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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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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It’s Unlikely.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It's Unlikely.

I studied the correlation between rankings and content scores from four popular content optimization tools: Clearscope, Surfer, MarketMuse, and Frase. The result? Weak correlations all around.

This suggests (correlation does not necessarily imply causation!) that obsessing over your content score is unlikely to lead to significantly higher Google rankings.

Does that mean content optimization scores are pointless?

No. You just need to know how best to use them and understand their flaws.

Most tools’ content scores are based on keywords. If top-ranking pages mention keywords your page doesn’t, your score will be low. If it does, your score will be high.

While this has its obvious flaws (having more keyword mentions doesn’t always mean better topic coverage), content scores can at least give some indication of how comprehensively you’re covering the topic. This is something Google is looking for.

Google says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality contentGoogle says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality content

If your page’s score is significantly lower than the scores of competing pages, you’re probably missing important subtopics that searchers care about. Filling these “content gaps” might help improve your rankings.

However, there’s nuance to this. If competing pages score in the 80-85 range while your page scores 79, it likely isn’t worth worrying about. But if it’s 95 vs. 20 then yeah, you should probably try to cover the topic better.

Key takeaway

Don’t obsess over content scores. Use them as a barometer for topic coverage. If your score is significantly lower than competitors, you’re probably missing important subtopics and might rank higher by filling those “content gaps.”

There are at least two downsides you should be aware of when it comes to content scores.

They’re easy to cheat

Content scores tend to be largely based on how many times you use the recommended set of keywords. In some tools, you can literally copy-paste the entire list, draft nothing else, and get an almost perfect score.

Scoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draftScoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draft

This is something we aim to solve with our upcoming content optimization tool: Content Master.

I can’t reveal too much about this yet, but it has a big USP compared to most existing content optimization tools: its content score is based on topic coverage—not just keywords.

For example, it tells us that our SEO strategy template should better cover subtopics like keyword research, on-page SEO, and measuring and tracking SEO success.

Preview of our upcoming Content Master toolPreview of our upcoming Content Master tool

But, unlike other content optimization tools, lazily copying and pasting related keywords into the document won’t necessarily increase our content score. It’s smart enough to understand that keyword coverage and topic coverage are different things.

Sidenote.

This tool is still in production so the final release may look a little different.

They encourage copycat content

Content scores tell you how well you’re covering the topic based on what’s already out there. If you cover all important keywords and subtopics from the top-ranking pages and create the ultimate copycat content, you’ll score full marks.

This is a problem because quality content should bring something new to the table, not just rehash existing information. Google literally says this in their helpful content guidelines.

Google says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the tableGoogle says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the table

In fact, Google even filed a patent some years back to identify ‘information gain’: a measurement of the new information provided by a given article, over and above the information present in other articles on the same topic.

You can’t rely on content optimization tools or scores to create something unique. Making something that stands out from the rest of the search results will require experience, experimentation, or effort—something only humans can have/do.

Enrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your contentEnrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your content

Big thanks to my colleagues Si Quan and Calvinn who did the heavy lifting for this study. Nerd notes below. 😉

  • For the study, we selected 20 random keywords and pulled the top 20 ranking pages.
  • We pulled the SERPs before the March 2024 update was rolled out.
  • Some of the tools had issues pulling the top 20 pages, which we suspect was due to SERP features.
  • Clearscope didn’t give numerical scores; they opted for grades. We used ChatGPT to convert those grades into numbers.
  • Despite their increasing prominence in the SERPs, most of the tools had trouble analyzing Reddit, Quora, and YouTube. They typically gave a zero or no score for these results. If they gave no scores, we excluded them from the analysis.
  • The reason why we calculated both Spearman and Kendall correlations (and took the average) is because according to Calvinn (our Data Scientist), Spearman correlations are more sensitive and therefore more prone to being swayed by small sample size and outliers. On the other hand, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient only takes order into account. So, it is more robust for small sample sizes and less sensitive to outliers.

Final thoughts

Improving your content score is unlikely to hurt Google rankings. After all, although the correlation between scores and rankings is weak, it’s still positive. Just don’t obsess and spend hours trying to get a perfect score; scoring in the same ballpark as top-ranking pages is enough.

You also need to be aware of their downsides, most notably that they can’t help you craft unique content. That requires human creativity and effort.

Any questions or comments? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

One of the most essential aspects of a profitable Google Ads strategy is reaching the right people, with the right message, while they’re searching.

To do this correctly, you need to know exactly how your ads are doing and what words potential customers are using to search.

This is where the Google Ads search terms report comes in handy.

This report is a goldmine and an invaluable asset to every Google Ads account.

With insights into exact phrases being used to trigger your ads, the search terms report can help:

  • Significantly refine your keyword strategy.
  • Enhance your targeting.
  • Boost your return on investment (ROI).

Let’s get into why the Google Ads search terms report is not only helpful but essential for maximizing Google Ads profitability.

What Is The Google Ads Search Terms Report?

The search terms report is a performance tool that shows how your ad performed when triggered by actual searches on the Google Search Network.

The report shows specific terms and phrases that triggered your ad to show, which helps determine if you’re bidding on the right keywords or using the right match types.

If you find search terms that aren’t relevant for your business, you can easily add them to your negative keyword list repository.

