Are you looking for opportunities to build links that your competitors have but you don’t? Are you thinking about analysing the gaps in their link building profile to your competitive advantage? Or are you looking to audit your own link profile to find toxic links? No matter what you need, The Links Guy is here to help.
A proper backlink strategy is essential to increase traffic to any website. However, finding sites ready to link to you can be a hassle. Many website owners do not respond to outreach requests, and even with the best outreach in the world, and the most targeted prospecting lists – this is to some extent, always going to ne a numbers game.
Then how can you find link building opportunities that are highly likely to link to you?
One of the best and easiest ways to do this is through a thorough competitor backlink analysis.
Let’s dive in to see the most effective way we should be using competitor analysis.
Tools like Ahrefs and Semrush can allow you to analyse where your competitors get their backlinks, and then reaching out to those same sites. Since they already have a history of linking to sites that are your competition, in theory they should be more likely to link to you.
Thus, instead of having your outreach efforts ignored, you can simply focus your attention on
While it is true that you may not get a link every time, you will certainly build a firm backlink profile, sometimes without even paying a cent.
At The Links Guy, we analyse competitors backlinks for some clients, and we use a few different ways of looking at the data.
This helps us get a campaign off to a quicker start, and when we analyse competitors who have done well, we have a rough roadmap of how we too can experience some initial success.
It’s important to remember it’s not simply about just emailing a list of sites linking to your competitors – but it’s also about understanding why those sites are linking to them, and in what context.
When we understand a competitor’s backlinks in this way, we can really fuel a strong campaign. We’ll cover more on this later.
The following steps will demonstrate how you can analyse your competitor’s backlink profiles to generate links of your own.
- Look for competitors
Of course, you may already know some of the top competitors, but it is always good to find out more so you can make the most out of it- since the more competitors you analyse, the more link building opportunities will present.
Analysing the backlink strategy of your competitors can be done only once you have found who your competitors are.
Ahrefs has a feature called “Top organic competitors”:
- Make sure to look at the correct geographical area (since you may be picking up traffic in multiple countries).
- Check both in terms of the ones with the highest volume of overlapping keywords (this could be the domain-level competitors which we’ll cover later), but also the competitors with the highest % of overlap (likely to be your closest business competitors)
In Semrush → Domain Overview:
- Scroll down to Main Organic Competitors.
- Then click on “View Details”
- Semrush also has a metric called “Com Level”. This is a calculation based on the number of keywords each competitor has, and the number of common keywords between the competitors.
Moreover, it is not just about analysing “direct competitors”.
For example, if you have a law firm in Manchester, you would be inclined to only analyse law firms in that particular city. However, you should check law firms in other cities and at the national level to find out where they are getting their links from. In this way, you will be able to find national-level publications, law organizations/professional bodies as well as other entities outside of just the competitor’s local area. Therefore, even if your main target customer is only operating in a specific area, it is worthwhile to go outside of that immediate area.
It is really important especially when you’re in a very niche industry , or only have a small number of direct competitors, to increase the pool of data you have to analyze.
You could in fact check out sites in the same niche but from other countries to help expand that pool of backlinks for analysis. Maybe these competitors’ backlinks will not be directly relevant, but they can give you insights into crossover sectors or other tactics that you should utilise to get more links.
Coming back to your competitors, there are two levels of competitors, and you will have to tackle them differently.
These are sites that compete with only certain pages on your website. These are usually unrelated websites that compete on one specific niche or topic, or they could also be related websites in the same industries but not direct competitors.
If you browse through your keywords in an SEO tool, you can easily pick out your page level competitors that way.
In Ahrefs, go to Organic Search → Organic Keywords:
- Make sure you’re in your target geographical area, and load that list of keyword up.
You can even filter down your lists further, if you want keywords only over a certain monthly volume, from specific sections of your website etc.
- Find a head keyword for one of your target pages (i.e. a keyword you really want to rank top for), and click on the “SERP” button on the side.
- You’ll then see the SERPs for that keyword appear, and you can find your competitors there.
On Semrush, go to Organic Research:
- Scroll down to Top Keywords.
- Click on the Organic tab, and then click the blue button below to view all of the data.
- You have a filter at the top where you can trim down the list for keywords between certain positions, monthly keyword volumes etc.
- Just click on the keyword you want to look at, and the SERP page will be loaded as a new page.
