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How to Perform a Competitor Link Analysis in 3 Steps

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How to Perform a Competitor Link Analysis in 3 Steps

A competitor link analysis is an assessment of the link profiles of major competitors where you look at their link building strategies to gain insights. Implementing some of the same strategies in your own link building can lead to higher rankings in search engines and increased business outcomes.

Performing this kind of analysis allows you to find sites that commonly link to websites similar to yours. If you look at well-ranking competitors and they have a lot of the same links, those links may be the ones helping them to rank.

Let’s take a look at how to perform a basic audit. Later, I’ll show you how to scale this process to get even more insights using bigger data. 

How to perform a competitor link analysis in three steps

This simple process can uncover a lot of link opportunities by looking at the common links that your immediate competitors already have.

1. Identify competitors

You may already know who your competitors are and can use that list later in the process. If you need some help, check out the Organic competitors report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to find a list of sites ranking for the same things you are.

Organic competitors report

If you don’t have a website yet, then you can search for a few main terms and you may be able to tell who the competitors will be. Another way of doing this is to simply add a few terms to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and go to the Traffic share by domains report, which will show you which sites are getting the most traffic for those terms. 

Traffic share by domains reportTraffic share by domains report

2. Find common links 

Take your list of competitors and enter them in the Link Intersect report in Site Explorer. This is going to give you a list of all the referring domains that your competitors have and show how many different competitors have links from those sites. 

link intersect reportlink intersect report

You can click the numbers under each domain to see the kind of links they have from each website.

click to see the individual linksclick to see the individual links

3. Identifying competitor strategies

There are a couple of ways to use this data. You can look at the common links your competitors have that you’re missing and work your way through those, or you can look for patterns in the data to see the type of sites where competitors are getting links. You may see things like niche sites, local listings, or other local websites.

Congratulations, you’ve done a basic competitor link analysis! 

If you have a little more time, you can scale the link intersect process to gather even more data and opportunities. Keep reading to find out how.

bonus tip: check your competitors’ most linked content

If you look at the Best by links report for some of your competitors in Site Explorer, you may see some interesting content driving links to competitors that you otherwise may not find. 

best by links reportbest by links report

I commonly see things like tools, studies, or even quotes that drive a lot of links to individual competitors. 

A lot of these links may be unique to a particular competitor, and you may miss them when looking at the overlap of competitor links. 

If you see a competitor successfully gaining links this way, you may be able to create similar tools and content to gain more links for your own site.

Scaled link intersect process

With a scaled process, you’re working with more data that can lead to additional insights and opportunities. You’ll spend more time up front going through this process, but you may be able to reuse the opportunities you find for other clients. I would expect it to take two to four hours for most people to follow this process.

First, we’ll look at your competitors’ links to find your niche-specific links. And later, we’ll look at other sites in your city to find local link opportunities.

Niche links

The easier process that we covered earlier just looks at direct competitors. If you have more than 10 direct competitors, you can still use a similar process to what I’m about to show to gain more insights. 

Just skip the section below and go directly to where you’re exporting referring domains of competitors. You can use your own list or get a larger list from the Competing Domains report in Site Explorer.

Local only

This process is a great fit for companies focused on local SEO, but it requires a little more work. 

By local SEO, I mean companies that mostly compete in one area like dentist offices, law firms, plumbing companies, etc. If you look at sites competing in other markets that may be stronger or more competitive than your own, you’ll find a lot of additional opportunities that no one in your market has taken advantage of.

First, create a copy of this Google sheet with the top 50 U.S. cities. Replace “service” with the name of your niche and copy the value down to create your keyword list. 

copy service downcopy service down

If you’re in a different country, you can create a similar sheet with popular cities in your country.

Copy the resulting list of terms from column C and paste them into Keywords Explorer, then click the search button.

copy the keywords into keywords explorercopy the keywords into keywords explorer

If you click the export option, you’ll see another menu with an option to include the SERPs in the export. This will include the sites in the top 10.

export with SERPsexport with SERPs

With the list of sites, delete anything that doesn’t look like a niche site.

You can set your own filters to make this easier. But as a general way to clean the data, I’d recommend:

  • Insert > Table
  • Filter > DR less than 50. Most local sites won’t have a DR that high, whereas directories and aggregators like yellowpages.com will. This is trying to get rid of all the directory/roundup/best-of-type sites.
  • Filter Type > Organic

Then manually delete anything that seems out of place. What you’ll be left with is the top sites in your niche from different cities.

top niche sitestop niche sites

All companies

The most time-consuming process is what’s next. For each site, you’ll need to export its referring domains using the Referring domains report in Site Explorer. I’d recommend saving them to a new folder to make the next step easier.

export referring domainsexport referring domains

Or if you have an enterprise plan that has API access and you want to do this quickly, you can iterate through the websites. We provide the needed request if you click the “{ } API” button.

api request for referring domainsapi request for referring domains

Now we need to combine all the files into one. I’ll show you how to do this in Windows and on MacOS. But if it’s easier for you, then you may want to try one of the online tool options that can combine CSV files.

