Backlinks: How to Analyse Competitors

I’ve recently worked on a backlink audit that also focused on competitor’s backlink profiles. The results helped my client create a long-term strategy for obtaining backlinks from additional authoritative domains. I put together a list of steps that will be useful if you also are thinking to develop a plan for obtaining more strategic backlinks.

Here are the major steps that you will have to go through:

  1. Compare your backlink profile to your competitors
  2. Analyse the quality of domains linking to your competitors
  3. Discover domains linking only to competitors

Before going over each step, it’s important to have a clear picture of who your competitors are so I advise you to make two lists:

  • Direct competitors: directly competing with your business
  • Indirect competitors: they compete with you on organic rankings but may not be directly related to your business

If you’re an agency and not sure where to get these from, you can get the first just by asking your client or looking at industry reports, and you can get the second from organic research tools. You can also check this useful blog post about how to discover your search competitors.

For comprehensive data on the backlink profile of your competitors, you should run each step that follows for both direct and indirect competitors. You will need access to at least one of these tools, Majestic and Ahrefs, or ideally, both.

Compare Your Backlink Profile To Your Competitors

With this step, you will find out the overlap of domains linking to you and your competitors which is useful to discover authoritative domains that may link more heavily to a competitor than to your website. This will also give you insights on potential domains to target when trying to obtain backlinks.

The Majestic Compare Domains tool, Clique Hunter section, allows you to compare up to 10 domains using a fresh or historic index. Since the goal here is to find potential domains for external backlinks, the historic index provides better insights for potential future domains to target. The fresh index has more recent data, but the historic one includes a greater number of pages.

This is the interface you will use to enter all the sites you’re trying to compare:

Below is an example of what the output will look like.To the right are the domains I’m comparing - Lululemon.co.uk and Sweatybetty.com (two fitness clothing companies, not Distilled clients) - and to the left are external sites that link to them. It’s worth bearing in mind that these results only show sites that link to both Lululemon and Sweatybetty. Therefore, there are probably additional domains that link only to one of them, and they will not appear in the results below.

The wider lines indicate that there are more links from such as elle.com or yahoo.com, for example, linking to Sweatybetty than Lululemon. These are also examples of authoritative domains Lululemon may want to target when obtaining additional backlinks.

As a first step, this graph is excellent for scene setting and to obtain a visual look at what the overlap may be with your competitors. However, steps that follow will give you more detailed insights into your competitors backlink profile.

Analyse The Quality of Domains Linking to Your Site

The goal of this step is to find out how your site is linked from external sources so that you can strategize for future backlinks to obtain. Here you’ll discover which pages and folders of your website are most linked to and how authoritative are the domains linking to those pages. As a consequence, you’ll also find out which parts of your site are the least linked to some of these may become your target when obtaining new backlinks.

From Majestic, use the site explorer feature and select the historic index to obtain the list of backlinks. I usually also choose the option to hide deleted backlinks and select export data.

The downloaded report has a lot of information, but for this task, I usually trim the database down to the following columns:

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Based on this data, create a pivot table in Google sheet or Excel, with the TargetURL as your rows and the average trust flow as your values, as seen below:

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This gives you a quick snapshot of the strength of your pages and the quality of domains linking to your site.

To analyse things further, you can add the list of domains linking to each page/subfolder: in your pivot table, add Domain to the row field and the average of Domain Trust to the value. Your output will then look like this:

View full-size screenshot

Depending on your results, you may discover that you have pages linked externally from really authoritative domains that you didn’t expect, or important pages of your site that are linked from very weak domains. 

From here, you can create a more informed strategy for targeting external backlinks: for example, weak pages may need content improvement before they can be linked externally from better sources.

Find Linking Domain Opportunities

This is where you’ll be able to find domains to target for obtaining more external backlinks but also compare your backlink profile quality to your competitors’, closing the gap if there is one. To do this, you’ll need to execute the previous step for your competitors’ site so that you can obtain information about:

  • Which competitors’ pages/folders are their strongest: how does this compare to your strongest pages and folders?
  • Which authoritative domains link to your competitors but not to you: this is where the opportunity for new backlinks lies

In the example below, I ordered my data by pages with the most amount of backlinks. Right away, we notice that while Sweatybetty’s home page has fewer backlinks than Lululemon, it has a stronger trust flow:

View full-size screenshot

View full-size screenshot

You’ll then be able to obtain further information about the domains linking to these pages. You can add the list of domains and their average trust flow on your pivot table. Below are snapshots of some of the domains linking to Sweatybetty and Lululemon homepage:

View full-size screenshot

View full-size screenshot

This is where you can identify domains with high trust flow that may be linking to your competitors but not to you. For example, in the table above we can see huffingtonpost.com linking to Sweatybetty homepage but not to Lululemon. Or cosmopolitan.com linking to Lululemon but not to Sweatybetty.

You can obtain even more analytical data from these pivot tables, such as the average trust flow of all domains linking to each page or folder, so that you can specifically focus on certain pages. Your strategy will likely define how deeply you’ll want to dig into the information, and as a consequence, the information you’ll find will shape your strategy for obtaining new backlinks.

Some of the most important things you should keep in mind are:

  • Target high-quality domains (high trust flow score) that link to your competitors but not as much - if at all - to your site: Websites that are already interested in the industry and topic are more likely to link to your content
  • Content improvement: Your competitors’ content may be one of the reasons why their pages are linked by authoritative domains. Improving your content should then be part of your long-term strategy

Obtaining external links may be one of the most important things you do for your site, knowing where to get them from is one task, actually getting backlinks is a whole other task that will depend on your specific case.

If you have any suggestions or questions on the steps I described, I’d be happy to discuss in comments below.

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About the author
Paola Didone

Paola Didone

Paola joined Distilled in May 2018 as an Analyst. Originally Italian, Paola spent eight years in San Francisco Bay Area where she attended the University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business. Before joining Distilled, she worked in...   read more