Table of contents:
- Competitive Link Analysis 101
- How to Choose Right Competitors for Competitive Link Analysis
- Competitive Link Analysis
- Advanced Link Gap Tactics – Analysis of Individual Competitors’ Backlinks
- Competitive Link Analysis – Final Selection of Domains for Your Link Building Strategy
- Competitive Link Analysis – What Else Can You Learn From It
- Competitive Link Analysis – How to Place Links in Selected Domains
- Executing Strategy Based on Competitive Link Analysis – Effects
- Competitive Link Analysis – Summary
Does it mean that scattering a few backlinks over the Internet, putting them here and there on some random websites, do the work? No really.
Probably you’re now wondering: How am I supposed to pick the websites for quality link building? Well, you can run link gap analysis – no worries, I’m going to walk you through this process.
As a BONUS I’ll show you how link gap analysis allowed one of my clients to increase their website visibility by 25% in less than 6 months. Sounds amazing? Sure it does!
Here is what you will learn today:
- what link gap analysis is
- how to sift through your competition to pick the most relevant brands for the analysis
- how to do a competitive link analysis step by step
- what elements to consider while creating an effective link building strategy
You’ve probably heard that links that bring internet users from one domain to yours make your website look more authoritative to Google. And that’s absolutely true. Backlinks increase your website credibility, hence a higher rank.
The clever trick, however, is to know the right – or “fertile” if you will – places to leave (or “plant”) the backlink in. This is basically the key to success. Taking a wild guess and placing the referral links on random websites is barely a tactic. In extreme situations, such practice may even drag your website all the way down the SERP (I’m going to shed more light on that issue later).
Seemingly, there is almost an endless number of websites that can get your brand featured in one – or if you’re lucky – a couple of their articles. That’s why you should sort the unpromising ones out and focus all your energy on trying to place the referral link where it will actually earn you profits.
There are tools for that.
When you get your hands on those tools and do a competitive link analysis, you will get the information you need to devise an effective link building strategy. That’s basically the only proper way to see measurable results. Basing your tactics on intuition rather won’t help your website rank on page one of Google.
BONUS #2: This article is devoted fully to the link gap, but if you feel like learning more about the link building process, you may consider the Backlink Building Essential Guide worth reading.
Competitive Link Analysis 101
Most SEOs consider the link gap as a kind of “competition finder”. It’s a process that allows you to discover the websites that backlink to your rivals instead of to your website.
There are two things you need in order to carry out link gap analysis:
- You need to know who your competitors are exactly.
- You need to use the right tools to find out which websites direct the viewers to your competitors’ websites.
In this way, you will find out which websites your rivals use for their off-site strategy. Why do you need such insight? Simply, include the same websites in your off-site strategy.
Again, why would you do that?
Because if you manage to leave your URL on those domains while carrying on with your regular SEO activities, you will notice a significant improvement in your website performance. This will be the result of two things: FIRST THING is the optimization that you run on a daily basis, and the SECOND THING is that you mark the areas where your competitors are with your presence.
Simply put, link gap analysis helps you spy the websites where your competitors are (but you aren’t), consequently making you fall behind with your off-site strategy. Having the list of the very domains allows you to take the right steps to.. well… stop falling behind.
How to Choose the Right Competitors for Competitive Link Analysis
Even though it seems to be pretty straightforward, finding your nearest competitors may be pretty tricky unless you realize one thing:
The competitors that should be included in your link gap analysis list aren’t necessarily the same brands you normally compete for the customers with. At least, some of them aren’t.
Let’s imagine you sell fitted bedroom furniture. This makes you a local business owner, and therefore choosing IKEA as your close competitor may not serve the purpose well.
What should you do then?
There are two reliable methods to identify your link gap competitors. You can either do this by analyzing just a handful of chosen keywords or basing your research on all the keywords a website is optimized for. Here is how both of the techniques work.
Identifying Link Gap Competitors Based on Particular Keywords
The first method involves checking what brands appear as top search engine results, called out by the crucial for you (business-wise) keywords.