I usually do this with Windows Command Prompt. Here’s the process:

  1. Save the files to a new folder
  2. Get the path either by using shift+right-click on the folder and “Copy as path,” or copy it from the address bar when viewing the contents of the folder
  3. Open Command Prompt, which you can find by searching “cmd”
  4. Type “cd,” press “Space,” right-click and paste, then press “Enter”
  5. Type “copy *.csv whatever-name.csv” and press “Enter”

For MacOS, you’ll use Terminal instead of Command Prompt, and the command to combine them is “cat *.csv > whatever-name.csv” for step #5. But otherwise, the instructions should be the same.

Open the new combined file. We’ll need to get a count of how many times each of the referring domains appears in the file. Here’s how to do that:

  • Insert > Table
  • Insert Column next to Referring Domain column and name it Count
  • In the Count Column, add the formula =COUNTIF(B:B,[@[Referring Domain]])
count of referring domainscount of referring domains

Copy the numbers in the Count column and paste in the same place as values. This makes it so the numbers aren’t lost when we remove duplicates. To remove duplicates:

  • Data > Remove Duplicates based on the Referring Domain
  • Data > Sort by Count > Largest to Smallest

This leaves you with the top referring sites in your niche. It should look something like this: 

top referring sitestop referring sites

You’ll want to categorize them in ways that make sense to you. I’d highly recommend pulling out the niche-specific domains. Sometimes, you’ll see various organizations, trade shows, suppliers, vendors, niche-specific directories, etc.

niche specific links for accountantsniche specific links for accountants

Take that list and look at how they’re linking to these other sites. There are a number of ways to do this like checking the Linked Domains report for these sites to see how they link out to other sites.

You can even repeat this process with other similar niches where you may find additional opportunities that no one in your niche has taken advantage of.

Next, let’s look at how you can use a similar process to find local link opportunities.

Local links

If we look outside our niche to other sites in the same city, the overlap of their links can provide a lot of opportunities for local link building. Local websites tend to talk about and link to other local websites. If you’re an agency that has a lot of local SEO clients in the same area, you’ll definitely want to go through this process.

Make a copy of this Google sheet with some of the most popular niches for local businesses. Simply add the name of your city and copy the value down to create your keyword list.

copy the city value downcopy the city value down

The rest of the steps are the same as the niche example above where you copy the terms into Keywords Explorer, export the results with the SERPs, and then pull the referring domains for all of the sites.

When you get to the categorization part, look for any interesting patterns. Here are a few I found for my hometown of Raleigh:

  1. Colleges/universities – These include jobs, scholarships, club sponsorships, discounts, and alumni links.
  2. City-specific sites and directories
  3. Local news and magazines
  4. Sites about the state and surrounding areas
  5. Suppliers/affiliations/partners – Some of these were testimonials and case studies.
  6. Churches – They seem to link to a lot of local organizations and businesses of their members.
  7. Business groups – They link to those who are part of the group.
  8. Events – I saw a lot of links from meetup.com—most of which were from hosting or sponsoring.
  9. Sponsorships and charities – This is also great for supporting the local community.
  10. Podcasts
  11. Awards – Especially local favorites.
  12. Coupons
  13. Directories
  14. Job postings

You may find some other interesting patterns. For example, I saw that pretty much anyone involved in weddings like DJs, photographers, event planners, and caterers all seem to link to each other. I found another pattern where realtors, apartments, and HOA sites tend to link to things to do and places to eat. 

I also saw some well-done ego bait expert roundups. Many of these people have their own personal sites and blogs that link to this type of content.

There were also a lot of links from the local Reddit community, Facebook groups, and Nextdoor. These types of sites can also be valuable sources for referrals.

Final thoughts

Analyzing your competitors’ links is a great way to reverse engineer their strategies and find the links that may be helping your competitors the most. Scaling that process can lead to a lot of unique insights.

Message me on Twitter if you have any questions.

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State Of Marketing Data Standards In The AI Era [Webinar]

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State Of Marketing Data Standards In The AI Era [Webinar]

Claravine and Advertiser Perceptions surveyed 140 marketers and agencies to better understand the impact of data standards on marketing data, and they’re ready to present their findings.

Want to learn how you can mitigate privacy risks and boost ROI through data standards?

Watch this on-demand webinar and learn how companies are addressing new privacy laws, taking advantage of AI, and organizing their data to better capture the campaign data they need, as well as how you can implement these findings in your campaigns.