This helps you spend your budget more effectively by ensuring your ads are only triggered for relevant, useful searches by potential customers.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a search term and a keyword:

  • Search term: Shows the exact word or phrase a customer enters on the Google Search Network to trigger an ad.
  • Keyword: The word or phrase that Google Ads advertisers target and bid on to show their ads to customers.

How To Create A Search Terms Report

Creating a search terms report in your Google Ads account is simple, and better yet – it can be automated!

To view your search terms report, you’ll need to:

  • Log into your Google Ads account.
  • Navigate to “Campaigns” >> “Insights & reports” >> “Search terms”

Below is an example of where to navigate in your Google Ads account to find the search terms report.

Screenshot taken by author, April 2024

After running this report, there are multiple actions you can take as a marketer:

  • Add top-performing searches to corresponding ad groups as keywords.
  • Select the desired match type (e.g. broad, phrase, exact) if adding new keywords.
  • Add irrelevant search terms to a negative keyword list.

3 Ways To Use Search Terms Report Data

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can use the search terms report data to optimize campaign performance.

Let’s take a look at three examples of how to use this report to get the best bang for your buck.

1. Refine Existing Keyword Lists

The first area the search terms report can help with is refining existing keyword lists.

By combing through the search terms report, you can find areas of opportunities, including:

  • What searches are leading to conversions.
  • What searches are irrelevant to the product or service.
  • What searches have high impressions but low clicks.
  • How searches are being mapped to existing keywords and ad groups.

For searches leading to conversions, it likely makes sense to add those as keywords to an existing ad group or create a new ad group.

If you’re finding some searches to be irrelevant to what you’re selling, it’s best to add them as negative keywords. That prevents your ad from showing up for that search moving forward.

If some searches have a high volume of impressions, but very few clicks, these will take further consideration. If it’s a keyword worth bidding on, it may indicate that the bid strategy isn’t competitive enough – meaning you’ll have to take action on your bid strategy.

If a search term is being triggered by multiple keywords and ad groups, this is a case of cross-pollution of keywords. This can lead to lower ROI because it’s essentially having multiple keywords bid on that search term, which can drive up the cost. If this happens, you have a few options:

  • Review and update existing keyword match types as necessary.
  • Add negative keywords where appropriate at the ad group or campaign level to avoid cross-pollution.

Ultimately, using the search terms report in this way allows you to determine what is performing well and eliminate poor performers.

2. Understand How Your Audience Is Actually Searching For Your Product

Something I often see is a mismatch of how a company talks about its product or service vs. how a customer is actually searching for it in the real world.

If you’re bidding on keywords you think describe your product or service but are not getting any traction, you could be misaligning expectations.

Oftentimes, searches that lead to conversions are from terms you wouldn’t have thought to bid on without looking at the search terms report.

One of this report’s most underutilized use cases is finding lesser-known ways customers are searching for and finding your product.

Finding these types of keywords may result in the creation of a new campaign, especially if the search terms don’t fit existing ad group structures.

Building out campaigns by different search themes allows for appropriate bidding strategies for each because not all keyword values are created equal!

Understanding how a customer is describing their need for a product or service not only helps your keyword strategy but can lead to better-aligned product positioning.

This leads us to a third way the search term report can help your campaigns.

3. Optimize Ad Copy and Landing Pages

As discussed in #2, customers’ language and phrases can provide valuable insights into their needs and preferences.

Marketers can use the search terms report to better tailor ad copy, making it more relevant and appealing to prospective customers.

And let’s not forget about the corresponding landing page!

Once a user clicks on an ad, they expect to see an alignment of what they searched for and what is presented on a website.

Make sure that landing page content is updated regularly to better match the searcher’s intent.

This can result in a better user experience and an improvement in conversion rates.

How Using The Search Terms Report Can Help ROI

All three examples above are ways that the search terms report can improve campaign ROI.

How so?

Let’s take a look at each example further.

How Refining Keywords Helps ROI

Part of refining existing keywords is negating any irrelevant search terms that trigger an ad.

Having a solid negative keyword strategy gets rid of “unwanted” spending on keywords that don’t make sense.

That previously “wasted” spend then gets redirected to campaigns that regularly drive higher ROI.

Additionally, adding top-performing search terms gives you better control from a bid strategy perspective.

Being able to pull the appropriate levers and setting proper bid strategies by search theme ultimately leads to better ROI.

How Understanding Audience Intent Helps ROI

By understanding the exact language and search terms that potential customers use, marketers can update ad copy and landing pages to better match those searches.

This can increase ad relevance and Ad Rank within Google Ads.

These items help with keyword Quality Score, which can help reduce CPCs as your Quality Score increases.

More relevant ads likely lead to higher click-through rates, which leads to a higher likelihood of converting those users!

How Updating Ad Copy And Landing Pages Helps ROI

This example goes hand-in-hand with the above recommendation.

As you start to better understand the audience’s search intent, updating ad copy and landing pages to reflect their search indicates better ad relevance.

Once a user clicks on that relevant ad, they find the content of the landing page matches better to what they’re looking for.

This enhanced relevance can significantly increase the likelihood of conversion, which ultimately boosts ROI.

Use This Report To Make Data-Driven Decisions

Google Ads is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, often accounting for a large portion of your marketing budget.

By regularly reviewing the search terms report, you can refine your marketing budget to make your Google Ads campaigns more effective.

Using this report to make data-driven decisions that fine-tune multiple facets of campaign management leads to more effective ad spending, higher conversions, and ultimately higher ROI.

More resources: 


Featured Image: FGC/Shutterstock

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