Since you also want your website to rank high for the same keywords because this generates more quality traffic, you should focus on the very websites occupying the top spots in SERP. Yet, I recommend focusing only on the brands whose size and recognition are similar to yours. In other words, just look for your closest competitors.
How to find the search engine keyword ranking? Have a go at SERPRobot.
BONUS #3 In case you are unfamiliar with this tool and have no clue how to use it, here’s an easy-to-follow guide on making a new project using SERPRobot.
When you have your SERPRobot set, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
STEP 1 Open the tool and choose your website or e-store.
STEP 2 Pick a keyword you want your website to be called out on. I suggest choosing a high-volume phrase that links to your homepage.
A SIDE NOTE: In case you’re wondering what the slash in URL Found stands for, it indicates that the keyword links to the homepage.
STEP 3 Choose the right phrase. In this case, the second keyword is the ideal keyword. It meets all the above requirements.
STEP 4 Click on the chosen keyword. You will see a list of the top 10 websites appearing in SERP whenever a searcher types the very keyword into a browser. Also, I suggest ignoring the sites of brands that are currently much bigger than yours (see the IKEA example above).
STEP 5 Having such a list at your disposal, you may select the top three or four brands, and include them in your link gap analysis. After all, these are the very companies you compete with for the top position for this keyword.
Identifying Link Gap Competitors Based on All Website Keywords
Another practical method you may consider adopting involves checking the list of competitors. You can generate it automatically in Ahrefs. This tool displays the websites that not only rank for the same keywords but also generate most of the organic traffic in a chosen country (for that keyword).
In this case, you’re going to analyze all keywords your website is optimized for to find your closest competitors. To see the list, you need to take the following steps.
STEP 1 Open Ahrefs and introduce your domain.
STEP 2 Click the Organic search tab.
This tab displays your rivals in a column. Depending on the screen you’re viewing the results on, you may need to scroll down a bit to see the list. Generally, it should appear on the right.
STEP 3 Similarly to when you use SERPRobot, you can pick three or four firms, and use them for your link gap analysis.
That’s basically it.
Now you need to decide if you aim at strengthening a given keyword position, or prefer to improve the general performance of your website in SERP. Then, choose the method that suits the purpose better.
Competitive Link Analysis
Now, when you finally have the list of the closest competitors, you can use this data to perform the crux of your off-site strategy and move on to the link gap analysis itself.
Here, again, we’re going to reach for Ahrefs (alternatively, you may go for Majestic) because this tool is one of the best to carry out competitive link analysis effectively.
Competitive Link Analysis – Bulk Study
The very first thing you need to do is identify the websites your competitors are mentioned on, but you aren’t, yet could – or even should – be.
For your convenience, I’m going to divide this process into steps, the same way I did it earlier.
STEP 1 Open Ahrefs.
STEP 2 Choose More that you can find on the top menu, and later click Link insert.
What you see is the below panel:
STEP 3 In the But doesn’t link to section type your URL. In Show me who is linking to the domains or ULRs paste the domains that belong to the other brands that you’ve found using one of the above-described methods.
If I were to perform such an analysis for Delante, it would look like this:
STEP 4 Now, all you have to do is click the orange Show link opportunities button.
In this simple way you are presented with a list of websites that backlinks to the predefined rival brands, yet don’t backlink to your website.
Basically, you can begin your link gap analysis at this stage. However, to extract more from this process, thus boosting its effectiveness and insight, it’s worth exporting the list to Excel / Google Sheets. This way you will be able to filter the results easily, which facilitates coming to the right conclusions quicker.
STEP 5 To transform the list into a more manageable form, simply click the Export button that you can find on the top right.
There will be two export options to choose from:
- quick – allows you to export the first 1,000 results, and
- full – allows you to export all results.
If I were to advise, I’d say select the full export option because this lets you examine a bigger scrap of information. Naturally, if your website is rather small, the quick export may do because there are fewer rival brands.
Nevertheless, in the case of larger websites, having more data is essential. Otherwise, you may not use the full potential the competitive link analysis gives you. It may sometimes turn out that the first 1,000 results show you literally zero websites you can use for getting your backlinks from.
Whichever option you choose, you generate a list of websites presented neatly on a worksheet, just like here:
STEP 6 For your convenience, select the first row and click the filter icon.