These are sites that publish content not only in the same niche that you do but also compete directly with you. Therefore, they have the same business purpose and compete on the same services along with having similar content and keywords. There are a number of different keywords they compete with you for.
For example, there is a simple way in which you can differentiate between domain-level and page-level competitors. Suppose, you search for a particular topic on Google, like “best kayaks in 2023” and you are in the kayaking and outdoor sports niche.
Among the results, the pages that deal with kayaking are domain-level competitors, while those which are not explicitly about kayaking but just have one or two blogs about kayaking are page-level competitors, i.e., they compete only on specific keywords.
Red arrows here indicate sites we may class as being within our niche and more likely as “domain level competitors”. FieldandStream.com and DiveIn.com kind of covers a much larger niche, so you may consider this a page level competitor, if kayaking isn’t a major part of the site.
And of course you can see sites like Sports Illustrated, Forbes and GoodHouseKeeping, which are just very large sites that have happened to cover the topic, and are page level competitors, at least in this instance.
Another way to find out who your domain-level competitors are is by running a related search on Google. Simply type “related:[your website URL]” into the search option and the websites displayed will be your domain-level competitors. You can then use a backlink checker to find these competitors backlinks. However, this is not always a very reliable method.
Yet another way to look for domain-level competitors is to use the in-built competitor backlink analysis , and keyword analysis features.
For example, here is the Ahrefs Organic Competitors feature.
It will look at the ranking keywords, and determine sites
Another cheap, and easy way to find who your page-level competitors are, is by simply going to Google, typing in a keyword and taking note of all the websites that rank on the top couple of search results. Keep doing this for a few different keywords, and you may find a lot of the same page-level competitors coming up, which is a clue as to where your analysis should be pointing.
- Analyse their backlink profile
The next step is to perform an in-depth backlink analysis for the pages you have discovered.
Most backlink checker tools will already have certain features where you can further filter the competitor links based on specific criteria. This is particularly true for sites that have been around for a while and have acquired a lot of links. Some of the most useful filtering options are as follows:
- Dofollow links: These are the only links that pass on link juice, so they are very important. You have to ensure to filter out nofollow links if we’re specifically looking for links driving the biggest SEO impact.
- New links: When looking for links, we’d recommend always checking from the newest, and working back to old links.
- Authoritative links: These are links that come from authoritative websites, and if you order it by the DA or DR level, you can quickly get a sense of where their highest authority links have come from, and in what context.
Sometimes, a backlink analysis tool will also show you the results of one page linking to various competitors. If multiple competitors are linked on the same page, or have a link from the same website, it increases the chances that you may also get a link. However, for this, it is important to check the context in which they got linked. Usually, curated industry pages and roundup posts can link back to you if you request them. However, news articles are not likely to link back to you.
Here’s the Link Intersect feature on Ahrefs which makes this type of link analysis really streamlined.
Step 1: Input your competitors
You can insert multiple competitors here, and you have the option of comparing that set of competitors against your own (this is optional).
Once you’ve done that, click “Show link opportunities”
Step 2: Pick your intersection strategy
Now you can filter the list based on how many intersections you want to look at. Knowing how many of your competitors have a link from the same domain, can be useful if you want to determine the likelihood of you securing a link.
If multiple competitors have a link from a site (and you don’t have a link from there yet), then that shows there is a missed opportunity, and a potential easy win. In this example, once we click our intersection number as 2 – it cuts the number down to 660 domains, which can be exported.
Step 3: Analyze the opportunities
In Ahrefs, you can also click the number on each row, and that opens up a section showing you exactly where the link is on that domain, and the context of it.
This is really useful info to know, and we can see this site has multiple links from Oregon State.
Note: The Ahrefs link intersect feature unfortunately can only find link intersections based on the domain, and if you want to find exact pages, where more than 1 link competitor is placed there – you’ll have to do that manually, or make your own tool.
Roundup posts in your industry may have multiple competitors listed there, so we’ll discuss an alternative method to find them in the “Blog Roundups” section later.
- Identify link strategies used by competitors
Once you have found out about your competitor’s backlinks, you will need to identify the patterns in their link profiles. Are they getting links from one particular sector? Are they doing resource page outreach? Are they getting links from HARO? Once you identify these patterns, you can replicate the tactics used by them successfully.
We have outlined a few examples of the kinds of links to look out for and how you can use these tactics to attract more links to your pages.
