One of the most common recommendations people make about link building is to find out who links to your competitors (aka backlinking your competitors). This is a great idea, but many people who do this miss the most important point of why you do it. Let’s explore the good things you can do while backlinking, and then dig into where the most value lies.
Contacting people who link to your competitors
A common strategy is to develop a list of sites who link to your competitor, and then contact those sites and ask them to link to you. There are many programs that will help you develop such a list. Some of the most interesting ones are Linkscape, Majestic SEO, and Link Diagnosis.
Link Diagnosis is free, and the other two cost a modest amount of money. Link Diagnosis extracts link data using the Yahoo! API, and Linkscape and Majestic SEO assemble their data based on independent crawls of the web. As a result, in return for the fees they charge, Linkscape and Majestic SEO can offer more functionality and depth of data.
Once this data is assembled, the next step is to prioritize the sites. Using metrics such as PageRank (SEOmoz also offers mozRank and mozTrust), you can get an approximation of which sites are providing the most important links to the competitor. However, you do want to get a bit deeper into the analysis, because relevance is an important factor as well. In fact, even if a linking page has relatively low PageRank, but it is relevant to your site, you really don’t want to overlook it.
Once you have settled on a prioritization you now need to figure out who to contact to request the link. Do not use scraper software to do this for you. Scraping contact information off the web is a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, and the punishment is not a fine (it is time in jail). Equally bad is the fact that scrapers will frequently come up with the wrong contacts.
Use inexpensive human resources to do this work for you. They can be trained to recognize the right contact information, and they can also assess the relevance of the link for you as well. This relevance data is a key to the refining your prioritization of your link targets, because relevance is a big factor in a link’s value.
Once you have this data you can begin mailing people and asking for links. An important part of this is crafting a message that will be well received by the recipient. The key is to remember that they probably did not wake up this morning thinking about what links they were going to add to the page you are interested in, and they certainly were not expecting to hear from you. In essence, you are interrupting them. Be respectful, and you will be far better off.
Contacting sites that link to your competitor, as we noted above, is a great idea. You should do it. However, it is an expensive manual process that takes a long time to produce benefits. And what is your success rate likely to be? If you run a really successful campaign: about ten percent. So the real problem with making this your link building strategy is that it is not enough to help you achieve your goal (unless your goal is to have a site that is worth 10% of your competitor’s site).
This is a common link building mistake: not putting in a place a plan that will have enough impact to achieve the goals of the business. For example, if your competitor has 20,000 links, and you have 10,000 links of similar quality, putting in place a plan to obtain 500 new links of similar quality is not enough. Of course, if 100 of those links are of much higher quality, that is a different matter altogether.
The biggest value of backlinking
When you analyze your competitor’s backlinks there is a tremendous amount of information made available to you. Dig into the nature of the sites linking to them. In the process we outlined above, understanding the relevance of the sites that link to your competitors is really valuable. But you should look to expand upon that. Have your researcher take the time to define the relevance in detail. Have them answer the question: why did this site link to your competitor?
Is it because of a particular piece of content on the competitor’s site? A special promotional program? Are a lot of links coming from one market sector? Are there related market sectors linking to them that you would not have suspected? What areas of the market do you think might be a good target that are not strongly featured in your competitors’ backlink profiles?
Like any other form of marketing, successful link building requires an ongoing process of brainstorming ideas for improving existing campaigns and coming up with new ones. Your (successful) competitors’ backlinks can be a treasure trove of ideas for link building strategies. I have done this many times and am continually surprised at the novel ideas that leading competitors come up with. But, they are smart. That is how they became a leading competitor. So why not put their brains to work for you?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.