Sneaking up on our competitors is human nature.
We do it in business, in our personal lives—and we even do it in places like the gym.
But did you realize that SEO could be another avenue for us to use our inquisitive nature?
You see, SEO is lucrative. People try to hide their activity.
We all want to hit the first page of Google results and don’t want to tell people how we got there. Especially our competitors, right?
I’ve got a secret for you that might change your whole thought process on this.
…you can find out what your competitor’s SEO strategy is.
And the best part? It’s totally legal, and free to do.
It’s true. You can suss out their nifty techniques to reach the top spots, and do it yourself.
So, curiosity didn’t kill the cat.
It helped his website become an SEO powerhouse by being a copycat, instead!
Sneak the SERPs: How to Find Competitor Backlinks and Steal Their Strategy
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of sneaking up on your competitors, let’s take a moment to understand why we might want to do it.
(Hint: The answer isn’t always “because I’m nosy!”… Although you wouldn’t be alone in this.)
As much as we don’t like to have competitors, they do help us—especially when it comes to SEO.
That’s because your competitors may be using a strategy to improve their ranking positions, and taking the coveted Page One spots that you’re desperately trying to achieve.
Ready for a big announcement?
You can go behind the scenes of their SEO strategy and figure out how they got there, so that you can do the same thing.
I know, it’s a pretty big deal.
Your competitors may have found a new strategy that nobody else is using, or are partnering with a reputable website to supercharge their rankings.
But, you won’t know what they’re doing, or how they reached the top, without some form of competitor analysis.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to figure out their winning strategy:
1. Search for a Similar Page on Your Competitor’s Site
I’m going to risk sounding like Captain Obvious over here, but in order to do competitor analysis, you’ll need competitors.
I say this because not many businesses know how to look for their competitors—and think that similar businesses in their local area are the only brands to watch out for.
That can be true. But, when it comes to SEO competitors, the businesses you’re competing with are those currently ranking for your primary keywords.
Let’s use an example.
If I ran an SEO agency and wanted to find my biggest competitors, I’d Google “SEO agency.” That’s my primary keyword—and the one I’d love to rank for.
The sites that show up on the first results page would be my competitors:
The answer is simple, really.
The first 10 sites listed here have some proven ranking power. They’re ranked as the best (and most relevant) sites for a keyword, with a monthly search volume of 10K-100K.
That’s pretty impressive.
However, this process only works for homepages.
If you’re doing competitor analysis and looking to improve your backlink strategy to specific pages, you’ll need to put in a bit of extra work.
But don’t worry, it’s not that difficult!
All you’ll need to do is find a similar page on the sites listed above, by doing a site search.
So, let’s say that I’ve got a page on my SEO agency site that offers PPC services.
I could find the directly competing page on my competitor’s website by entering the following into Google:
[site:Impression.co.uk + “PPC”]
You can replace the URL with another competitor from your list, and be greeted with the pages on their site which are most similar to yours.
It’s the easy way of hitting the competitor jackpot!
2. Use a Free Backlink Checker to Collect Data
Now that we’ve found our competitor list, it’s time to get technical.
Don’t worry if you’re not an Excel pro. I’ve got a nifty little trick for you that looks uber technical, but only actually requires you to make a few clicks.
Enter my secret weapon: the Free Backlink Checker.
All you need to do is enter the URL of your competitor’s page. Then, you’ll be greeted with a list of every backlink that points to it. From directories to guest posts, it’s all in here—and ready for you to have a peek through.
If you were using my site as your competitor, here’s what you’d see when using the tool:
The backlink checker details the URL of the backlink, so you can click through and see its position on the page.
It also includes key SEO metrics that will help you decide whether it’s a good or bad backlink, including:
- Domain Authority (DA)
- Page Authority (PA)
- Spam Score
The Free Backlink Checker is an awesome tool for running small reports on your competitors.
However, if you’re going the whole hog on your spy activities, you might want to invest in the full Monitor Backlinks software.
You can get a free 30-day trial of the full tool, which will allow you to find as many competitors’ backlinks as you wish, without the restrictions of the Free Backlink Checker.
3. Analyze Each Site’s Backlink Profile
Great job! You’ve whittled down your competitor list and completed all of the research you’ll need to suss out their SEO strategies.
