When I was growing up, my parents bought me every Nancy Drew book that existed. I loved the mysteries, the characters, and of course the fact that Nancy was an independent woman — something that I aspired to be. Of course, I also loved Scooby Doo, so I think it was more the mystery part… but, I digress.
Why am I telling you about my childhood reading and viewing habits? Because it might help explain why creating an SEO competitive analysis is one of my favorite things to do. The simple fact is, I love solving a mystery! And, as an SEO, one of the toughest mysteries you can solve is, “Why are they outperforming me?”
Copying your competitors is not the way to grow a business — but learning the whys and whats of your competitors’ marketing strategies can help you better understand the industry and the audience, and maybe even save you time and money.
For agencies, a competitive analysis, focused specifically on links, offers a quick way to get a complete view of your client’s competitors and can help inform your SEO strategy on a singular and broad level. Let’s take a look at how!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by discussing data collection. Back in the day, you could simply perform a site: search and get a full list of links pointing to your competitors’ sites. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case, and tools have become a necessity.
Whether you use a backlink tool like Open Site Explorer, SEMRush, Majestic, Ahrefs, or any other link-specific tool out there, the goal is to collect as much backlink data as you can for each competitor to give yourself the fullest picture.
Note: I’m sure there are plenty of automated processes out there, but for me, the data analysis is primarily manual as my goal is to look through the link profile and identify trends.
How you streamline and sort your data is completely up to you. Personally, I like to sort by linking URL and domain authority, allowing me to easily scan the list starting with the most authoritative sites.
Once you have your data nicely organized and sorted, you can begin the actual analysis part.
When it comes to types of links, most people think about URL extensions or things like nofollow attributes. Not in this case.
When I’m talking link types, I’m referring to the type of site driving the link. For example:
By looking at the bigger picture, you can begin to understand the overall brand perception of the competitor, where they are spending their time, and perhaps where they are spending their budget.
Evaluating link types can also provide insights into why a competitor with a small backlink profile may be outperforming a competitor with a huge backlink profile (hint: quality).
Additionally, this type of information can provide your business with insights on what you need to be competitive. Ask questions like:
Almost two years ago, I wrote “5 PR Strategies You Can Use To Build Links Right Now.” The post looked at various ways SEOs could move beyond traditional link building methods and think more like PR teams — namely, editorial opportunities.
To me, this is one of the most valuable parts of a competitive link analysis.
If you can break down which publications are driving links to your competitors, you can begin to build a target list of publications, editors, and writers who are already covering your industry.
This saves a ton of time in planning link building campaigns, and you may find editorial opportunities where you least expect them.
Take, for example, “Client A.”
Client A offers analytics software for call centers. In doing a competitive analysis, we found that Destination CRM occasionally covered call center topics. As we dug in, we discovered that they had an editorial calendar and were looking for guest contributors.
We reached out to the editors, pitched a couple topics, and landed a guest post. Easy! (Well, not exactly.)
We didn’t actually get approved for Destination CRM, but they did want our client to post on their sister site, Smart Customer Service, which focuses more directly on customer service and is more in line with our client’s business.
This is now an ongoing editorial opportunity for the client and is one of the top referral traffic drivers to their site. Had we not checked out the competitive links, we may have overlooked this opportunity.
Let your competitors do the legwork for you!
Along with identifying types of links and potential link opportunities when performing a competitive link analysis, it’s important to look at the content driving these links.
Looking at the competition’s top linked content can help determine what type of content your audience is looking for and give you some direction in crafting your own content strategy.
Just like when we were identifying the types of links, we want to look for any trends in the content:
In the chart above, I’ve taken a site and broken down the top linked content to figure out which assets do the best (blog, resources, product pages), which types of content perform best (list posts, research, news), which topics drive the most links, and of course which keywords are most prominent.
Creating a content strategy is hard, and for companies with limited budgets, determining where to start can be an even bigger challenge. Knowing what it is your audience already likes and responds to can be a big advantage.
The same thing applies with top shared content. Tools like BuzzSumo can tell you which of your competitors’ content was shared the most.
Even if you have been in the SEO industry for 15 years, knowing the exact strategy that will work for every client is impossible. The key is to give yourself as much as an advantage as you can, and in this case, that advantage is competitive link data.
Finding out who is linking to them, why they are linking to them, and what they are linking to, can be immensely helpful in thinking about your own link building, content, and keyword strategy.
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