Link Building – Competitor Analysis Case Study

As a webmaster Link Building seems like a very daunting task; with so much misinformation, poor advice and varied personal opinions on the web it’s not hard to see why most people can be confused as to where to start – the most common questions I get asked by clients and friends are:

  • What are the best types of links to build?
  • How many links do I need to get to the first page of Google?
  • Should I use the same keyword anchor text or mix it up with brand terms?

Well all of that is relative…

Invariably my answer starts by asking them more about their competition. Competitor analysis is a very important part of the link building puzzle. By understanding what your competition are doing to hold on to those all important and much sought after search engine results then you too can learn more about the types of links you need, what type of anchor text and generally the volumes of links you might need to rank well.

With so many tools available in the market place and the large amounts of data that can be produced by them it has never been easier to snoop on your competitors. In this post I am going to carry out a competitor analysis for Cash Cow UK, a free to use internet auction site, so you can understand a little more about the processes I use to analyse the link profiles of my clients competitors.

Using the free to use Google Keyword Tool I normally find 50-100 keyword phrases that my client wants to rank well for to get more traffic to their site. I then run a quick Google search to find out who the top 5 ranking pages for those keywords are and make a note of them. (There are some more advanced automated techniques that I use to do this but for now I want to keep it simple)

For the purpose of this case study I am going to just focus on 3 key word phrases:

Online Auction – 60,500 UK Searches per month

Online Car Auction – 8,500 UK Searches per month

Free Online Auction – 1,300 UK Searches per month

Intuitively you would think that eBay would be top for at least 2 of these search terms however they only appear once in these SERP’s and in position 2, this is very common to find when you ask a client to tell you more about their market as they often over state and under state their competition’s online presence.

I have decided to look a little more at the back link profiles of uk.madbid.com, ebay.co.uk, uk.ebid.net and totalbids.co.uk in order to find some quality link opportunities. The two tools I would recommend are SEO Spyglass it’s free to trial and less than $100 for a license or you could try the SEOMoz pro tools again it is free to trial but its $99 a month thereafter, however it provides lots of great data, including Social data and tonnes of great reports.

Below is the output from SEOMoz’s Link Metrics Comparison tool, as you can see there are lots of external links pointing to eBay and ebid however Total Bids who we saw were ranking very highly for Free Online Auction only have 200 external links. So I will probably start here to understand this better.

What we are interested in here is the Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA), this is a value calculated by SEOMoz based on the quality of links that are pointing at the page.  SEO Spyglass does not have DA and PA but it does give you the Google Page Rank of the linking page and linking root domain which can also be useful to determine good quality links.

Go to Open Site Explorer and input the page you want to analyse; in this case I have input www.totalbids.co.uk

As you can see this page has over 1100 links from over 100 different domains, it has received only 7 Facebook shares and 1 tweet. This looks like quite an easy link profile to investigate to find some great links.

Firstly we want to look at the Anchor Text, this is very easy to do in both OSE and SEO Spyglass:

As you can see a lot of their anchor text is just their brand name there are very few links containing the keyword that they rank well for. I would say over 50% of their links don’t have any mention of Online Auction or Free Online Auction. This means that we are working in a niche where quality counts.

You now want to export the links report into Microsoft Excel by using the Download to CSV function. I normally only export the domains and followed links so that I can see what type of site they are and to determine how easy or difficult it will be to obtain the link. I normally don’t export no follow links as these are often just blog comments and have very little link value.

Now you want to do the same for all of the link profiles of the other competitors and add them to your list. You should now have a master list of several hundred if not thousands of domains to target.

I normally then sort the lists of domains by DA or Page rank and categorise them as one of the following:

  • Info Site – low quality information site
  • Education or Government Site – hard to find links
  • News Site – quality newspaper or news site e.g. Mashable
  • Article/Press Release
  • Blog –possible Guest Blogging opportunity or product review
  • Web Directory – easy to obtain by submitting a link

Then in the same spreadsheet I then put a few notes and actions I have taken e.g. when I sent an email to the webmaster, contact details of the blogger etc.

Advanced Tip: If any of the blogs have a Twitter Account, be sure to make a note of it and write down the number of followers they have and their Klout Score. This will help you determine whether they are a key influencer in their niche and how much effort you should put into getting a link on their site. You can easily find someone’s Klout score by visiting www.klout.com/(username) where (username) is their Twitter username.

Now that you have your list of sites to approach for a link you need to decide what your approach will be. How much time will you spend chasing that elusive link and what can you do to get it.

I normally approach link building with the easy links first I list the site on all the directory sites that I have found and if they are paid directories I will sum up whether or not the quality of the site is worth paying for the link to be added or not. I usually do this by looking at the DA and PA of the pages my link would appear on and whether it would be just as easy to get a free link from another source.

As for the article and press release directories I will submit a few pieces of content to these if they have a good DA but I really don’t value these types of links and I believe the Search Engines have devalued these types of links over time too. However SEO is not just about getting links it’s about getting traffic and brand recognition too so a few press releases/articles now and again never hurt.

If it is a lower value blog or site that I want to target for a back link then I may simply send them a nice email asking for a link adding to their article, in this case their list of eBay alternatives. With this link analysis I also discovered a number of Blogspot, WordPress, Squidoo and other web 2.0 properties. I would consider making some web 2.0 properties myself if I couldn’t persuade the owner to give me a link. For the higher quality news sites and blogs then I will spend time getting to know the blogger or webmaster in order to get a guest post, share an infographic I have created or perhaps get them to review my client’s product. This is where you want to target your most efforts, a link from a few high profile web sites can catapult your site in to the big time so this is where you want to be creative and invest your time.

I hope you found this guide useful and hopefully it’s given you some insight into how easy link building can be by researching your competition.

+Chris Dyson

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