The other day I was doing competitor backlinking strategy analysis for a client of mine. Essentially, they wanted to know the backlink strategies of their competitors so that they could see where opportunity exists. I want to share the strategy that I used with you, so that you can use it to fairly quickly and easily identify your client’s (or your own) main competitors, and even further which competitors you need to examine more closely for their backlink strategies.
The tools I used were:
Competitor linkbuilding analysis dream team – OSE + Majestic + LinkDetective + Excel = #win.
— John Doherty (@dohertyjf) April 21, 2012
Find Your Competitors with a Few Queries and Excel
If you work in-house, you should already know who your competitors are. In fact, you should also be differentiating between who your business competitors are and who your SERP competitors are, and they may not be the same.
There are a few ways to discover who your SERP competitors are. I used to use this spreadsheet tool from Tom Anthony, but unfortunately it’s broken. So what I do now is instead of doing it automatically with the spreadsheet, I run the same keywords, grab them with Linkclump, and dump them into an Excel spreadsheet. From there, I use a Pivot table and count the number of times the the unique domain showed up in the search results.
A super simple Pivot Table later, and we get a look at who is showing up multiple times for these keywords that we care about. Sort by number of occurences of the clean domain, and you have your SERP competitor list.
Compare in Majestic for Backlink Discovery
I then use the MajesticSEO Backlink History comparison report, which is extremely useful if you have a Majestic subscription (which I recommend). To get to the report, click on the “Backlink History” option on the top navigation when you are logged in. Then enter your website, or your client’s, and their competitors.
For example, if I was going to look at what other SEO agencies are doing (I have no reason to do this, but it’s a good example), I’d run the comparison and get a report like this:
If you have a list of 8-10 competitors, run this report a few times and see which sites are gaining links, relative to yours, quickly. These are the sites to dig into further.
Especially look for the hotspots where someone spiked. If it’s in the past 30 days, that’s even better as you know that they have been building links recently and you can comb through those links.
Download links from OpenSiteExplorer
The next step is super simple. Run the sites in OpenSiteExplorer and download their links into CSV format.
Process links in LinkDetective
Next, use Eppie’s awesome tool, Link Detective, to get a look at what kinds of links your competitor has. I like to uncheck “Dead” and “Unknown” so that I can then tell which types of links that we can figure out without spot-checking are really there. From this quick look, you can narrow down even further if the site is worth digging into more. If a competitor has a directory-heavy link profile, this is good to know but does not take much investigation beyond pulling those directories out of the backlink profile and seeing if they are worth your time to pursue.
Here is an example backlink profile that you may see from LinkDetective (this is not the backlink profile of any of the sites compared above):
Of course, rinse and repeat as needed. LinkDetective normally takes about 20 minutes to return me a report, depending on the number of links I upload, so I try to get a good combination of exporting from OpenSiteExplorer and uploading to LinkDetective going to speed up the process.
Export to Excel and Find Patterns
Now that you’ve gotten a quick visual look at how your competitor sites are building links, export the CSV from LinkDetective and open it in Excel. I like to turn this report into a table (Select all the rows, CTRL+L on a PC) then so that I can sort alphabetically and narrow down to the specific types of links that I know the site is getting. Usually, a pattern or industry of site will start to appear as you look down through these.
For example, maybe your competitor is using local real estate companies to build links, and you are not. This is good to know. Or maybe you legitimately are being beat because obuyf directories, so you need to do this to compete. Once again, good to know.
You can also find this by creating a Pivot Table once again based off the data you export from LinkDetective. This way, you can slice the data to show you the type of link and the anchor text. Does the competitor have a lot of exact match anchor text in sidebars? They might be buying links. What about a lot of article links? Look for the guest blog footprint by doing searches like “guest blog” “(anchor text”.
Of course, you can always use other tools with your known competitors to find who is linking to more than one of them, but not to you. I recommend SEOmoz’s Competitive Link Finder or Majestic’s Clique Hunter, or if you want an idea about how to do this in Excel, go on over here.
I’d love to know how you make this competitive research process more scaleable as well. Some of it will always be manual, such as looking for the patterns within the URLs, but what other strategies do you use to find what your competitors are up to?