intersect tally and each of the competitor websites could prove very useful. Refine your spreadsheet once again by deleting any duplicate entries.

4. Calculate your backlink opportunity score

These opportunities can now be ranked by their backlink opportunity score. The value of the opportunity is determined by the score number – the higher it is, the more valuable the opp. How do we calculate this value? Multiply the domain rating by the intersect and divide by the total number of competitor sites. As a formula in Excel (assuming B2 is your domain rating and C2 is the Intersect) it would look something like this: =SUM(B2*C2)/4.

The results should look something along the lines of this now…

5. Define & understand your backlink tactics

For the final stage, we need to comprehend the reason behind why these links were published. There are machines that can categorize websites by type to save time, but this process doesn’t lend itself well to shortcuts. Breaking down competitor backlink profiles involves manually going through the URLs where the backlinks rest. It needs a human touch.

There are two ways to conduct a URL check:

The first is to use Google search commands to see which pages host the competitor’s website link. The second is running a search through the backlink profile of the website within Ahrefs. The latter is more likely to give a more accurate outcome.

The larger the competitor sites are, the more likely their links are to be featured by news coverage and article submissions. However, the lower-tier the competitor’s site is the more likely they are to be featured in forum and directory link opportunities.

We’re aiming to construct a shortlist of labels for these opportunities and the following outcomes should be featured on the list:

  • News coverage

These are backlinks earned through merit. Large publications will reference brands within stores as the author of some form of research or press release. Such backlinks are extremely difficult to achieve.

  • Article submissions

Blog articles or feature articles penned on a brand’s behalf or written by a marketer. The website is then encouraged (sometimes persuaded) to embed a backlink with their content as a reference. Difficult to achieve, unless paying for the privilege.

  • Personal blog submissions

Collaborating with a blogger from your industry to devise an article that can include a hyperlink back to your website. This usually involves an exchange for cooperation or assistance between both parties.

  • Partner network submissions

Hyperlinks are included within footers or testimonial pages to validify the user of an existing professional relationship with your business.

  • Directory submissions

Such websites act as directories for a range of businesses and feature their URLs within individual profiles. Directories are however often subjected to use by spammers and may therefore be frowned upon by the industry.

  • Forum submissions

Encroaching on live conversations within a forum thread and mentioning your website as a valued information source with a hyperlink included. Much like directories, this can be treated as another frowned-upon tactic.

  • Visual content and social media submissions

Hyperlinks from profile by-lines on social media platforms and video submission websites. These links should ideally be included under your business’ official account or channel. With that said, this is moreover a brand awareness tactic than anything else however a hyperlink can also be a takeaway.

The sum total of each opportunity type in an Excel sheet and filtering by highest to lowest link opportunity score should display a more prioritized version of your link opportunity funnel. Use this ranking scenario to guide you as you can target these websites by rank – a useful trait when close to deadlines.

In summary, link building can be a tedious process however a must-do for all businesses wishing to take their organic rankings up a notch. Understanding where your competition stands in terms of share of voice and how they got there can be the missing piece from your SEO strategy.

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