This way you can sort the list according to your preferences (i.e. parameters).
Link Gap – Choosing the Potential Sites You Should Link from
With all the data exported to a worksheet and the possibility to filter it, you can start analyzing the information and finding the right places for referral links.
For example, you can arrange the domains that direct to your competitors’ websites, starting from the highest domain authority. Alternatively, you may check which of the competitors has the biggest backlink base.
Let’s put these ideas into practice, shall we?
After rearranging the results in order to place at the very top the websites having the larger number of links directing to link-assistant, you can see that most of them are placed on Search Engine Journal.
Another conclusion is that the two other competitors have a large backlink base, too.
What does it mean to you?
It means that this is the website you should leave a backlink on. After all, since your rivals earn referral traffic by placing so many links on just one website, it must be worth it.
However, before doing so, I suggest you use Ahrefs to check vital metrics like domain rating and web traffic. I’ll tell you more about a thorough website analysis a bit later. Now let’s focus on…
Advanced Link Gap Tactics – Analysis of Individual Competitors’ Backlinks
The good news is that you don’t have to check each website your competitors leave backlinks to separately to dig deeper and learn more relevant information. Ahrefs does that for you. Open this tool and let me walk you through analyzing the backlinks of individual competitors.
STEP 1 Introduce your competitor’s URL and choose Backlinks from the left sidebar.
What you see is the list of every single backlink that takes users to a given competitor’s website.
STEP 2 To make the analysis easier, I suggest choosing One link per domain that you can find on the drop-down menu located next to the number of links. Adding this filter saves you a lot of time, trust me.
It simply shows you all the domains that have a link directing to your competitor’s website. If your brand’s rival has many links placed on just one domain, you may spend a bit too much time checking every single one of them – there is no point in doing it. Instead, you may consider doing the following:
ADVANCED LINK GAP TACTIC IDEA #1 In comparison to the table you prepared a few moments ago (the one that collects referring domains that direct to your rivals, not to you), here you are presented with even more vital information concerning the parameters of the referring domains. This means that you have an insight into their page traffic, domain traffic, and anchors, to name just a few things you may consider interesting.
ADVANCED LINK GAP TACTIC IDEA #2 At this stage you can also check if your competitor bases its strategy on dofollow or nofollow links. To look into this, just select either option (top menu). That’s all. The number of do- and nofollow links are displayed on your screen.
ADVANCED LINK GAP TACTIC IDEA #3 Another thing you may find useful while doing competitive link analysis is this: Check what website elements refer to your competitor’s website. I mean, see whether their backlinks are inserted into the copy or whether they also put an image on an anchor tag.
Here is how to do it in just one step. From the top menu choose Backlink type and select Image in anchor.
If it turns out that your competitor uses such a tactic to insert more backlinks, but you don’t do this, you may consider giving it a try. Perhaps, putting an image on an anchor tag may bring you more organic traffic. Actually, there is a great chance it will be beneficial for you.
Truth be told, it’s impossible to carry out such a detailed analysis if you don’t focus on one competitor at a time. Therefore, to understand the off-site strategy of your rivals, you simply have to go one by one, checking all the vital parameters.
Competitive Link Analysis – Final Selection of Domains for Your Link Building Strategy
At this stage, you have identified all domains that direct to your competitors’ websites but not to you. You have also unveiled their off-site strategy (e.g. whether they use do- or nofollow links, or put an image on an anchor tag). This means that it’s time to take one step further and select the websites that seem particularly promising for your business.
I mentioned earlier that you should go for websites that have many links pointing to your competitors’. However, what should you do if the link gap analysis you performed didn’t give you such clear results?
In this case, I suggest verifying the websites’ parameters. Focus mainly on the traffic and domain rating. Again, you can do this in two ways simply by checking the link profile of a given website or verifying a URL of a webpage you consider beneficial for you. You can do this in Ahrefs. The results should appear at the top.
I think, now it’s the right time to give you three pieces of advice on selecting the right domains for your link building strategy:
FIRST PIECE OF ADVICE: Domain rating shouldn’t be perceived as the only indicator of a website’s validity. I suggest taking into consideration other vital factors, such as spam score for example. Crossing out a website having weaker DR but relatively high traffic may be a missed opportunity.