Now it’s time to move onto the tricky (and tedious) stage: analyzing each site’s backlink profile.
You can find your competitor’s backlinks by using either the Free Backlink Checker or the Monitor Backlinks main tool. For this example, I’m going to keep using the Free Backlink Checker.
Once you’ve entered the URL, hit the “Download CSV” button:
You’ll be left with an Excel spreadsheet, detailing everything you need to know about each backlink on the list:
If you’re looking at this and weeping, there’s no need to worry.
It gives you more information than you need. Some is useless, but some is worth its weight in gold.
Analyzing this document will give you crucial takeaways that can fuel your own ongoing strategy.
Throughout this process, you’ll need to think about:
The Number of Backlinks
A high volume of backlinks could indicate why a site is performing so well in the SERPs.
Just take a look at this data found by Backlinko when they analyzed one million Google search results:
Sites taking pride of place in the SERPs have 35,000 backlinks pointing to them.
There’s a sharp drop to ~13,000 for sites in position two, and the volume of backlinks, per site, continues to decline from there.
What does that tell us?
Well, if the competitor sites you’re analyzing each have thousands of backlinks pointing to them, it could be the reason why they’re taking the Google spots you’re working so hard to reach.
However, this comes with a caveat.
The volume of backlinks doesn’t always signal a well-optimized site. Quality reigns over quantity, so focus on building powerful backlinks—and avoid those from sites you don’t want to be associated with!
Domain Authority of Backlinks
Another SEO metric to consider when analyzing your competitor’s backlink profile is the percentage of backlinks that fall within each Domain Authority (DA) bracket.
DA is a score, created by Moz, that indicates how well a site would rank in the search engines.
It’s calculated based on the DA score of the sites your backlinks come from. That means if your competitors are virtually hanging around with SEO powerhouses, they’re more likely to become one themselves—and increase their own DA score.
Go through each link and tally up how many fall within these categories:
- DA 0-29
- DA 30-49
- DA 50-69
- DA 70+
If your competitor’s backlink profile is 90% made up of high DA backlinks in the 70+ bracket, it’s pretty safe to assume that these are helping them reach the top spots.
Page Authority (PA) Ratio
Similar to DA, you should also look at the Page Authority (PA) of entries in your competitor’s backlink profile.
This tells you the authority of the page that the backlink derives from, rather than the entire domain.
Just like the authority of a domain, the authority of a page is determined by the PA of sites linking to yours.
Why should we look at this?
Well, PA can also give an indication of how well a site will perform in the SERPs.
Break your brackets into the same categories we used for recording DA, and find the average PA of the backlinks pointing to the competitor’s site.
If this is anywhere above 40, add it to your list of reasons for taking pride of place—and add the improvement of Page Authority to your SEO strategy to-dos.
Anchor Text Ratio
The anchor text of a backlink is the bit of text that’s used beneath it.
Want an example? In the sentence above, “anchor text of a backlink” is the anchor text.
There are many forms of anchor text that you can use, each with their own technical terms:
- Branded – Your brand name! For us, that’s “Monitor Backlinks”
- Exact match – The primary keyword of your page, i.e. “backlink software”
- Phrase – Expanding on your exact match keyword, i.e. “try this backlink software for small businesses”
Why is this important, I hear you ask?
Because it can show you a natural anchor text ratio.
Penalties can be given out for over-optimizing your site. That can happen if exact match anchor text populates a large chunk of your backlink profile.
On the other hand, phrase anchor texts don’t have a ranking power as strong as branded or exact match.
For that reason, you’ll need to find a balance between each type of content for your backlinks. You’re able to find that by analyzing the ratio of anchor text used by your competitors.
4. What Works?
Now that we’ve got an overview of the type of backlinks that your competitors are collecting, let’s take it a step further.
(Trust me, this legwork will pay off when you use the data to fuel your new strategy. It’s not a complete waste of time, and definitely worth the time investment!)
Start by looking for any stats that are common across all of your competitor’s sites.
They’re all ranking on Page One. Similar traits could be the reason why.
All Have High PR Backlinks?
If you see that the bulk of each competitor’s backlink profile contains sites with a PageRank (PR) of 40 or above, it’s not a useless pattern.
