Are You Link Building Or Just Keeping Up With The Joneses?

If there’s one link development tactic that has been used to death, it has to be “see who’s linking to your competition and get them to link to you”. There are tools galore to help you do this, software you buy and install on your desktop, or web based apps. It’s a fairly simple technique and it has merit, but I hardly ever hear anyone talking about the dangers of relying on this tactic, and the fundamental weakness in the link profile you end up creating when you follow this approach.

Me too or me three?

One of the dangers of the competitor backlink approach is that if your target sites are already linking to a competitor, then even if you succeed in obtaining a link from those same targets, you are always playing catch-up. Yes, it’s nice to discover a really juicy target you didn’t know existed until you found it by looking at competitor X’s backlinks. And it’s is a good feeling when you successfully lobby for and obtain a link from those same venues. Do that all day every day and if your content is worthy, you will certainly create a nice set of inbound links.

When I was a tyke, my Mom used the term “Keeping up with the Joneses“, which Wikipedia describes as “…referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods”.

Now apply this term to the process of link building and it perfectly describes competitor backlink analysis. And no matter how good you are at it, this technique can only take you so far. In the long run, your content has to show the ability to attract links of merit, equal to but also in addition to those your competitors already have. The reasons why should be obvious. The engines need those “signals of difference” to order the search result.  If every site has the exact same set of inbound links, how the heck do you rank them?

Just me

And how do you find those venues/targets that will provide your site with those signals of difference? Well hey, us content publicists/link developers normally get paid for that kind of information (hint).  And I’m the first to say the targets that will produce “signals of difference” for site A will be different than for site B, and even though I can identify them, that info is totally useless unless or until your content can earn those links in the first place.

The most impactful links are always the toughest gets.

One tactic I can share is the negative advanced search operator tactic. If you want to seek out target sites that aren’t already linking to a competitor, just tell Google to ignore those that already are.  This can be done a number of ways, the simplest of which is by using the “-” sign in your query. For example, while my site at has thousands of links, when I do the searches link building and link building, I find 120 million pages that do not mention or link to me.

I’d better get busy.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

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  • Red_Mud_Rookie

    Great post Eric. Here’s a question for you…. How do you make clients see this? As you may recall from our conversations in the past, I am an advocate of “create great content and the links will come” NOT “let’s go out and see how many links we can get”.
    Obviously the latter is effective, but the key point you made which I point out to all clients is “If every site has the exact same set of inbound links and employs the same on-site SEO tactics (title tags, h1′s, contextual links, anchor text etc), how the heck do you rank them?”
    Encouraging clients to invest in great content that is well thought out in terms of user intentions and requirements as well as brilliantly executed is really difficult because it’s expensive and clients have got an endless queue of SEOs telling them they can conquer the world through links alone.

    Yes, links are the most influential factor and reap the (repulsive expression in SEO terms) fast gains/quick wins etc. but at what long term price to the site’s integrity?
    My whiter than white approch to SEO has been left badly scarred in the past few months by what I’ve learnt in various conversations and have come to accept… the guys who aren’t playing entirely straight are winning the business and Google seems to have very little control over it, despite the well publicised threats of being blacklisted if caught etc.

    What’s a guy to do? Continue playing straight (wish I am still doing… for the time being) or jump ship and get a piece of the action from the majority of the SEO industry?

  • nickstamoulis

    Hi Eric,

    Great post! My white hat philosophy is build highly relevant links to a site over time, things that will help generate visitors and will build a brand of a company. It is always tough for clients to understand this because as Red_Mud_Rookie, mentioned there are always so many so called “SEO experts” that promise the world through grey and black hat link building techniques (that client’s often don’t understand and/or can’t even tell the difference)…

    Anyway, I have always found that good content and excellent on site optimization factors in combination with a solid relevant link building program over time most websites will do well…


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