In our article on link prospect qualification, we downplayed the difficulty of finding link prospects. Here’s why: the time you spend finding a link prospect pales in comparison to the time it takes to analyze that prospect for its relevance to your keywords, its overall value to your link building goals and the potential it will convert into a link.

However, because it takes so long to qualify link prospects, we decided to create a tool and a worksheet for “pre-qualifying” link prospects based on the sites that occur most frequently in the search engine results pages for a given set of keywords – SERPs Dominators. This article walks you through the tools, processes and strategies for identifying the most powerful players in your keyword space, and then analyzing their link sources and link building tactics.

Who are SERPs dominators?

SERPs Dominators are the sites and individual URLs that appear most frequently in the SERPs for your target, most-profitable keywords (you know which ones these are, right?). In aggregate, analyzing hostname and URL SERPs occurrence can reveal a great deal about an industry. We also use the term SERPs Dominators below to describe the sites that rank frequently in the top 10 of the SERPs.

Why do SERPs Dominators matter to link builders?

First and foremost, they are also your SERPs competitors – if you’re building links to impact your presence in the search engines, for the same target keywords, then they matter. Secondly, because they appear frequently in the SERPs, these pages exert influence on the segment of your market that uses search engines. By selectively examining backlinks of your SERPs Dominators you can quickly and efficiently identify many of the links that most influence your SERP.  In “5 Reasons Why Rankings Are A Poor Measure Of Success” Jill Whalen outlines why the SERPs can be misleading indicators of success, and a tricky place to derive actionable data. We believe that, in aggregate, the SERPs can reveal quite a bit, especially if the keywords you target are proven to bring in visitors who convert.

Further, many of the SERPs Dominators themselves will be great targets for link requests, guest post/article pitches, social profile creation, comment campaigns, etc depending on the site type and whether its an ally or a competitor.

What tools do you need for SERPs Dominator analysis?

Identifying your SERPs dominators is simple… Here’s what you need.

  1. SEO for Firefox. With SEO for Firefox installed and operational you can download to CSV files the top 100 URLs in the SERPs for your keywords. This is the data required for this particular form of analysis.
  2. The SERPs Dominator Analysis Worksheet. This worksheet makes it easy to track, sort and analyze the hostname and URL frequency of your SERPs.
  3. Hostname and URL Frequency Counter Tool. This tool counts the occurrence frequency of hostnames and URLs within the SERPs, and outputs data you can copy and paste into the SERPs Dominator Analysis Workbook for further processing.
  4. SEOBook Toolbar. The toolbar enables you to quickly drill down into exportable backlink data.
  5. Yahoo Site Explorer. Yahoo Site Explorer not only enables you to export backlinks, but it orders a site’s pages in a general order of their importance (according to our anecdotal explorations – we haven’t conducted tests).
  6. The Link Qualification Worksheet. Once you have gathered link prospects you must undertake the link qualification process. Read the Link Qualification Guide and then download the Link Qualification Worksheet.

SERPs Dominator data gathering for link builders: Step-by-Step

Here’s a suggested process for identifying your SERPs dominators so that you can conduct deeper analysis related to link building.

Step 1) Keyword selection and keyword set size

When picking keywords for SERPs Dominator analysis – especially since you plan to use this information for link building – it’s vital that you choose the commercial and/or most-competitive keywords that are most relevant to your business. Picking the keyword set size – whether it’s 3 or 3,000 will depend on your goals and the number of words commercially and thematically relevant to your industry.

In this example, we’ll look at “camping gear” related queries.

Choose 3 “Tip of the Iceberg” keywords. If you’re in a hurry or you’re only interested in a narrow slice of the SERPs then select around 3 of your “highest-level” keywords. For a site that sells camping gear, this could look like:

  • camping gear
  • camping equipment
  • camping supplies

Expanding to 10 keywords is approximately 20% of the iceberg. For a deeper, more thorough investigation of a larger keyword grouping, try looking at around 10 keywords. Here are 10 closely-related keywords with high search volume in the camping equipment keyword space:

  • camping gear
  • camping hiking gear
  • camping tent
  • camping equipment
  • camping hiking equipment
  • camping supplies
  • camping accessories
  • camping stove
  • camping shop
  • camping store

Ideally, you’re bunching up your keywords and getting tight, highly-related groupings.  While 10 is an arbitrary number, it’s a decent target and a size that’s easily manageable by hand over the course of an afternoon.

Building up to 250 keywords (or more) almost covers the whole iceberg. To understand an entire industry, you may need to expand your investigations even deeper, into the hundreds of keywords, and in some cases into the thousands of keywords or more. If you anticipate your research having to go this wide, we would recommend creating discrete keyword groupings so that you get meaningful, highly actionable data sets.

