As a crucial component of SEO, link building can make the difference between appearing on page 1 and page 100 of organic search results. Dominating the higher positions for commercial keywords in a competitive niche relies heavily on the success of a well-crafted backlink strategy.
In this guide, we will explain the five micro steps to take for spying on competitors by breaking down the link building tactics that are working for them. In learning their secrets of success, you can formulate your own strategy to help drive more organic traffic and conversions.
1. Identify competitors by share of voice
Start the journey by ringfencing the top nine competitors from your share of voice report. Remember that you are only looking to include direct competitors in this exercise so if you see non-commercial websites (Wikipedia), editorial sites (New York Times), or social communities and review sites (Trip Advisor) make sure to exclude them from the list. You should be left with a list of websites that offer the same services as your brand.
In the context of SEO, a share of voice roughly translates to the amount of visibility your brand has for one or more keywords as compared to competing websites. Simply put, if you have a higher SoV % than your competitors then you are ranking for more keywords than they are.
Here is an example of how SoV might look for the Australian finance industry. This is purely to demonstrate what you should be hoping to see from your report. The figures in green and red indicate the SERPs visibility change over the four-month period.
A share of voice is a chapter in itself and rather than lead you off on a separate tangent, we encourage you to read this expert guide.
2. Find websites linking to your competitors
A link intersect identifies whether a website is linking to competitor websites but not your own. There may be a handful of these websites, there may be hundreds, depending on how many links your competitors have built from common denominator domains.
We can find this out by importing the URLs of competitor websites (based on the share of voice) into Ahrefs. We then review the number of websites linking to three or more competitors.
The Ahrefs Link Intersect tool takes the sting out this process by creating a simple report with a tally for intersects (the common denominator websites). Aim to include between 5-10 competitors and download the data into an Excel document. Alternatively, you can extract the total referring URLs of SoV competitors and create a pivot table.
Here is a screenshot of the initial results.
Notice how there are 12,000 results in this link intersect report but the domain rating of the referring URL varies wildly. We can refine the results by toggling the domain rating score to show high-value opportunities, as in websites with a domain rating of 30 and above.
3. Extract competitor backlink profiles
Export the top 1,000 results and open in an Excel document. We suggest adding filters to the top row and setting out columns from left to right as per the following: referring domains; domain rating; intersect tally and each of the competitor websites. Refine again by removing any duplicate entries.
4. Calculate backlink opportunity score
We can now rank these opportunities by importance by calculating their backlink opportunity score. The higher the score, the more valuable the opportunity. To calculate this, multiply the domain rating by the intersect and divide by the number total number of competitor sites. As a formula in Excel, it would read something like this: =SUM(B2*C2)/4.
See how different the results look now…
5. Define the backlink tactics
Now we need to understand why the links were published and how. There are machines that can categorize websites by type to save time, but this process doesn’t lend itself well to shortcuts. Deconstructing competitor backlink profiles requires manual checking of the urls the backlinks are embedded on. It calls for a human touch.
There are two methods to running an URL check:
The first is to use Google search commands to see on which pages on the target site our competitor link appears; the second is to run a search through the backlink profile of the website within Ahrefs. The latter often gives the more accurate outcome.
The larger the stature of the competitor sites, the more slanted the opportunity tactics will be towards news coverage and article submissions. The more low-key they are, the higher the number of forum and directory link opportunities on show.
We’re aiming to build out a shortlist of tactics we can label our opportunities by and I’d expect the following outcomes to be on your list:
i. News coverage
Backlinks earned through merit; large publications will reference brands within stories as the author of a data study or press release. Extremely difficult to achieve.
ii. Article submissions
Blog articles or features are written on behalf of a brand or through the penning of a marketer who is encouraged to embed a backlink within their content piece. Difficult to achieve, unless paying for the privilege.
iii. Personal blog submissions
Working with a blogger in your field to create content and then link back to your website in exchange for cooperation or assistance.
iv. Partner network submissions
Links are given out within footers or testimonial pages to validify the user of an existing professional relationship with your business.
v. Directory submissions
Listings of your company profile within a local business directory. Prone to excessive use by spammers, hence why it’s frowned upon by the industry.
vi. Forum submissions
Encroaching on live conversations within a forum thread for linking out to your website for further information. As with directories, another taboo tactic.
vii. Visual content and social media submissions
Links from profile by-lines on social media platforms and video submission websites. Ideally, via the official brand channels. More of a brand awareness tactic than anything else.
Tally the total number of results for each opportunity type in your Excel document and filter by highest to lowest link opportunity score. Use this ranking system to guide you in prioritizing which websites you hunt down for backlinks over any given set timeline.