In an increasingly competitive digital marketing landscape, competitor analysis is both wise and necessary. From keyword analysis to backlink analysis and everything in-between, competitors’ successes and failures can inform your strategies.
Backlinks, in particular, attract justified interest, as they demonstrably drive organic traffic. However, while each type of analysis will typically overlap conceptually, each will have its own tools and best practices. As such, let us devote this article strictly to backlinks. Specifically, we’ll delve into how to find your competitors’ backlinks, using some of the most prominent tools available today.
Building a Healthy Backlink Profile
Foremost, let us begin with the end goal; a healthy backlink profile. A healthy profile is the key to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) success, so aiming for one should frame your efforts.
A healthy, natural backlink profile consists of multiple factors, including the following:
- A mix of Follow and NoFollow links; only building Follow links for Page Authority (PA) gains may incur penalties. Natural profiles include both backlink types, and both effectively produce traffic.
- Natural anchors; backlink anchors should include keywords, but not simply them alone. A natural anchor should make logical and syntactical sense within its sentence.
- Anchor variety; being natural-sounding aside, anchors should offer variety. Targeting the same keywords through identical anchors looks unnatural, and it too may incur penalties.
While these and other such factors will not affect how you’ll find your competitors’ backlinks, they will inform your strategies. For example, as we will cover below, many backlink analysis tools focus on backlink types and linking domain authority. This is partly because earning Follow backlinks may differ substantially from earning NoFollow ones, such as through user-generated content (UGC). Thus, you may include such factors in your competitors’ backlink analysis in advance for additional insights.
Finding Your Competitors’ Backlinks
Now, finding your competitors’ backlinks is, conceptually, a straightforward process. However, it does differ depending on who you identify as a competitor, the tools you use, and so forth. As such, let us explore the fundamental steps in some detail.
Identify Your Competitors
Initially, you will need to identify your competitors. How you do so will affect the following steps – so a crucial distinction is in order here.
Competitors will typically be divided into two categories, each with its own subsets. There are:
#1 Search Competitors
Search competitors are those who deliberately compete with you for specific keywords. One can then divide these into two subsets:
- Domain-level search competitors. These sites will compete with you on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) at a domain level. As such, even though they may only slightly overlap with your field, your keywords will overlap significantly. Many tools we will discuss below use this keyword overlap as an analytic tool themselves.
- Page-level search competitors. These sites may be unrelated to your niche but will compete with you at a page level for specific keywords. This may be due to a similar subject focus, even though your exact products and services differ.
#2 Traditional Competitors
Traditional competitors are those who are your competitors by default, as they are direct business rivals. These we can divide into two subsets of their own:
- Same-industry competitors. These are traditional competitors within your field, regardless of their physical location. As such, they’re your SEO rivals as regards industry-specific keywords.
- Same-location competitors. Finally, these are same-industry competitors who are also in close physical proximity. Thus, since you share locations, you will likely need to compete in terms of local SEO.
You may identify your competitors through market research, customer feedback, keyword research tools, and more. However, different types of competitors will call for different strategies to beat. For example, approaching popular blogging sites within your niche calls for very different strategies than enhancing local SEO. Thus, you will need to make this distinction early, choosing where it makes sense for your business to focus.
Analyse Your Competitors’ Backlinks
Having identified your competitors, you may then begin to analyse their backlinks. There are multiple reputable tools to help you do so, so we will only explore three among them. Namely, in no particular order:
- SEMrush’s Backlink Gap tool
- Ahrefs’s Site Explorer
- Moz’s Link Explorer
Each one’s process will differ, naturally, so let us go through each one.
#1 SEMrush’s Backlink Gap Tool
The Backlink Gap tool offers to analyse link gaps, as the name suggests. To use it, you will need a list of your competitors as outlined in the previous step. Then, you may find your competitors’ backlinks and analyse them under different scopes.
For example, you may want to find which of your competitors’ pages and content got the most links. To identify their most popular pages, you will need to go to the “Indexed Pages” section, under “Backlinks”. There, after using a site’s URL to analyse it, you may sort through pages based on backlinks, domains, and more. Filtering in this way will yield insights on which pages get the most backlinks, which you may then analyse and replicate.
