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.