Instead of brushing it off as a coincidence, think about how you can replicate this to see similar SERP success on your own site.
Reach out to sites with a high scoring, offer a guest post or ask for collaboration opportunities.
Improving the quantity of high PR backlinks in your own profile will help you to become a real competitor of theirs, and a site to really watch out for!
Come from Niche Websites or Big Publications?
It’s usually good to have a diverse backlink profile. It demonstrates that your site isn’t practising black hat SEO techniques, and gives a sense of credibility.
Sense check this by referring back to your competitors.
Where do their backlinks come from? Are the majority from niche websites, or big publications? Or even both?
Niche websites are sites that target specific industries, or discuss one topic. If we wanted to build a backlink to Monitor Backlinks on a niche website, we might target Search Engine Watch.
Large sites are loosely related to the topic you discuss on your own site. For Monitor Backlinks, this might be Forbes.
You may find that on average, each backlink profile has a 50/50 split.
That makes your job relatively easy. For every link that you build on a niche website, build another on a larger publication, and vice versa!
Have Lots of Directory Links?
Oh, the beauty of a directory link.
Their value to SEO has been debated for years, but there’s no questioning they can be valuable to e-commerce websites.
You see, directories don’t just help with brand awareness (although they’re awesome at that, too).
They tell search engine spiders that your website’s reputable, and being recommended elsewhere on the internet.
Now, let’s go back to your competitors.
Do they have directory backlinks? If so, what directories are they coming from?
Your job here is simple: Submit your own listing to each directory that your competitors are listed in.
Because they’re already in a similar industry to you, you know that the directories are worth your while.
It’s really as easy as that!
All Come from One Website?
When you were analyzing each backlink profile, were there any sites that popped up frequently?
Often, big publications offer sponsorship or guest posting opportunities to businesses. You may have just hit the jackpot and discovered one, if you notice that a lot of your competitors have backlinks from one single site.
However, there’s another caveat here: Check the SEO metrics of the site first.
If it’s got a high DA and PA, a low Spam Score and decent site traffic, add it to your list of targets.
Getting a backlink from a site that your competitors work with is a sure-fire way to come for their SERP spots.
Do a Lot of Guest Posting?
I know what you’re thinking when I say the words “guest posting.”
But you don’t need to quiver in your boots!
Gone are the days of paying for links on blogs in a network. Guest blogging has taken a new, more valuable turn.
You can now use guest blogging as a credible way to grow your brand awareness, drive traffic to your site—and more importantly, improve your SEO.
That’s because guest blogging opportunities are available on SEO powerhouse sites, and you can get a slice of the action by contributing your own!
Referring back to your competitor’s backlink profiles, can you see any obvious entries that have been built through guest posting? Check for links in their author bio, and see if you can reveal a “write for us” page on the linking site.
If you can, you might just be in luck…. Especially if they’re industry-specific, have good SEO metrics and have already published similar content from your competitors!
5. Build Your New Strategy
Congratulations! You’ve now uncovered the strategies behind your competitor’s SEO activity, which means it’s now time to improve your own.
Start by adding any technique that you saw throughout this process, that you aren’t already using.
Whether that’s guest posting on high DA sites, building directory links or varying your anchor text usage, give it a go and record your results.
When we say results, that’s usually keyword ranking positions.
You want to see your site rise up the ranks for the keyword you started with.
If you’re using Monitor Backlinks, you can easily track those keyword rankings to see how well your strategy’s going.
Under the “Rank Tracker” tab, you can see how your keywords are currently performing and track how they’ve improved with your new strategy.
You can even get weekly keyword reports sent straight to your inbox, so you’ll be across every move.
Just remember that SEO is a long game, and you might not spot any remarkable improvements for a few months.
Be patient. If you’re building links that have been proven to work, the success will come!
Bonus: Get Alerts for Competitors’ New Backlinks
You may be aware that just like SEO in general, link building is always changing.
Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms, and websites are always improving their strategies to reach the top.
Because of this, we recommend signing up to receive alerts on your competitor’s backlinks, as they happen.
Every week, you’ll get a handy email that details every new backlink that’s been built to your competitor’s site. This will allow you to spot any changes in their strategy, so you can consider if you need to alter yours, too.
Three cheers for bossing SEO and spying on your competitors!