Competitive link analysis is a great way to understand what needs to be done to rank right up there with the top sites in your market and create a link building strategy of your own. By engaging in competitor link analysis you will be able to understand what types of links you need and what types of opportunities you should pursue in your link building campaign. Analyzing your competitors is not just about copying their backlinks, but creating your unique link profile by understanding what is needed for top ranks.

How to Find Real Competitors

We all make mistakes; webmasters tend to think that whoever ranks in top 10 for their keyword is a real competitor. There are two faults with this kind of thinking:

–          Your competitors may be a bit lower (Wikipedia ranks for thousands of terms but they are not a competitor)

–          There may be boosts in ranks (we need to find websites that have maintained their top ranks for more than a few months)

There are plenty of websites that rank in top 10 for a few days, weeks, or in some cases a few months, but are they really our competitors? Our competitors are the sites that are here to stay, the same can be said about a solid number of results we can find in top 10 for certain keywords. Is Wikipedia or BBC really our competitor if we are selling a product? Not everyone in top 10 is your competitor. The easiest way you can identify your true competitors is by looking at who ranks for your top 10 keywords.

Ann Smarty created a tool that lets you compare search results using 10 of your top keywords, Who I Compete, the results you will get will show you websites that rank for more than one of your chosen keywords. So if a site X ranks for 6 of the same keywords as I do, I can certainly consider them a competitor, but if a site Y ranks for only 1 out of 10 keywords I think it’s safe if I ignore them at first.

seo competitors

Analyze your competitors

Once we find our real competitors it is time to analyze their link profiles and get some data we can use.

1.Number of linking domains and number of links

Personally I use Open Site Explorer, but you already know that. For this you can use Majestic SEO or Link Harvester as well. Number of links is not all that important for this, we are trying to determine their authority and linkability, so we need to look at the number of linking domains.

This will give us a basic idea of what types of domains we need to target and how many we need to aim for starters.

2.Anchor text distribution

The next is anchor text distribution, if you look at a website in open site explorer and find that from 2,000 backlinks they have 500 backlinks with an exact match anchor like “cheap insurance deals” you know that they were active in their link building, but not very good. This can also give you a hint that they need to manually link build, great content sites acquire links on their own.

So if you find a website with crazy anchor texts of 5 or more words, a great number of various anchors, you know they have great content that people link to on their own free will. No one will link to you using your exact anchor text unless you arrange that with them one way or the other.

Nevertheless, we need to see what anchor texts our competitors are targeting in their link building campaigns, so don’t miss this step.

3. Types of sites linking in

Try analyzing what types of websites link to your competitors to get a feel of what you should target, news sites, blogs, directories, article directories, communities etc… If you see a website that has 200 linking domains and has 50 from blogs, mostly comments, 50 from article directories and 50 from various low level domains you should raise a red flag and go around them.

On the other hand if a website has links from various types of sites from directories to science portals and reviews, as well as news mentions you know they are doing well and you should stick with them.

Understanding competitor strategy

This is often the hardest part in competitor link analysis, but it is not as hard as people think it is.  This is the manual part, you need to check each of the competitors manually and identify what types of website mostly link to them in addition to anchor text distribution. But let’s focus on types of domains.

If you see that a website mostly gets linked from media sites and news it is easy to see that they are doing something worthy of mention, so we can take them as a quality content site. If we see that a website is mostly linked from article directories we know they are trying to gain serp results by mass linking, not our choice right? But that is it, most websites won’t be able to perfectly recreate a natural link profile, and that is what gives them away.

Unless you are in a high paying market competing for some of the most sought out keywords you probably won’t come across natural link profiles created by SEO’s. There will always be something to give them away; this is where anchor texts come in handy. We know the site has 20 links from blogs, 20 links from article directories and 20 links from real product sites. By comparing anchor texts among these we can see if they are trying to manipulate their ranks by using the same anchors in their link building or not. Only the smartest of link builders will mix them up, but for a trained eye even that won’t be enough.

If you understand what the competitors are up to you can measure results and use the most obvious ones for your link building efforts.

Look for artificial links

In order to get the best out of you competitor link analysis you need to be able to see the artificial links and relationships.

Artificial links are mostly paid links, links coming from the same IP, whatever the means of obtaining them they often have the same anchor text, they are mostly site wide or placed in sidebar, footer, or can be found on a page out of context. Don’t be alarmed if you find a few of these, there is no perfect link profile so we can all have a few, like few relevant link exchanges. But if they can add in number then you are onto something and should avoid this type of linking.

Link building assessment and planning

With all the research we need to sit down and asses good link opportunities and plan our link building accordingly. If we see that the best sites mostly have links from news and media sites it is obvious that we need to get a piece of the publication cake. If they seem to do well with product review then get your products out there, offer incentives, get people to try them out and review them.

We also need to determine the difficulty of beating your competition, maybe it is not something you can go for just now. Also, for the links that are not that obvious you need to dig deeper, find out how they got the link. What is the reason for the link, what got that link, and how can you get that link for your pages.

Going after new link opportunities

With all said and done this can sound way to complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. There will be some easy and obvious link opportunities for you to take advantage of. But if you wish to get some great results from analyzing your competition you need to dig deeper, find out what worked for your competitors and use it for your website.