To follow from the camping store example, we could begin including specific product searches, brand searches as well as longer tail 3 and 4 keyword searches based on [camping equipment]. We highly recommend that you get a feel for the process with 3-10 keyword groups before diving into a 250 keyword analysis.

For a comprehensive view of all the link opportunities available to you however, you will need to investigate “the Whole Iceberg…”

Step 2) Search a keyword with SEO for Firefox engaged

If you’re following along from home, then you have already downloaded and installed SEO for Firefox. Now when you conduct searches you should see more information for each search you do.

Click the small little “100″ text link beneath the search box.

Then click CSV, which exports a text file that can be easily turned into a spreadsheet.

Step 3) Populate the “Raw 100s” sheet

The first sheet of the SERPs Dominators Worksheet is for what we call the Raw 100s. This is the sheet where you hold the top 100 results for the keywords you’re analyzing. By hand, this method works well for smaller scale keyword sets in the 10-25 range. At larger scale, it starts to get unwieldy and requires automation, or at least macros.

You will be referring back regularly to the Raw 100s as you conduct your SERPs Dominator Analysis, so keep it neat!

Once you have pulled the top 100 rankings for the keyword set in which you’d like to increase your rankings you can begin analysis.

Slice and dice your data to find link opportunities

Once you have gathered all your top 100s for the keywords you’d like to analyze, you can begin using the Hostname and URL Frequency Counter Tool to reveal the SERPs Monsters (top 3s), Dominators (top 10s), Players (top 20s) and Participants (top 100s).

In the analysis section below, we concentrate our analysis demonstration on a single SERPs Monster: REI.com. We omit much of this analysis for the top 10s, 20s, and 100s. Please use the analysis framework for REI as a guide for any other site you’d like to investigate from a competitive link building example.

Step 4) Identifying SERPs Monsters by hostname frequency across keyword set

The SERPs Monsters for a given set of keywords are those sites that appear over and over again in the top 3. These sites control the most important, above-the-fold results for your keyword set. These sites also get the majority of the search traffic. These sites have demonstrated to the search engines that they will satisfy the searchers’ intent.

For our [camping gear] keyword set above, I went through my Raw 100s list and copied out the top 3 results for each search into the “Scratch Pad” sheet for temporary storage. Then I copied and pasted this list of 30 URLs into the Hostname and URL Frequency Counter Tool to reveal the SERPs Monsters for these terms.

Here are the top occurring hostnames for our 10 keyword [camping equipment] set in the top 3 results:

  • www.rei.com: 9 Occurrences in the Top 3 SERPs
  • www.campingworld.com: 5
  • www.coleman.com: 3
  • www.cabelas.com 3
  • www.campmor.com 2
  • www.consumersearch.com 2
  • www.google.com 1
  • www.camping4less.com 1
  • www.backcountry.com 1
  • www.hikingandbackpacking.com 1
  • www.familytentcamping.com 1
  • www.usoutdoorstore.com 1

Step 5) Pull backlinks from top performing competitors

The SERPs Monsters, especially in such a competitive space like camping equipment, have done the long work of proving to their market and to the search engines that they are highly relevant to [camping equipment] searches. Their backlinks are often in the multiple hundreds of thousands or even millions, in the case of REI.

Export their backlinks using Yahoo Site Explorer (YSE). Search for the site: [www.rei.com] then click the “Inlinks” tab. Set the first drop down to “Except from this domain” and set the second drop down to “Entire Site.” Then click the “TSV” link to export the first 1000 inbound linking sites.

These can go into your link qualification worksheet for further processing.

Investigate the highly-linked pages

It’s important during link building analysis to identify highly-linked pages on frequently occurring sites. Do this using Yahoo Site Explorer. YSE defaults to an analysis of the pages on a website. We make the assumption that YSE displays pages in order of their importance, most likely based on quality and quantity of inbound links.

Since YSE limits backlink exports to 1000, it often makes sense to investigate highly-linked pages that are related to the pages you’re building links for. Many times they are under 1000 and will give you a more granular look at what types of sites are interested in linking to your specific pages.

Example: Here’s REI in Yahoo Site Explorer >>

Many of REI’s highly ranking pages in YSE are there – we assume – because of links from the REI.com domain. Digging down through the list begins to reveal some interesting pages with lots and lots of links from off the REI site.

