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A Complete Competitor Link Analysis Guide With A Free, Automated Competition Link Analysis Template

Tom Buckland 24 January 2020
competitor link analysis guide free template - ghost marketing

The competition.

Our lives would be so much easier if only we didn’t have to compete 24 hours a day. Or would they?!

Let me digress a little bit here. Competition isn’t something we aren’t programmed for. Every living thing in nature competes for the top spot in their domain. So, it’s quite natural – and even fair – for us to have to wrestle with competing businesses to find customers. And this competition doesn’t just limit itself to the quality of the products/services being sold, their price points or their usefulness. It invariably creeps into the marketing angle of things. And hence,  if they see you first, you’ve already got an upper hand .

Coming back to the point – this is exactly where competitor link analysis comes into play.

Before we start discussing how competition analysis (in terms of link building) really works, here’s some good news. When your competition analysis efforts are on point and you end up building quality links, you – in a way – get your competition to pay for your success. Isn’t that sweet?

Competition Analysis Makes Link Building Incredibly Faster & Cheaper

Running a successful link building agency that has seen the overall SEO landscape evolve over the past few years, I can vouch for the fact that you have to go – and go aggressively – for every method that lets you build good links fast and cheap.

Call it pivoting or optimizing – the point stands. You will be able to get the most out of every dollar you invest in a link building campaign when you double down on what’s working and get rid of all that isn’t.

This means you have to be on your toes all the time to keep steering the campaign in the right direction. And trust me, it’s not at all easy when you’ve got a lot of money on the line.

importance of competitor link analysis

So, what if we could –

  • Minimize the risks.
  • Maximize the returns.
  • AND get our competition to foot the bill for all of this?

That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

That’s exactly what link building competition analysis does for us.

Here’s how:

  1. You get to see what’s working for someone who’s pretty much in the same position as you are. All that’s working for your direct competitors is pretty much guaranteed to work for you to a fair degree.
  2.  When you know what’s working, you also have an opportunity to do it much better than everyone else . This means you get a chance to lead the pack, instead of catching up.
  3. Finding suitable link building opportunities isn’t a straightforward process. It can take weeks and months. As a business (or a link building service provider), time isn’t something you have a whole lot of at your disposal. Competitor link analysis saves you a great deal of time by  getting rid of the whole trial and error premise .
  4. Competition analysis (much of it, anyway) isn’t vague, foggy and open to interpretation. It gives you  strong, solid and actionable results  that you can put into your link building pipeline right away.

 

In other words, link building competition analysis lets you craft a perfectly fine-tuned link building plan that’s much less likely to misfire (or not fire at all) if you were to start things from the scratch.

At Ghost Marketing, we take competitor link analysis very seriously – one of the main reasons why we have managed to output impressive link building ROIs for our clients around the world (read more about this in our link building case studies). To request a free and fully customised proposal, please get in touch with us.

 

What Is Competitor Backlink Analysis?

It is exactly what the name says it is.

Competitor backlink analysis lets you snoop on the link profile of your competitors to see how they are building links and how you can leverage this information to the benefit of your link building campaign.

A good link building agency has at their disposal a flexible competitor link analysis strategy that can be tweaked to fit the exact requirements of a client’s niche. It generally goes something like this:

competitive link analysis template steps
 

1.  Keyword Research

Know what keywords you want to target. An in-depth keyword research effort isn’t generally required for this. You can kick off your competition analysis even when you know a few major keywords.

 

2.  Identify Your Competitors

An important step that lets you identify your top competitors. Remember – it’s the link building and SEO competition we are talking about.  A business you’ve never heard of before may well be your largest link competitor! 

 

3.  Find Competitor Backlinks

Any decent link analysis software/tool will let you do this. We will talk more about this as we go.

 

4.  Analyze Competitor Links

This is much like running a mini link audit on your competitors’ websites. Read more about how you can conduct a thorough link audit in our link audit guide.

 

5.  Find Opportunities

Once you have all the backlink data from your competitors, you can sort it based on the niche, the practicality and the nature of links you’re looking to build.

 

6.  Outreach + Content Creation

As you identify link building opportunities, you will know how to drive the outreach and content. Don’t worry about that part just yet as it is most likely going to a stage at which all of your other link building strategies merge.

 

Don’t Lose Sight Of The Final Goal!

Whether you’re building links to your own site or you run a link building agency that handles link building campaigns for multiple businesses, it’s immensely important that you’re aware of the end goal at all time – to improve search rankings for keywords that matter.

Not just improve them but improve them to such an extent that it makes the time and the investment worthwhile for everybody involved in the process (link building, after all, is a team effort).

