Imagine you’re trying to get to a treasure. You and your enemies have pieces of maps leading to it.
Now imagine getting ahold of those maps. Put them together, and you can win the riches in no time.
It’s the same with competitor backlinks.
Once you know their link-building strategy and plans, you can improve your search engine rankings and get more organic traffic faster. And with less research.
You’re on the right page to learn:
- What competitor backlinks are, and why use them
- 7 ways to leverage competitor backlinks at website and keyword level
- Free and paid tools you can use + step-by-step process
- And more.
Keep reading below.
What Are Competitor Backlinks?
Competitor backlinks are the links your competitors are getting from other websites.
And if your competitors had a good SEO strategy, they probably have a solid backlink profile from authoritative websites in your niche.
All that link juice propels them to the top of the results page because backlinks are among search engine platforms’ most important ranking factors.
Side note: Your competitors have different backlink profiles depending on their specific money keywords.
Basically, each one of your rivals tries to build more links to the pages they think are the most important.
So, performing a competitor backlink analysis gives you a solid insight into what your competitors think is important.
But that’s not all. We’ll review more reasons to use competitor backlinks in the section below.
Why Use Competitor Backlinks? [The FUD Principle]
The FUD principle is based on three steps, and it’ll help you realize why you need a thorough competitor backlink analysis:
Competitor backlink analysis allows you to spot great opportunities with little research in terms of backlinks, including:
- Content creators with high domain authority who might link to your website
- Profitable keyword and search query ideas
- Blog posts and tools that interest your audience and potential link partners
At the same time, you understand:
- The strategies different types of competitors think are important, including the type of content they're building
- The high-quality backlinks that brought them the best results, such as guest posts
- The strategies they failed with
Basically, competitors’ links give you a clearer picture of how your rivals think and operate, plus their successes and failures.
And you get all that info with very little research, especially if you’re using the right link-building tools.
Once you have this information, it’s time to derive useful insights from your competitors’ backlink strategies and build your own link profile:
- Find opportunities in their weak spots, such as spammy links they used.
- Replicate your rivals’ successful external links to get more organic traffic.
How to Find Competitor Backlinks
You can find your competitors’ backlink profiles by analyzing their domains or searching for your target keywords.
Both methods have a slew of tactics and uses, so let’s dive in.
At the Domain Level
Tl;dr: Load up your competitor domain on a search engine optimization tool like Ahrefs and find out who points to a competitor website.
Then, try to pitch your own helpful content or tools to the same creators.
1. Free Tools
You can use the free backlink checker tool from Ahrefs for a quick analysis. Let’s see what the tool shows for Finnish B2B software Supermetrics:
You can see a list of domains in the left column that are interested in topics similar to those in the right column.
That means you have a list of potential link partners you can approach with similar (or better) ideas.
Warning: This strategy is better than nothing, but there’s a reason solid SEO professionals use paid tools.
The free backlink tool has no insightful competitor analysis; it’s just a random list of backlinks.
Remember: You need a data-driven strategy to conduct competitors’ audits and effectively replicate or steal their incoming links.
2. Paid Tools
A paid backlink analysis tool will show you your competitors’ full backlink profiles, and you can also conduct backlink gap analysis for multiple domains. Plus, you can set backlink alerts that tell you when your rivals obtain a new external link.
Pro tip: Set your goal before you start a thorough page-level analysis of competitor backlinks. Understand whether you want to:
- Get listed on local directories your direct competitors are on.
- Obtain an inbound link from relevant websites that link to your competitors.
- Participate in similar podcasts as your competitors.
- Peak at your competitors’ strategies.
- Or something else.
You’ll need to use the tools differently for each goal.
Here's a quick guide for Ahrefs backlink gap analysis.
1. You want to get a link from a local directory.
This tactic’s main advantage is getting multiple backlink opportunities fast. On the downside, these aren’t the most high-quality backlinks around.
- Open Site Explorer and type your website address.
- Open “Link Intersect.”
- Type a few competitors and click on “show link opportunities.”
- Choose website names that sound like directories, and then manually check.
- Sign up to these websites and add your business for a quick inbound link.
2. Obtain a backlink from a relevant website in your niche.
This is a better strategy for obtaining powerful links. And listicles are a good low-hanging fruit for your content marketing strategy, too. If a solid website has created a listicle with many of your competitors, chances are they’ll also include yours.
- Open Content Explorer in Ahrefs.
- Enter your competitors’ domains and your own website.
- Look through your competitor links to see who is mentioning them.
- Send your pitches.
Pro tip: Keep your link-building outreach intentional, professional, and not spammy.
Here’s an example:
Pro tip: You can use the same strategy to find guest posting opportunities.
3. Find the podcasts your competitors have been doing.
Let’s be honest; podcasts are the new thing.
If you want to build authority, reputation, and expertise, you probably need to attend at least two or three podcasts per year.
Now, you can either:
- Go to the same podcasts your competitors are chasing, or:
- Steal the march and set the trend before they get a chance to.
Either way, you must know if they’re doing podcasts and where they’re going. Here’s how you can conduct an analysis of backlinks from podcasts:
- Enter your main competitor’s social media handle in Ahrefs Site Explorer.
- In the Backlinks report, use the referring page URL filter to include keywords like “podcast” and “interview.”
- Make a list of podcasts you can pitch.
To see what podcasts Jake Jorgovan from Content Allies is doing, we simply added his LinkedIn profile in the search bar and filtered by “podcast”:
4. You want to see what effective link-building strategies your competitors are using.
HARO is a frequently used link-building tactic.
Basically, you’ll enroll in the HARO (Help A Reporter Out) platform and respond to journalists’ queries to get an editorial link.
