SEO 101: Looting Competitor Backlinks

Do your competitors rank at the top of Google for your target keywords? Then they likely have a solid backlink profile.

Links are perhaps the most crucial piece of the SEO puzzle—you’ll struggle to rank without them.

How do we know this? Because Google told us.

But the fact that your competitors have tons of backlinks is a bad thing, right?

Not exactly.

If people are happily linking to your competitors, chances are they’ll be happy to link to you, too.

(This is especially true if you create even better content than your competitors.)

In this article, I’ll run you through actionable ways to figure out who is linking to your competitors and how you can replicate their links.

But first, you need to identify who your competitors really are.

HOW TO IDENTIFY YOUR COMPETITORS (HINT: THERE ARE TWO DISTINCT “TYPES”)

Do you think you already have a good idea of who your competitors are? Not so fast.

Most sites have two “types” of competitors.

You can steal links from both types, but the approach will be different for each.

But before we get to the explanations, make a copy of this Google Sheet—you’ll need to record your competitors as we go through this section.

Here’s an explanation of the type competitor “types”:

1. DOMAIN-LEVEL COMPETITORS

These are the sites that compete with you in the SERPs, on the whole.

By that, I mean they’re not just competing with you for one or two search terms, they’re competing with you for many search terms across many pages.

By default, this report shows a list of competing domains sorted by the number of common keywords (i.e., keyword overlap).

You can see that, unsurprisingly, moz.com is our most significant competitor in the SERPs.

If they’re ranking for that many keywords (which they are), they most likely have a ton of backlinks.

This leads us to an important point:

Domain-level competitors aren’t always your “traditional” real-world competitors. I.e., they’re not always competitors in a business sense; they may just be competing for many similar keywords.

That second-to-last column—i.e., the link to Site Explorer—will be filled in automatically as you add competitors.

IMPORTANT! That final column lets you tag whether or not each site competes with you in a business sense—make sure to do this.

The aim is to loot backlinks from all of these sites. Stay tuned to learn how. 🙂

2. PAGE-LEVEL COMPETITORS

These are sites that, while perhaps not competitors on the whole (i.e., regarding sitewide keyword overlap), still compete with you on a page-level for specific topics/keywords.

For example, we have a post with 75 SEO tips, which targets keywords like“SEO tips.”

But here’s the thing: while entrepreneur.com isn’t a domain-wide competitor, they still compete with us for this term. Their list of SEO tips ranks in the top 10, above us!

Here’s how to find page-level competitors:

Pick a page/post on your website, then paste the primary keyword for which you’re trying to rank that page (e.g., “SEO tips”) into Keywords Explorer.

All of these are page-level competitors.

You’ll see some overlap between domain-level and page-level competitors (e.g., searchenginejournal.com also showed up in our domain-level competitor analysis) but some—such as the ones highlighted above—are only competing on a page-level.

UNCOVER THOUSANDS OF POTENTIAL LINK OPPORTUNITIES BY RESEARCHING YOUR COMPETITORS’ HOMEPAGE LINKS

This is because people tend to link to home pages when making a general mention of a brand, rather than something more specific.

Thus, analyzing your competitors’ homepage links will tell you where they’re getting mentioned.

For example, moz.com—one of the domain-level competitors from our spreadsheet—has been mentioned on 20K+ websites.

Because we know most of these links are brand mentions, the question becomes this:

Why did they mention them [Moz], but not us [Ahrefs]?”

This is what you need to find out and fix.

Here’s how:

Enter one of your domain-level competitors from the spreadsheet—ideally one marked as a “direct” competitor in the final column—into Site Explorer.

Then go to the Backlinks report (and add a dofollow filter).

You will now see all the backlinks pointing to your competitor’s homepage.

Next, sift through these and attempt to answer the question above (i.e., “why did they mention, and link to, my competitor… but not to me!?”)You can usually figure this out relatively quickly by looking at anchor text, surrounding link text, and the page title.

Answering this question will uncover some link looting opportunities pretty quickly.

We could probably get a link from this exact page by reaching out (to Curata) and suggesting that they might want to add Ahrefs to their list, too.

FIND YOUR COMPETITORS’ GUEST POSTS… THEN WRITE FOR THE SAME SITES!

Guest blogging remains one of the simplest ways to build high-quality links to your site.

It’s highly likely that your competitors are using this tactic right now.

(You may have even spotted some guest posts when looting through your competitors’ homepage links.)

Below are three simple tactics you can use to pinpoint competitors’ guest posts with ease.

SPOT EASILY-REPLICABLE LINK OPPORTUNITIES BY FINDING SITES THAT LINK TO MORE THAN ONE COMPETITOR

If a site is linking to more than one of your competitors, you’ll want to try and get a link from that site, too.

These “hubs” can be fertile ground for link building.

So let’s switch gears for a moment and assume I have a website that sells quadcopters.

How can I find sites that are linking to 2 or more of my competitors?

Easy. Use Ahrefs’ Link Intersect Tool.

STEAL LINKS FROM PAGE-LEVEL COMPETITORS (BY CREATING SOMETHING EVEN BETTER!)

We’re all familiar with the skyscraper technique, right?

Find your competitor’s most linked-to content > create something even better > steal their links.

It’s a great way to build backlinks as you already have a list of sites that you can reach out to once your content goes live.

As you can see, this will usually kick back a few irrelevant results such as your competitor’s homepage and blog. But there are still some good opportunities in there:

  1. Beginner’s Guide to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) [7,850 ref. Domains]—we agree that this guide by Moz is fantastic, but we have an equally excellent guide to learning SEO on our blog. So, effectively, we already have the “skyscraper” content created here.
  2. Google Algorithm Change History [5,703 ref. Domains]—this is another fantastic piece of content, but it’s very extensive. Perhaps we could publish a more succinct piece (e.g., “Everything You Need to Know About Google’s Algorithm Change History (in X minutes).”

Those are really rough ideas, but you can see how this works; we make something better and nab the links for ourselves.

TRACK YOUR COMPETITORS’ NEW BACKLINKS… THEN JUMP ON ANY NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Many of your competitors will be attracting new backlinks regularly.

But this is a bad thing, right? Not always.

Here are two reasons why:

  1. It proves that people are linking out in your niche—some niches are super-reluctant to link out; if your competitors can get links, it means there are links to be had. (Unless they’re just buying links, of course).
  2. It provides you with a constant stream of new links to loot—competitors attracting links like crazy? Loot the heck out of them!

You can do this by setting up alerts for your competitors’ new backlinks.

Blog Source: Ahrefs | 7 Actionable Ways to Loot Your Competitors’ Backlinks

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