At Ghost Marketing, we have already helped dozens of businesses around the world capture a significant share of their target market through powerful link building campaigns. We have compiled some of these results – you can check them out on our case studies page. Our link building process page also discusses some of the strategies we routinely and successfully employ.

To request a free, customised link building proposal, please get in touch with us.

 

Before We Begin: The Tools Required For Competitor Link Analysis

The tools required to carry out competitor link analysis depend entirely on what it is that you’re really after.

For now, we will talk only about the basics of competition research. To get actionable results, you will need access to a good link research and SEO tool. Ahrefs is a great option (it comes with a much wider range of options that can be further customized). If you use SEMrush or Majestic, it will also do.

For the sake of simplicity, I will be using Ahrefs to explain the process.

Alright then, let’s start with the actual, hands-on competition analysis.

 

Example

Let’s take an industry that everybody who runs a business website – or any website, for that matter – has had a chance to interact with: Accounting. More specifically, we’ll take up the case of “cloud accounting software UK”.

To be able to better explain my points, I will pick a random website as our fictional client.  Kashflow looks like a good fit.

Example website: www.kashflow.com

Industry: Accounting software

Main key-phrase: Cloud accounting software UK

 

Step 1: Identify Your “Backlink Competition”

This is where link building competition analysis slightly differs from a blanket SEO competition analysis.

We will be able to get a peek into what our competitors are doing in terms of link building only when we make sure that we identify them correctly. You will always come up with many distractions – random blogs, listicle websites and search results from Facebook, Twitter and forum pages. Weeding these out should be a priority, regardless of whether you’re conducting a small-scale manual analysis or a going with a large-scale, fully automated process.

So, how does one identify the right competitors?

For starters, don’t rely on your hunch too much.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite possible that a website you’ve never heard of is building exactly the kind of links you should be building. The best way to ensure you don’t fall into this trap of complacency and hurt your link building ROIs down the line, follow a simple, multi-pronged process.

Here’s how.

 

Method #1: Run Your Seed Keyword/Phrase Through Google

This is the most obvious starting point for all competition analysis campaigns. Our end goal is to push our website into the top 3 search results on Google, and so it matters who’s occupying those positions now for the keywords we are after.

  1. Identify your top 5 keywords and phrases.
  2. Run them through a quick Google search. It’s best advised that you do this from an incognito window with ads disabled. This will leave out results that Google personalizes based on the saved cookies, along with any PPC ads.
  3. Now note down the top 5 search results. Do remember to check their meta descriptions out. The purpose is to stay away from news/media websites that aren’t really your competitors (both in terms of links and business).
  4. If Google returns a local pack, take a look at it as well.

 

Example

I will run our seed key phrase “cloud accounting software” through Google Search. I have installed the Ahrefs Toolbar that crunches all the numbers we need on the go.

This is a very tightly squeezed niche. Not heavy on monthly search volume, but VERY competitive, given it’s high CPC. So, it’s easy to see that landing at the top of SERPs is worth its weight in gold for our (fictional) client.

Scroll down and take a look at the results.

Note these down in a sheet. If you don’t already have a prospect building template, you can download the one I’ve prepared for free. (The link can be found towards the end of this post)

  1. Xero
  2. Sage
  3. Clearbooks
  4. Free Agent
  5. Reckon

 

Method #2: Find Competitor Websites Related To Your Domain

Google has a handy search operator that lets you find websites that are directly related to any other website in terms of backlinks, content and keywords.

Just run related:yourdomain.com through Google and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

 

Example

Google Search Related Advanced Search
This gives us much the same results. Except, we have now found three additional competitors that fit the bill:

  1. Crunch
  2. Waveapps
  3. Freshbooks

These go straight to our sheet.

 

Method #3: Use Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

This is a slightly advanced method (nothing fancy, though), and you will need to have an Ahrefs subscription to use it.

In a nutshell, we will be repeating method #1, but instead of running our keywords directly through Google, we will run them through Ahref’s keyword explorer. The results are likely to be much the same, but you may end up uncovering an important competitor.

 

Example

We will run our main seed key phrase “cloud accounting software” through the Keyword Explorer. Remember to apply the correct location filter.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer Competition Link Analysis Guide
As we thought, the results are much the same. Great.

link building competition analysis template

Let me reiterate one thing here: we are picking the top 5 competitors for the sake of simplicity of demonstration. A real competitor link analysis campaign usually inspects hundreds of competing domains and thousands of pages.

 

Method #4: Use Ahrefs Competing Domains Tool

We will again turn to Ahrefs for some unique insights.

