Mastering Competitor Backlink Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide


Aug 2023
competitor backlink analysis


In the dynamic realm of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), backlinks stand as a pivotal cornerstone, influencing a website’s authority and search rankings. However, it’s not just about accumulating links; understanding your competitors’ backlink strategies through competitor backlink analysis can offer invaluable insights. 

By studying where your competitors are drawing their strength, you can uncover missed opportunities and refine your own strategies. This guide will delve deep into this analysis, equipping you with actionable tactics to not only understand the backlink landscape but also to master it, ensuring your website stands tall among its peers.

Understanding the Basics

Before diving into the intricacies of competitor backlink analysis, it’s essential to grasp the foundational concepts surrounding backlinks and their significance in SEO

What are backlinks?

Backlinks, sometimes referred to as “inbound links” or “incoming links,” are links from one website pointing to a page on another website. Think of them as references or endorsements in the digital world. If a reputable site links to your content, it’s essentially vouching for the credibility of your page.

Why are they important?

Search engines, especially Google, view backlinks as indicators of a page’s quality and relevance. When multiple trustworthy sites link to your content, search engines interpret this as a sign that your content is valuable and authoritative. Consequently, pages with more high-quality backlinks tend to rank higher in search results.

However, it’s crucial to note that not all backlinks are created equal. The quality, relevance, and context of the linking site play a significant role in determining the weight of a backlink. For instance, a link from a well-established news website will carry more weight than a link from a newly created personal blog.

Quality vs. Quantity

In the early days of SEO, the sheer number of backlinks was often enough to boost a site’s ranking. However, with evolving algorithms, search engines have become more discerning. Today, the quality of your backlinks is far more critical than quantity. A handful of links from authoritative, relevant sites can be more beneficial than hundreds of low-quality links.

The Role of Competitor Analysis in SEO

In the competitive landscape of digital marketing, merely understanding your own website’s strengths and weaknesses isn’t enough. To truly excel, you must also have insights into what your competitors are doing right (and wrong). This is where competitor analysis, especially in the realm of backlinks, becomes invaluable.

Why Study Your Competitors?

  • Uncover Missed Opportunities: By analyzing where your competitors are getting their backlinks, you can identify potential sites that might also be interested in linking to your content.
  • Refine Your Strategy: If a competitor is consistently outranking you, understanding their backlink profile can offer clues to refine your own link-building strategy.
  • Avoid Costly Mistakes: Learning from the missteps of others can save you time and resources. If a competitor got penalized for a shady backlink tactic, you’d know to steer clear.

Benefits of Understanding Competitor Backlink Strategies

  • Strategic Planning: Knowing the sources of your competitors’ backlinks can help you plan your outreach and content marketing efforts more effectively.
  • Quality Benchmarking: By studying the quality of your competitors’ backlinks, you can set benchmarks for your own link-building efforts.
  • Content Ideas: Often, the content that earns the most backlinks is content that’s unique, valuable, and shareable. By analyzing such content from competitors, you can glean ideas for your own content strategy.

Identifying Your Main Competitors

  • Keyword Analysis: Use tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to identify which sites rank for the same keywords as you.
  • Check Overlapping Backlinks: Sites that have a high overlap in backlinks with your site are likely direct competitors.
  • Audience Analysis: Look at social media and forums to see which other websites your target audience frequently visits.

Tools for Backlink Analysis

The digital age offers a plethora of tools designed to simplify and enhance the process of competitor backlink analysis. These tools not only help you uncover where your competitors are getting their backlinks from but also provide insights into the quality and relevance of those links.

Popular Backlink Analysis Tools:

  • Moz: Known for its Domain Authority (DA) metric, Moz offers a comprehensive backlink research tool called Link Explorer. It provides data on inbound links, linking domains, anchor text, and more.
  • SEMrush: A favorite among many SEO professionals, SEMrush offers a Backlink Analytics tool that provides detailed information about your competitors’ backlink profiles, including the types of backlinks, referring domains, and top anchor texts.
  • Ahrefs: With a vast index of live backlinks, Ahrefs’ Site Explorer is a go-to tool for many when it comes to backlink analysis. It offers insights into referring domains, anchor texts, and the overall health of a site’s backlink profile.
  • SmallSEOTools: This platform offers a free backlink checker that provides a snapshot of a site’s backlink profile. It’s great for quick checks and for those on a tight budget.
  • uSERP: A newer entrant in the field, uSERP offers a robust backlink checker that provides insights into dofollow and nofollow links, domain authority, and more.