SECOND PIECE OF ADVICE: Always go for websites that have at least a few thousand visitors per month.
THIRD PIECE OF ADVICE: Check if the website you want your brand to be featured on isn’t spammy because receiving a backlink from such places may lower your website rank.
Okay, let’s stop for a while to learn…
How to Check If a Domain Is Not Spammy
First, you need to get yourself a trustworthy tool. To me, it’s the Link Explorator available on MOZ. The good news is that you don’t need to buy the license to use it – just log in and you should be able to get your hands on the tool.
STEP 1 Go to moz.com, choose Free SEO Tools (top menu), then click Link Explorer and finally on Get link data.
STEP 2 Next thing to do is choosing the Exact page from the drop-down menu, and inserting the URL of the domain you want to verify, or rather exclude from being spammy.
STEP 3 Click the blue Analyze button.
STEP 4 From the left sidebar choose Spam Score.
From my own experience, I can tell you that it’s safer to leave referral links on websites with a Spam Score lower than 10%. You shouldn’t waste your energy on webpages with higher scores because they offer no value for the users, which is something Google doesn’t approve of.
If you happen to have a Majestic tool, you may also use it to check the spam score – or as they call it Trust Flow – of a website. Despite being paid, this tool is equally effective in helping you steer clear of spammy websites.
Using Majestic is pretty intuitive. Open it and paste the domain you consider worth having a shot at. Then look at the Trust Flow.
Contrary to the MOZ tool, here the higher the score, the better. I suggest leaving backlinks on the websites whose Trust Flow is higher than 9 or 10.
Competitive Link Analysis – What Else Can You Learn From It
Receiving a list of websites you may consider getting a backlink from is just one of the advantages of link gap analysis. Another is that this process of studying statistical data helps you crack your competitors’ strategy, and spot the differences between your and their tactics.
Why would you spend time on that? Simply because it may appear that there are some elements in your off-site strategy that need tweaking in order to catch up on or even outrun your competitors.
One of our best practices is to compare your website and a competitor’s website, taking into consideration:
- the number of backlinks, and
- the number of domains those backlinks are placed on
To do so:
STEP 1 Open Ahrefs and introduce the URL you want to compare your site.
The results are shown at the top of a window that opens automatically.
STEP 2 Repeat the procedure for the remaining competitors. Gather your findings in a spreadsheet just to make them easier to analyze.
Let’s imagine your website is Domain X. Looking at the results presented in the above table, you can conclude that you need to work on improving one thing which is called diversification. In other words, you should focus not just on receiving new backlinks, but more on getting them from various sources.
The scenario may be different, too. The results you manage to obtain may suggest that even though the number of referring domains is smaller, the number of backlinks built on one website is pretty high. In this case, you need to try increasing the number of backlinks on the websites that already mentioned your brand in some of their posts. Even though such a situation is rare, it’s worth being aware of it.
Having all the essential information that competitive link analysis helped you collect, you can build the right off-site strategy for your business. You know which websites you should reach out to because your competition uses them for their link building strategy (and it clearly worked out!).
So far you’ve also verified the domains as being:
- valuable (domain rating, traffic)
- not spammy (spam score/trust flow)
- adequate when considering your current situation (e.g. low diversification of referring domains)
Competitive Link Analysis – How to Place Links in Selected Domains
If you’re wondering what your options are when it comes to getting a backlink from chosen domains, let me guide you briefly on that.
Generally, there are three options: You can
- get a sponsored / guest post published,
- place a backlink in an already-existing text, and
- place links in live articles.
The second option seems to be more effective mostly because it delivers quicker results. Your link will appear on the page that has been indexed, already generates traffic, and in general internet users make use of it. Even though you don’t have to invest money in writing a copy, the second option happens to cost more than the first one.
Therefore, if you are tight on budget, you may try to get your sponsored article/guest post published on a given domain. You may also come across a domain that offers free publications, yet it may take a really long time for you to see the article available for visitors to read.
