How To Conduct a Competitive Link Analysis

Whether you’re entering a new industry or looking to improve the rankings of an existing website, knowing how to conduct a competitive link analysis is a vital skill for any internet marketer to have.

Step #1 – Analyze On-Page SEO factors

Start on the target website’s home page and consider all of the following on-page SEO factors:

  • Are their target keywords used frequently throughout the text of the home page?
  • Are their target keywords included in the home page’s H1 headline tag?
  • Is the main target keyword present in the home page title tag?  (Also, when constructing title tags, make sure to use no more than 70-75 characters – the shorter the page title, the more power given to the words in it.)
  • Is the site’s URL keyword rich?

It’s also important to look at the site’s footer links to see how the site has chosen to spread “link juice”.  Ideally, sites should put a “no follow” tag on links that do are not keyword rich (for example, Careers, Developer API, and any other pages that you don’t want ranked in the search engines) in order to prevent the spread of authority to pages that won’t benefit from it.

Step #2 – Understand The Site’s Existing Link Profile

Although on-page SEO factors are important in helping the search engine spiders determine the purpose of a page, off-page factors – and back links, specifically – play an even greater role in getting a site ranked well in the SERPs.  In fact, some SEO experts believe that the relative quality and quantity of a site’s back links account for as much as 80% of the weighting used to determine where sites fall in the search result pages.

The thing is, though, not all back links are created equal.  A “follow” link from a high PageRank, authority site within your chosen niche is infinitely more valuable than thousands of “no follow” links from scammy sites that don’t relate at all to your site’s content.  That’s why, when conducting a competitive link analysis, it’s important to take the time to determine the strength of the target site’s back links – not just the number of inbound links it’s achieved.

First, start by looking at the website’s existing back links to see what they’ve been doing to rank so far and where the opportunities exist to create value.  For example, if your target website uses a lot of keyword-rich anchor text, invest time in building links that focus on branded terms. Or, if you see that the site has used all blogroll links, focus on diversifying the types of inbound links pointing to the site.

It’s also important to look through the site’s competitors’ back links to see what ratio of different link types exist in that market. Take a look at 10-15 links per competitor, and you should be able to derive an ideal ratio for future link types after doing this.

Step #3 – Develop A Link Building Plan For Success

After completing Step #2, you should have a good idea of where your site (or your client’s site, if you’re conducting this link analysis as part of your SEO consulting work) stands in relation to its competitors.  The final step is to put together a plan of action that will generate the necessary links to move the site up in the SERP rankings.

First, let’s review the different types of anchor text links that we can create :

  •  Keyword anchor – These links contain the site’s specific target keyword as the link anchor text.
  • Long tail keyword anchor – Long tail anchor text includes variations of the site’s target keyword – but not the target keyword itself – as anchor text.  These links can help a site to pick up quick and easy rankings for related, but less competitive keyword phrases.
  • Branded anchor – In addition to targeting specific keywords, some links should be created which focus their anchor text on branded or company-specific keywords.

With these distinctions in mind, we’ll need to determine how many of each link type to create.  Using the results of our competitor analysis from Step #2, look specifically at how many of each of the following link types each competing site has created:

  • In-content links
  • Footer links
  • Blog sidebar and blogroll links
  • .edu links
  • .gov links

Look not just at the number of links each competing site is creating for each link type, but also the specific link type ratios they’re generating.  Once you’ve done this for all of keywords you’re targeting and competing sites you’re analyzing, you can decide on the ratio of each link type you’ll need to create each month.

For example, if the market has a lot of sites that are focusing solely on sidebar and footer links, consider replicating this ratio with your own site, since the formula has been proven to work in your niche.  Alternatively, you could come in and use a variety of different link types – including sidebar links, footer links and in-content links – to create a unique ratio of link types that will set your site apart from its competitors.

You can also use the information you’ve uncovered from your link analysis to determine an ideal ratio of keyword anchor text, long tail keyword anchor text and branded anchor text links for use in promoting your site.  Again, you can mimic what the market is currently using or skew the ratio slightly to increase your odds of outranking the competition.  Keep in mind though, that with anchor text specifically, you’ll want to include some of each type of link in your profile to increase the chances of being found for both industry and branded keywords.

Once you’ve compiled all this information, you should be able to set up a concrete link building plan that specifies exactly how many links to build each month, what types of links you should pursue, how their anchor text should be structured and which specific keywords you should target.

Final Considerations…

As you go about conducting your link analysis and creating a link building plan to promote your site or your client’s page, there are a few final considerations you’ll want to keep in mind.

First, authority links.  As mentioned above, when building back links to your site, you’ll want to focus on building authority back links, as these are much more valuable to your site’s success.  One easy way to do this is to go through your competitor’s link analyses and find the highest quality links from their back link profiles.  Try to get these same sites to link back to your page as well for maximum benefit.

Another way to generate authority back links is to find media mentions in major news outlets for the site you’re promoting, and then build back link for that media mention.  This will increase the amount of link juice that flows from the media mention back to your site, improving the value of the back link.

Finally, you’ll also want to consider the quality of the pages to which you’re building your links.  Don’t simply build links to the site’s home page.  Instead, go to Open Site Explorer and click on the “Top Pages” tab for your site.  Make a list of your top pages and refer to it often when link building.  By building links to these pages specifically, the site will rank better, faster because they already have the high page authority that will lead to better rankings.

Image: Morningstar Lee

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About Sujan

Sujan Patel is the VP of Marketing at thisCLICKS, the makers of When I Work & Wage Base. Previously Sujan founded Single Grain, one of the top Digital Marketing agencies in San Francisco, CA. With more than 10 years of Internet marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force,…