Competitor link analysis is much more than finding out who’s linking to your competitors and getting them to link to you. There is a huge amount of useful information you can grab if you just take the time to research carefully.
In this article, the third in the series, Ken McGaffin shows you how to get the most from competitive link analysis and introduces two new features to the Link Builder tool – linking text analysis and linking domain categorization.
(This is part three of a 5-part series on link building by Ken McGaffin, co-author of Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building - How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response. Read:
There are four major benefits to competitive link analysis:
1) See how well your competitors are doing – that lets you know the size of the task you face in competing with them.
2) Find thousands of quality link prospects – sites that link to your competitors are among the most likely to link to you. Concentrate your efforts here and you’ll benefit from early results.
3) Understand your competitor’s strategy - get insights into their strengths and weaknesses so that you can beat them.
4) Get lots of ideas for content – look particularly at media and blog sites to get great ideas for content you could create.
But first, an important question to answer:
Who are your real competitors online?
In my years as a marketing consultant I’ve worked with many hundreds of small companies and whenever I met a new prospect, I’d somehow work around to the question, “who are your competitors?”
Sometimes the answer would be, “we don’t have any competitors because what we offer is unique …”. At that point, I’d start to worry and realize that I had a bit of reality checking to do.
There are always competitors. Their products and services may not be the same as yours, but what they offer is serving their customer needs at the moment. They compete for the same spending dollars that you compete for.
Your real competitors online are the websites and the web pages that compete for the same keywords as you do. These are the pages you’ve got to beat if you want to succeed.
So if you make “the world’s first all-in-one waterproof jacket, tent and sleeping bag” like JakPak.com, your product may be unique but you certainly have competition from people who sell waterproof jackets, people who sell tents and people who sell sleeping bags.
Your real competitors are the people who rank well for your important keywords.
So take some of your most popular keywords, search for the top results in Google and note which pages and which sites appear in the results.
In the case of JakPak.com, they won’t get many people searching for all-in-one waterproof jacket, tent and sleeping bag. Potential customers online will be searching for outdoor clothing, camping equipment, hiking gear, waterproof jackets, sleeping bags and so on. Therefore the sites that rank for those terms are the real competition online.
So let’s have a look at who ranks well:
Do a number of keyword searches and look at the results – are there sites that appear in a number of searches? These are the ones you’ve got to concentrate on in your analysis.
I completed five searches in all, for outdoor clothing, camping equipment, hiking gear, waterproof jackets, and sleeping bags.
Now, I’m in a much better position to draw up a list of real competitors and doing further analysis on these sites is going to focus my attention.
(Note: I did these keyword searches by hand – it’s a bit fiddly but worth the effort. Perhaps we’ll add it as a feature in a future update of Wordtracker Link Builder tool. Let me know if you want it.)
1) See how well your competitors are doing
A measure of how many links point to each of your competitors is an important first step. Here’s a screenshot that shows the relative positions:
The numbers are given in two columns – ‘Linking domains’ and ‘Inbound links’.
The most important metric is the number of linking domains. That’s because you can have links to your site from multiple pages on a single domain, useful for traffic perhaps but additional links from the same domain will often bring little additional search engine benefit.
So the quality and the number of linking domains gives us a better measure than the number of links.
As you see from the table EMS.com has almost 5.5 million inbound links: REI.com has 40% fewer inbound links at just over 3 million, but four times as many ‘linking domains’.
Other questions that need to be considered:
- How many ‘quality’ links does each competitor have?
- How many links from commercial partners?
- How many top blog links?
- How many paid links?
- How many directory sites?
- How many links from media sites?
It is really worth going through the results to see what useful, quantifiable information you can glean. You won’t get exact figures because distinctions between different types of links are not always clear, however you will be able to make very useful estimates.
2) Find thousands of quality link prospects
We’ve just introduced a new feature to Link Builder that categorizes linking domains into Blogs, Trusted, Directories and lists, Media, Shopping, Social media, Jobs and Business.