Resource Links / Niche Edits
When you’re analyzing a link profile, you may notice they have links going to their blogs, and they are seemingly random links in another site’s blog articles. These are resource links, or niche edits, depending on the terminology you prefer.
That competitor you’re analyzing, may have secured that link by paying for it, but unless you already happen to know,, you’ll have to reach out to find out if it’s going to be paid or free.
|About paid links:
A lot of people believe that we should not be paying for links. In fact, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines expressly prohibit the buying of links. However, in certain industries and across certain niches, paying for links is the only way you can compete with other sites. Paying for links is quite a common practice. The quality of the site is still very important to consider, since this will ensure that the link is contextual.
You can read more about buying backlinks here.
Either way, when you notice that the site has these types of links, it does give you some patterns you can follow. If they have some articles which seem to be attracting more links, and they are getting them with a particular context – that can indicate content you should be producing and building links to, as well.
For example, say we were analyzing this site’s backlink profile to understand how they got links:
We can see an article with a DIM weight calculator, that has a bunch of resource links. The patterns here could serve as the seed for link strategies, if we wanted to build links to our own DIM calculator. But its important to think carefully about what we can replicate and what we can’t. For example, if the article has only linked to the competitor version of that topic/asset, they may not want to link you to us as well. However, in some cases, where there is room to mention an alternative, or to mention an article which discusses it with more depth, or takes a different angle, we could still approach those sites for a link.
Aside from that, each time their article is linked to, we could use that to scrape more examples of articles with that context. And this is especially useful to find angles that aren’t super obvious.
For example, they have a link from an article titled “Foundational Ecommerce KPIs for Measuring Growth”.
What we can learn from this, is that there may be articles discussing the cost of order fulfilment, and there is an angle there to discuss dimensional weight costs, and that’s where a DIM calculator can come in, and may provide some added value for the article. Our goal here should be to find more articles like this and reach out to them with our calculator. I won’t dive too deep into it in this article, but if we run prospecting searches for something like this, this should put us on the right track:
If you find that your competitors have links from guest posts, you can reach out to the websites they are publishing on and pitch your own ideas. This is an important part of link building because it is a way to get relevant and high-quality backlinks from authoritative publications. However, the only disadvantage is that it takes some time to come up with an idea for a blog post and then draft it.
An amateur way of doing this, this is to type the name of your competitor and “Guest Post” on Google. Or other patterns like:
- “author bio”
- “guest author”
- “guest post by”
But that won’t uncover everything. So if you analyze their link profile, you’ll get almost all of them that way. Some may be easily identified as they link to their homepage, and the article has an author bio like this:
(Yes, that is a very old photo of me!)
Some of their guest posts may not have a branded author bio, but have linked back to one of their pages, within the article itself. It’s not always easy to distinguish which are resource links, and which are actually the result of guest post outreach, but often, if its linking to one of their commercial pages, its often an indicator its a guest post article.
Regardless, by going through their profile, and picking those targets out – these tend to be slightly easier targets because you already know that they’ve linked back to that competitor, that they are also highly likely to link back to you.
However, you also have to ensure when you approach them with a guest post pitch,that it’s formulated carefully to increase your conversion rate.
For this, you will have to think carefully and pitch content ideas that will appeal to their target audience, while still being relevant to your brand and its content. It has to be an idea that they haven’t covered already, and that is aligned with the needs of their audience.
Here’s an example of a pitch we send to a site in the supply chain sector. The challenge here was to make something related to our client (which is in the loans sector), but still of value to a logistics and supply chain audience.
Since we approached them with just the right content idea, it didn’t take much convincing, and we had it live within a couple of weeks.
Here is a high level overview of the approach TLG uses when we reach out to websites for guest posts:
- We check the kind of content the website focuses on.
- We find out the contact details of people who are in a position to accept guest post submissions, such as Content Editors.
- We perform manual outreach specifically targeted to each target.
- We suggest blog posts that cover similar themes to the ones published by the target website.
- We sometimes provide examples of the type of content that we have already produced as samples.
These are articles that have a list of the best blogs from a particular niche or category. In case you see any such article linked back to your competitors, you could ask them to link back to you as well. Chances are, if our competitors have inbound links to these pages, they will be likely to link back to you as well. But to heighten your chances – why should they link to you?
- You may have to talk about a feature that your company/product has which the others don’t have.
- Maybe yours is cheaper.
- Maybe it’s the premium option and there’s a good reason for it.
Think about something compelling you can mention for them to include your website as well.