#10 in YSE) Dome Tent Product Page: http://www.rei.com/product/728308 300+ inlinks from outside domains

Linkability analysis

Why did REI’s product page for their Half Dome tent attract 348 links? It’s obviously a popular product, but are there any other on-page reasons that this page attracts links? Link builders for a camping equipment site should take special interest in this page if they’re working to build links to their dome tent pages.

Further, the attention that this page has earned should get content link builders’ wheels turning. How about a dome tent comparison page? How about purchasing that REI tent and taking it apart, seam-by-seam to show how it’s made? How about setting it on fire and making a video of it? You now have 300+ high quality link prospects for dome tent related content.

Example: #11 in YSE – http://www.rei.com/stewardship 500+ inlinks from outside domains

Linkability analysis

Stewardship attracts links. Each linker is a prospect for a camping equipment site’s stewardship program. Create a stewardship and then start with REI’s 500 backlinks as a link prospect list. Look for other similar programs on other sites and pull their inlinks as prospects for your own stewardship program.

Example: #13 in YSE – LED Headlamp http://www.rei.com/product/751757 150+ inlinks from outside domains

Linkability analysis

Many of the inlinks come from blog reviews. Has REI done anything to encourage its shoppers to write reviews of products they sell and link to their product pages? Could you? Again, like the dome tent above, is there anything special about this product page? If you want to drill down further into linkability then do a search for this product [Petzl Tikka Plus LED Headlamp] and compare other product pages. What gives REI’s page the linkability advantage?

Example: #15 in YSE -  http://www.rei.com/bikeyourdrive 3000+ inlinks from outside domains

Linkability analysis In a similar vein to stewardship, note this passion-oriented and highly-linkable content created by REI to inspire people to bike to work.

Note the “Savings Calculator” for determining the money and emissions impact of riding your bike to work instead of driving. Also notice the basic how-to videos with instruction on riding in traffic, fitting helmets and basic roadside repairs. This is a lot of content to create, but see how well it helps to drive people to sales with the product navigation on the left? And for 3000+ links it’s certainly something to consider.

Though off topic for strictly [camping equipment] searches, consider how you could create similar content related to the products you’d like to sell more of…

Other opportunities for link building

Keep an eye out for other link building opportunities as you dig into the most frequently-occurring SERPs Monsters. For example, some of the top [camping equipment] sites have forum sections. We’re not suggesting that you go and drop links in your competitions’ forums, but it could make sense for you to feel out the community by reading through the threads and determining whether or not they would be receptive to your linkable content and ongoing contributions of expertise.

As another example, directly from the [camping equipment] SERPs Monsters: check out the presence of ConsumerSearch.com. Consumer Search – owned by NYTimes – is similar to MetaCritic.com. It aggregates and evaluates product reviews. In another vertical, I’ve gotten a link from ConsumerSearch for an unbiased review of a product. Let’s dig into ConsumerSearch a little deeper, and pretend you’ve created a 2 person dome tent comparison page that evaluates all the top dome tents.

First, check out Consumer Search’s sources – the publications from which they gathered their tent review data. Some of these pages have comment potential. Further, you could check to see who’s linking to these tent reviews… they may be good link prospects for your dome-tent comparison content (see Backpack Gear Test). Finally, you could write directly to the ConsumerSearch editors and let them know about your new review or comparison.

Evaluate frequently occurring URLs

Hostname frequency is one thing… but when non-homepage URLs begin appearing frequently – it’s time to really take notice, especially in competitive spaces and with high-level keywords. Within the SERPs Monsters, one non-homepage url from REI occurs three times: http://www.rei.com/category/4500001. Who are that URL’s 178 linkers? Why are they linking? Because this URL occurs frequently it requires further YSE investigation of the nature described above. These could be great linkers for a camping equipment site’s home page.

Reviewing SERPs Dominators by Top 10 hostname frequency

The SERPs Dominators are the hostnames and URLs that appear frequently across the top 10s for your target keywords. They include, obviously, the SERPs Monsters. The difference now is that you have a broader view of the SERPs and more of your competition emerges.

Select the top 10 from each of your keywords in the Raw 100s and paste them into your scratch pad. Once you have assembled all the top tens, copy and paste the whole group into the into the Hostname and URL Frequency Counter Tool.

Here are the results I got for my [camping equipment] data set that had more than one occurrence in the top 10s.