For this method, we will be using the Competing Domains tool. It’s one of the best features Ahrefs has ever come up with. With a couple of clicks, you get to unearth websites that are competing against yours for keywords, backlinks and overall organic traffic.

 

Example

To do this, run your domain name through Ahrefs.

Like this:

How to use ahrefs
Then head over to the Competing Domains button (it’s located on the left panel). Like this.

ahrefs competing domains use for link building
This gives us a comprehensive list of domains that are actively ranking for the same keywords as us. Again, much of the usual suspects are already there.

find competing domains for link building using ahrefs
We’ve found one more suitable candidate – Iris – that provides the same kind of services as Kashflow.

Add them to the list.

This is what my list looks like at this stage. Find the download link to this competitor link analysis template towards the end of this post.

competition link analysis template ghost marketing
You can now see all the top competitors we need to focus on. You can further sort these based on their authority and number of backlinks. For now, I’m picking 5 of these at random to drive the analysis further.

 

Step 2: Competitor Backlink Analysis

At this point, we have a carefully curated list of competitor domains. These can run into dozens, hundreds or even thousands depending upon the keywords you’re going for, the level of targetting you want to maintain and, in general, how wide your niche is.

We’ll work with the 5 we have picked so far.

Let’s go with the Clearbooks as an example.

All you have to do is load the backlink analysis tab for this domain in Ahrefs.

It’ll look something like this.

Competition backlink analysis guide template
Notice that Ahrefs has returned about 40,000 links for Clearbooks. Obviously, we don’t need all of those – some of these are going to be very low quality (not worth our time) and some are going to from extremely high authority websites (again, not worth the time).

The best link building agencies out there know how to optimize their resources – time, budget and their outreach capital. At Ghost Marketing, we tweak the link spread across domain authority, relevance and the potential of our prospects. There’s no point really if you exclusively go after websites like the New York Times and BBC – they will only come around once in a while, and only through a round of sustained digital PR.

In other words, try to find a sweet spot.

Doing this requires us to set some filters. I usually set the following filters: Language (English), Link Type (Dofollow) and One Link Per Domain. Like this:

competitor backlink analysis guide template
This has reduced the number of backlinks from 40,000 to less than 500. Perfect.

You don’t have to manually do this for each competitor domain. I have already programmed the Smart Competitor Backlink Analysis spreadsheet for this. Each link will take your directly to the Ahrefs backlink report, with all the filters set.

Competition Link Building Guide Template Ghost Marketing
You will first need to export this data using Ahref’s CSV export feature and then delete irrelevant columns and paste the relevant columns into the Ghost Marketing Smart Competitor Backlink Analysis Template.

If you aren’t familiar with the basics of link building or SEO, you’re going to find all this information a bit much to process and act on. A result oriented link building agency like Ghost Marketing can take all of this hassle out of the picture for you. To know more about how our link building services can help your business grow via white hat, natural link building, do get in touch with us here.

 

Step 3: Finding Link Building Opportunities That Are Right For You

In my quick take on competitor link analysis, I mentioned that you need to focus on three important aspects while handling a master list of targets:

  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Practicality

If you’ve gone through the Step 1 (identifying our competition), it should be clear that we’ve done everything possible to drive out irrelevant backlinks. So, most backlinks you’re looking at right now are likely to be relevant to your business (there will always be exceptions, though).

To take care of the authority part, I have set up a filter in our spreadsheet that removes low DR backlinks. I have presently set the DR filter at 35, but you can always change it based on your requirements. This is what the sheet would like for one of our competitors (Clearbooks):

link building strategy - link building 101 - ghost marketing
Now, the practicality part is where most link building campaigns veer off the course. But you don’t have to if you follow a few simple rules.

 

Note:

This step is massively important. Be sure not to discard link opportunities casually. I will discuss a few techniques that can find you backlink opportunities that are likely to be very easy to score.

 

Method #1: Find Guest Posting Opportunities

Guest posting receives a lot of flak from some agencies.

But don’t worry about those. Guest posting is – and always will be – one of the most premium link building strategies. Well-researched guest posts add a great value to the host website AND the guest website: better numbers, high quality referral traffic and an authority link in a highly relevant domain.

So, how do we find out guest posting opportunities from our list of competitor backlinks?

It’s easy. Just search for words like “guest” and “author”!

 

Example

Let’s go back to our template and search the sheet for “guest”.

find guest posting opportunities link building
As expected, I’ve already found a top-quality guest posting opportunity.

Copy it to your guest posting campaign and let the process follow.

 

Method #2: Find Resource Pages Link Building Opportunities

If you aren’t aware of how incredibly useful resource pages can be for your link profile, do read through our comprehensive resource page link building guide.

