April 28, 2014: Performing competitive link analysis is one of the most effective ways for B2B marketers to develop tactics designed to improve the search ranking of their organization’s website. If you put enough time into this, you can come out with a handful of link building opportunities, along with a better understanding of your industry’s online competitive landscape.
While it’s exciting to think about the significant opportunities that can come from this type of link analysis, sitting down and parsing through tens of thousands of links can be a daunting and confusing process. To help save you some time and point you in the right direction, I’ve put together this list of opportunities to look for while doing competitive link analysis:
To get started, you’ll first need a list of 3-7 relevant search competitors. Putting together a qualified list of competitors is the single most important part of this process; if you are looking through the link profiles of unqualified sites, you will look for hours without finding any useful opportunities. There is a sweet spot located between big-box competitors (think Sears, Walmart, Grainger, etc.) and mom and pop shops (<500 links) that may have as many as 40,000 backlinks. Don’t freak out just yet: some of these links may be coming from the same domain, or from poor quality sites that you’ll have no interest in anyway.
I recommend using either Open Site Explorer or Raven Tools to put together a list of your competitor’s backlinks. Once your list is compiled, it’s time to start looking for resource listings, forums, directories, and press release/guest post opportunities.
Let’s start off strong with one of my favorite link opportunities: resource listings. Some websites will have a “resource” or “links” section of their site that contains a list of helpful industry websites. For example, here is a web page I came across that’s dedicated to Bootstrap framework resources:
Many sites with active link sections will ask for users to submit relevant resources and content to help maintain the accuracy of their list. If you have a relevant search competitor that is listed there, your site will likely be a useful resource for their audience, so submit away! Searching and filtering for competitive link URLs that contain the terms “resource” or “link” is a simple and effective way to identify these opportunities.
Note: Unfortunately, there are still quite a few sites that participate in reciprocal linking, and other short sighted linking strategies. So make sure that the resource listings you submit to are high-quality and relevant sites, and always make sure your site provides value to their audience.
Another place where you might find competitor links showing up is in forum comments. In the automotive and gaming industries, for example, forums can have hundreds of posts and thousands of comments daily. Participating in these forums by engaging and assisting customers can improve your brand image, help provide customer service, and bring in referral traffic.
When going through competitive backlinks, make note of online forums and communities that might be relevant to your product or services; these will be good places to monitor each week for brand or product mentions. One of our industrial storage clients has made a conscious effort to stay active in industry forums, and we have seen this add up to hundreds of referral visitors each month.
How might you know (short of clicking in) that a site has or is receiving links from an online forum? Pay attention to the web address information in your competitive link analysis. Most forums actually contain “forum” in their web address (URL) syntax.
Looking through competitor backlinks is also a great way to help identify relevant industry publications that can offer a few different opportunities such as:
- News/press release syndication
- Content ideas
- Guest Posts
As my colleague Casie Gillete points out: Don’t discount guest posting because you hear it’s bad! If industry publications are writing about your competitors, there’s a good chance they’ll be interested in what your company is doing. Try reaching out to their editorial team and asking if they would be interested in writing about one of your new products or service offerings.
In the end, it’s important to remember that links aren’t everything. On-page content, title tags, and keywords still play a large role in search results. Google has even experimented with dropping backlinks from their algorithm, so be sure to look for high-level trends and patterns in the link results. You might notice that a main search competitor has almost no backlinks, yet has a firm grip on the number one search result for a specific keyword, in which case on-page factors will be the most important to optimize.
What do you look for when analyzing link profiles? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @Demicohen.