November 1, 2017 / SEO Advanced Practices

spy Competitors

Backlinks are one of those crucial parts of SEO that no-one really wants to spend time acquiring.  We all know that we need them to boost our search engine ranking and make our websites more search friendly.  But finding reputable sources to get these backlinks can be hard work – gone are the days where you could pop your site on a directory and get instant results

No, instead you need to have high-quality links that send good signals to Google and co about your website.  And that means making connections with the websites in question, not always an easy thing to do.  But are there ways to spy on your competitors to help make the process less of a pain?

Good backlinks

The first thing that an SEO company will tell you is that backlinks are a marketer’s best friend but not all backlinks are created equal – that’s why Google has a process to ‘disavow’ backlinks.  This can be done through the Search Console and lets you split up from backlinks that are poor quality but that you can’t otherwise control.

We’ve all done it – bought backlinks or used directory sites to create backlinks.  But these can have little SEO value and might even harm your rating.  That’s because Google knows these aren’t real backlinks and penalises you accordingly.

Why backlinks matter

It is also easy to think that backlinks are just one of the many SEO factors and you can concentrate on the others – but this is a mistake too because Google has admitted that backlinks are ‘massive’ in terms of SEO.  Many experts think they are number one or two in importance.

This means if you want to increase your SEO and make your website show up higher in those search engine results, you simply cannot afford to ignore backlinks.  And these need to be genuine, quality backlinks – research from experts, like from myself have shown that the number one post on Google always has the most backlinks.

More is better

Another note about backlinks – you don’t want them all to be from one site.  It can be a top rating, excellent SEO site but if every link to your website is just from that one place, your SEO isn’t going to increase that much.  You need a range of quality backlinks from a range of different websites to achieve your aim.

You want to have links from websites across different industries as well as those with high domain authority are the best.  This is a metric used to gauge how trustworthy and important a website is and isn’t something that can be manipulated or tricked – so it is a valuable one to work with.


Spying on the competition

Now we know the importance of those backlinks, you return to the question of how do we find them?  One way is to do a little competition spying and here’s an idea how to do this.

Start a new spreadsheet (Google Sheets will do nicely) and start tracking some data:

  1. Site
  2. Domain authority
  3. Page authority
  4. Topic that they linked to
  5. Post on my site that they might like

Then start looking at your competitors.  Use a tool like Open Site Explorer and put a page on a competitor’s website into it, preferably one that you have similar content to in order to see some information about it.  Look at the established links as well as that DA and PA.  You can then find the total external links to this page to make sure there are some to work with.

Finally, select inbound links from the menu and in the custom fields, opt for ‘this root domain’ as the target, limiting it to only external link sources and add link equity as the link type.  Sort by the DA.  This will give you a list of backlinks to the entire website by its SEO rating.

Sorting the data

Now you have lots of data, what do you do with it?  Start with your Google Sheet and add a list of the topic and the link.  Check out the source of the link and see what kind of site it is and what it covers.  Build up a picture of the type of links that your competitors have.

You can also drill down to do this for a specific post, one that you already have a similar piece.  Or that you are planning to write.  You create a list of the backlinks to this post and look at how the link came about – was it through guest blogging or were they quoted in the piece?  Was your competitor a reference?  

Reaching out

Armed with information about who backlinks to your competitors, you can now start reaching out to those websites to see if they would consider backlinking to yours instead.  Don’t just spam them with emails asking for a favour but build a relationship and mention that you have a post they may want to consider linking to.  Don’t mention your competitor and don’t specifically ask for anything.  You are simply giving them information to work with as they want.

Not all companies will respond or even do anything with your link, but some might.  And you may even start to build a relationship with that company or individual that can help lead to other opportunities in the future.  That’s why spying on your competition is never a bad thing!

Paul Gordon (author)

Freelance SEO Expert, with over 15 years experience in digital marketing.

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  1. I agree all of the suggestion of yours mentioned above. Good backlinks really matter a lot today. Webmasters can use a tool like AHREF to learn about their competitors’ backlink profile

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