In this webinar, you will:

  • Gain a better understanding of how your marketing data management compares to enterprise advertisers.
  • Get an overview of the current state of data standards and analytics, and how marketers are managing risk while improving the ROI of their programs.
  • Walk away with tactics and best practices that you can use to improve your marketing data now.

Chris Comstock, Chief Growth Officer at Claravine, will show you the marketing data trends of top advertisers and the potential pitfalls that come with poor data standards.

Learn the key ways to level up your data strategy to pinpoint campaign success.

View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

Join Us For Our Next Webinar!

SaaS Marketing: Expert Paid Media Tips Backed By $150M In Ad Spend

Join us and learn a unique methodology for growth that has driven massive revenue at a lower cost for hundreds of SaaS brands. We’ll dive into case studies backed by real data from over $150 million in SaaS ad spend per year.

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GPT Store Set To Launch In 2024 After ‘Unexpected’ Delays

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GPT Store Set To Launch In 2024 After 'Unexpected' Delays

OpenAI shares its plans for the GPT Store, enhancements to GPT Builder tools, privacy improvements, and updates coming to ChatGPT.

  • OpenAI has scheduled the launch of the GPT Store for early next year, aligning with its ongoing commitment to developing advanced AI technologies.
  • The GPT Builder tools have received substantial updates, including a more intuitive configuration interface and improved file handling capabilities.
  • Anticipation builds for upcoming updates to ChatGPT, highlighting OpenAI’s responsiveness to community feedback and dedication to AI innovation.

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96.55% of Content Gets No Traffic From Google. Here’s How to Be in the Other 3.45% [New Research for 2023]

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96.55% of Content Gets No Traffic From Google. Here's How to Be in the Other 3.45% [New Research for 2023]

It’s no secret that the web is growing by millions, if not billions of pages per day.

Our Content Explorer tool discovers 10 million new pages every 24 hours while being very picky about the pages that qualify for inclusion. The “main” Ahrefs web crawler crawls that number of pages every two minutes. 

But how much of this content gets organic traffic from Google?

To find out, we took the entire database from our Content Explorer tool (around 14 billion pages) and studied how many pages get traffic from organic search and why.

How many web pages get organic search traffic?

96.55% of all pages in our index get zero traffic from Google, and 1.94% get between one and ten monthly visits.

Distribution of pages by traffic from Content Explorer

Before we move on to discussing why the vast majority of pages never get any search traffic from Google (and how to avoid being one of them), it’s important to address two discrepancies with the studied data:

  1. ~14 billion pages may seem like a huge number, but it’s not the most accurate representation of the entire web. Even compared to the size of Site Explorer’s index of 340.8 billion pages, our sample size for this study is quite small and somewhat biased towards the “quality side of the web.”
  2. Our search traffic numbers are estimates. Even though our database of ~651 million keywords in Site Explorer (where our estimates come from) is arguably the largest database of its kind, it doesn’t contain every possible thing people search for in Google. There’s a chance that some of these pages get search traffic from super long-tail keywords that are not popular enough to make it into our database.

That said, these two “inaccuracies” don’t change much in the grand scheme of things: the vast majority of published pages never rank in Google and never get any search traffic. 

But why is this, and how can you be a part of the minority that gets organic search traffic from Google?

Well, there are hundreds of SEO issues that may prevent your pages from ranking well in Google. But if we focus only on the most common scenarios, assuming the page is indexed, there are only three of them.

Reason 1: The topic has no search demand

If nobody is searching for your topic, you won’t get any search traffic—even if you rank #1.

For example, I recently Googled “pull sitemap into google sheets” and clicked the top-ranking page (which solved my problem in seconds, by the way). But if you plug that URL into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you’ll see that it gets zero estimated organic search traffic:

The top-ranking page for this topic gets no traffic because there's no search demandThe top-ranking page for this topic gets no traffic because there's no search demand

This is because hardly anyone else is searching for this, as data from Keywords Explorer confirms:

Keyword data from Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer confirms that this topic has no search demandKeyword data from Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer confirms that this topic has no search demand

This is why it’s so important to do keyword research. You can’t just assume that people are searching for whatever you want to talk about. You need to check the data.

Our Traffic Potential (TP) metric in Keywords Explorer can help with this. It estimates how much organic search traffic the current top-ranking page for a keyword gets from all the queries it ranks for. This is a good indicator of the total search demand for a topic.

You’ll see this metric for every keyword in Keywords Explorer, and you can even filter for keywords that meet your minimum criteria (e.g., 500+ monthly traffic potential): 

Filtering for keywords with Traffic Potential (TP) in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerFiltering for keywords with Traffic Potential (TP) in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Reason 2: The page has no backlinks

Backlinks are one of Google’s top three ranking factors, so it probably comes as no surprise that there’s a clear correlation between the number of websites linking to a page and its traffic.