  • www.rei.com 10 Occurrences in the Top 10 SERPs
  • www.cabelas.com 8
  • www.coleman.com 8
  • maps.google.com 6
  • www.altrec.com 6
  • www.amazon.com 5
  • www.summitcampinggear.com 5
  • www.campingworld.com 5
  • www.hiking-gear-and-equipment-used-for-camping.com 4
  • www.google.com 4
  • www.camping4less.com 4
  • www.campmor.com 4
  • www.backcountry.com 3
  • www.consumersearch.com 3
  • www.campingcomfortably.com 2
  • www.basspro.com 2
  • www.cascadedesigns.com 2

Comparative SERPs frequency analysis

The benefit of conducting SERPs analysis at different ranking levels is the understanding you can gain through comparison. You’ll notice that Cabelas shot up in top 10 frequency… they are stronger players who could be considered threats to the SERPs Monsters. Coleman sees a sizable increase as well. Notice, too, the appearance of Altrec in the top 10s. They don’t appear in the top 3s and should also be considered a strong rising threat to the SERPs Monsters.

If you analyze the major players in the top 3 SERPs first, your work is halfway done. Conduct similar analysis on Cabelas, Coleman and Altrec. Summitcampinggear.com in particular is one I’d pay close attention to as a link builder because they have solid presence in the top 10s, but not the top 3s. They are either new competitors gaining, or old competitors waning. Either way, they can show you what to do or not to do in terms of link building.

The content site www.hiking-gear-and-equipment-used-for-camping.com appears for the first time in the top 10 frequency analysis. For content-related camping equipment sites, this should be very interesting from a linkability and link building perspective. It’s interesting to see that a site with only 2000 links (compared to REI’s millions…) displays competitive frequency within the top 10s.

Reviewing SERPs Players by Top 20 hostname frequency

The SERPs Players are those sites that appear with frequency in the top 20 results: the first two pages. Top 3 is great, but you (usually) have to dig deeper into the top 20. Looking at the sites that appear with frequency here show you possible up-and-comers, plus may help establish a backlink baseline for climbing into the SERPs.

You will have to sort a bit deeper to get past the top 3s and top 10s to find new sites for analysis.

  • www.rei.com 12
  • www.cabelas.com 10
  • www.coleman.com 10
  • www.altrec.com 8
  • www.campingworld.com 7
  • www.amazon.com 7
  • maps.google.com 6
  • www.summitcampinggear.com 6
  • www.campinggearguide.com 5
  • www.abc-of-hiking.com 5
  • www.campmor.com 5
  • www.hiking-gear-and-equipment-used-for-camping.com 4
  • www.camping4less.com 4
  • www.google.com 4
  • www.backcountry.com 4
  • www.campingequipmentworld.com 3
  • www.consumersearch.com 3
  • www.ultralighttowels.com 3
  • www.camping-gear-outlet.com 3
  • www.basspro.com 3
  • camping-gear-outlet.com 3
  • campready.com 3

Comparative SERPs frequency analysis

Two sites appear from nowhere: www.campinggearguide.com and www.abc-of-hiking.com, both with 5 occurrences in the top 20s. Both should be investigated to see what up and coming sites are doing to earn presence in the SERPs. In the case of ABC-of-Hiking, notice that it’s a social media site related to camping. This may be a good site to build links through distributing content or even profile creation and content contribution.

Reviewing SERPs Participants byTop 100 hostname frequency

The SERPs Participants are the sites that appear in the top 100. While being #67 for a single search term may not signify much at first, appearing consistently in the top 100s for a themed grouping of keywords can reveal a great deal for link builders.

  • www.rei.com 16
  • www.cabelas.com 13
  • www.altrec.com 12
  • www.coleman.com 12
  • www.ems.com 12
  • www.amazon.com 11
  • www.trails.com 10
  • www.campingworld.com 10
  • www.backcountry.com 10
  • gorp.away.com 9
  • www.summitcampinggear.com 9
  • www.hiking-gear-and-equipment-used-for-camping.com 9
  • www.google.com 8
  • www.bizrate.com 8
  • www.abc-of-hiking.com 8
  • www.thecampingoutfitter.com 8
  • www.campready.com 7
  • www.campmor.com 7
  • www.basspro.com 7
  • shopping.msn.com 6
  • maps.google.com 6
  • www.usoutdoorstore.com 6
  • camping.about.com 6

Comparative SERPs frequency analysis

Notice here the strong emergence of pure content sites such as gorp.away.com, www.trails.com, and camping.about.com. Though these sites don’t rank well for the target group of phrases, they are none-the-less highly relevant to [camping equipment]. These are prime targets for value-added commenting, PR outreach to suggest interviews or story ideas, guest post content submission and more. Though these few sites don’t comprise all the content sites you should reach out to in this way, they should certainly be considered high priority content sites for evaluation.