The Link Intersect feature in Ahrefs we shared earlier (or the Backlink Gap feature of Semrush) is a good way of finding pages where multiple competitors are mentioned. We tend to find that this method tends to yield roundup posts. However, you can also skim through an individual competitor’s profile as well.
Using phrases like “best”, “top”, “tools”, “software”, “platforms” – are common patterns associated with roundups of software & SaaS tools.
In this example, we use the phrase “best” and can uncover a range of roundup links in this link profile.
These are articles where a writer reaches out to different experts about their opinions regarding certain specific topics, and then links back to each expert. For these kinds of articles, you could either reach out to the website owner or the writer directly and ask them to link back to you for an excerpt from your own opinion.
For example, if you are an expert on global warming, you could share your take on the subject matter and ask them to link back to you. In exchange for shares on social media or some form of payment, the writer will usually accommodate this request.
However, sometimes they may be unwilling to make edits on already updated articles. In that case, you can ask them to link back to you and insert your take on the particular topic for any future article.
- Perform a reverse image search
Have you noticed how people often use the same headshots when writing for multiple posts? You can copy the headshot and run a reverse image search to find all the other places that the writer has written for. To do this, you simply need to right-click on the headshot image and choose “Copy Image Address”.
Then, go to Google Image Search, click on the camera sign and fill in the URL in the place where it asks you to “Paste Image URL”. when you click on “Search By Image”, you will get to see all the different publications the writer has written for.
This way, you will find many websites that have numerous guest posting opportunities. You can then perform manual outreach for each of these targets and submit guest posts that link back to you.
Target keywords are very important to a strong SEO strategy. And your main target keywords will often be associated with your most direct competitors. Often, the sites which have the most crossover, will be direct competitors.
Although it is important to remember that you are also competing with other websites which are not directly competing with you from a business point of view. However, you are competing with them for keywords. Analysing their links can give you valuable insight into their link building strategies, which you can certainly build on.
Therefore, as we can see, analysing the links from those “SERP level competitors” will not only get you more links, but will also help you look at how others strategise their link building. For example, if a website has many expert roundup articles, it would mean they are getting a lot of links through HARO. Thus, you can start answering HARO requests on your own to generate more links.
Similarly, if they have a lot of guest post articles, you could find some ways to optimise your own guest post strategy to get more links. For example, if we’re working with a seafood client, and we notice a SERP level competitor had links from the boating sector – that’s a learning point for us, as being a sector we should approach. That is in fact a strategy we have used, and we even expanded out into approaching yacht companies to guest post. Finding that strategy may not have been possible if we only analyzed our direct competitors.
Not all backlinks are the same. If you want only high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources, you will have to optimise your link building efforts. This will add real value to your link building strategy. Therefore, you need to use backlink opportunities from your analysis which are truly going to add value. So, which backlinks should you go after from the long list of backlinks your competitors are generating?
Many sites try to boost backlink quantity by paying links across a variety of referring sites, irrespective of what the site is actually about. However, think about this. Will your audience click on a helpful or an unhelpful link?
The best backlinks will be on sites that have relevant content, and where the link is contextual. Links on highly irrelevant pages or sites won’t add much value to your link building efforts.
Also, some competitors may have links from spammy sites within their profile. Ignore those and try to filter them out when prospecting, as those links may eventually get devalued anyway. Focus on the quality sites you can find, to level the playing field, and then build further on top of that.
A quick couple of things you can do for example, is to cut out any sites with DR less than 10, or Domain Traffic less than 100.
However the bar is just there to cut out out the very low quality spam or scraper sites. After that, you can set other benchmarks with a higher domain traffic level, or DA/DR level.
Always keep in mind that Google wants you to have a very diverse link profile. However, if almost all your backlinks come from the group of sites, or it only comes from one type of sites your profile loses its element of “randomness” and it can have a knock on effect on your results.
So don’t stick to just one tactic for building links. If you get a lot of links from link exchange groups, bear in mind the pool of sites will diminish quickly and they will tend to just be link inserts on SaaS sites. While continually doing guest posting may create a pattern if you keep using an author profile bio. Not to say that doing these things will cause significant harm, but the more diversity you can bring in, the better it’ll be in the long run.
There are a number of link types that you should be aware of (such as external links, internal links as well as backlinks) but the most important among these are dofollow and nofollow links. Remember that dofollow links are preferable to nofollow links since the latter is used to signal to a search engine that you may not trust the website you are linking to.
