Competitor Analysis for Linkbuilding: A Guide for People who Hate Linkbuilding
Posted by Stephen
This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
I hate linkbuilding. In my perfect world, linkbuilding is done scalably via widgets, with a big budget to promote a perfect product. This is pretty much never the case, so manual linkbuilding needs to be done
In January, Michael Martinez posted a long rant about why competitor analysis for link building is a waste of time. My post is about how to get more out of competitor analysis for link building than just links. The extra bit of juice I get out of the process is high level business intelligence. This is my basic process for competitor based linkbuilding, with specific examples from various live linkbuilding campaigns.
I use Open Site Explorer for the link analysis as well as to measure my rate and quality of link acquisition.
1. Find your REAL Competitors
When working with a client, I always ask them who their main competitors are. In most cases they over estimate some brands and underestimate others. They often think only of brick and mortar companies and forget web-only players and content aggregators.
I take a basket of 100 keywords that I think are likely to be the most ROI beneficial to the client and check competition by SERP Saturation.
Example of SERP Saturation for a basket of travel industry keywords
Often this process throws up new sites that no one was aware of, but that have been quietly doing very well
I choose three top competitors and load them into the SEOmoz Campaign Manager. Here is the real data from my UK train industry campaign
2. Understand what Types of Links you Need
I create a range of graphs per competitor from the granular competitor link analysis data. This allows me to see what type of links I need.
When I see that I have all followed links and no nofollowed links, I know I can target low quality, exact match links with little risk of penalties. In the example above, you can see I need to concentrate on getting links from a wide number of sources.
3. Create a Baseline for Measurement
This is very simple. I just record the granular link data from my site and 3 competitors into Excel whenever the SEOmoz crawler updates.
Hotel Industry example:
I can get a very easy view-over-time on what is and has happened to backlinks. Once this data is in excel, its quick to create graphs for visualisations and reporting.
Train industry example:
It is very easy to see we have a significantly increased the number of incoming links in a short space of time.
These graphs keep clients happy but there is more going on behind the scenes.
It is very important to monitor the Domain Authority and homepage Page Authority to make sure that your linkbuilding does not gain links at the expense of reducing your other domain-wide authority metrics.
4. Export a Competitor’s Backlinks into Excel
I keep only the URL, Page Authority and Domain Authority columns. Add a column for Action, Category and Notes. The Category column is the real value add.
Sort the list into 100 unique domains, and then by page authority. Then visit each site on the list.
In the Action column, record the action you take (UNO means Unobtainable, I don’t think we can get a link etc) In the Category column, categorise the website.
This is the list I use for the train industry:
- News – Quality news site
- Blog – Personal writeup about that company specifically
- Reference Site – Write up that mentions the company as a reference or resource
- Owned Other site – a different website that they own
- Twitter – I will follow them with the Twitter account
- Student Site – specific for each industry
- Timebased Event – specific for each industry
A lot of links are from student sites and a lot are timebased events like past conferences, so I make a specific category for them.
When I email the webmaster, I keep track of the date I sent it, the person’s name, the email address I sent it to and any other notes like phone numbers.
I keep an email folder for each linkbuilding campaign that contains all the replies.
I got three great tips from Frank at www.orchidbox.com while writing this post.
- Check the whois email address if there is no email on the site. A bonus here is that these people are less likely to be being spammed, so your email may be received without preconceived scepticism on their part.
- Add a column for whether the site uses Adsense or not. This can allow you to target PPC ads at high quality websites in your niche.
- Add a column for whether the site takes article submissions or not. If you can’t get a free link, you can at least write a decent guest post for your link.
5. A Linkbuilding Email Template
Keep it short and simple but do all the important bits.
Would you add www.clientsite.co.uk/ to your page http://www.yoursite.com/uk/en/careers/student/offices?
They have discounts for buying online and no credit card charges and serve the area your users live in.
- Informal, personal where I can get the recipient’s name form the website
- Not a lot to read, tells them exactly what I want and where I want it (i.e. Don’t make them think!)
- Tells them why giving me a link is good for their users
- Tells them why giving me a link makes their site better
- Doesn’t make any wild promises on my site, or suggest anything spammy
- Doesn’t take a lot of my time to replicate or personalise, I can shift a lot of these in a day if needed
Don’t overthink this. If you are in doubt, just send the email. I have had PR 9 backlinks using this method. Follow up if you need to.
6. Gather your Business Intelligence
Now that the link building is done, segmentation is where you get extra business intelligence. I have two extra columns in my Excel. The example below is from an analysis of links pointing to the www.thetrainline.com.
Describes the action taken – already have a link, sent email, called, filled form, don’t want etc.
This gives me a good overview of how my links compare to theirs.
Describes the type of site it is. This changes slightly depending on the site and vertical, there is no hard and fast rule.
This tells me where they get the bulk of their links from and can be used to guide the next phase of linkbuilding strategy as well as in this case, feeding back into actual product development.
7. Turn Business Intelligence into Strategy
Here is some actual feedback to the client based on link analysis of The Trainline.
Geography One of the main reason links are not obtainable, is that The Trainline operates on a larger geographic scale than [client] and therefore gets a larger numbers of targeted links from local organisations. A lot of websites use The Trainline site as a single reference point when they just want to list one place to go to look for cheap tickets. [client] cannot compete as they do not have comprehensive geographical coverage.
Student Student websites are a great source of natural links and are a good fit for our product. They are also very price conscious and could respond well to a value message.
From this I would suggest
- Linkbuilding to focus on student websites
- Building a separate, country wide, student focused ticket selling domain. This will be incredibly powerful in achieving links not only from education institutions but also being available to use as a countrywide reference point by newspapers, blogs and other references
8. Know When to Move On
I normally do this for the three main competitors and then stop.
By that time I’ve done three sites I have good feel for the link landscape in the sector and have sponged up most of the available links. Each site after this brings diminishing returns.
That’s how I do it. Having a plan to follow makes it easy to sell and less painful to do.