Pages with more referring domains get more trafficPages with more referring domains get more traffic
Pages with more referring domains get more traffic

Same goes for the correlation between a page’s traffic and keyword rankings:

Pages with more referring domains rank for more keywordsPages with more referring domains rank for more keywords
Pages with more referring domains rank for more keywords

Does any of this data prove that backlinks help you rank higher in Google?

No, because correlation does not imply causation. However, most SEO professionals will tell you that it’s almost impossible to rank on the first page for competitive keywords without backlinks—an observation that aligns with the data above.

The key word there is “competitive.” Plenty of pages get organic traffic while having no backlinks…

Pages with more referring domains get more trafficPages with more referring domains get more traffic
How much traffic pages with no backlinks get

… but from what I can tell, almost all of them are about low-competition topics.

For example, this lyrics page for a Neil Young song gets an estimated 162 monthly visits with no backlinks: 

Example of a page with traffic but no backlinks, via Ahrefs' Content ExplorerExample of a page with traffic but no backlinks, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

But if we check the keywords it ranks for, they almost all have Keyword Difficulty (KD) scores in the single figures:

Some of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks forSome of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks for

It’s the same story for this page selling upholstered headboards:

Some of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks forSome of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks for

You might have noticed two other things about these pages:

  • Neither of them get that much traffic. This is pretty typical. Our index contains ~20 million pages with no referring domains, yet only 2,997 of them get more than 1K search visits per month. That’s roughly 1 in every 6,671 pages with no backlinks.
  • Both of the sites they’re on have high Domain Rating (DR) scores. This metric shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile. Stronger sites like these have more PageRank that they can pass to pages with internal links to help them rank. 

Bottom line? If you want your pages to get search traffic, you really only have two options:

  1. Target uncompetitive topics that you can rank for with few or no backlinks.
  2. Target competitive topics and build backlinks to rank.

If you want to find uncompetitive topics, try this:

  1. Enter a topic into Keywords Explorer
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Set the Keyword Difficulty (KD) filter to max. 20
  4. Set the Lowest DR filter to your site’s DR (this will show you keywords with at least one of the same or lower DR ranking in the top 5)
Filtering for low-competition keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerFiltering for low-competition keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

(Remember to keep an eye on the TP column to make sure they have traffic potential.)

To rank for more competitive topics, you’ll need to earn or build high-quality backlinks to your page. If you’re not sure how to do that, start with the guides below. Keep in mind that it’ll be practically impossible to get links unless your content adds something to the conversation. 

Reason 3. The page doesn’t match search intent

Google wants to give users the most relevant results for a query. That’s why the top organic results for “best yoga mat” are blog posts with recommendations, not product pages. 

It's obviously what searchers want when they search for "best yoga mats"It's obviously what searchers want when they search for "best yoga mats"

Basically, Google knows that searchers are in research mode, not buying mode.

It’s also why this page selling yoga mats doesn’t show up, despite it having backlinks from more than six times more websites than any of the top-ranking pages:

Page selling yoga mats that has lots of backlinksPage selling yoga mats that has lots of backlinks
Number of linking websites to the top-ranking pages for "best yoga mats"Number of linking websites to the top-ranking pages for "best yoga mats"

Luckily, the page ranks for thousands of other more relevant keywords and gets tens of thousands of monthly organic visits. So it’s not such a big deal that it doesn’t rank for “best yoga mats.”

Number of keyword rankings for the page selling yoga matsNumber of keyword rankings for the page selling yoga mats

However, if you have pages with lots of backlinks but no organic traffic—and they already target a keyword with traffic potential—another quick SEO win is to re-optimize them for search intent.

We did this in 2018 with our free backlink checker.

It was originally nothing but a boring landing page explaining the benefits of our product and offering a 7-day trial: 

Original landing page for our free backlink checkerOriginal landing page for our free backlink checker

After analyzing search intent, we soon realized the issue:

People weren’t looking for a landing page, but rather a free tool they could use right away. 

So, in September 2018, we created a free tool and published it under the same URL. It ranked #1 pretty much overnight, and has remained there ever since. 

Our rankings over time for the keyword "backlink checker." You can see when we changed the pageOur rankings over time for the keyword "backlink checker." You can see when we changed the page

Organic traffic went through the roof, too. From ~14K monthly organic visits pre-optimization to almost ~200K today. 

Estimated search traffic over time to our free backlink checkerEstimated search traffic over time to our free backlink checker

TLDR

96.55% of pages get no organic traffic. 

Keep your pages in the other 3.45% by building backlinks, choosing topics with organic traffic potential, and matching search intent.

Ping me on Twitter if you have any questions. 🙂



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