A Concise Guide to Competitor Backlink Analysis

competitor backlink analysis

Competitor Backlink Analysis

The interest of conducting competitor backlink analysis is that it lets you know how many referring domains and content assets you need to build up to perform just as—or outperform—your competitors.

For example, the total number of inbound links a website has (from unique referring domains) will directly impact how all its landing pages and deep pages perform on the SERP for every keyword it targets.

If you and your competitor created posts about the same topic and they have more inbound links than you, they’ll rank higher than you more times than not.

The reason you conduct a competitor backlink analysis is that it helps you define the golden standard for the backlink profile that performs well in your industry. If you’re able to replicate the best work of your competitors, you’ll start to see strong gains.

In this article, we break down how to effectively do a competitor backlink analysis in four chapters. So let’s get started with the first.

Note: If you are struggling to dominate your competitors, our done-for-you competitor backlink analysis service can help. Request a free consultation now.

Chapter 1: Identifying The Competition

When it comes to ranking on the first page of Google, there are two types of competitors you might need to consider based on the keywords you’re targeting: domain-level competitors and page-level competitors.

Let’s discuss each.

Domain-level competitors 

Domain-level competitors are sites that are competing with you for many search terms across many pages. Typically, your website shares several common keywords across several pages with these sites.

There are two types of domain-level competitors.

  • Inside-niche domain-level competitors (Ahrefs Vs. SEMrush — Nike Vs. Adidas — Freshworks Vs. Salesforce)

Such competitors do not only compete with you on the SERP for search terms, but they also compete with you for the product(s) or service(s) you sell and try to dominate the market. They target the same audience as you do, the same keywords, and the pages on their websites pursue the same goals as yours.

Good examples are Ahrefs and SEMrush. Both companies own competitive intelligence software solutions, and so they target the same audience and compete for the same search terms on SERP.

  • Outside-niche domain-level competitors (Ahrefs Vs. FatJoe — Nike Vs. NBA)

These are sites that target a lot of the search terms you do target but don’t necessarily do it for the same reasons as you. This is something you will run into often while performing a competitor backlink analysis.

For example, SEMrush and Search Engine Journal (SEJ) both compete on SERP for “link building guide.”

Competitor backlink analysis: Outside-niche domain-level competitors

 

Yet, these companies are not pursuing the same goal: SEMrush has an SEO tool that might be of use to anyone doing link building whereas SEJ is just trying to build an audience.

How to find your domain-level competitors

We will be using one of the most popular link building tools (Ahrefs) for this. Here are the steps you need to follow to do this very well.

Site Explorer -> Enter your domain -> Competing Domains.

Competitor backlink analysis:: Finding your domain-level competitors

On the next page, you’ll see a list of domains competing with yours. By default, the report shows a list of competing domains sorted by the number of common keywords (i.e., keyword overlap).

 

Competitor backlink analysis: Domail-level competitor data

 

Note: This is a graphical representation of the numbers in the left columns, where the green bar represents the intersection between the blue (keywords unique to your target website) and yellow (keywords unique to your competitor) bars.

There are many competing companies listed there, including FatJoe, SEO For Growth, LinkGraph, Vazoola, etc. Also, as mentioned, there are cases where your domain-level competitors are companies that are not necessarily in your industry.

Here’s an example from Ahrefs

Competitor backlink analysis: Outside-niche domail-level competitor data

 

Even though most of the sites listed are players in the SEO industry, not all of them are Ahrefs’ direct competitors. Sites like Backlinko (until SEMrush bought it), Site Checker, and The Hoth are not direct competitors of Ahrefs.

Yet, Site Checker, The Hoth, and Ahrefs have around 7K+ common keywords!

Competitor backlink analysis: Outside-niche competitor data

So even if these sites are not direct competitors, you should not overlook them because they rank for tons of keywords and garner tons of backlinks.

What you should do with this link analysis data is pin all of the competing domains and list them in a Google spreadsheet. Like this:

Competitor backlink analysis: Domain competitors spreadsheet

Page-level competitors

Competitors on a page level are sites that compete with you on a page level for specific topics or keywords. They’re considered page level competitors because they don’t necessarily compete with you regarding sitewide keywords.

Case in point, Marketo has a post about “Marketing Analytics”. At the same time, coursera.org, a completely separated business with a different business model and sitewide keywords still compete with Marketo for this specific term. Their course page on “Marketing Analytics” ranks above Marketo’s “Marketing Analytics” blog post.

 

Competitor backlink analysis: page-level competitor example

This also means that your direct competitors in the industry might not be the ones you’re going after on a page level.

