Whether you’re an SEO expert or a mom-and-pop business owner with as much tech experience as it takes to type a Google search, there are two things we all can agree on when it comes to business and technology.
Number one: a position on page one in Google search results is prime real estate.
Number two: keeping a watchful eye on competitors is a crucial tactic in order to be a successful business.
Auditing a competitor’s link profile combines both points to help companies earn business in a digital era.
Google’s search ranking factors have long moved on from keyword stuffing days. SEO experts are constantly shuffling to stay up to date with Google ranking factors but there’s at least one factor that remains stagnant in its importance.
Google was built on PageRank, which essentially counts quality links as votes. Both PageRank and quality link building are commonly listed as top ranking factors, which double solidifies the importance of link building to achieve a good search position. So, it’s fairly safe to say if your competitor is ranking much better than you for your target keywords, it’s because they have a better link profile.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help you catch up and surpass your competitors.
Running an audit on your own link profile analyzes backlinks to identify any bad or unhealthy links that you can remove and replace with quality backlinks. Doing so for a competitor’s link profile can provide insights on areas of opportunity, influencing strategy in order to achieve goals like increasing domain authority, rank position, and organic traffic. In combination, link profile audits prepare your website for all around performance improvements.
A good link profile is unique, diverse, links from trustworthy quality domains, filled with varied and branded anchor text, and isn’t completed fast and all at once. Bad links seem spammy and are unrelated or misleading, in addition to failing to meet the specifics of what complies a good link profile.
Thankfully, as long as you have access to the right tools, the rest is simple.
Time to Get Started
I sat down with my colleague Vin Cannarelli, Director of Outreach at Rowe Digital, to understand his process for auditing a client’s competitors’ link profile. His most recent audit looked at a client’s link profile compared to two out-performing competitors’ link profiles.
I’ve broken down Cannarelli’s process into several, quick steps for easy processing:
1. Before beginning, you must know your competitors or at least one or two you might want to examine further. For this audit, your chosen competitors should be out-performing you on search. If you are unsure of who your competitors are, you can create a list based on ranking keywords or use Moz’s SERP analysis tool.
Work on one or two competitors at a time for this audit—any more than that and the process can get confusing.
Once you pull your company’s data, you’re set and the next time you run through the following process for a different competitor, you’ll already be several steps ahead.
2. Plan what data you think you might need. It is not the same for everyone and typically depends on your goals. For instance, in the steps ahead, you’ll see we pull domain authorities, organic traffic, number of ranking keywords, trust flow, and citation flow.
3. Run both your company and its competitor through Ahrefs, utilizing their batch analysis tool. Export the full reports as Microsoft Excel files. The report will also show organic traffic and number of ranking keywords, among other metrics you might find relevant.
4. Create a separate spreadsheet workbook, whether that be in Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or a different software. In that document, create a tab for your company and another for each of your competitors.
In their respective tabs, copy each company’s referring domains, organic traffic, and number of ranking keywords from the exported file into the new workbook. If you like, you can chart these metrics out now or you can do so later.
5. The next tool to use is Moz’s bulk Link Explorer, which allows you to further examine the referring domains. This report will show you domain authority, page authority, and spam scores. Export all links as CSV.
Although the report provided PAs, Cannarelli chose not to analyze this data point later because it is a URL-based metric and therefore doesn’t speak to the domain as a whole. PA was too granular for his link audit, but it might make sense for yours.
6. Run both companies’ referring domains in Majestic’s Bulk Backlink Checker. Export the report. This report will show you several metrics that might not be necessary.
7. If you have more competitors, this is a good spot to pull their data. “Sometimes you have to search more than one competitor to ensure full potential opportunities are counted for,” Cannarelli said. “You’re going to get different insights depending on what you’re looking at.”
8. In your workbook, for your company, create new columns for DA ranges, organic traffic ranges, number of ranking keywords, trust flow, and citation flow. In a separate document or sheet of paper, jot down your ranges to refer to. For example, DA ranges in intervals of 10s up to 100 and organic traffic ranges in intervals of 100s until 1,000 then intervals of 1,000s and continue this pattern until one million, which would be indicated as 1 million plus. Designate each referring domain’s ranges in the respective column for each metric.
9. Repeat step 8 for the competitor(s).
10. Create pivot tables for each of the metrics to get an idea of the number of sites in each of the metrics for each of their ranges you created.11. Create bar graphs based off the pivot tables with your company and its competitor(s) on the same graphs to visualize the differences and opportunities.
12. Create text boxes next to the graphs and complete with insights, trends, and potential areas of opportunity for each metric. These insights can be hard to uncover when the companies are following similar trend lines.
Cannarelli’s recent audit showed similar trends, peaks, and the valleys but the competitor’s metrics were better. “I would keep looking at it and would say, alright if everything is the same, there’s got to be something I can pull out of this other than they follow the same trend lines and we need more referring domains,” he said. “So, I would try to find something that was slightly off.”
He resorted to looking within the ranges specifically to pinpoint any potential areas of opportunity. “They’re both following the same piece of values, but the competitor had an exponentially higher peak in one of these ranges,” he said.
So What Now?
After the audit is fully complete, your company can use its findings to influence strategy. These audits can help you get creative with your strategy. In Cannarelli’s audit, he noticed that a competitor had a higher DA, but the majority of their backlinks came from DA range 0-9. From that, he thought landing backlinks with high DA’s might not be the way to out-rank them.
Digital wiz Neil Patel suggested on his blog to focus on referring domains with the highest DA and PA and then replicate those backlinks. In addition to posting on the same sites as your competitor, Patel also mentioned to replicate backlinks by publishing content that links to your site on Quora, Reddit, and other niche forums, guest posting to obtain a biography backlink, or posting comments on relevant blogs.
The downfall to link auditing a competitor’s link profile is anyone can complete this process with the right tools. Unfortunately, once you make effective strategy changes from an audit and the results are in your favor, a smart competitor can do the same.
Though the process can be daunting and time-consuming, it becomes easier after just the first go-through. With the ambiguity and how often things change in this industry, there’s no way to declare a competitive link audit as a full-proof, definite win method. But by experimenting and having courage without fear of failing, you might find valuable insights you otherwise would not have.
All-in-all, determining where to focus backlinks efforts alone might not get you ahead of your competitor, but this process also delves further into analyzing specifics that can help point you in the right direction with a creative strategy.
Your competitor’s link profile should matter just as much as your own link profile. Utilize what’s available to you by auditing your company’s site compared to your competitors to make routine improvements.