Many of your competitors have invested years into link building and SEO.
If they are having success with organic traffic, it means they have connected with many high quality blogs to acquire backlinks.
With the right approach and tools, you can leverage their years of work and turn it into research that can fuel your next link building campaign.
In this guide, I'll introduce you to the competitor link building concept, break down how you can find backlink opportunities, and give you a few strategies for outreach.
What is Competitor Link Building?
Competitor link building is a process where you find out who links to your competitor's websites and then reach out to those same websites asking for a link back to your own site.
This link building strategy is effective because it's easier getting links from websites that already link to similar sites. This saves you the time and effort of having to find new link opportunities from scratch.
Your goal should be to acquire as many backlinks from your competitor's website as possible in order to close the gap between your backlink profile and theirs.
This can be difficult because it requires sorting through backlink data and following up with potential opportunities.
However, the right link building process and mix of tools and people can help expedite this process and improve positive responses.
This is the stage of our link building strategy where we are looking for competitor backlink quantity.
You want to find as many links pointing to your competitors as you can as Step 1.
How to Find Domain Competitors
Domain competitors are businesses that offer similar products or services to your own.
For example, if you sell email marketing software, other email marketing software companies would be considered domain competitors.
Use Google advanced search queries to find competing websites
To find domain competitors, start by doing a Google search for your target keywords.
Then, click through to the listicles that come up and use a tool like Link Grabber to extract all the competing brands.
Finally, use a site explorer like Ahrefs to review and export the competitors' backlinks.
For example, let's say I wanted to build a list of link building services.
I would Google intitle:”best link building services”.
This gives me a list of several articles that list my competitor’s site.
I click through each one and use Link Grabber to build a list of competing brands.
From there you want to use a backlink explorer like Ahrefs to review and export the competitors backlinks.
You don’t want to export all the backlinks here.
Instead, use Ahrefs filtering features here to keep the competitor link analysis manageable.
I filter out nofollow links and manage link quality by targeting domain authority 20+ backlinks with at least 100 organic traffic.
Use Ahrefs Site Explorer to Find Domain Competitors
You can use Ahrefs Site Explorer to find competitor domains by simply entering your domain name and clicking "Competing Domains."
Some results may not be relevant, but you can find several gems here.
To maximize your competitor backlink analysis opportunities, prioritize sites with the most backlinks.
How to Find Page Competitors
Page competitors are individual pages that target the same keywords as your own content.
So, if you have a blog post about cold email software, any popular article that ranks for the same keyword would be considered a page competitor.
Use Google advanced search queries to find page competitors
To find your page's competitors, enter the keyword you want your page to rank for into Google.
Then, extract the results and run them through a free backlink checker. This will help you find opportunities to backlink to your competitor's websites.
SEOquake is a free backlink analysis tool in the form of a chrome extension from SEMrush that shows backlink metrics inline for each search result.
You can use it to check each competitor website result in SEMRush for up to 10 free data searches per month.
If you have an Ahrefs account, the Ahrefs chrome addon is another great Google overlay option.
Use Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to Find Page Competitors
The Ahrefs Keyword Explorer lets you enter your target keywords and get a list of the top 10 results from Google search.
Each listing comes complete with the number of inbound links and linking domains.
For gathering raw data, this Ahrefs UI is first class. Simply click through to the competitor’s backlink profile and export all the links.
How to Find Niche Competitors
Niche competitors are blogs or websites that talk about the same topics as your own business, even if they don’t directly compete with your products or services.
For example, if you write about cold emailing, any blog that covers this topic (whether it’s a competing business or an industry blog) would be considered a niche competitor.
Use Google advanced search queries to find niche competitors
One way to find niche competitors is to use Google advanced search queries.
For example, if you’re looking for a list of SEO blogs, you can simply type “best SEO blogs” into the search bar.
This will give you several listicles to choose from.
Once you’ve found a few promising listicles, click on each one and use the Link Grabber Chrome extension to build a list of competitor websites and acquire links.
Then, review the backlink profiles of these websites to see what kinds of links they have.
From there, you can build your own list of competitor links to target.
Use Ahrefs Content Explorer to find Niche Competitors
Ahrefs Content Explorer has a huge database of websites and articles.
Just enter your keywords and you'll get a list of articles from other websites in your niche.
However, because the index is so large, it can be difficult to find the most relevant results.
Fortunately, Ahrefs has filters that you can use to narrow down the search.
I usually look for articles with at least 10 referring domains and filter out low traffic and low DR sites.
Filter For Quality and Relevant Opportunities
Competitor backlink analysis tools, such as Ahrefs and SEMrush, can save time by identifying high-quality opportunities.
However, these tools also contain a lot of spam.
To ensure that your link building efforts are effective, it is important to filter out the low-quality and irrelevant opportunities.
This process can be time-consuming, but it is essential in order to build a proper outreach list.
Here are a few tools we recommend and how to use them.
Netpeak Checker is a SERP scraping and data aggregation tool that speeds up your competitor backlinks analysis.
I recommend using this tool to filter out dead 404 backlinks and remove competitors links that aren’t indexed by Google.
Only Outreach Filter
Only Outreach Filter is a bulk backlink profile filtering tool that quickly eliminates unqualified opportunities from competitor’s links lists.
