Identifying Link Patterns with SEO Tools

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:


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.

Like so:

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?

17 thoughts on “Identifying Link Patterns with SEO Tools

  1. I’ve been using this methodology for some time now. Thank you for ‘linkclump’ – the tool is helpful.

    I recommend manually going through one of Eppie’s reports, sometimes the links get miscategorized and you want to be careful about this.

    One technique is to help you identify additional link patterns is to figure where the links are concentrated .edu, .gov and .com (use Majestic) then find one anchor text link and link footprint to reverse engineer the other sources.

    For example, grab the exact match anchor for let’s say a .gov like “Ford Fusion Hybrid Vehicles.” If you’ve played in the space for a while, you should know by now that commercial links on .gov sites are almost always categorized as ‘related links.’

    Head to Google and type in variations of the competitor’s anchor with the command and viola – you’ll start seeing those hard to reach links (getting them is another story – maybe I’ll share eventually). 🙂


    1. Sure is Jason. He might be working on some integration with the API, but I’m not sure. Sure would be sweet to be able to do it with both Moz and Majestic.

  2. A great overview John of what is usually the first place I start looking for links when I take on a new client. The one thing I always find interesting is how often clients come to me with a list if “competitors” who ate literally nowhere in the SERPS

  3. Hi John,

    First off, thank you for writing this. I just learned about Majestic SEO’s Backlink History tool and Link Detective here – plus how, where, and when to use them. I’m new to link building so this post really was enlightening for me.

    Also, I’ve been using a somewhat slightly modified (and working) version of Tom’s Competitive Analysis GDocs spreadsheet tool. Here’s the link of the document which anyone can make a copy of:
    It’s actually just a part of a whole makeshift link building campaign workbook I was trying to create. I just stripped off some sheets and columns.

    Again, thanks. It’s really worth being your subscriber.


  4. Awesome information. I have been doing something similar as well to see what all the competition is doing. I was quite surprised to see that many times, there was nothing to fancy going on. It was quite entertaining to see that many of the businesses in our area are not doing much to promote themselves.

  5. John, any idea if SeoMoz Pro membership is still needed for LinkDetective Pro? (Or is it now included in the product?)

    (I sent a question about it to the support email address for Link Detective, but got no reply.)

    Thanks for your blog.

    1. Yes, LinkDetective is a fraud. They keep charging me, too. No reply to my email and facebook messages. I need to stop my credit card.

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