Even for seasoned SEOs it can be difficult to know where to start with outranking your competition. Do you need more links? More technical fixes on your site? Maybe you need to add content to your pages?
Those are all tactics where time can be well spent however with all of the sites we analyze on a daily basis, there is typically one factor that stands out among those that are killing it in search and those that are not. That factor happens to be links.
Google reported in 2014 that links, content, and RankBrain (Google’s AI algorithm) were the primary ranking factors in its search results. Considering that Page’s search engine is based on the link relationships among websites, the fact that links turned out to be a primary factor is not a big surprise.
So how do you figure out which links are the right ones to go after? We know that high quality domains are a must but that hardly narrows down the list of targets. A method that can take a lot of the guess work out of the whole process is a strategy we call link piggybacking.
In a nutshell:
Boiled down, the strategy is simple. Look at what websites are linking to your competitor’s website, and then get those same links.
As simple as that sounds, it’s a bit more complicated but we can show you how to break things down into more manageable tasks.
Step 1: Keyword Research
You want to be sure you’re looking at the right competition. Just because a competitor ranks for phrases related to your businesses doesn’t mean they will rank for all relevant phrases. They may not even be ranking for the best phrases. There may also be other companies stealing search market share from you that aren’t even your competitors.
Finding Good Phrases to Target
So before anything else happens, you need to uncover those search phrases that your target audience is using to find you.
Using Moz’s keyword explorer, type in a keyword phrase you think your customers are using. You’ll get an overview of that phrase that includes search volume, difficulty (how hard the keyword is to rank for), Moz’s opportunity score (the estimated click through rate), and a priority score (combines other metrics and basically lets you know if you should be pursuing this phrase).
This first keyword is your seed keyword. The Keyword Explorer will generate suggestions along with monthly search volume.
What to look for
To simplify things, you are looking for phrases that meet the following criteria (in order of importance):
- Relevant to your business (more specifically a page on your site you’re trying to rank)
- Decent search volume (at least a couple hundred searches per month if you can find one)
- Low competition
These are all important factors but if you have to sacrifice low competition for good search volume, do it. Obviously don’t choose phrases that have to relevance to your business. The Keyword Explorer allows you to sort by volume.
Side note: A neat feature on the KWE is the ability to group phrases. This helps show you what other terms should be included in your content.
Using the data
Normally in an SEO campaign we would be taking these phrases and coming up with all sorts of content around them among other tasks. Here we just want to see what people are using so we can see who is ranking for these phrases.
Moz’s Keyword Tool also has an SERP analysis feature where you can see
Step 2: Analyze Competitor Backlinks
Scan and Export
A quick way to see who is linking to who is by using Moz’s Open Site Explorer. Paste your competitor’s URL in to the tool and Moz returns a list of all known linking domains along with metrics on their quality.
This will serve as your seed list and you should export it so you can work with it in Excel. Depending on who your competition is, there may be hundreds of thousands of links or maybe only a few hundred.
Export the list and make sure you get data related to the Domain Authority (we’ll talk about that in a moment).
Analyze and Target
Now that you have your list, it’s time to pick out domains you will target to get links from. It’s worth pointing out that just because someone is linking to your competitor’s site, does not mean you want them linking to you as well.
You’re looking for sites that have a high Domain Authority. If you have a lot to work with it’s ok to be picky. Look for things 60 and up. If there isn’t much there or the DA numbers just aren’t that high, 30 and up will work.
Once you have those segmented you can get rid of everything else.
Step 3: Link Homework
Collate and categorize
It’s not always clear how a link got placed. Your competitor may have done it manually or the link could have occurred naturally. It doesn’t matter either way for you but it does help to understand how the link was placed. That helps provide you a plan of attack for getting the same link on your site.
Organize your remaining domains into those where you can submit links manually (i.e. social profiles, directories, off-site blogs, etc.), and those where you will need some help by emailing site owners (guest posts, sponsorships, scholarships, etc.).
Step 4: Prioritize Your Link Building
You will have to prioritize your link building activity based on cost/benefit. Some links are just going to be impossible to obtain or require so much time and effort they probably aren’t worth it. For example if your competitor has a link on the home page of Whitehouse.gov, I would say that’s not a good target to pursue.
Conversely if there is a link in a guest post on an industry relevant site that might only take a couple weeks of emailing, that makes sense to go after (assuming the domain is high quality).
To illustrate, let’s say we wanted to model Moz’s link profile. If we check out what they’ve been up to in terms of link building, we can see they’ve been busy.
Notice that they have tons of authoritative domains right off the bat.
Many of these links look attainable however landing a link on a WordPress codex page, the Linkedin Marketing Solutions Blog, and the United States Postal Service are going to take some serious long-term effort.
Comparatively, links on Mashable, Geekwire, and Wordstream are a little more attainable (albeit still challenging).
The point is to go after links you’ll be able to land in the near future. It doesn’t make any sense to spin your wheels for 12 months trying to land a link on a really GREAT website if you can get dozens of links in that same time period from really GOOD websites.
There are lots of approaches to deciding how you want to build links to your site. The best part about this one is that it takes all the guess work and uncertainty out of the process. You can plainly see on your competitor sites what links are contributing to their success. All you have to do is go out there and get the same ones.