If you know anything about SEO, you probably know how important backlinks are. Whether you already have link building strategies in place or just want to know what it’s all about (hint: it’s not a chain of links that go backwards but… you’re not far off), understanding how your competition stacks up is just as important as understanding your own online backlink profile.
Let’s start with the basics. Link building is the act of building links between external sites and your own site, and vice versa. You might see this happening in a blog, on a partners page, in a directory, or any other spot on a site. As far as SEO goes, links from another site pointing to yours are some of the best ways to show Google you are an authoritative site that should be ranked well.
This is where you compare your own backlinks, with those of competitors. The goal is to identify websites that are linking to your competitors but not to you. This is known as a “backlink gap”. By reaching out to websites that link competitors, you are essentially balancing the competition and showing Google your site is just as link-worthy as theirs. It is also an important part of researching and identifying appropriate places to link to that you may not otherwise be aware of.
If you don’t already have a list of competitors, now is the time to make one. Even if you do have a list, checking from an SEO perspective is important. Start by listing out 5 – 10 competitors. Then take a look at their online presence and if they seem to be performing well or have a good digital brand. Narrow the list down to 2 or 3 competitors you want to analyse for backlinks.
There are also a lot of tools and software that can help you identify competitors as well, like SEMRush (our go to) or Ahrefs. SEMRush has a Backlink Competitors report that can compile a full inventory of competitors for you based on overlapping domains. There may be some wildcards in here, so take it with a grain of salt!
For this step you need to use some tools to get those juicy links! However, there are a couple of free (albeit limited) options here. If you don’t have SEMRush, Moz’s Link Explorer is a great starting point.
I recommend this free tool for everyone, whether you also have paid ones or not, as it offers so much, not to mention an additional perspective. No tool can get every little thing from Google, so comparing with several is a great idea and backlinking is no exception. Simply type in a competitor link and click Analyse. Head to the Inbound Links section. You can download the results and now you have your first competitor’s list of links! This has to be done one by one and there is a limit of 10 links you can analyse per month, but this works fine if you are looking at 2 or 3 competitors!
For those who do have SEMRush, you can find links with the Backlink Gap tool or in the Backlink Analytics Overview, both of which allow you to compare up to 4 competitors with your own website. The overview page gives a snapshot of total backlinks, referring domains, IPs, and Authority Score each competitor has. Backlink Gap is more specific, showing the actual backlinks competitors have that you do not. You can export this list similar to Moz OSE.
Once you have a nice big list of links, it’s time to figure out which ones are worth going for so you can consolidate your list to the most valuable targets. The first thing to check is Domain Authority or Authority Score (depending on the tool used – we recommended using more than one though!). Note what your own site’s DA or AS is and then compare your list against this. You want to go for sites that are above your own score and ideally, above 30 as much as possible. You can check this with the Moz Bar and SEMRush site audit.
The next step is to take a look at the sites you now have in your list. Sounds simple, and it kind of is! There is a lot to be said for gut instinct, so review the site and see if you think it is a good fit based on the content already on the site, the look and feel of the site, and if you can see opportunities for backlinks. You can also audit the site through the tools mentioned for a more in-depth review to back up your initial thoughts.
Once your list has been cut down nicely (we typically have a list of 15 – 30 links), put it all into a spreadsheet and organise them into categories. This could be the type of link (whether it is a guest blog, directory, or something else), the company name of the website, DA/SA, traffic (if you have access to this), and any additional notes.
You’ve crunched the numbers and done all the hard work, it’s finally time to start reaching out! Depending on the link the competitor got, some scenarios may be as simple as submitting your company details, but the best links are weaved into engaging content. Content outreach is a huge topic and if you aren’t sure how to get started, there are lots of great resources going into detail about it.
However, our top tips are:
SEO is a holistic practice that covers just about everything to do with your digital presence. Links are a huge factor in your ranking but not the only one. It’s just as important to make sure your site is set up with SEO and the user in mind, which will in turn make it “link-worthy”, both to those you reach out to, and people who find you naturally.