For starters, just search the sheet for the word “resources” and you’re guaranteed to stumble upon good links.

 

Example (A)

I searched our example template for “resources” and got this:

find resource page link building opportunities competition analysis
4 link building opportunities from powerful resource pages in our niche. Great!

But 4 isn’t enough. I want more backlinks that:

  • Come from authority domains
  • Are placed on pages that may well be resource pages in disguise

Finding such pages isn’t too difficult.

 

Example (B)

I can sort the sheet based on the number of linked domains (descending) and  find out pages that don’t mind linking out generously .

It’ll look something like this:

link building tactics ghost marketing linked domains
 

I have already spotted a gov.uk backlink. If we could get that, it’ll boost our link profile enormously. Let’s see what this page is all about.

.gov domain link building .edu
Basically, this is a resource page for various payroll software products approved by the HMRC. If we want to get on this page, the obvious step would be to get our client’s software approved first. I can now make a note and forward it to the client, asking them to take the necessary steps.

Remember: good links don’t always come easy. You have to go above and beyond the usual cold-emailing and blank-outreach to get links that matter. A gov.uk link, for example, would keep paying the client back in terms of improved SEO as long as it’s up!

Of course, acquiring .gov or .edu links is easier said than done. That’s what we’re here for! Over the years, we, at Ghost Marketing, have developed a carefully fine-tuned setup that allows us to build natural high authority backlinks that boost your website’s link profile. Each dollar you invest in a well-thought-out link building campaign keeps producing returns through improved organic traffic stats. To know more or to request a free, fully customised proposal, drop us a line here.

 

Example (C)

Check this out:

competition link analysis link building guide template
When I follow the link, it takes me here:

link building guide ghost marketing
It’s obviously a resource page (and a good one). But more interestingly, it’s linking to a whole lot of other pages, including Quora answers!

So, quite clearly, they’re likely to be open to hosting our link in the accounting section of this page.

 

Method #3: Find Broken Outgoing Links (Advanced, Manual)

This is a rather roundabout and indirect way of building links using nothing but the information you gain out of a thorough competitor link analysis.

We have already discussed the finer details of broken link building in our broken link building guide. Once you have identified your competition and found out pages that are linking back to them, just try to also find if those pages have any broken outgoing links.

The idea here is simple. If a page is linking to your competitor’s website and it also has broken outgoing links with anchors that you might feel are relevant to your website, it’s much easier to close them. This will of course require a bit of painstaking manual work, but it’s usually worth it.

 

Example

Let’s continue with the same example (that of Clearbooks). We already have a fine-tuned list of their backlinks. What we’ll now do is visit the Ahrefs report for each of these links and find out what if they have any broken outgoing links.

I have already automated this process by adding an extra column in our Smart Competition Link Analysis Spreadsheet. Just click on the link and it’ll take you to the relevant Ahrefs report.

broken link building competition analysis guide
This particular report for a link we inspected in the earlier part of this link competition analysis guide tells us some useful information:

broken link example
As you can see, there are a couple of broken outgoing links (dofollow). These seem to point to domains that no longer exist, and that gives us a great chance of requesting the webmaster to replace these with our own.

 

Download Our Free Competitor Link Analysis Template (Automated)

If you can automate your competitor link analysis to a fair degree, it proves to be immensely profitable in the long run.

To help you get started, I have built a fully automated competitor link analysis template that you can download right now for free.

Just click on the banner below to get started. If you have any questions about how to best use this link analysis template, write to us here. You can also say hi on Twitter!

competitor link analysis template free download
 

Remember – This Is Domain Level Competition Link Analysis!

I have tried to focus on domain level competition link analysis throughout this article. If you’re planning a link building campaign, understanding how your competitors are building homepage links. Of course, this isn’t where your link building efforts should end.

You can replicate the whole setup we have discussed here and get a good look in at the page level link profiles of your competition. For example, if you’re focusing on a particular service, isolate the corresponding links to similar service pages on your competitors’ websites.

 

If You Know What Your Competitors Are Up To, You’re Already On Top!

Building a wholesome, perfect link profile is not only difficult, it’s extremely resource intensive. So, you should ideally take every opportunity that saves you a good deal of time and money, and that is precisely what makes competition link analysis a powerful tool.

At Ghost Marketing, we have helped dozens of businesses all over the world to establish dominant, powerful link profiles through high quality, white hat link building techniques. Our link building services are cost effective and result-oriented. Do read through our link building process to understand how we do it.

To request a free, customized and no-obligation proposal, please get in touch with us here.