But how will you know whether an opportunity will result in dofollow or nofollow links? The best way to know this is by simply asking, or by looking at their other links. To check whether they use nofollow or dofollow links, inspect a page and look for the rel= “nofollow” tag.
There are also browser plugins which can highlight nofollow links for you, rather than manually inspecting.
Keep a look out for where links are inserted across different articles. After all, think about it yourself- when you are going through an article, which link are you going to click? Ideally, you will want to look to replicate link building opportunities which will yield “in-content links”.
However, other links you may uncover during competitor analysis, may be found at the very bottom of the article, in a sidebar, footers, or other areas where the link is relatively hidden away. Those types of links won’t be as valuable, if at all.
On top of that, the more outbound links on a page, the greater the impact this could have on “diluting” the outbound link equity going out to the dofollow links inserted that page. So if you find that a lot of your competitors have a link on a page, any link you get may not pass that much link equity as a result. At the same time, don’t ignore those links if they are on a quality site – but just don’t expect them to be as powerful as you getting a link on a completely different page, or a different site altogether.
Chances of success
You should never leave a great link just because it has a low chance of success. You never know which kinds of things may go viral or if a sector just so happens to be really fruitful in terms of link success rate.
At TLG, had a situation in 2020 with one client where we saw one competitor had a link from a government site. It was only one .gov link picked out like a needle in a haystack, and no other competitors had .gov links – but we didn’t let it deter us. We built a campaign around this one strategy, and secured at least 20-30 links from local government sites. What seemed to be an improbable and unlikely backlink opportunity, ended up being the best one we found that summer.
To improve your success rate with any campaign, always approach a target with personalised emails, pitch great blog post ideas and separate yourself from the outreach crowd by making sure you are going to the target’s inbox in the first place, instead of their spam folder. However, always consider that what worked for one site may not work for another.
That being said, do not waste all your time on links with very low chances of success. Consider the following factors when looking at your chances of success:
- News articles: Unless there is something fundamentally wrong with the news posted, it is very unlikely that the editor will add a link or further edit the piece posted. It is important to not waste any effort going after top tier media.
- Website affiliations: Sometimes, you will notice that there are a large number of links between two (or a handful of) different websites. In many cases, this happens because those websites are owned and operated by the same company. If this is the case, and one of those partners is a direct competitor – there is almost very little chance that you can get a link of your own there.
- Domain strength disparity: This involves some common sense on your part, of course. If you have just started out with your website, a network such as Fox News will not link back to you no matter how nicely you ask or how good your content is, unless you have a very valuable data piece or you are pitching via HARO. So when you are doing competitor backlink analysis, you may also want to cut out anything with a very high DA as well.
DA and DR can be important considerations to look out for. These metrics analyse a site’s backlink profile and score it out of 100, and a higher score usually means a lot of authoritative backlinks from high-quality sources.
However, these metrics can also guide your competitor backlink analysis, and help you reduce the data to a more manageable size.
Make sure to set a bar of maybe DA or DR of 10+ so that you can filter out all the small or junk sites. A site with a thousand links may look quite competitive on the surface until you find that 70% of them are spam sites. Spam sites will not have any impact on link profiles, so removing them from the equation will give you a better idea to see what you are really up against.
As we mentioned before, setting an upper limit of say DA 70 or 80, will help you filter out top tier media – this is useful if you find a competitor has done a lot of PR and you need to cut those links out.
The best way to get to understand a site’s quality is by analysing its content. If the site publishes original, well-written and well-researched content with enough images and seems to follow proper SEO practice, it will be a good backlink target and result in high-quality links. However, if the content is poorly written, and the website, in general, feels very generic and has no narrow niche focus, it is a good idea to avoid it.
Look for reputable media sources, influential blogs and visionaries and other popular industry-related sites. It is also a smart idea to choose referring pages that have a lot of their own backlinks since more referring domains to that page can pass more link equity, and could indicate it has the potential to drive referral traffic as well.
Now that you have an idea of how to analyse competitor backlinks, you will have to find ways to incorporate these into your own SEO strategy. As long as you are conscious of the fact that not all opportunities are good ones, and analyze each backlink thoroughly, you will be golden. All you need to do is replicate competitor backlinks, and use it to seed more strategies – so you can generate more inbound links of your own.
And if you want to create a spot-on link building strategy using insights gathered from powerful competitor backlinks, contact The Links Guy.