I recommend using this tool to filter out homepage links, foreign TLDs, news, web 2.0 and popular spammy links sites.
Doing these activities will weed out 60% of your prospects or more with just a few clicks..
Manual Competitor Backlinks Filtering
After you’ve done bulk filtering, you want to go one by one to review each website from your competitor’s backlinks list and mark the relevant ones.
You want to remove spam, links that you can’t get and guest post farms.
There are a few ways to spot a link farm:
- Look and feel: text logo, random keywords in domain
- Broad selection of topics: so they can sell more relevant links
- Types of blog posts they publish: mostly spammy posts
- Lack of an alternative business model: they probably sell guest posts if the website has no other monetization
- Ranking for strange, high volume terms: like random error messages or celebrity long tails
Buzzstream’s prospecting features have a speedy way to accomplish this by opening 10-20 windows at a time and letting you mark a qualified website within their Chrome extension.
I personally hire a prospector off Upwork to manage this step for me with a shared Google Sheet.
After you’ve finished building a list of qualified websites, the final step is identifying contact emails.
Finding competitor contact information can be difficult since most websites use a contact form. Filling out contact forms won’t get you far, especially if you’re trying to get in contact with a large website. Thankfully, there are a couple of methods you can use to find competitor contact information.
For starters, you can try using the historical whois records. Websites such as DomainTools have a historical record that notes all the changes on the domain.
Sometimes people don’t register their domain using the private registration but later make it private. You can use that to your advantage. You can use the historic record to see if the website owner used their personal info to register the website.
Another way you can get a hold of competitor contact information is via BuzzStream. This online tool is superb for prospecting. Their booklet is perfect for finding competitor contact information. It lists all the email addresses, contact pages, and social media accounts connected to a website. However BuzzStream is a paid service.
Lastly, you can use google searches. While this method is a bit time-consuming, it can produce the results you need. Search as many combinations of a domain name, name and other keywords until you find what you’re looking for. Here are a couple of examples:
- At website dot com
- Website.com terms of service email
- Webmaster name email
Once you’ve gathered enough contact information, it’s time to develop a competitor link building outreach strategy.
Competitor Link Building Outreach Strategies
In this section, I’ll show you a couple of link building outreach strategies you can try out. I won’t go into too much detail - just enough so you can get the gist of it.
Skyscraper Link Building Strategy
One of the most popular outreach strategies is the skyscraper strategy. Developed by Brian Dean of Blackinko, this strategy targets high-ranking domains with lots of backlinks and capitalizes on their weaknesses by developing better content.
The process for this strategy is pretty straightforward:
- Find high-ranking content using a SERP tool such as Hrefs to find relevant keywords to your brand.
- Make a list of publishers linking to the content you’re targeting
- Develop content that capitalizes on the competitor’s weaknesses
- Reach out to the publishers and recommend them your new and improved content
The reason why this strategy is so successful is that you’re reaching out to publishers that link to top-notch content. In essence, you’re speeding up your outreach by reaching out to publishers that are already linking to similar content.
Value-first outreach strategy relies on a single guest post that you can later turn into further link-building opportunities.
The end goal of this strategy is to generate enough links from high-ranking domains in the niche that your rankings shoot up significantly.
Once you’ve gathered enough contact information, you need to secure a guest post. The best thing about the value-first strategy is that you only need to secure one guest post.
If you’re new to guest posting, finding the right website can be difficult. But you need to persevere. I recommend you create a guest post template and personalize your outreach emails.
You should also prepare a guest post draft and send it as an attachment in the outreach email. This way, the person you’re reaching out to can give it a quick look and give you their approval/disapproval.
Once you’ve secured a guest post, you can start reaching out to other bloggers in your niche and offer to link to them in your next guest post, and in exchange, they can give you a link from their blog.
This way, you’ll be generating an extra 2 to 5 extra backlinks off of a single guest post.
You can also ask for link insertions. The key here is to ask for link insertions into relevant high-traffic pages.
Pay For Outreach
If you don’t have the time to develop an outreach campaign, you can always pay for backlinks.
The way paid outreach works is pretty simple. There are plenty of domains on the Internet that offer paid backlinks.
But be careful, if Google finds out you’ve been paying for backlinks, your website will suffer harsh penalties and even get delisted.
This is why this should be your last resort because the consequences can be quite catastrophic.
Broken Link Outreach
Did you know that nearly 45% of websites on the Internet have broken site links?
You can use that to your advantage. For this strategy to work, you need to find blog posts in your niche that have broken URLs that other websites have linked to.
Next, you need to reach out to those websites and notify them they’re linking to a broken page and suggest they link to your blog posts instead.
You can find broken links pretty easily using Ahrefs or other SERP tools.
Mention Them First
If you have a post that links to other websites, you can reach out to these websites and ask them to return the favor.
Just like with other outreach strategies, you’ll have to write a lot of emails and ensure you have quality content - otherwise, people won’t give you the time of day.
Keep in mind that if you’re still starting out, this might not be the best strategy. This is because you simply don’t pull enough traffic for the other website to see you as significant, which is why I recommend you try the value-first strategy first.
As you can see, competitor link building is no easy feat. But with enough perseverance and creativity, you’ll have your website shooting through the rankings in no time!
If you understand the value of building backlinks but don't have the time, check out our link building agency service page.