This is a real time-saver when you’re building campaigns. And of course, you can still use the filter function to create your own campaigns. If you’re doing link analysis on behalf of clients, you’ll be presenting them with insightful information that they probably will not have seen before.
Once you’ve found these domains, what should you do?
Here are some tactics to consider:
- Get involved by making useful or insightful comments on quality posts
- Post on your own blog, commenting and linking to the quality posts you’ve found
- Invite them to contribute a guest post or article to your site
- Offer them original guest posts to publish on their blogs – with a link back of course
Directories and lists
- Prepare descriptions of your own site using appropriate keywords
- Read submission guidelines carefully and stick to them
- If you’re contacting someone who maintains a list of resources, make sure your email is short and to the point and that the subject line includes a benefit – “Link request” is not a benefit, “New fountain pen resource” is a benefit.
- Get to know specific journalists and the subjects they write about
- Follow them on Twitter
- Look for opportunities to submit news
- Always be on the lookout for opportunities to contribute
- Look for affiliate and partnership opportunities
- Look for paid-for listings, sponsorship and advertising opportunities
- Many social media sites use nofollow links and we currently filter these out of our results. This means that those social links that do show here reveal follow link opportunities.
- If you are recruiting, you may want to submit to relevant job sites. Of course, your primary objective will be filling a vacancy, but it’s nice if you can get a link as a bonus.
- What conferences, exhibitions or other business events do you attend? These often bring linking and publicity opportunities: even local, inexpensive events can be sources of good links.
- It’s also good to look at the linking text your competitors use on their inbound links. Many of these links will use their brand or website name in one form or another, but if you filter these out you can see evidence of how they get links.
If I click on any piece of linking text, I can then see the pages that link using that text. So here are some of the pages using ‘Footprint Chronicles’ as the linking text.
It turns out that ‘Footprint Chronicles’ is an initiative where the environmental impact of any Patagonia product can be monitored.
3) Understand your competitor’s strategy
Spending time looking at links your competitors have can give you a tremendous insight into what they’re up to.
Here’s an example of one site that concentrates on article directories – it’s clearly shown in the link analysis:
I’m not a big fan of article directories. They just don’t deliver the type of high quality publishing opportunities I’m after.
I think a much better strategy is to carefully target relevant sites that accept articles or guest posts. It’s more work but the rewards are so much better.
Let’s look at another example. It’s clear that Staples.co.uk gets links because of its Eco Easy program:
And VirginAtlantic.com gets lots of media links:
The link results of any site tell you a lot about their business and link strategy. Understanding what they’re up to will help you compete more effectively.
4) Get lots of ideas for content
I really also enjoy looking at competitor links because it’s a great way to get ideas and stimulate your own creativity. Media stories in particular can be a great source of content ideas.
Here’s a small selection from REI.com to illustrate:
Are there seasons when some of your products come into their own – and have you written about them?
In frugal times, this story on reversible goods is sure to be popular. Are there trends that your products can pick up on? Have you written the content?
Restrictions on cabin baggage and a neat solution give REI.com a link from The Sans Francisco Chronicle.
Or even this slightly risqué one from "Women’s Health" on couples who fancy a little bit of outside entertainment...
(Perhaps that’s the niche market for the all-in-one waterproof jacket, tent and sleeping bag from JakPak.com).
Competitive link analysis not only gives you immediate link prospects, but if you look carefully enough, you will uncover the strategies your competitors are using. Understanding their strategies is the first step to beating them.
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- Find hundreds of top quality link prospects – instantly!
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About Ken McGaffin
Ken McGaffin is an experienced internet marketing consultant and has worked for major pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies, government bodies and non-profit organizations.
Ken unveils the secrets of successful link building in his 384-page e-book, Successful Link Building
You can watch recordings of his extremely popular (and free) Link Building Webinars