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It’s no secret that backlinking is a super effective part of your SEO strategy, and if you know that, so do your competitors. The domains that refer to the websites that you’re going up against in the SERPs are out there to be discovered - you just need to know where to look. So how can you find your competitors' backlinks?

What are backlinks?

Backlinks are a link to your site from a separate domain; it’s when a website links externally ‘back’ to yours. These are different from internal links, which is where you link to another page of the same site.

How important are backlinks for SEO?

Backlinks are hugely important for SEO; each one is a vote of confidence in your website, and a signal to Google that if this external domain thinks that what you have to say is useful and worth directing traffic to, users may find it useful too. Google favours helpful, valuable content, and backlinks demonstrate this, so websites with high quality backlinks from sites that have good domain authority can expect to be rewarded in the search results pages.

What is a competitor backlink analysis?

Competitor backlink analysis involves discovering what websites your competitors have earned links from, but that you haven’t. This is done to identify link building opportunities quickly and efficiently, as you’ll see what websites are likely to link out to a site within your industry, as well as providing something to benchmark your site against, and generate new link building campaign ideas.

How to find your competitor backlinks in 6 steps

1. Identify your main keywords

If you know anything about SEO already, you may have grasped how important keywords are throughout your strategy, and this applies to the link building arm of SEO too. The first step in your competitor backlink analysis should be to find the target keywords that contribute to your visibility in the results pages.

It’s important to know the keywords that you’re actively going after, the keywords that you currently rank for, the keywords you’re competing with similar websites for, and the keywords that they rank for that you don’t.

2. Select your competitors

In conjunction with the first step, you’ll also want to be narrowing down the websites that you’re actually competing with. You should identify sites that are performing well for your target keywords, and you’ve probably already got an idea of who you’re up against. If not, consider the following:

Your industry and niche

When it comes to the industry you work within, this could be quite broad - we’re thinking of top-level stuff like finance, charity, engineering, healthcare, software as a service (SaaS), etc.

However, not everyone within this industry will be your competitor, so you need to go deeper; what exactly do you provide within that industry? For example, within healthcare you could work in anything from medical devices to health care training - to find your competitors, you’ll need to have this nailed down.

Target audience

You may be targeting those on a budget, whilst some businesses who do the same thing as you may be working in a more high-end space, for example. The kinds of people you’re targeting will come into identifying your competitors.

The quality of their backlink profiles

You want to be going after high quality backlinks; if your competitors clearly don’t have a good link building strategy, they’re not in the same league as you.

What are domain level competitors?

Domain level competitors are ones found through a ‘related to’ search on Google. Simply type ‘related:[your website’s URL]’ into Google. These are websites that are competing directly with your entire website in the SERPs.

What are page level competitors?

These are competitors who aren’t competing for as many of the same keywords as domain competitors, but they still have certain pages that are going head-to-head with you for a select few keywords.

3. Analyse domain level competitors with a backlink checker

For this, we’d suggest using one of the many helpful online SEO tools, such as SEMrush, AHREFs, Moz etc, though in most cases you’ll likely need to pay a fee to do so.

These backlink checkers will enable you to find the domains that link to your domain-level competitors alongside their domain authority; the higher this is, the more appealing they are to earn backlinks from. Remember that domain authority is only worth considering if the site also has a low spam score - Google hates spam, so it’s not a good idea to associate your website with it.

By using a spreadsheet to highlight duplicate entries, you can see which linking domains link to more than one of your domain-level competitors; these are the ones to go after.

4. Analyse page level competitors with a backlink analysis

Using those same SEO tools that we mentioned earlier, you can then turn your attention to page level competitors - they might not be competing with your site as a whole, but they can still take centre stage on the SERPs for your target keyword, meaning that their page gets far more traffic than yours.

You’ll be able to spot page level competitors because their website and business doesn’t bear much resemblance to yours, but they’re still targeting some of your keywords on one or some of their pages.

Find the linking domains in the same way as you did with domain-level competitors and add them to the list of referring domains that you should be creating.

5. Analyse semantically similar keywords

Don’t forget that your competitors (and users) may phrase keywords slightly differently, so it’s well worth exploring semantically similar keywords in the same way. Not only will you find some more keywords to target with your website, but you may also find more referring domains.

6. Identify the top referring websites

With your list of referring domains, it’s time to do a deep dive into each, and finding out their domain and spam scores should be your first port of call. Also prioritise sites that have referred visitors recently, and sites that get high organic traffic; the backlink opportunities with these sites are likely to be current and refer a decent amount of traffic to your site.

How to evaluate competitor backlinks

Don’t forget to apply the following checks to your competitors backlinks to work out whether the domains that refer to them are ones that you should be exploring too:

Backlink quality

Disregard backlinks from spammy forums or blogs; you’re specifically looking for high quality links from domains with good domain authority and a low spam score. This could be reputable news outlets, respected online industry journals, or the blogs of influential professionals. You’re also looking for high organic traffic, and lots of recent content.

Backlink placement

Where are the backlinks placed within the content? Are they obvious and therefore highly clickable? Or are they buried in the last paragraph with misleading anchor text? Suffice to say it’s the former that makes that referring domain one to target.

Backlink relevance

Does the backlink add context or further information to the content that’s linking to your competitor’s domain? Does it add value? If not, chances are a user won’t click on it, and what’s the point in that?

Add these findings to your backlink strategy

The domains you find through analysing your competitors backlinks should form a part of your backlink strategy, but it’s not the only element of it. Your focus should always be on creating quality content that’s helpful to your user; the domains you’ve identified are websites that would genuinely want to link to it.

Need help with your backlinking?

Backlinking can be tough to get your head around, and time consuming to get involved with, in which case, we’d strongly advise calling in the professionals. A credible SEO agency like ours can focus on that high quality content designed to not only be suitable for approaching reputable and relevant websites, but to be linked back to naturally too. To talk backlinks and all other things SEO, drop us a line.

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About Chris Simmons

Chris is our onpage SEO Specialist at 427 Marketing, having joined the team in early 2023. He works with our content team to cover the 4 pillars of SEO; content, onpage SEO, technical SEO and offpage SEO. Prior to joining the 427 Marketing team, Chris spent almost 10 years applying his SEO and content skills across several different industries in marketing agency and inhouse roles including tool hire, auctioneering, health care within the NHS and high end luxury retail in both B2B and B2C capacities. His passion for writing, content, UX, technical and on page SEO has expanded our content offerings, helping provide reliable advice about all things SEO to 427 Marketing.

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