Editorial links are more powerful because they’re not requested and come from highly authoritative sites.
Here’s how to conduct a competitor link analysis to determine if they're using HARO:
- Enter one of your rival’s websites in Site Explorer.
- Choose “Exact URL” in “Search Mode.”
- Pick “Backlinks report.”
- Choose “quotes” in the “anchor and target URL” tab.
If your competitor gets frequent inbound links from journalists, you’ll know they’re doing HARO (successfully).
At the Keyword Level
This method entails searching for specific keywords in your SEO tool that you want to rank for. Think of your money keywords.
Then, find out who is linking to the top-ranking pages.
Remember, you’ll want to consider your goals first.
You can use the free Ahrefs backlink checker to sift through the topics your competitors are linking to the most.
SEMrush also has a free limited-search but powerful backlink checker.
But again, free tools don’t offer a data-driven view to power your link-building efforts.
A backlink competitive analysis by keyword looks differently for each goal you have. Here are some examples:
5. You want to learn what your competitors are guest blogging about.
Writing guest posts is a common backlink tactic. You should determine:
- The topics your competitors are guest posting about: Those topics point to important search terms and relevant interests for your common audience. You also get a glimpse into how your rivals build their marketing funnel.
- The content creators linking to your rival domains: These backlink sources will probably link to your assets as well if you write relevant content or offer valuable tools.
Here’s how to conduct this type of link audit:
- In Ahrefs Content Explorer, type this search string: main topic + author:“name.” One example is Gaming app + author:“River Lewis”.
- Set the filter at one page per domain.
- Make a list of valuable content ideas you can replicate or improve.
6. Steal your competitors’ broken links.
The basic broken link-building method entails figuring out who your potential link partners are, and then checking their websites for dead links.
Next, you either:
- Create replacements for broken backlinks with the most valuable keywords.
- Use your existing content.
And then you pitch the editor.
There are two problems:
- Extensive content creation if you don’t already have a content asset
- Extensive research to find broken links on reputable websites that fit your existing content
Here’s a better solution to build up your backlink portfolio with this method:
- Decide on a topic for which you already have awesome content.
- Search by that topic in Ahrefs Content Explorer.
- Set your filter to “Broken pages only.”
- Set the minimum referring domains page to whatever you see fit.
- Find the pages with broken links on that topic.
- List your potential link-building opportunities.
7. Figure out who is linking to your competitors.
- Add your keyword in Ahrefs Keyword Explorer.
- Scroll down to SERP overview.
- Click on “Domains” to find out who links to your competitors.
Here’s the SERP review for “fitness app for beginners.”
The first-ranking website has good traffic without hundreds of backlinks. Click on its seven referring domains to display your potential backlink partners:
How to Analyze Competitor Backlinks
A page-level backlink analysis can reveal lots of backlinks, sometimes hundreds.
Luckily, all the results above come with specific filters.
Think of these filters as directions in a maze.
If you understand what they mean, you can set the best filters to obtain high-quality backlink opportunities according to your goal.
And yes, remember that you need a goal to build the strongest backlink profile you can.
DR (Ahrefs metric) and DA (Moz metric) measure the authority and trustworthiness of a domain. A higher Domain Rating (DR) or Domain Authority (DA) indicates that a site is more reputable.
Prioritize backlinks from websites with high URL rating because they’re typically more valuable.
The keyword here is “typically.”
Warning: DR/DA are vanity metrics; in some cases, they can even be counterfeit.
For example, a website might have a high DR because they are part of link farms or doing link swaps.
Solution: Consider the DR metric in conjunction with the traffic variable when you make a list of websites.
Check the estimated traffic of the linking domain/page. Websites with higher traffic might bring better visibility and even referral traffic.
Pro tip: Editorial link placements in niche publications are specifically great for referral traffic, so they're awesome in a comprehensive backlink strategy.
That means a backlink from a high-traffic domain can technically be more valuable than one from a low-traffic source.
Ensure the linking domain or page is relevant to your industry, niche, or content. A backlink from a relevant source typically carries more weight than one from an unrelated source.
And that means Google will rank you higher.
For example, if you’re selling B2B software and Vogue links to you, that link might not carry much weight, although Vogue has a high DR.
However, a relevant link from a niche magazine in your field with a lower DR lets Google know your tools are valuable for a specific segment of customers.
Plus, you ensure that potential referral traffic from the backlink is more targeted and valuable.
Dofollow/ Nofollow Links
Dofollow links pass "link juice" and can positively impact your site's SEO. They are the type of links most websites are trying to score in their link-building campaigns.
Nofollow links don’t pass direct SEO value, meaning they can’t increase your search ranking directly. However, nofollow links can still bring traffic and thus increase your visibility indirectly.
And they make your backlink profile look more natural.
Pro tip: To obtain valuable insights into your competitors' backlink strategy, check their no-follow and do-follow external backlinks ratio.
The clickable text in a hyperlink is called anchor text. You can:
- Analyze the anchor texts competitor sites use for their backlinks to understand their target keywords.
- Look for specific anchors, such as “quote,” to see if your industry competitors give a lot of interviews or your money keyword to see if your competitors have also included it in their strategies.
This guide took you through seven methods to leverage competitor backlinks. You now know how to find your competitors’ links at the website and keyword level and how to use those opportunities according to different goals.
The tough part is you need a high-quality link-building tool and the expertise to handle it.
The basic step-by-step guides above will help, but if you want a faster, more cost-effective way, Breeeze can help.
Schedule a free strategy call, tell us what you want to achieve, and we’ll find the best link-building methods for your needs!