Link Building 101: Competitor Analysis



Link Building 101 Competitor Analysis

Link building is something anyone can accomplish. There's no great secret, just hard work, creativity, and determination to get links that matter.

When you're looking for some practical link building opportunities that will help you find and acquire quick, yet quality, links, there are five "quick wins" you should explore at the beginning of a link building campaign:

  1. 404 Pages and Link Reclamation
  2. Competitor Analysis
  3. Fresh Web Explorer/Google Alerts
  4. Local Link Building
  5. Past/Current Relationships

Competitor Analysis/Backlink Profile

Competitor analysis is an integral step in any link building campaign. Why? Because running a backlink analysis on a competitor:

  • Teaches you about the industry:
    • Gives you a sense of which sites within the vertical are providing links
  • Helps you understand your competitors, including:
    • Their link profile, and why they're ranking
    • Their strategies used to acquire links
    • Their resources that didn't acquire many links

Gives you a list of obtainable links (if they can, why not you?)

Competitor backlink analysis is great – you get the initial research into the industry done, it helps you understand the competition, and it gives you a tidy list of high opportunity links.

So, let's dive into the how of competitor backlink analysis:

  1. Make a list of competitors
    • Direct
    • Indirect
    • Industry influencers
    • Those ranking for industry money keywords
    • Watch fluctuations – who's winning and who's losing
  2. Take those competitors and run their sites' through a backlink tool previously mentioned (OSE, Majestic, Ahrefs, CognitiveSEO, etc.)
  3. Backlink Analysis
  4. Download the top 3-4 competitors' backlinks into CSVs. Combine into a single Excel sheet, removing duplicates, and find obtainable quality links already secured by competitors.

Step 2 and 3 were previously covered in "Link Building 101: How to Conduct a Backlink Analysis", and step 1 is pretty self-explanatory.

To recap the advice for these steps:

  • Don't phone-in the list of competitors. Spend time doing research and investigation, giving yourself a well thought out and understood list of potential competitors.
  • Information you should be examining in a backlink analysis:
    • Total number of links
    • Number of unique linking domains
    • Anchor Text usage and variance
    • Fresh/incoming links
    • Recently lost links
    • Page Performance (via top pages)
    • Link quality (via manual examination)
  • Additionally, think creatively while looking through competitors' backlinks. Think about:
    • Which resources/pages performed well
    • Which resources/pages performed poorly
    • Commonalities in competitor's link profiles
    • Differences in competitor's link profiles
    • Strategies likely used to acquire links

How to Find Obtainable Quality Links

So, that takes us to Step 4: downloading competitors links into CSVs, combining in Excel, and drilling down into the data to find worthwhile links and insights.

Honestly, SEER has done an amazing job of writing a very easy to follow guide for Competitor Backlink Analysis in Excel.

To summarize their steps, you:

  • Download CSVs of competitor's backlink portfolios (‘Inbound Links' will give you a list of all the pages linking, ‘Linking Domains' will give you only the domains).
    • Note: if you're unfamiliar with your own (or client's) backlink portfolio, you may wish to include their backlink portfolio in this process for reference.
    • Using OSE don't forget to filter to the whole domain:

Pages on this root domain export to CSV

  • Open the CSVs and combine (copy and paste) all the data into a single Excel sheet.
  • Filter down to clean URLs, keeping the originals intact.
    • Move Column J (target URL) to Column P (to be the last column)

Move Column

    • Delete Column J (the now empty column)

Delete Empty Column

    • Duplicate the URL and Target URL columns on either side

Duplicate URL Target URL columns

    • Remove http:// and www. from both column A and column P - select the column, click control+H (find and replace shortcut), type in what you want to find (http:// and www.) and replace them with nothing (by leaving the second line blank).

Remove http and www

    • You might want to rename column A and P at this point - call them bare URL and bare target URL, or whatever you so desire (in the SEER article they were called ‘clean').
  • Remove duplicates

Remove Duplicates

    • Make sure it's only for column A (bare URL) and P (bare target URL)

Remove Duplicates URL

Notice the check mark on "My data has headers". This is important to keep your data from being jumbled up. Anytime you're removing duplicates make sure this box is checked.

This will give you a complete list of stripped URLs next to the full URL linking (along with the rest of the important information provided by OSE) and a list of full target URLs next to a complete list of stripped target URLs.

Note: you'll still likely have a lot of duplicate URLs in column A (the linking URLs) at this point. This is because there's multiple links on the same page going to different landing pages – which is potentially important information (shows a competitor acquired multiple links per page).

If you'd like to delete these multiple link pages/URLs to reduce data noise, highlight column A, and run ‘Delete Duplicates' again - making sure to have the ‘My data has headers' box is checked:

Remove Duplicates Bare URLs

Now, you'll be down to unique URLs (pages, not domains if you've used Inbound Links) linking to competitors. If you're looking for only referring domains, you should start back at step 1 and download a CSV of referring domains, as opposed to all links.

At this point, you're still dealing with a lot of data, so you'll want to filter it further. I recommend filtering by domain authority to see the most authoritative links first.

Filter Domain Authority

This will make your list ordered from highest domain authority to lowest – pretty useful information. Keep in mind however that the domain authority is thrown off by any subdomains hosted on a popular site –,, etc.

So, don't take the domain authority as absolute – you'll need to verify.

There's also a few other filters you can use to find interesting data:

  • Page Authority (PA)
  • Anchor Text
  • Number of domains linking (shows best ranking pages - don't get stuck on home pages)

Take time and play around with the data. Look through the top DA's (manually excluding anything artificially inflated), then PA's, check out top performing pages via number of domains linking, and even play around with filtering the anchor text.

This should be the fun part - the analysis. You've filtered the data down to a semi-digestible level, and should start taking advantage to find insights and understand your competitor's links.

Remember, any links your competitor has should be considered fair game for yourself. Once you've determined quality links from domains you haven't secured, look into the link and pursue it appropriately.

More Insights

If you're looking for an even better (and more advanced) deep data insights you can move all this information into pivot tables. Simply select all rows, click over to the insert tab, and select ‘Pivot Table':

Insert Pivot Table

Once here you have the option to choose which fields you'd like to further examine:

Pivot Table Fields to Add

Playing with this data should reveal potential insights, although we're getting a bit beyond Link Building 101.

Furthermore, if you want to really dive into pivot tables (or excel in general), I can't recommend Annie Cushing enough. Check out her Moz article "How to Carve Out Marketing Strategies by Mining Your Competitors' Backlinks".




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