One thing I almost never do in a link campaign is mine competitors’ backlinks. Sure, I’ll look at the link profiles of competitors and make a mental note of the sites linking to them, but here’s what I do with that information:
1. Get a general idea for what everyone’s doing in the industry.
2. Figure out something different to do.
Now let me begin by saying that loads of highly respected link builders do advise to pursue the links that our competitors have that we don’t. I’m not writing this column to tell you not to do that or to say that it’s a crazy idea. I’m simply telling you why I don’t use this strategy myself.
Logically, mining your competitors’ backlinks makes a lot of sense. If someone is linking to one site in a particular industry, they may be more likely to link to another site in that same industry.
Furthermore, if a competitor is ranking well, you’d expect his links to be helpful ones; so, why not try and grab some of that action? Why let your competitors enjoy something that you don’t have?
Here’s where it gets muddy.
Your site is not equal to your competitors’ sites. Your site has different content, strengths, and weaknesses and is (probably) not the same age. In other words, no two sites are on the same level playing field.
Now, if you knew exactly what caused that imbalance, it would be much easier to correct. Unfortunately, the nature of marketing is such that it’s never that simple. SEO practitioners, how many times have you found just one area that needed to be corrected in order to make those rankings magically shoot straight up? I usually find several different deficiencies when auditing a site, and sometimes fixing all of them still leaves you with poor rankings.
To me, thinking that you’ll be better off getting someone else’s links is assuming that links are the main way to do well online. But ignoring everything else to focus solely on links is a very bad idea. This isn’t like figuring out that your pasta salad is missing the black olives that your neighbor uses.
I always worry about footprints as well. Perhaps, unbeknownst to you, a lot of the links that your competitor has are part of a big blog network that hasn’t yet been found and banned by Google. By grabbing up links from those sites, you may be putting yourself at risk!
Here’s where I think competitive backlink mining CAN be useful:
None of those are link methods I’d use heavily, though. In my mind, competitive link mining should be used to figure out a few choice bits to add to your own strategy, not a massive pattern to copy.
Unless you’re really good at judging link quality, you’re going to end up pursuing your competitors’ links regardless of whether or not they’re subpar, simply because you have the mindset that if competitors A and B have links from a particular site, you need one, too. Maybe you don’t.
Let’s take a look at a few links in my own site’s profile — ones that you might try to obtain for yourself if you were mining my link profile and blindly copying it.
http://cash-facile.com/link-building-with-the-experts-2013-edition/ (I’m purposely not linking to this.)
Everything about this page is just awful.
And this one? Due to the nature of the images on the site, I won’t even give you the URL.
Obviously, most people have some sense, and these are extreme examples. Still, some people are blinded by metrics. The first example I use is on a domain with a Domain Authority of just under 20. If you’re the type who believes that any domain over a 10 is good for a link, you might approach that site for a link, mightn’t you?
As I said, I don’t think that the idea of mining competitors’ backlinks is necessarily a bad one. I just think that you need to approach that practice with a great degree of thought and consideration. Personally, I’d rather spend that time finding something new, not copying someone else.