Features to Look for in a Backlink Analysis Tool:

  • Comprehensive Data: The tool should offer a detailed view of the backlink profile, including the number of referring domains, anchor text distribution, and the quality of backlinks.
  • Usability: A user-friendly interface can make the analysis process smoother and more efficient.
  • Regular Updates: The digital landscape is ever-evolving. The tool should update its backlink database regularly to provide the most accurate data.
  • Competitor Analysis Features: The ability to directly compare your backlink profile with competitors can offer actionable insights.

Using Ahrefs for Competitor Backlink Analysis:

  1. Login to Ahrefs and navigate to the ‘Site Explorer’ tool.
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain and hit search.
  3. Navigate to the ‘Backlink profile’ section to view a list of sites linking to your competitor.
  4. Use the ‘Link Intersect’ feature to see which sites link to your competitors but not to you, highlighting potential opportunities.

Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Competitor Backlinks

Competitor backlink analysis isn’t just about knowing who links to your competitors; it’s about understanding why they do so and how you can leverage this information to your advantage. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate this process:

1. Identifying Your Main Competitors:

  • Start with a list of known competitors in your industry or niche.
  • Use keyword research tools to identify websites that rank for the same keywords as you. These are your organic competitors.
  • Analyze their backlink profiles to see how they compare to yours.

2. Analyzing Competitor Backlink Profiles:

  • Use the tools mentioned earlier (Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc.) to get a detailed view of your competitors’ backlink profiles.
  • Look for patterns: Which websites link to multiple competitors? These sites might be potential link opportunities for you.

3. Spotting Quality Backlinks:

  • Not all backlinks are of equal value. Identify links from high-authority websites or industry-specific platforms.
  • Check the content surrounding the backlinks. Contextual links (links within relevant content) are more valuable than standalone links.

4. Replicating Competitor Backlinks:

  • Once you’ve identified quality backlinks your competitors have, it’s time to strategize how you can earn similar links.
  • Consider outreach: Contact websites that link to your competitors and pitch your content.
  • Look for guest post opportunities on sites that link to your competitors.

Using SEMrush to Find Competitor Backlinks:

  1. Login to SEMrush and go to the ‘Backlink Analytics’ section.
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain.
  3. Navigate to the ‘Backlinks’ tab to see a list of domains linking to your competitor.
  4. Use the ‘Referring Domains’ tab to see a list of domains that link to your competitor. This can help you identify potential outreach targets.

Evaluating the Quality of Backlinks

While the sheer number of backlinks can be impressive, it’s the quality that truly matters. High-quality backlinks can significantly boost your site’s authority and search rankings, while low-quality or spammy links can harm your SEO efforts. Here’s how to differentiate and evaluate them:

Understanding Domain Authority and Page Authority:

  • Domain Authority (DA): A metric developed by Moz, DA predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). It ranges from 1 to 100, with higher scores indicating greater authority.
  • Page Authority (PA): Also a Moz metric, PA predicts the ranking potential of a specific page, as opposed to the entire domain.

Importance of Backlink Relevance:

A backlink from a site relevant to your industry or niche is more valuable than one from an unrelated site. For instance, if you run a fitness blog, a link from a health magazine will be more beneficial than one from a tech blog.

Inspecting Link Placement:

  • Links embedded within the main content of a page are more valuable than those in footers or sidebars.
  • The more prominent the link placement, the more likely it is to be clicked, adding to its value.

Avoiding Spammy and Low-Quality Backlinks:

  • Links from sites filled with ads, irrelevant content, or those that look untrustworthy should raise red flags.
  • Links from sites that aren’t indexed by search engines can indicate low quality.
  • Watch out for unnatural anchor text patterns. Over-optimized anchor texts can be a sign of manipulative link-building practices.

Using Ahrefs to Evaluate Backlink Quality:

  1. Login to Ahrefs and access the ‘Site Explorer’ tool.
  2. Enter your domain to get an overview of your backlink profile.
  3. Navigate to the ‘Backlinks’ section. Here, you can see the Domain Rating (DR) and URL Rating (UR) – Ahrefs’ equivalent to DA and PA.
  4. Filter and sort the backlinks based on DR or UR to identify the most valuable links.
  5. Inspect individual linking pages to assess relevance, content quality, and link placement.

Strategies to Acquire Quality Backlinks

Acquiring high-quality backlinks is both an art and a science. While understanding your competitors’ backlink profiles can provide insights, it’s essential to have a proactive approach to building your own backlink arsenal. Here are some proven strategies:

1. Outreach:

  • Identify high-authority websites in your niche.
  • Craft personalized emails to site owners or editors, pitching your content or suggesting a collaboration.
  • Highlight the mutual benefits, such as driving traffic or enhancing content value.

