How To Find & Analyze Competitor Backlinks To Improve SEO

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There are many strategies that can be used to improve SEO. One of the most tried-and-true methods is by building a catalog of high-quality backlinks, also known as external links, to your website. However, once SEOs build this catalog, they often believe their work is done. It isn’t!

In the fiercely competitive world of SEO, link-building needs to be a continuous process. More than simply building backlinks, your link-building strategy should evolve with your competition so that you're always one step ahead. 

Competitor backlink analysis is the best way to go about this. At Embarque, we’ll be walking you through a step-by-step guide for finding your competitor's best backlinks and using them to your advantage!

Why Are Backlinks Important?

When you ask this question, you're really asking: how does Google use backlinks?

The answer to that question is a bit complicated. Google has been cagey about the exact details of how their algorithm takes backlinks into account.... and the reason is fairly obvious. 

If people know exactly how backlinks impact ranking, they can easily figure out how to manipulate the system to their advantage. This is something that Google's webmasters are constantly pushing back against.

With that being said, there are a few things we know for certain:

So, while we can’t say for certain how Google views backlinks within its algorithms, we can assume that they play a significant role in ranking and traffic generation.

Are All Backlinks “Good” Backlinks?

No! Not all backlinks are created equal.

Earlier, we mentioned that Google tries to de-incentivize questionable SEO practices (a.k.a., black hat SEO) aimed at manipulating the ranking system. As part of this de-incentivization process, Google has been cracking down on "bad" backlinks and if your website relies on them it's only a matter of time before you're discovered.

There are a few things you need to watch out for:

What Is Competitor Backlink Analysis?

Every website has a backlink profile that's one-of-a-kind. Sure, one site might have some backlinks in common with another site. It might even have a lot of backlinks in common. However, the odds of them being identical are slim to none.

Competitor backlink analysis is a method for benefiting from the unique backlink profiles of your competitors. The thought process is pretty simple: why let the competition point you in the direction of high-quality backlink opportunities?

Competitor backlink research is the process of finding out which websites are linking to your competitors' websites (but not yours). Ultimately, the purpose of this exercise is to replicate their backlinks and add them to your existing backlink profile. When performed well, this strategy can increase your backlinks by more than 20%... that’s quite a boost!

A Step-by-Step Guide For Finding Competitor Backlinks

Finally, it’s time for the fun part: finding your competitor’s best backlinks and using them to your advantage:

1. Choose a few competitors to analyze.

The first step in any competitor backlink analysis is identifying a few promising websites to analyze. Most business owners will already have a pretty good sense of who their main competitors are. These will likely be ideal websites to start with.

On the off chance that you aren't familiar with your main competitors, start by entering your primary and secondary keywords into Google. From there, choose 5-10 websites that:

2. Choose your tools.

Manual backlink audits are time-consuming and error-prone. Your best bet is to find an SEO tool suite that has backlink auditing features built-in.

A quick Google search will reveal a wide variety of tools at a wide variety of price ranges. For now, here are a few of the best options on the market:

While all of these tools come with slightly different features and limits (hence the different prices), any of them will work for conducting a competitor backlink analysis. 

With that being said, we'll occasionally be using screenshots from Semrush's UI to illustrate a few crucial steps in this process. Though the UI will look different if you’re using a different suite of tools, they should be fairly similar in practice. You might need to sift through the branded terminology to find the tool we’re referring to, but we can assure you it will be there!

3. Begin with an overview.

Once you've purchased and opened your SEO tool suite it's time to begin the analysis. At this stage, you're trying to get a bird's-eye view of how you stack up with your competitors from the standpoint of backlinks.

Here are the things you should be taking note of:

With Semrush, you can analyze up to five root domains (i.e., you and four competitors) side by side. However, with other tools, you might need to analyze one root domain at a time.

4. Look for differences.

With that overview out of the way, it's time to find out what your competitors are doing that you aren't. To do that, you need to fire up a detailed comparison tool in whatever SEO suite you've chosen to use. For Semrush users, it's the Backlink Gap tool.

Once you've navigated to the correct tool, you should be looking at a list of domains. Right off the bat, you'll want to sort these by their authority (note: different tools have different names for the concept of authority).

Again, your goal is to identify what your competitors are doing that you aren't. With Semrush, filtering referring domains by Best generates a list of high-quality prospects that don't currently point back to your site and do currently link back to your competitors. 

Perfect! Other tools have different systems in place, but most will be capable of yielding similar results. Aim to find 5-10 prospects before moving into the next stage of the analysis.

5. Evaluate competitor backlinks.

If you're using a tool (like Semrush) that evaluates the competition's backlinks as part of the comparison process, feel free to skip to the next section. On the off chance you aren't, here's how you go about finding your competitors' best backlinks manually:

Go through your competitor's backlinks one by one and assess them based on the three metrics outlined above. Create a list of 5-10 promising prospects to start out with.

6. Dive into the details.

Now, it's time to get a little more acquainted with the list of prospects you created. As you're probably well aware, there are tons of backlink varieties. Here are a few of the more common ones:

Obviously, there are too many kinds to list here. The reason we mention a few examples is to get you thinking about how your competitors got backlinks on the referring domains in the first place, and to find ways to acquire them yourself. To find out, simply check out the referring domain and make an educated guess.

If a referring domain leads to a guest post, it's likely that your competitor reached out and asked to write it. Fairly obvious! 

If a referring domain leads to a forum thread, it's likely your competitor commented. Even more obvious! Run through your list and take note of the strategy you think your competitor used to acquire each backlink.

7. Start replicating.

Finally, we've reached the part of the process that yields SEO results. What you're going to do now is start replicating the backlinks from your list using the same strategy you've determined that your competitor used. If they asked to write a guest post, you ask to write a guest post. If they wrote a forum response, you write a forum response. If they... you get the picture!

The odds of perfectly replicating every backlink are slim. Regardless, any success you do have will positively impact your website's SEO and organic traffic.

When To Call For Agency Backup

If all that sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is! Reaching out to blogs for guest posts, crafting thoughtful forum responses, creating content that people want to cite - all of this takes time and effort. This can quickly get overwhelming, if you do not know what you’re doing.

In addition, successfully establishing backlinks often requires skills (e.g., SEO, content writing, web design, etc.) and tools that business owners don't possess. That's why many business owners turn to agencies and freelancers for help with their link-building strategies.

If you're looking for a reliable way to improve your website's SEO, competitor backlink research should be one of your go-to tactics. By taking a closer look at your competitors' best backlinks, you can gain valuable insights into their SEO strategies and replicate their successes yourself. 

Of course, manually researching every backlink can be a time-consuming process. An experienced SEO agency can help you research your competitors' backlinks, replicate them, and track the progress of your campaign. So, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of conducting your own competitor backlink research, don't hesitate to call for backup!

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