This Link Profile Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us

Look around for link building advice and one of the most common pieces is to re-engineer the backlink profile of your competitors. The reasoning behind this is that if they’re ranking well (meaning above you, of course), they must be doing what Google likes, so why not copy it and see yourself shoot up in the rankings too?

The problem behind this is that, once you seemingly equalize your link profiles, something else will be better somewhere. You’ll see better titles, better site structure, more easily crawled code, and better content, so then what will you do?

The simple fact is that a site who links to your competitors and to you is a site that isn’t giving you all that you need.

Technically, there is the issue of having your link juice cut in half or split even further. For every outbound link from a site that is not nofollowed, the link juice is lessening. If you have a link on a page that also links out to 3 competitors, you’re getting around 1/4th of what you’d get if you had a link on a page that only linked to you.

Logically, there is the notion that you’re no better than your competitor. A site links to both of you? Wouldn’t you see a site as being more important if it had the link and you didn’t? If you’re scraping competitor backlinks, whether you realize it or not, this is your perspective. Why not spend time searching for sites that do not link to your competitors? Why wear what everyone else is wearing?

Looking for sites that do not already link to your competitors gives you a totally different perspective. Instead of immediately thinking it’s a good opportunity because it links to someone whom you want to emulate, you start to look more deeply into the content, the uniqueness of the site itself. You see a potential for traffic. You see a potential for better long-tailed keywords to rank and convert, perhaps.

So, how do you seek out the sites that are not linking to your competitors? You certainly can’t rely on backlink profiles of competitors for this one, of course.

Do a search for something totally and completely random, yet still related to your keywords. A quick and easy way to do this is to search for your main keyword, then scroll down a bit until you see a longer-tailed version of that keyword, then search for the longer-tailed version, rinse and repeat. You can find some serious gems in this manner.

Set up alerts (I am especially fond of Google and Twitter alerts) to let you know when new content containing your keywords is out there. Maybe there’s a new industry blog or site that is just getting started, and you can alert them to your related content and get a link before a competitor does. Of course, if people continue to track competitor backlinks, you may see the competing sites getting links there too.

Actually make use of blogrolls and good, in-content links on sites that you read. Sometimes you can click a few times and bam! -  there’s a pristine site for you.

Now, I do think that competitive backlink analysis has its place in a good link building campaign. It can give you invaluable insight into how your industry links, it can give you clues about what is working, and it can potentially identify holes in your own marketing strategy.

However, copying someone else’s profile doesn’t just say that you’re smart marketing; it says that you have nothing unique to offer, and that’s never a good thing.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Building: Paid Links | Link Week Column


About The Author: owns the link development firm Link Fish Media and is one of the founding members of the SEO Chicks blog.

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  • Michael Martinez

    Just relying on links for search engine optimization isn’t efficient anyway. Since people cannot determine which links are passing value or how much value they pass, good SEOs need to focus most of their time and energy on other aspects of search engine optimization.

  • matthiaswh

    Hi Julie,

    You raise some interesting points, especially applying your real world logic to link building. Thinking in real world terms is something that gets missed in SEO a lot of times, yet that’s exactly what the search engine algorithms are trying to do with all of their ranking signals.

    However, your technical reasons aren’t quite as cut and dry. If we assume the passing of link juice is divided equally among all outbound links and each site has the same value, you’re right about not getting the full value of that link if they are already linking to your competitor. But what you’re getting is being “stolen” from the competitor sites. If the page has 12 points (completely arbitrary, made up number) of link juice to pass and is currently linking to 3 of your competitors. They’re getting 4 points each. If they add a link to your site, it gets only 3 points instead of the full 12, but it also “steals” 1 point from each of the competitors as they drop down to 3 points each. Not quite full value, but more than 25%.

    Now when that assumption we made fails us is when this becomes valuable. If a powerful industry hub site is linking to all of your competitors and you don’t have that link, the gains from acquiring it can be considerably more than getting links from several other less significant sites. A site that can pass you 50 “link points” and is linking to 3 competitors is more valuable than one that can only pass 6 link points and isn’t linking to any of them. Also, there are on page factors that probably go into the link. If they add your link above the competitors’ links on the page, you’re probably going to get more value from it and take away more value from them (by shoving them down).

    These are just a few things to consider. When looking at a competitor’s backlink profile, I think it’s not generally profitable to visit every site to get a link to you. But many of them can still be great links. I think it’s fair to assume that most of the sites that will give a link to yours are probably linking to some of your competitors already.

    There are other, “smarter” marketing and link building techniques, but to entirely discount this tactic could hurt.

  • Julie Joyce

    @ matthiaswh…great point, actually. I definitely don’t think it’s a technique that should be entirely discounted, so apologies if I was vague about that. I simply don’t believe that following the footprints of your competitors is the best way to build good links. Your point about stealing link juice is fantastic, also, you sneaky monkey. I had never really thought of it that way.


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