Conversely, by analysing your competitors’ shortcomings, you may analyse which pages lost backlinks. To do so, you can go to “Backlinks” under “Domain Analytics” and sort for “lost” backlinks. Next, the tool gives you the option to export this list to a .csv. You may open this file in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and sort through URLs based on losses. This way, you can identify which pages lost the most backlinks and analyse them for errors you may avoid yourself.
#2 Ahref’s Site Explorer
Ahref’s Site Explorer tool offers similar functionalities to similar ends. You will, again, need a list of your competitors to get started.
Initially, you can enter your own domain in Site Explorer to verify your competitors under “competing domains”. This analysis takes the aforementioned keyword overlap into account, so here you may better filter between domain-level and page-level competitors. If you’re particularly interested in page-level competitors, you may use such tools as Ahref’s Keyword Explorer for specific SERP overviews.
Then, to analyse specific backlinks, you may use the tool’s “backlinks” option under “backlink profile” for a competitor’s page. This section has the subsets “new”, “lost”, and “broken” for additional filters beyond link types, language, and so forth. The tool also features a (Do)Follow/NoFollow filter you may use, but remember that, ideally, you should analyse both. Here, as above, you may find your competitors’ backlinks – their pages, branded mentions, and, most importantly, their sources.
#3 Moz’s Link Explorer
Finally, Moz’s Link Explorer tool offers similar features as well. While there are many other tools to consider, this one is arguably the best to round up such overview lists.
To use this tool, you will–predictably–first need to enter your competitor’s URL into it. Then, you may navigate to “Inbound Links” and filter their backlinks based on link type and link status. This section will also offer Domain Authority (DA) and PA information, which are invaluable toward Follow link analysis. However, it is worth reiterating that you will not just need Follow links for link equity – colloquially called “link juice”. NoFollow links will also produce traffic and make your backlink profile appear more natural for search engines.
As above with SEMrush’s Backlink Gap tool, this tool also allows you to export data into a .csv file. You may thus use it in Excel or Sheets to filter by such factors as:
- Linking site/page DA/PA
- Linked site/page
- Link type, frequency, and anchors used
Such criteria, as above, will help inform your strategies for optimal results.
Identify Sites That Link to Your Competitors
Finally, you may identify the specific sites that link to your competitors. Here, unlike identifying how many sites link to your competitors, you may identify which sites link to them most frequently. Ahrefs dubs these as “superfans” – a term that, in essence, stands and offers value.
Each of the tools mentioned above and similar ones offer some way to do so. In all cases, you may filter by linking domain, link frequency, and similar metrics. The reason why this matters is because you may then apply strategies to earn backlinks yourself.
The essence of all such strategies typically overlaps with Backlinko’s Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique. He outlines the steps to this technique as the following:
- Step 1: Find link-worthy content
- Step 2: Make something even better
- Step 3: Reach out to the right people”
Throughout this process, you should find “link-worthy content”; that’s the essence of finding your competitors’ backlinks. Then, analytical insights on said backlinks should drive your content creation strategies, the second step. It is here where content marketing and SEO overlap most substantially, at that. Finally, finding “superfans” and sites that regularly link to content within your niche covers the third step, the “right people”. Typically, you may reach out to propose a backlink, presenting your content as valuable for their readers. However, this may also include such practices as politely claiming unbranded mentions in cases where they already acknowledge your content. In all cases, this strategy hinges on finding your competitors’ backlinks’ sources and offers the next step forward.
In summary, analysing your competitors’ backlink profiles is a crucial aspect of competitor analysis that should not be overlooked. Identifying your competitors for keywords of choice is the initial step that will inform your strategies. Then, locating and analysing their earned backlinks yields more insights; their content’s quality, depth, length, format, tone, and so forth. Finally, you may identify which sites regularly link to them, so you may reach out for backlinks in turn. Fortunately, the market offers a vast array of tools, including those mentioned above, to help you throughout the process.
About the Author
Arthur Simmons is a web designer, copywriter, and avid SEO practitioner. He currently works with Link Department, where he contributes articles on link-building strategies, outreach, and, of course, SEO in general. When off the clock, he scouts social media for new insights and innovative digital marketing ideas.
Disclaimer: The author’s views are entirely their own and may not always reflect Mauco Enterprises’ views.
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