Competitive Link Building
Who links to your competitors? Why do they link to your competitors? Is it a link worth pursuing? Is there a similar link you can get?
Hi! Welcome to the fourth post in our series on SEO in the time of Coronavirus. This week I’m talking about link building, but before I dive into the how, I should explain to you the what.
When deciding if a website should rank higher in search, Google looks at two primary factors. They look at onsite optimization, which is the content on your website – the words and the images – and they look at offsite signals, which is how often and where your website is linked to all across the internet.
There are other factor that impact search, but for simplicity’s sake, we can narrow it down to these two. Last week we talked about local SEO, which is a big part of offsite SEO. This week I’m going to teach you how to do competitive link building.
It’s not quite as sporty as it sounds, so you can take off your lucky jersey and put your quarantine hoody back on.
What we’ll be doing is researching which websites are linking to your competitors, find out why they’re linking to them, determine whether or not it’s a link you can get, and/or find ways to get similar links.
Who Links to Your Competitors?
If you read last week’s post, you will remember that I mentioned an SEO software company we use for pretty much all our SEO research needs: Moz. It should come as no surprise then that I’m recommending them again for this week’s lesson.
We’re going to use Moz’s backlink research tool, what they call Link Explorer (formerly known as Open Site Explorer) to find out what websites are linking to your competitors. Other SEO websites like Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Neil Patel also offer backlink tools, but I’ve been using Moz’s for more than ten years, and I know its strengths, whereas I’m not familiar with the others.
Your first step in finding out who links to your competitors is to narrow down which competitors you’d like to research.
I recommend choosing competitors that are of similar size and/or in your geographic area. Comparing yourself to Walmart probably won’t be helpful, unless you’re Target.
Most of us aren’t Target.
Make sure you have the URL of your competitor’s homepage, then go to Moz’s Link Explorer tool. After you enter in the URL of your competitor, Moz will prompt you to make a free account. Go ahead and do this.
After you verify your email and do all that fun stuff, you’ll most likely need to return to Link Explorer and enter the domain again. I usually choose root domain, unless I have a specific reason for looking at a single page or a subdomain.
After you enter in the URL, Moz will take you to an overview of your competitor’s links. You’ll see metrics like total number of links, number of domains that link to your competitor, etc.
To make it a little simpler, at least for a beginner, go ahead and click on “Inbound Links” in the left column, which I’ve circled in yellow below.
Now you’ll have a table with columns that include URL, Anchor Text, PA, DA, Linking Domains, Spam Score, and More Info. For the sake of optimizing both brevity and effectiveness, pay the most attention to PA, DA, and Spam Score.
The ideal ratio is this: high PA, high DA, low Spam Score. PA is the page authority of a website, which is (more or less) how well the page that the link was on ranks in search. DA is domain authority, which is how well the domain as a whole does in search.
As for Spam Score: a few years back, Google began penalizing sites that had an excessive number of links coming from websites that were pure junk. These spammy websites were created by businesses that do less-than-ethical SEO in order to get lots of links pointing to their clients.
Moz created the Spam Score metric to help guide our competitive link building process. I tend to avoid even looking at websites with a spam score above 20%, though I will check out the URL and if it looks like a legitimate website then I might visit it anyway and see for myself whether or not it looks spammy.
So now we have a list of links that your competitor has. Great! However, with your free account, Moz will only show you 50 of those links. You can download them into a spreadsheet or work directly from the browser.
We have a paid account (of course), so we get access to full link profiles. Which brings me to this…
FREE OFFER ALERT!
<Insert confetti bomb and massive balloon release>
If you want access to more of your competitors’ links, from now until the end of July, New Why will run up to three full competitive reports for you. It’s true. We will. Just email us with the URLs of the three competitors you’d like us to get the link profiles for, and we’ll email you spreadsheets.
Why Do They Link to Your Competitors?
Alright, great. So now that we know which websites are linking to your competitors, we can visit the pages that link to them and figure out why they’re linking to them.