When it comes to sponsored articles then, as the name suggests, publication of those involves spending some amount of money, which is one thing. Another thing is that once your copy is published, you need to wait for the crawlers to index the page. In other words, you need to stay patient if you decide to improve your website rank in this way.
Even though the positive results the sponsored article is said to produce are rather slow, going this path may save you some money, especially when compared to getting a backlink inserted in an existing article.
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You just need to think for a while whether spending more on a quicker effect is what your business needs right now. Sometimes devoting a smaller amount and waiting patiently for the effects to knock on may turn out to be more beneficial.
See how we created a link building process for 4 countries in a highly competitive CBD industry and introduced the client’s most relevant keyword phrases to TOP1!
Start Small, Make Big Progress
I think I should stop for a moment and reveal a secret to those of you who have just launched their websites.
If you’re one of those entrepreneurs who has just started their online business, then let me tell you one thing that will save your budget: there is no use in spending money on getting featured on “big” websites. Not just yet. Here is why.
Did you know that there are some reputable pages where you can leave a backlink or two – completely for free? Indeed, there are such places. Losing this opportunity by focusing on paid solutions would be a waste.
Leave backlinks in places like social media (a form of natural link building), business directories, and NAP. When you build your website visibility for free, generate more organic traffic and strengthen your website parameters, you may consider investing some of your budget into paid articles.
It’s worth realizing that gaining backlinks by getting in contact with reputable publishers won’t give you spectacular results unless your domain is strong. That’s why, if your website is quite new, give it some time and help it grow bigger. Only then should you use the opportunity that paid backlinks offer.
Executing Strategy Based on Competitive Link Analysis – Effects
Everything I said above is just theory, right? So now let’s look at the practice, or rather the effects that my team and I achieved by following the pieces of advice I gave you above.
Every time I begin a link building strategy for my client, I always start by running a competitive link analysis. When I finally gather all the essential information, I move on to mapping out the most effective strategy.
This is exactly what I did when devising an off-site strategy for one of my eCommerce clients (note: the green line marks the beginning of working with the client).
If we look at the figures, we see that the increase was pretty impressive – from 193,000 to 246,000 within a month. Yet, that’s not all.
The stronger position the website gained is the result of other vital parameters that also improved.
How did I do that?
First, my team and I selected the nearest competitors of my client’s brand and walked through all the steps described above. The information we gathered allowed us to pick the websites which we had to get the backlinks from.
We did that by getting sponsored articles published, as well as inserting the URL into the existing posts. Ever since our strategy kicked on, we have been observing steady organic traffic growth. This off-site process is still ongoing.
Again, that’s not all.
Together with the organic traffic growth and website visibility boost, we also noticed that the main keywords have been gaining better ranks, too.
The pages we built the off-site strategy for are still gaining visibility which proves that choosing the right referring domains maximizes the results of link building.
How will you know which referring domain is right? By running a link gap analysis, of course.
Competitive Link Analysis – Summary
Link building is one of those SEO strategies that shouldn’t be ignored or neglected. When done correctly, it gives the search engines a signal that your website is trustworthy and authoritative. It also works like a non-pushy promotion for your brand.
Besides, link building seems to be the only possible option to make your website more visible on Google, especially when it’s already well-optimized for search engines. Finding the appropriate referral domains may give you a leg up on your rivals. And you won’t know where to get the backlinks from unless you run a competitive link analysis.
With so many benefits, why wouldn’t you have a go at link building? To see the best possible results, you need to perform link gap analysis religiously. Having an analytical mind and being able to see unobvious connections between a few seemingly unrelated things also helps make the right decisions.
Therefore, if you don’t feel determined enough to devote your time to perform a competitive link analysis, or if you don’t want to buy more SEO tools at this moment, simply let us know. My team and I will be happy to carry out a link gap analysis for your business to later devise an effective off-site strategy.
Naturally, there are no two identical websites, and therefore there are no two identical link building strategies. That’s why you need to go through all the above steps and draw conclusions on your own. To get the most out of this process – increase website rank and boost organic traffic – you need to thoroughly analyze the results obtained from competitive link analysis. Later, you just need to reach out to those publishers who will help you take your website higher in SERP.