There are many steps to be competitive in the search results. You have to have a great site with a lot of high quality content that is relevant to your business. This can help you attract a lot of organic search traffic, especially if you can share some of that great content with industry blogs and high quality news publications. However, paying attention to the marketing efforts you are doing is not always enough. Taking a look at what your competitors are doing can also be very useful. It can give you a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, and this is accomplished by viewing their backlink profile.
The first thing you need to identify is who your competitors really are. We ask clients this, and sometimes they have local rival companies that they compete with, but these competitors don’t always match up with those that are around them in the search engine results. To find your competitors, you first need to know what keywords are most important to you. They should be specific enough to return companies that share your expertise- but not too specific at the same time. You want to steer clear of very broad terms because there will be a lot of results that may not have as much in common with your business model.
Once you know who your online competitors are, you can take a look at their backlink profiles. There are many tools online to help with this, both free and paid options. Most of the paid ones also have free trials to take advantage of as well. There are a few free options that do a pretty good job. Open Link Profiler and Backlink Watch are among the best of the bunch; just remember that you get what you pay for, and you may have to wade through some ads with many of these options in order to get what you’re looking for. Many of these do not have an export function or will only let you export a small amount of the backlinks. The paid options go into a lot more detail and have robust export and tracking features that can send you reports when your competitors profiles change. These tools can also keep track of your own links and help you with a disavow if you need it for your site. Some of our favorite options here are Cognitive SEO, Moz’s Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, and Majestic SEO. Basically, with any of these tools, there will be a box on the main page where you plug in the domain you’d like to check, and it returns a list of results. It is nice if you can export these to an Excel file in order to sort them better by their metrics, but just browsing a list can give you some great insights into what your competitors are focusing on.
Knowing what a competitor’s backlinks look like can be a powerful way to see behind the scenes a little bit in order to see what they’re doing from a marketing standpoint. You may not be able to sit in on their marketing meetings, but you can see the benefits of their efforts in their backlinks profile. In the past there were many different types of links that link builders worked on, such as blog commenting, directory links, press releases, and other older tactics that you may not see much anymore. If you do happen to see some of these from a few years ago in their profile, then you can bet they have been disavowed at some point, especially if they are ranking ahead of you. Most of the link types you’ll see these days are going to be from interviews, resource pages, and the competitor promoting their own content. If a competitor has some content they are promoting, you can look at backlinks to those pages and see what types of outlets they are reaching out to. It could be low tier guest posting sites, middle tier sites that are authoritative in their niche, or high tier magazines and publications that are experts in their field or even high-level news publications.
Just like searching a competitor’s backlinks, knowing what is in your own backlink profile can also help you rank better. There may be too many of one type of anchor text, or some spammy sites that you didn’t even know were there. Knowing this can help you clean up these sites or disavow them so they do not hurt your rankings in the SERPs.