5 Simple Steps to Find Competitor Backlinks

Simple Steps to Find Competitor Backlinks

Wouldn’t it be nice if people searching for products like yours only saw your business in search engine results pages (SERPs)?

In other words, no competitors outranking you. No competitors contesting your positions. No competitors clogging results with nearly equal visibility.

But that’s not the reality most of us live in.

Most of us practicing search engine optimization (SEO) are constantly struggling with both viciously active and clueless passive competitors that compromise our efforts and force us to share SERP visibility.

Obviously, one way to deal with this is to outspend and outwork your competitors. With $10 million and a good SEO agency at your side, you could make quick work of your competitors.

But brute force isn’t the best way to solve SEO problems.

It’s much better to be strategic. Thoughtful. Surgical.

And with that approach in mind, the ideal first step is to find competitor backlinks.

So why is it that competitor backlinks are so important to understand?

And how can you find competitor backlinks in a way that sets you up for success?

What Are Competitor Backlinks?

Backlinks

Before we can understand competitor backlinks, we need to understand backlinks in the context of SEO. If you already understand what competitor backlinks are, feel free to skip this section.

Backlinks are hyperlinks pointed to the pages of your website. When Google and other search engines consider which webpages to rank for a given query, they must consider both the relevance and the authority of those pages. Relevance can be addressed by choosing better keywords and making your articles more topical and relevant for your target audience. But to build the authority of your pages, you need backlinks.

This is because backlinks pass “authority” from a referring domain to a target domain, and to the individual page where the link is pointed. This is a complicated equation, but the most concise way to put it is this: earning more valuable backlinks and earning a greater quantity of backlinks will make your pages rank higher.

Competitor backlinks are backlinks that are currently pointing to the domains and/or pages of your competitors’ websites. Each competitor backlink is another block in the fortress of your competitors’ SEO strategies.

Do keep in mind that you’ll need to consider competitors both in terms of domains and in terms of pages if you want to succeed. Some of your competitors will have highly authoritative domains, but few pages competing with yours, while others may compete with you directly on specific pages, without necessarily impacting your domain territory.

Why Should You Find Competitor Backlinks?

Why should you care about finding competitor backlinks?

  •       High-level competitive analysis. Link building is time-consuming, complicated, and often expensive. You don’t want to spend all that time, money, and effort without some kind of formal plan in place. Researching and better understanding competitor backlinks is one of the best ways to practice a high-level competitive analysis in the SEO arena. It can inform your SEO strategy for months, or even years to come and provide necessary context that can guide your content creation, link building, and other tactics.
  •       Identifying ranking gain opportunities. Analyzing competitor backlinks helps you identify lucrative opportunities for increasing your rankings. For example, let’s say you’re in position two for a hotly contested, highly valuable keyword. You discover that the competitor outranking you in position one only has a few high-authority domains pointing to them that you don’t already have; if you close this gap, you can easily outrank them.
  •       Identifying low-competition opportunities. This is also an opportunity to identify areas of SEO that are not hotly contested. You may discover that certain keywords are not targeted by your biggest competitors, or that there are impressive referring domains that are not being explored by your competition.
  •       Discovering new backlink sources. Even the best online researchers and SEO professionals have limits to what they can discover independently. Through competitive link analysis, you can discover new backlink sources to add to your portfolio and potentially explore in the future.
  •       Explaining apparent discrepancies and anomalies. From a pure curiosity perspective, finding competitor backlinks may help explain and better understand apparent discrepancies and anomalies. For example, if a competitor continues to outrank you despite your content being objectively better and more relevant for your shared target audience, you may find the solution to the puzzle in your competitive analysis.

How to Find Competitor Backlinks in 5 Steps

In just five steps, you can learn everything there is to know about your competitor backlinks.

Here’s how to start the process:

  1.   Identify your keyword targets. Everything starts with keyword research. Before you even know who your competitors are, you should know what they’re competing with you over. It’s completely possible to have an industry rival who has no web presence whatsoever; this isn’t a true competitor in SEO, and not a situation that requires exhaustive SEO research to address. If you’re already practicing SEO consistently, you probably already have a list of primary and secondary keyword targets. If so, you can work from this list without much further research. However, if you’re just getting started, or if you don’t have a consistent list of keywords, you should consider using a keyword research tool (like Ubersuggest) to create a list of strategically viable keyword targets. Any combination of keyword research tools can be valuable here, so use whichever tool you’re most comfortable with.

Strategically viable keyword targets are generally ones with high relevance to your brand and your target audience – and relatively high search volume as well. Some of the most valuable keyword targets have low competition ratings, but since we’re focused on addressing competitors, it’s not as big of a concern.

