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How To: Performing a Competitive Link Analysis

We all know that link building is a cornerstone of SEO. We know that even building a solid core for your website (i.e. site architecture, content building/crafting) is not enough, sometimes, to make a dent in the SERPs and get the needed visibility. That’s where link building enters the picture; the necessary evil we all must take part in.

Get Your Professional Analysis On

Everyone does a link analysis differently, using different tools and methods. And, everyone is very careful not to give away secret-sauce items. Well, that all stops here. If you’re going to be a professional SEO/SEM, then you’d better start acting like one and getting your competitive analysis in order. It’s less about giving it all away, and more about making sure we keep SEO’s good name intact. Anything worth doing takes time, and anything someone is willing to pay for your expertise on had better take some time.

The First Step

It seems obvious, but you need to run a full audit on your client’s link building profile and graph. At the end of the day, you can be a link building sniper, but if the link profile is suspicious and “non-normalized” to begin with, it won’t matter a hill of beans. Building links on a faulty/flagged/suspicious profile will only hurt the situation and not help it. Your acquisitions could serve to further damage the site’s link profile if it’s not done correctly. Below I’ll detail out the process that I go through for running link profile audits on client sites and their competitors.

Getting the Link Discovery (Velocity) Rate

It’s essential to know how the engines have seen the link discovery on your site. The bottom line here: is there some normalization to the discovery? Are there small spikes, huge spikes, or “normal” looking PQRS waves. Your first stop is Majestic SEO.

Majestic SEO is a great place to get lot of wonderful link velocity data that stretches back over year or more. It’s certainly my tool of choice for this task. The first thing I look at is a cumulative view of the site in question. This will give you a good high-level view of how the site has gathered links over time. Ideally, we’d want to see smooth rise over run, indicating that links have grown at progressively normal pace over time.

It will also give you a referring domain discovery rate, allowing you to discover if the quantities grown is in sync with unique domains.

Example of a Cumulative Report:

After we’ve seen how it looks at a high-level, we have to drop a little deeper and view the normalized progression of link acquisition. This will give you a good idea of spikes in activity of acquisition. Please note, if the site you are performing this on a QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) type industry (i.e. a news site), then seeing huge spikes in activity may not necessarily be a bad thing as long as they happen frequently enough on “big story” days.

Example of Normalized Report:

Once you’ve completed these reports for your client site, pop in the competitors to see how their link velocity compares and where your site stacks up against them. This, again, will provide a good indication of how much acquisition will have to be done in order to level the playing field.

Getting Link Profiles

Next major step in a competitive link analysis is to examine what sites are actually linking to your client site. It’s an important to know if the site you’re about to get started on has a junk link profile (i.e. tons of links on spammy sites, non-unique c-class links, etc) or find out if they have a really nice looking profile with some great authoritative links.

There are two great tools you can use for this: Yahoo’s Site Explorer (a.k.a. the linkdomain query) or SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer (OSE).

Preferably, I like Open Site Explorer because it does a lot of the heavy lifting we used to have to do manually: categorizing by page strength and domain strength. I think it’s worth looking at the top 100 or so links. Why I like Open Site Explorer, as opposed to Yahoo linkdomain query, is the comparison of domains.

This saves a lot of time and provides excellent information; are your client site and the competitor site getting links from the same places, do they have links in places that it would be beneficial to acquire links from?

Example of Link Profile Comparison:

Link Anchor Text Evaluation

Beyond just getting relevant, authoritative links from different domains across the intergalactic web universe, link anchor text matters. It matters in global search, it matters in local search. I’ve talked about anchor text extensively before, but the bottom-line is that matters both for the temporal and semantic web.

There are two tools out there that do a great job of gathering and sorting link anchor-text for you: OSE and Link Diagnosis. There are distinguishable differences between them, and personally, I think OSE has fuller, richer data than Link Diagnosis. But, hey, Link Diagnosis is a free, so you can’t complain too much.

What you are looking for, respectively, is a good blend of brand-centric anchor text and keyword specific anchor text from a variety of referring domains. Going further, within the keyword specific anchor text, it’s ideal to see grouping variations on specific keyword phrases. Why? People don’t normally link to things that way naturally. Naturally, they are more likely to use one or two keywords or half a sentence; rarely do people link with very specific keyword phrases.

Example of Anchor Text Profile:

If you want to do your due diligence, you should also examine your site’s internal linking anchor text. After all, anchor text matters and you may discover that there are places to buff up some anchor text within the internal linking structure (i.e. missing alt-tags, and over-abundance of “home” or “click here” that could be swapped out with more keyword-rich anchor text)

So Now What?

Now that you have oodles of information on both your site and competitor’s sites, you can put a link acquisition strategy together based on what your client really needs to shore up. Whether that be specific anchor text variations for business-vital services and products, acquiring links for authoritative places, or just slowly building a quantity of links to improve relevance and trust. There’s a lot of information here to digest, especially if you’re not a “Link Acquisition Ninja“, so I would suggest running a preliminary audit on your own site first.

Practice, after all, makes perfect. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the information, how to deconstruct it, and what to do with it, I think then you can move on to analyzing your client sites. This isn’t gospel, there is no one right way to critically survey a site’s link building efforts, but this is the method that works best for me.

Related Resources;

5 Advanced SEO Tools Worth Paying For – Hobo
SEO & Competitive Analysis – Outspoken Media
Simple Linkbait Co-Citation Analysis for Link Prospecting – Ontolo
30 Link Builders Discuss Backlink Analysis For Campaign Design ““ Part 1 – Search Engine Land




  1. Jeremy Bencken January 20, 2011

    Another valuable view in OpenSiteExplorer is Top Pages. This helps you understand which specific pages are driving the most links for a competitor. That’s important to know because these will often reveal a piece of linkbait or other content strategy. Then you can one-up them!

  2. Anthony January 20, 2011


    That’s an excellent addition to competitor link analysis. And, this type of view can work for both B2B and B2C industries.

  3. Chris February 9, 2011

    Great competitive link analysis framework. So many people get caught up in the tactical part of planning and executing SEO activities but seldom focus on identifying competitor strengths and weaknesses, mapping out the landscape, and uncovering opportunities.

    And +1 for OSE.

  4. Love Kids Worldwide February 23, 2012

    This is what i’m searching for, how to perform a competitive link analysis! Thanks!

Comments are closed.

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