How to carry out link-building competitor analysis

There isn't a company in existence that can't learn something from its competitors. Even one as big and successful as Google can be accused of 'borrowing' ideas from the competition, so there's no reason you should feel too proud to, either. Competitor analysis lets you assess which other companies are doing and add the best bits into your arsenal.

This is certainly true when it comes to link-building. Creating an accurate picture of where you stand against your direct competitors will quickly give you an actionable strategy to take forward. Are you miles ahead, or falling down on quantity, or quality of links?

Successful backlink competitor analysis will identify a number of quick wins. Read on for our top tips for link-building success.

Weed out your competitors

The first thing to do is identify your real competitors. Who are you up against online? It could be quite different from what you think. Take the keywords you value most and do a simple Google search. Who is consistently performing well? Are there any businesses doing better than you thought?

This is a useful exercise even if you think you know your competitors, as it often springs surprises.

Identify all of the backlinks

Once you've got your list of competitors, the next step is to get all of the backlinks. The only practical way to do this is to use a tool such as those offered by Moz, Ahrefs or Majestic. All of these tools can give you a complete list of backlinks to any URL and allow you to export them into a spreadsheet.

Once you've got a list of backlinks, you've suddenly got a potential list of (often) thousands of sites who could link to you. But where to start?

Categorise them and find the opportunities

Once you've got all the backlinks it's a good idea to go through and categorise the type of site doing the linking. You can work up the right categories for industry, but these will include things like news sites, company blogs, personal blogs, social media, reference sites, events sites, directories and more.

Building the links

Once you've categorised the sites, it's time to get contacting. Sorting into categories helps to make your approach to this more methodical. For example, you probably won't find success just emailing a news site and asking for a link – you'll have to do something newsworthy. On the other hand, this approach will probably work with a directory. A personal or company blog may not just hand out a link, but you could write some content for them and get a link in return.

When conducting a link-building request, keep your email short and to the point. Stay informal and friendly and be up front about who you are, what you're asking for and why a link to your site would be beneficial to the webmaster's audience. Be truthful – no one likes spam and they'll be able to see through your lies with quick visit to your site! To build at scale, it's also worth looking into a good link-building agency whose experience in outreach can be invaluable.

You probably don't want to be doing this for every single one of the links, though, as many will be either from low-quality sites or have been paid for. It's a good idea to filter by domain authority to avoid the ones that aren't worth your time.

Find out what's popular

Backlink analysis also presents a good opportunity to find out which of your competitors' content is most popular, so you can make sure you have that base covered, too.

By using the Ahrefs URL Profiler, you can sort competitor content by total shares and backlinks. If you put this through a tool like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs you'll be able to see social share information as well. Find the most popular and you immediately have your next piece of content that you can use in your link-building efforts.

Backlink alerts

Once you've done this process once, it's good to keep on top of it regularly. Ahrefs contains a very useful tool for keeping a tab on your competitors. If you still want confirmation of your competitors, its handy Competing Domains feature identifies your domain-level competitors.

You can also set alerts on any new backlinks achieved by your chosen domains. This allows you to keep a close eye on their activity and gives a great opportunity for you to add links of your own. By contacting the linking website soon after they've just added one to a similar website gives you a warmer lead than contacting a site cold.

A wealth of information

Your competitors are a goldmine of information for link building. Competitor backlinks are essentially a list of sites predisposed to link to you. It's a straightforward process, but to do it properly, you need to use a range of tools and techniques to cover every angle. And don't feel guilty about it – there's no doubt your competitors will be doing it to you, too!