Also see EMS.com. Wow! Where did they come from and what sent them marauding up into the top 100s? The site looks great and they have a highly competitive number of links (34k). They are either ferocious up and comers or have recently gotten dinged. Either way, they warrant close observation by link builders in the [camping equipment] space.

More methods for finding backlink prospects

There’s more than one way to find backlink prospects, and our method above may be too involved for some link building projects. Further, our method only gets comprehensive at very narrow and/or very large scale, meaning you won’t find all your link opportunities until you look at the SERPs for all of your keywords… or for very narrow thematic groupings.

Here are some other resources you may find useful for finding backlink opportunities:

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To: Links | Link Week Column

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About The Author: is co-founder of Ontolo, a link building agency and co-author of Link-Building-Guide.com, which leads motivated readers through the methods and processes of large-scale, crawler-based link research, link acquisition and linker-targeted content strategy.

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    Over at SEJ Ms. Smarty just published an article on exporting search results using SEOQuake:
    http://www.searchenginejournal.com/export-google-search-results-to-excel/11253/

    I’ve not used SEOQuake for this, but it appears to work well as a potential alternative to exporting SERPs with SEO for Firefox, which I outline above.

    G

  • http://www.planetc1.com/ chiropractic

    Very sweet! Read through this 3 times already today and got 2 really good tips I was not yet applying. Thanks for getting into details.

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    @chiropractic – great! Glad to hear that the detailed analysis helped spark ideas for you :)

  • Jen

    I have read it 4 times and I still don’t really get what this Raw 100′s is all about.

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    @Jen – “Raw 100s” are the exported urls of the pages that appear in Google’s top 100 results for a keyword.

    I called them raw because they’re not super useful as a long list of 100 urls… This raw data is much more useful when analyzed along with the 100 urls from other keywords you’re targeting with your site.

    Getting the urls in exportable format (so you can put them in a spreadsheet) requires using the method I describe above, or the one that Ann Smarty talks about here:
    http://www.searchenginejournal.com/export-google-search-results-to-excel/11253/

    The most important thing is that you’re analyzing the SERPs for your target, most valuable keywords. In the example I analyzed the SERPs for camping equipment related data. Note that they’re all “high level” or “big head” keywords, as opposed to longer tail terms. Further, they’re all highly-competitive commerce-related keywords. When conducting your analysis it’s very very important to group your keywords carefully around your business goals.

    Let me know if that clears things up for you, or if I should go into more detail on anything :)

    G

  • pcsourcepoint

    Thanks for the tutorial, as I am trying it out for keyword research on “Auckland Hotels” for my blog. However, half the Google Serp’s for the first page are Sponsored Links and “Local” business results. Then the list of standard results.

    What results then would qualify for the first raw 100 urls? The keywords are highly competitive, and the ad value are relatively high (according to Google keyword tool). Therefore possibly any of these links would substantially offer similar information, hence a visitor could possibly gain the same value of information, by clicking any of the links on the first page. Therefore in this case would the top 3 url’s be applicable? (e.g. a lone sponsored site (wotif.com) could be more valuable than any other url that appeared more than once (should that occur). I mean the presence of sponsored links might distort things a bit (I think), depending how they qualify with Google to be listed in the serps?

    Also for Yahoo’s back links results, I think many are self duplicated, but perhaps briefly. Once I left one comment and my blog’s URL on a site, but checking Yahoo back links that one comment seem to generate dozens of back links over several weeks via sub urls/domains linked to the original commented url. Then checking weeks later, they all, but the original one disappeared. Yet with Google – no such back link for that comment?

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    @pcsourcepoint!

    First off, you should try multiple keywords. One keyword isn’t going to give you enough data to work with. It’s the sites that rank consistently for a related body of keywords that are the true SERPs Dominators!

    To answer your question about including business/local results I think you can just stir them into the pot and see what turns up (I mean, include ALL of the top 100 results by exporting them in one lump). If you’re searching for [Aukland Hotels], [Aukland Motels], [Aukland Accommodations] etc you will get tons of local results. The consistently occurring local results, in addition to everything else that shows up, then become prospects for pulling backlinks, trying to guest post, leaving comments etc…

    You’re right in asserting that the sites – for a single keyword query – that appear in the top 3 will likely have higher value to your competitive analysis. However, I will reiterate the importance of searching for 5+ related terms rather than a single term, and looking at the top 3s, 10s, 20s and 100s to get a full picture of what’s happening in the space you’re targeting.

    Good luck and let me know if I can drill down into anything for you to clarify!

    Garrett

  • http://www.intellenglish.com ingilizce ian

    great article. very detailed, water-tight process. will definitely try some of these methods for my market.

 

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