Any page that appears on the first page of search results for the terms associated with your products or services is a competitor. Regardless of whether their solution is different from yours. In some cases, they may not even be selling anything, but still, you need to outrank them.

That cleared, here’s how to find page-level competitors.

How to find your page-level competitors

Choose any blog post or well-optimized page that you’re trying to rank and paste the primary keyword (e.g., “Marketing Analytics”) into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Then scroll down to the SERP overview to see the report.

Competitor backlink analysis: page competitors serp overview

All top 10 ranking pages on the SERP for this specific term are page-level competitors. Here also, in Google Sheets, note the pages that outrank you for your target keywords. Here’s an example.

Competitor backlink analysis: competing pages google sheets ahrefs

Chapter 2: Figuring out the SEO force you need to beat domain-level Competitors

After discovering your main domain-level competitors, you need to determine how many referring domains you need to beat them. This is important because it allows you to forecast effort, budgets, and timelines for promoting various pages on your site.

As a quick note, we use referring domains instead of backlinks when comparing sites and pages. The reason for this is that each unique RD will have value, but multiple links from one site will not carry much if any, value after the first couple of times it links to you—meaning RDs are a more accurate measure. So, from here forward, when we mention links, we are talking about unique referring domains, not total backlinks.

Understanding how links impact your site

Links built to a website impact not only the page to which they are built but the site as a whole. That’s why when you build backlinks to deep pages inside your site, the link value is also attributed to the root domain, which improves your backlink profile, your referring domains, and overall domain authority.

With that in mind, here are the considerations you need to make before creating a link building strategy to promote your pages.

  • Total Inbound Links

The total number of inbound links from all pages on your competitor’s website indicates their website’s authority (i.e., domain authority or domain rating).

Generally speaking, the more authority a website has, the fewer links it takes for it to rank. 

For example, if your competitor’s site has a Domain Authority of 80 and your site has 30, while it may (for example) take them 10 links (RDs) to rank a landing page on the first page of Google, it might take you 30 links (RDs) to achieve the same results.

  • Inbound Links to a Specific Page

Let’s assume you are a video production company and are targeting this keyword: “best explainer videos.”

Let’s say your top competitor ranking on Google has a sitewide DA of 80, with 15 links (RDs) directly pointing to their landing page for that term.

Now, let’s say that you have a sitewide DA of 40 and that your page targeting “best explainer video” has 15 links (RDs) pointing directly to it.

Since your competitor has the strongest DA, aka sitewide authority, Google will rank them first.

In fact, you’re going to need more links to your landing page to beat them on the SERP.

Notice here how Adobe ranks with only 14 links (RDs) because of its high DR and see how sites with lower DR had much more links.

Competitors rank: fewer links outranking more links pointing

At the same time, it is crushing Optinmonster, which counts 2657 links, and InVideo, which counts 1124.

Finding out how many links your competitors have

Make a list of the top 10 sites that rank for each of your target keywords on Google.

You could also use a tool like Keyword Explorer to gather the same information. Simply enter your keyword in their search bar, and you’re good to go.

You will save time by using Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool since it will also log your competitors’ referring domains and backlinks data.

Competitors rank: link profile for the top ranking sites ahrefs

Now, you should export the results into a spreadsheet like this.

Competitor backlink analysis: sitewide competitor's backlink profiles

Repeat this until you have gone through all of your main keywords and added the EXACT ranking URLs in your spreadsheet, like below.

Competitor backlink analysis: sitewide competitor's backlink profile

Estimate how many links you need to beat them

As you create this list, you’ll have to add your website stats at the bottom—and do so for every keyword you’re conducting the competitive analysis around.

Now, your goal with this is to calculate the average statistic for each metric for all the top-ranking pages.

Doing so will allow you to see how your website stacks up against the competition from a high level—and how many referring domains you need to rank.

So, for each of the main terms, calculate the average of each metric, and see where you fall below that average.

For example, for the target keyword “best demo videos” here is what it looks like.

Competitor backlink analysis: calculating averages for specific keywords

  • Average DR: 66
  • Average Referring Domains: 47
  • Average Backlinks: 106
  • Average Estimated Traffic: 198
  • Average Keywords: 125

So, if you had a DR of 50, the average you need to have is 66. If you had 20 sites linking to your page, you need to get it to 47 domains and 198 is the average traffic you should expect to your page.

Create a sitewide target based on the insights you’ve collected.