2. Guest Posting:

  • Offer to write articles for reputable websites in your industry.
  • Ensure your content is high-quality, relevant, and provides value to the host website’s audience.
  • Include a link back to your site within the content or author bio.

3. Utilizing Broken Links:

  • Use tools to find broken links on websites relevant to your niche.
  • Reach out to the website owner, informing them about the broken link and suggesting your content as a replacement.

4. Skyscraper Technique:

  • Identify top-performing content in your niche.
  • Create a piece of content that’s even better, more comprehensive, or updated.
  • Reach out to websites linking to the original content, pitching your improved version.

5. Creating Shareable Content:

  • Infographics, original research, and comprehensive guides tend to attract backlinks naturally.
  • Promote your content on social media, forums, and other platforms to increase its visibility.

6. Building Relationships:

  • Engage with industry influencers, bloggers, and other stakeholders.
  • Participate in forums, webinars, and industry events.
  • Collaborations and partnerships often lead to natural backlink opportunities.

Monitoring and Maintaining Your Backlink Profile

Once you’ve started acquiring backlinks, the work doesn’t stop there. Regularly monitoring and maintaining your backlink profile is crucial to ensure its health and effectiveness. Here’s why and how:

1. Regularly Check for Broken or Lost Backlinks:

Backlinks can get removed or the linking page might go offline. Regularly checking ensures you’re aware of lost backlinks and can take steps to regain them.

2. Understand the Risks of Toxic Backlinks:

Not all backlinks are beneficial. Links from spammy or irrelevant sites can harm your SEO. It’s essential to identify and remove these toxic backlinks.

3. Monitor Backlink Growth Over Time:

Keeping an eye on the growth rate of your backlinks can provide insights into the effectiveness of your link-building strategies.

4. Check the Relevance of Referring Domains:

Ensure that the majority of your backlinks come from relevant and authoritative domains in your niche.

5. Stay Updated with Algorithm Changes:

Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. Staying updated ensures you can adapt your backlink strategies accordingly.

Using Google Search Console to Monitor Backlinks:

  1. Login to Google Search Console and select your property (website).
  2. Navigate to the ‘Links’ section.
  3. Under ‘External links,’ you can see ‘Top linking sites’ and ‘Top linked pages.’
  4. Regularly review these to monitor your backlink profile.
  5. If you identify any suspicious or unwanted links, consider using the ‘Disavow Links’ tool to inform Google that you’d like to discount these links.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Competitor Backlink Analysis

While competitor backlink analysis is a powerful tool in your SEO arsenal, there are potential pitfalls that can derail your efforts if not addressed. Being aware of these can save you time, resources, and potential setbacks.

1. Relying Solely on Quantity Over Quality:

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game. However, a few high-quality backlinks can be more beneficial than hundreds of low-quality ones. Always prioritize quality over quantity.

2. Ignoring Anchor Text Distribution:

The anchor text (the clickable text in a hyperlink) can provide insights into the relevance and context of a backlink. Over-optimized or spammy anchor texts can be red flags.

3. Not Considering Link Velocity:

Link velocity refers to the rate at which you gain backlinks. A sudden surge in backlinks can appear unnatural to search engines and may raise suspicions.

4. Over-relying on a Single Tool:

No tool is perfect. Using multiple backlink analysis tools can provide a more comprehensive view and help cross-verify data.

5. Blindly Replicating Competitor Backlinks:

Just because a competitor has a backlink from a particular site doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for you. Always evaluate the relevance and quality of a potential backlink source.

6. Neglecting the Importance of Relevance:

Acquiring backlinks from irrelevant domains, even if they have high authority, can dilute your backlink profile’s effectiveness.

7. Not Regularly Updating Your Analysis:

The digital landscape is ever-evolving. Regularly updating your competitor backlink analysis ensures you stay ahead of the curve and adapt to changes.

Evaluating Anchor Text Distribution Using Moz:

  1. Login to Moz and access the ‘Link Explorer’ tool.
  2. Enter your domain or your competitor’s domain.
  3. Navigate to the ‘Anchor Text’ section to view a distribution of anchor texts.
  4. Look for natural variations and avoid sites that use overly optimized or spammy anchor texts.


Competitor backlink analysis is more than just a peek into your rivals’ strategies; it’s a roadmap to refining your own. By understanding where your competitors draw their strengths and identifying gaps in your approach, you can craft a more robust, effective SEO strategy.