Links today typically fall into the following categories:
As a Referenced Source in a Blog Post or Article
These are often the best links you can get, and this is what we mean when we say inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is creating content on your website that people will find valuable, and so they link to it. This is why blog writing is so important. Some of our blog posts have been referenced in scholarly articles that appear online as well as on big organizations' websites (Guidestar). These links are incredibly valuable.
These are usually easy to get. The low-hanging fruit of link building. Sometimes they cost some money, sometimes they're free, and often they're not worth a ton in terms of link value, but they can be helpful. You'll know you're on a directory listing when you see "submit your site" or something similar, or when it resembles the sort of listings we talked about last week in our local SEO post.
Company / Organization Profile (Similar to Directory)
There are tons of websites out there that will let you create a company profile. Built in Colorado (or Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.), Agency Spotter, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. will let you make a profile for your business that includes a link. Social media profile links don't have much what we call "link juice," but you should still create a profile on all the networks. More about that in a future post.
Event or Nonprofit Sponsorships
When companies sponsor an event or a nonprofit, the organization or event will often link to them. These are some of my favorite "paid" links because they support your community and they also help your website.
While you typically have to pay for press releases to see wide distribution, sometimes this can be a great way to get the word out about your organization and to get a link.
You will see some weird URLs, and some of them will just be websites that use scrapers to find content around the web. We just kind of ignore those.
Is It a Link Worth Pursuing?
I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The best links out there (which I call above “As Referenced in a Blog Post or Article“) often cannot be pursued; they have to be earned. You have to create something interesting enough on your website that people will want to link to it.
Then, you have to optimize it so that the words in it trigger Google to see it. I’ll talk more about onsite optimization in a future post, so hold that thought. You’ll also need to work to promote it on social media, in emails, and wherever else online you talk about your organization.
Also, it’s unlikely that a website or newspaper will link to you for the same reason they’re linking to your competitor. We’ll move this down to the next section: is there a similar link you can get?
Directory links might not seem valuable, but over time they add up. If you see that a certain directory is linking to your competitor, seek a listing there too. It might cost you $5 or so, or it might be free. It also will likely give you a local signal, like we talked about last week in our local SEO blog post.
Likewise, creating a company profile on a website where your competitor has a link is low-hanging fruit and shouldn’t be overlooked just because it’s kind of, well, boring.
Event sponsorships are great to pursue. However, some organizations won’t want two of the same type of company as sponsors, or they may have some sort of exclusivity agreement.
While you can do some research to see if it makes sense for you to try to sponsor the same event or nonprofit as your competitor, it will also be beneficial to seek other events or nonprofits to sponsor.
As for press releases, pursue these links if you have something newsworthy to say. If you don’t actually have something newsworthy to communicate, then your press release might help with a link, but it won’t likely be read.
Just Google “press release syndication” and you’ll find tons of different options for companies you can pay to distribute your press release, with a live link back to your website.
Random scrapers. Nope. These are useless links.
Is There a Similar Link You Can Get?
Yes, you can seek the exact same link your competitor got, but you can also use the information from Link Explorer to create a plan to acquire similar type links.
Here are some examples of what that might look like:
Make a list of nonprofit organizations or local events that you’d like to sponsor, then research online whether these events or organizations link to their sponsors on their website.
That doesn’t have to be the only deciding factor of who you give to, but if you have a limited amount of money for a sponsorship, and there are several organizations or events you’d love to help, then choose the one that will link to you.
Then, if you do go through with a sponsorship, write a press release to go with it. Boom. Two links in one.
If you see that your competitor has written a guest blog post somewhere, do some research on where it makes sense for you to guest blog.
Or better yet, if you have friends, associates, or people in the community that you work with on a regular basis, ask them if you can write a guest blog on their website that links back to you.
If this part is confusing, email us and we’ll take a look at your competitors’ link profile, and we can discuss similar link ideas. We’re happy to help however we can right now.
Thanks to the Library of Congress for all these great photos.