Per the competitor backlink insights you’ve gathered above, your general sitewide plan to be more competitive for all your main keywords would include:

  • Increasing the total number of referring domains across the site will result in more sitewide and overall online authority.
  • Analyzing content gaps, discovering top-performing competitor content topics, and creating content that outperforms them.
  • Implementing a content calendar and increasing the total number of keywords and indexed pages to meet the average.
  • Implementing and repeating the three above plans for every keyword you’re going after until you have a log of all the averages.

Now, you need to combine all of your averages for all of the main keywords you’re bidding on to define a sitewide goal and a plan to implement to get there.

If, for example, the combinations of all the averages for your main keywords result in:

  • Building 1000 links from unique domains to your site
  • Publishing 700 more new content pages
  • Targeting 10000 URL keywords
  • Gaining XX additional organic traffic

Combined, these are your sitewide objectives. Ideally, you will need to create a secondary data set for this. As you achieve these goals, you will see your domain rating or authority increase to the average you aim for. You will also see significant changes in your rankings and traffic from search engine results.

Chapter 3: Creating a strategy to beat your competitors on the page level

Creating a backlink strategy to beat your competitors on the page level involves two steps.

First, you need to identify and pull together links from the pages you intend to beat.

Second, you need to identify the pages linking to those pages and then implement a link building strategy based on the data you’ve collected.

Let’s break this down so you can better understand and leverage this link building process.

Pulling competitor links

Remember, in the first chapter, you built a list of the top page-level competitors for a specific keyword you’re going after. Now, you need to take each of the page-level competitors from your shortlist and pull the referring domains linking to them.

This step supposes that you already created the content you’re trying to promote on your site and used it to identify the page-level competitors you’re going against on the SERP. If you have not, it’s best to first embark on research to prepare the article.

If you already have your list ready, you will pull each site from the list and analyze each competitor’s backlink profile.

Let’s assume one of your page-level competitors is “https://blog.alexa.com/why-you-should-conduct-a-competitor-backlink-analysis/” for the keyword “competitor backlink analysis”.

Let’s analyze its backlink profile and pinpoint the domains linking to it.

To do this, simply enter the URL in Ahrefs and ensure you select “exact URL” on the overview page. Because if you don’t select the exact URL, the report might include links attached to the root domain—which also means links from other pages on their site.

Competitor backlink analysis: nailing down the exact url ahrefs

As the report pops up, simply click on the number under “Backlinks” to access their backlink profile for that page.

Understand that this is the list of inbound links from all the pages linking to that page, including domains that link to the page multiple times. So, in the result filter, be sure to select “one per domain” to avoid seeing multiple links per site.

Competitor backlink analysis: avoiding multiple links per site

The report will now present one link per domain, and you can see the different domains linking to that specific page.

As you get your first list of domains linking to that page, you can now repeat the process for all the page-level competitors you recorded in the first chapter.

The list you build combining all the different domains is a potential target list you can use in your link building outreach. But before that, you will have to assess them.

Assessing Competitor links

Just because a website has given a backlink to your competitor, doesn’t mean you have to get a backlink from them too.

You or your link building agency must first be clear on the SEO results you are aiming for. Only then can you determine which websites you need to reach out to.

Here’s how to go about it.

Defining Your Expected SEO Outcome

First thing, do you mind no-follow backlinks? Or do you just want do-follow links?

If your goal is to increase brand recognition and referral traffic, you probably don’t mind getting no-follow backlinks. No-follow links have minimal SEO value, but if you think the increased recognition and referral traffic are worth it, then going after no-follow links can be worthwhile.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in getting real SEO value that genuinely improves your rankings, your competitor backlink acquisition efforts need to concentrate on do-follow links only. 

Also, you may have your eyes on increased recognition, referral traffic, and improving your SERP rankings, in which case your strategy for replicating your competitor’s backlinks can incorporate both do-follow and no-follow backlinks.

Either way, following the clarity of your expectations, you can hone in on the sites that can best meet your goals.

Quality and Relevancy

Simply because a site meets your DR or DA requirements doesn’t mean getting a backlink from them will impact your site’s SEO.

There’s more to SEO than getting backlinks from high-DA websites.

Here are a few things you need to consider:

  • Across-the-board SEO authority: DA/DR, organic traffic, and referring domains.
  • Relevance pertaining to your site: site purpose, content quality, and niche.

Your goal here is to set up criteria that’ll help you define high-quality sites relevant to your business industry. Here is a criteria example:

  • DA/DR: +50
  • Organic traffic: 3000
  • Referring Domains: 1000
  • Content Quality: Top-notch
  • Niche Relevance: Checked
  • Site Appearance: High-quality.

Depending on your industry, the sites may have lower standards and quality. Local websites especially suffer from this, and you might have to bend the criteria accordingly.