  1.   Discover and name your top competitors. Next, you’ll need to discover and name your top competitors, both in terms of domain competition and page competition. The easiest and most straightforward way to begin this process is to conduct Google searches of your own. Search for all your primary and secondary keyword targets and see who is outranking you; as long as you’re searching it away that removes your personalization factors (like using Incognito Mode), you’ll be able to generate A robust list of your top competitors. If you’re interested in a more exhaustive analysis, a tool like SpyFu could be exactly what you need.  

Either way, at the end of this step, you should have a solid list of the domains directly competing with yours and the pages most prominently interfering with your rankings for strategically valuable keywords.

  1.   Analyze your domain-level competitors. After that, spend more time analyzing your domain-level competitors. The goal here is to understand which domains are outranking you, why they’re outranking you, and what their backlink profiles look like. Almost any free backlink checker can serve this purpose well. Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMRush are commonly used tools for evaluating backlinks as well.

Pay especially close attention to how many links these domains have earned, where those links are coming from, the authority of those referring sources, how much traffic those links are generating, and how those backlink profiles have evolved over time. Even at this stage, you should gain a better understanding of why some of your competitors are outranking you.

  1.   Analyze your page-level competitors. When your domain-level analysis is complete, start analyzing your competitors at the page level. Many backlink analysis tools can help you with page-level analysis in addition to domain-level analysis, but Ubersuggest is a good alternative if you need more page-level insights.

You’ll be evaluating page-level competitors using the same analytic tools and reasoning as you did in analyzing your domain-level competitors. The only difference is that you’ll be looking at individual pages, instead of domains broadly.

  1.   Look at semantically similar keywords. As a final step to this process, brainstorm and analyze semantically similar keywords. In other words, conduct a competitive analysis for keywords that are similar in meaning and structure to the primary keywords you researched initially. This can help broaden your understanding of your competitors’ positions and help you anticipate possible future keyword targets.

What Next? How to Utilize Competitor Backlinks in Your SEO Strategy

You’ve found your competitors.

You’ve looked at their backlinks.

You have some ideas for improving your strategy.

So what’s next?

  •       Identify strategic gaps (and make a plan to close them). Once you’ve completed your primary competitor analysis, you can identify strategic gaps and start making plans to close them. For example, let’s say a competitor is consistently outranking you by one or two positions, across your entire domains, and you notice they have a small handful of backlinks from highly authoritative sources. You might be able to close this gap by getting your own backlinks from these sources, assuming all other variables are equal.
  •       Pursue top domains. Some domains are more valuable as referral sources than others, both in terms of authority and in terms of referral traffic passed. Pay attention to the best sources in the backlink profiles of your competitors and pursue those sources for your own purposes.
  •       Research and discover new high-authority sources. Similarly, spend time researching and discovering new high-authority sources that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Are there any industry publications that you’ve overlooked? Are there any accessible, publicly prominent, authoritative sources that are open to new guest posts and contributions?
  •       Gather the low-hanging fruit. Finally, consolidate and focus on any low-hanging fruit you can find. This is arguably your lowest priority in taking on your toughest SEO competition, but it’s still valuable. “Low-hanging fruit” in this context refers to backlinks that are easy and straightforward to build; they may not pass much authority or traffic, but if they can be acquired quickly and inexpensively (without compromising quality or relevance), they’re worth adding to your profile.

Pro Tips for Better Backlinks in SEO

Finding competitor backlinks is great.

But if you want to gain traction and outcompete your rivals, you’ll need to take action on what you find.

That means building links, consistently, and with your recently uncovered data backing your efforts.

Link building for SEO is best applied when you strategically consider:

  •       Domain authority. Domain authority (of the referring domain) is arguably the most important variable to consider when building links. The higher the domain authority of the referring domain, the more trustworthiness and credibility you’ll establish for both the page and domain that link points to. It’s not the only factor you have to consider, but it’s straightforward, objective, and reliable as an indicator of general link value. Higher authority sources are often more expensive or more difficult to acquire, but they more than make up for this in long-term value.
  •       Relevance. You should also consider the relevance of the sources you’re using. Ideally, you’ll work almost exclusively with sources that are relevant to your brand and industry. Most SEO strategies allow for some compromises, but you should avoid publishing irrelevant material on totally irrelevant sources.
  •       Link quality and relevance. Next, think about the quality and relevance of your link. All your backlinks should be valuable to readers, offering them citations, additional context, and meaningful direction. If your links seem spammy, unnatural, or unnecessary, they could end up hurting you rather than helping.
  •       Link placement. Your links should also be placed “above the fold” in the content you publish (ideally), allowing them to generate more referral traffic. That said, links pointing to your domain should be accompanied by links to other authoritative sources; if your link is the only one in the published content, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Of course, it’s hard to practice SEO link building on your own.

It’s difficult, time intensive, and confusing.

That’s why link building agencies exist – to make your job easier and provide a clear path to search engine dominance.

Ready to get started?

So are we.

Just answer a couple of quick questions for us, and we’ll get started on a free analysis of your domain – so we can help you overtake your SERP competition once and for all.

Timothy Carter