Backlinks are important to SEO. So much so that they are considered one the top ranking factors in Google’s algorithm in 2024.
Think of backlinks as votes of confidence to your website from other websites.
One of the easiest ways to start on a backlink strategy is to track competitor backlinks from relevant websites. The idea goes that if a website is linking out to your competition, there is a good chance that they will link back to your website as well.
On this page you’ll find the ultimate step by step guide to find and analyze your competitor’s backlinks, how to obtain similar backlinks, and how to turn brand mentions into something much more powerful for your site.
Backlinks, or an inbound link, are like a vote of confidence from other sites to yours. In simplest terms, a backlink is a link from an external site to yours. It’s similar to citing sources in a book report — people share helpful resources.
Backlinks are important in SEO because they help establish a variety of facets of Google’s highly-prioritized factors for evaluating helpful content: EEAT, or experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. The more your site is referenced as a trustworthy source of information or expertise, the better it will perform in the eyes of Google’s algorithm in search.
The more robust your link profile, the more your site will rank in search engines. As you think about how to build a quality backlink profile for your own site, there’s no better place to start looking than your competitors. Given that they offer similar services or cover the same subject area as you, You can analyze not only which pages of theirs get backlinks, but also which sites are linking to them and plot your moves from there.
When doing a backlink competitive analysis, the first step in the process is to identify the competitors you want to target. From my experience there can be up to two main types of competitors you can analyze.
Your search competitors will often look different from your traditional competitors, however there can be some overlap.
Start by making a list of both your search competitors and your traditional competitors along with their websites. We will use these lists in the next part of our analysis.
For search competitors you can choose to analyze their backlink profile via a link building tool on either the domain-level or the page-level.
To decide which backlink profile analysis makes more sense for you, check to see if your competitor is ranking for their homepage or specific page on their website like a blog post or a service page.
For example, the screenshot below showcases two sites that are direct search competitors to DTC, but also are direct business competitors. They’re clearly trying to rank for “Chicago SEO company.”
Knowing what kind of websites link to your competitors can give you valuable insights into their strategies. Even if you can’t be a fly on the wall in their marketing meetings, a backlink profile analysis can help shape your efforts moving forward.
It’s important to measure the quality of a site’s backlink profile. Consider certain factors when analyzing including the authority and relevance of the linking domains, the variety of backlink sources, and the presence of spammy or low-quality links. One of the best ways to find and analyze websites that are already linking to your competitors is to conduct a link gap analysis by using a link-intersect tool. A link-intersect tool works by analyzing backlink profiles of multiple competitors to find websites that currently link to your competitors’ sites, but not to your website.
The idea here is that if a website is linking to multiple competitors, there is a good chance they will also link to your website.
There are many SEO tools that you can use to perform a link-intersect. I’ve highlighted some of more popular tools below:
A link-intersect report is super easy to run. All you need is the list of search competitors you made in the last step in addition to your own website.
You can then choose to export these websites to a prospecting list for when you are ready to reach out and ask for a link back to your website.
One of my favorite link building tactics is to search for new backlink opportunities and monitor competitors backlinks in real-time.
There are two main benefits to doing this:
My favorite tool for monitoring backlink opportunities in real-time is Buzzsumo.
To get started, sign up for a free Buzzsumo account, login and and head to the monitoring page.
From there click the alerts dropdown in the top left corner and click on backlinks. You will then be prompted to create a backlink alert.
Start by creating a name for the alert and add the specific URL or domain you want to track backlinks to.
You also have the option to track backlinks to a specific page or any page on the domain. Which one you choose can depend on whether you are tracking domain-level backlinks or page-level backlinks.
For this example we will choose links to the exact URL which will display all the page-level backlinks for that page.
Next click on the filters & notification settings and scroll down to the section on how you would like to be alerted. I recommend choosing the setting for instant email alerts every time a result is found. Finish by clicking create alert.
You will now be notified by email the second a new backlink shows up for your competitors.
Tracking competitor brand mentions can be a great way to uncover more potential backlink opportunities for your website.
A competitor brand mention is defined as any time your competitor’s brand is mentioned online. By tracking these mentions you can find websites that are covering your competitors that you can target for coverage of your brand.
Additionally, by analyzing these mentions, you can look at the quality of the websites covering your competitors based on authority and relevance, which can help shape your strategy for your website moving forward.
There are three tools that I recommend using for tracking competitor brand mentions:
On top of your competitors’ brand name, it can also be useful to set up alerts for branded services, company founders, CEOs as well as variations of their business name. This will allow you to find even more opportunities where the direct company name is not mentioned.
Follow the steps below to track competitor brand mentions in Google Alerts:
You will now be emailed every time your competitors brand name is mentioned online. We will cover how you can leverage these brand mentions for backlink opportunities in the following section.
Buzzsumo and Talkwalker operate similarly to Google alerts- simply create an alert around a competitor brand (as well as your own) and track as each increases their online footprint.
So now that you have a list of competitor brand mentions, how can you go about turning these into backlinks for your website?
There is not a one size fits all approach to this strategy. My advice is to look for trends in the types of media coverage your competitors’ brands are receiving. Brainstorm creative ways to try and replicate their strategies by creating new and exciting content on your own website.
As markets become more saturated and particularly as ecommerce continues to rise exponentially in popularity, it’s more important than ever for your site to rank well in search. With Google’s Helpful Content Update of late 2023, content that meets user needs is incredibly important to rank well, and content that follows EEAT guidelines will also, in all likelihood, meet user needs.
Think about it: if you had a choice between a web page that NPR linked to versus a web page that no one referenced, which would you trust more to be informative? Probably the one that journalists use.
Earning backlinks organically is difficult and takes time; link building campaigns can save time, but often require pitching thousands of journalists to achieve even just a few links. As such, saving yourself time by compiling a list of sites that link to your competitors will also save you money (and speed up building your backlink profile.
There are many benefits to having a good backlink profile; a site connected to many others is more enmeshed in search than a site with no backlinks.
SEO benefits to a good backlink profile include increased EEAT scoring on the part of Google’s robots. The more the bots are driven to your site through backlinks, the more times they’ll index it and note that your site is authoritative, trustworthy, and contains sufficient experience and expertise to be considered a source by many others. This will then benefit your organic ranking.
As your page and site begins to earn more backlinks, the likelihood it will rank higher in search also increases. We’ve had countless digital PR campaigns start in active outreach and, due to their initial success, continue to passively earn links because they ranked well in search. This will eventually contribute to overall domain authority (DA) of your site, which will also help you rank better organically.
Especially if you’re trying to capture competitor backlinks, it is definitely worth your time to consider some link building campaigns. With content designed to capture news attention or land in a directory, link building can speed up the process of building a backlink profile, as well as help you outflank competitors, particularly in media markets.
By combining helpful, newsworthy content with active outreach for link building, you can capture more backlinks and boost domain authority, which will in turn help your overall online visibility.
One caveat, though: NEVER buy backlinks. Just don’t do it. Google is increasingly attuned to the link-buying schemes of a few years ago and will penalize a site as spam if it notices that backlinks seem to be bought rather than earned. This is why the digital PR team at DTC NEVER pays for media placement- we earn each and every one of the thousands of links we build each year.
The 5 step-process that I’ve outlined above will guide you to find and analyze your competitors’ backlinks. Backlinks are a crucial part of any successful SEO strategy and serve as a top ranking factor in Google’s core algorithm.
It is important to actively monitor, analyze, and pursue new backlink opportunities from your competitors so that your website remains competitive in the Google search results for keywords that you want to rank for.