So, we recommend that you consider this a process, not a pass-or-fail exercise. After you screen all the sites through your criteria, you’ll now have your shortlist of potential sites you can target.

Also, depending on your unique goals, you can go deeper in your eliminations. Learn more about what makes a high-quality link here.

Chapter 4: Defining the types of anchor you need

At this point, you already have a clear idea of the domains you want to target. It is now time to analyze anchor texts to see where your competitors are mentioned and try to beat them.

First step, go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain, then click on Anchors to access your domain’s anchor texts.

You will notice that most anchors are brand mentions—meaning most people simply refer to your brand name instead of using your product or service as anchor text.

Here is an example from Stellar SEO.

Competitor backlink analysis: checking competitor anchors ahrefs

It’s not just us. You will notice that this is the case with many companies.

Here is the example of AppSumo for which more than 2500 of these referring domains use their brand name.

Competitor backlink analysis: checking branded anchor texts

Here’s another one.

Competitor backlink analysis: checking anchor texts on Ahrefs

Now that you’ve discovered that the majority of your competitors’ anchors are brand mentions, analyzing their homepage link/main URL will tell you what type of site to link to them and why.

Here’s an example from one of our competitors, FatJoe. We noticed that they were mentioned on 700+ websites.

Competitor backlink analysis: competitor's backlink data

So, as mentioned above, your goal is to find out who and why your competitors are mentioned and not you. To do this you need to access their backlink report and make sure you add a dofollow filter.

Competitor backlink analysis: ahrefs backlink analysis tool

Now, look at the title of the referring page plus the anchor text, to get a quick overview of why your competitor was mentioned but not you.

For example, here’s a list of link building agencies from Startup Bonsai that mentions FatJoe, but not Stellar SEO:

Competitor backlink analysis: competitor's backlinks data

Here is the article.

Competitor backlink analysis: competitor's live backlink data

This is a list that mentions companies in the SEO industry. Probably, we could get a link from this exact page by contacting (Startup Bonsai) and suggesting that they might want to add Stellar SEO to their list.

QUICK TIP: SEARCH FOR FOUNDERS’ (AND OTHER COMPANY REPRESENTATIVES’) NAMES TO QUICKLY FIND QUOTES AND TESTIMONIALS

This technique boils down to tracking down the names of founders or representatives of the competing companies online. That’s how you can uncover where they’ve guest blogged or been mentioned as a thought leader.

Using Ahrefs’ backlinks report, type the founder’s name in the search bar and hit “Search.”

For instance, Joe Davies co-founded FatJoe. Here’s where he’s been mentioned.

Competitor backlink analysis: spotting brand mentions opportunities

When you find out where and why these people have been mentioned, you can reach out to these sites and get listed as an industry leader as well.

Note: there is no point in getting backlinks from sites that haven’t been updated in years. Or getting mentioned on a blog that has nothing to do with your founder or company. So only do it when it makes sense.

Now, back to anchor text selection

This process is so simple that it will blow your mind.

In spite of what you may have heard, the best way to determine which anchor texts to use for any page on your website is by reviewing and averaging the anchor text profiles of your top competitors.

In some industries, you will find mostly branded anchor texts whereas, in others, you might find a lot of keyword-based anchors. If you look at the data Google is providing (by ranking those sites) you will get a good idea of just how your own anchors should be optimized.

Simply record this information for the top ranking sites, then group their anchor texts by type:

  • Exact Match
  • Partial Match
  • Branded
  • Generic
  • URL

This will make it easy to spot trends and leverage that data to create a winning anchor text strategy.

This is not to say that you should abandon anchor text best practices, rather that you should use them as general rules and let the data for a particular keyword guide your strategy. When it comes to competitor backlink analysis, understanding their anchor text profile is just as important as finding and replicating their best links.

Build a solid strategy by spying on your competitors.

Conducting a competitor backlink analysis may seem daunting. But if you follow the steps above, you may have a chance to beat your competitors on the SERPs.

However, if this process seems complicated, you can use our done-for-you link building services to figure out where your competitors fall short and what they’re doing right—in order to beat them.

 

Travis

Travis Bliffen is the founder of Stellar SEO. His background as a U.S. Army combat veteran and a dedicated business owner has shaped his approach to SEO, blending discipline, thorough research, business acumen, and a deep understanding of the evolving SEO landscape.

Travis Bliffen's expertise and contributions in the field of SEO have earned him recognition and features in several prominent publications, such as Search Engine Journal and SEMrush, where he has shared his insights and strategies for effective SEO practices. Since launching Stellar SEO in 2012, he has been committed to crafting tailored link-building and SEO campaigns for clients across diverse niches.

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