Working in an agency, you soon realise that most in-house SEO Managers, Marketing Executives, MD’s etc. are somewhat obsessed with benchmarking performance against competitors. Of course, we can’t exactly phone a competitor and ask for Analytics access to check out their data; so there are a few trusty yard sticks we can rely upon, and one of these is links.
You could argue that links reveal a little less than they used to following the release of Google’s and Bing’s disavow tools, but is that really the case or do we just need to work a little harder and think a bit differently about the information that links can provide?
Yes, it’s fair to say that indicators such as Moz metrics have become almost obsolete in tracking performance against competitors, but links can still provide invaluable insight into a competitor’s SEO strategy.
Aggression and investment
In the words of the great Jeremy Clarkson (yes, really); “I believe in speed, power. Power and speed solve many things.” Power and speed are also great indicators of an active link building campaign. Using tools such as ahrefs.com and freshwebexplorer.moz.com to analyse a website, we can see the number, quality and speed with which these links are being built.
Admittedly, it is impossible to determine how many of these links have since been disavowed or devalued by Penguin algorithms, however, we can assume those links built since the last update are an indication of a competitor’s strategy moving forward.
Combined with ranking and visibility data, we can also make a reasonable guess as to whether a competitor has been conducting link removals, either in anticipation of an algorithm update or in response to a penalty.
Ahrefs.com – JohnLewis.com
Closer analysis of a backlink profile doesn’t just reveal bottom-line link figures and metrics; we can also gain a great understanding of a competitor’s outreach strategy, the media, content and data they have available to share with bloggers and, perhaps most importantly, how effective they’ve been in promoting it.
We can see from the below links taken from Fresh Web Explorer that MusicMagpie.co.uk is generating links from a wide range of sources; from top-level publications such as Econsultancy.com through to some lesser-known websites.
We can also see that interviews with their Chief Marketing Officer Eren Ozagir is a very effective means of generating links from leading publications.
Is this approach successful? Well, we certainly can’t rest all of the site’s performance on links alone, though I strongly suspect outreach has contributed to the searchmetrics graph below:
Keyword and landing page targeting
Certainly, the most basic principle of competitor link analysis is being able to identify which keywords they’re targeting and which landing pages they’re generating links to. Despite the release of the Disavow tools, we can still clearly see intention to rank for certain terms through the use of anchor text, should a competitor have had time to remove the majority (or for some reason, all) of their exact match anchor text, we can still analyse their landing pages for keyword targets.
A simple Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs data pull can reveal all we need to know here. What’s more, we can view this data from a business perspective to help identify their key products or services by determining which keywords and landing pages receive the most promotion and links.
We can also take this type of analysis a step further and identify gaps in our own keyword targets by setting out our keyword list against our competitors anchor text data. Side-by-side, we can see potential gaps and opportunities we should look to target, this is often particularly useful in identifying long-tail targets but can be key identifying the products and services competitors are offering which you are not, you may be missing out on a market for which you already provide a service but have failed to promote to its full potential.
We may have the ability to disavow links but we still cannot mask the invaluable data they can provide about a business, its resources, and the SEO techniques behind its outreach campaigns.
Though we’ve come a long way from comment spam and article syndication over last few years and outreach has moved on to integrate PR; even design and digital links remain key components in achieving rankings and the insight they can provide should never be underestimated.