There are literally hundreds of ways you can build backlinks to your website. Each tactic is worthy of it’s own blog post.
One of the best white hat link building strategies is to steal your competitors backlinks, and along with it their rankings and traffic.
With some competitive analysis and backlink research you can quickly outrank your competition and optimize your content strategy.
The best part, I’m going to show you how to do this for free!
Let’s jump in.
Here’s What We’ll Cover –
- How to analyze your competitor’s backlink profile
- How to use free tools to build a HUGE list of backlink targets
- How to steal backlinks from your top competitors
- How to set great foundation for your link building campaign
Why Steal Your Competitors Backlinks?
Before I begin, I have to give a big shout out to Matthew Woodward. He is one of a very small handful of online marketing experts I recommend anyone should follow if they want to build a profitable online business. His insights formed the basis for this post.
Do a search for one of your target keywords in Google.
Your competitors listed in the top 10 results are there partly because they have a quality and diverse backlink profile – the type of backlink profile you want pointing to your site
Now, imagine what would happen if your website had the same backlink profile as not just the #1 ranked site, but every single site on the first page.
This is the first link building tactic I implement when taking on a new client. It’s relatively easy, even for someone new to SEO, and it’s scalable.
It’s a fantastic way to build a solid platform for the rest of your link building efforts.
So, let’s get started…
Helpful SEO Plugins
There are two Google Chrome extensions that I highly recommend installing before you begin your competitor backlink analysis. I’ll get into the use cases later in this article, but for now, head on over to the Chrome extensions marketplace and install the following two extensions –
SEOQuake supports Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari browsers. Follow the prompts to install and activate the toolbar.
Open the same browser you installed SEOQuake on, and install and activate Mozbar.
When you do a search in Google you should see information from SEOQuake:
And from Mozbar under each search result:
How to Steal Your Competitors Backlinks
Pick a keyword you want to rank for.
Do a quick search in Google for that keyword and make a note of the URL associated with each of the top 10 organic search results.
You will be running each of the 10 URLs through the eight backlink checkers listed below.
The Method Behind The Madness
To extract a comprehensive list of backlinks for each of the top 10 search results we are going to be running each URL through a number of backlink checkers.
I normally use Ahrefs and SEO Spyglass when performing backlink analysis for my clients. However, since you will be using free versions of the backlink checkers you will need to use as many as possible in order to aggregate a large list of backlink prospects.
Before you start, open a new excel file. You will be pasting the backlinks you extract from each of backlink checkers into the spreadsheet to create a master prospect list.
Bing Webmaster Tools (Link Explorer)
Bing’s Link Explorer is a great tool for analyzing your competitor’s backlink profile.
In order to use Bing’s free Link Explorer tool you will need to first create a Bing Webmaster Tools account.
Once you have created your Bing Webmaster Tools account, the next step is to verify your site with Bing.
Log into BWT and click the “configure my site” dropdown and select “verify ownership”. Copy the <meta> tag and paste it into the <head> of your website.
If you own a WordPress website and have the WordPress SEO plugin installed this process is extremely easy. Navigate to the WordPress SEO plugin, click settings and then paste the <meta> tag into the BWT field. Hit save changes, then navigate back over to BWT and click verify.
Once your site is verified within BWT, click the “diagnostics and tools” dropdown and select “link explorer”.
Enter your competitor’s URL, select “external” from the source dropdown, and click “explore”.
The Link Explorer Tool will give you a large number of backlink prospects. The only weakness is that it doesn’t provide robust link analysis metrics such as page rank, anchor text or follow/no-follow metrics. You only get the source link and title of the page.
You are able to export the results.
In my opinion, Ahrefs is the best tool on the market when it comes to competitor backlink analysis.
The free account will give you a ton of backlink based data but you will only be able to view the top 10 backlinks for each URL. But hey, do this 10 times and you already have a 100 potential backlinks to targets.
Once logged in, go to backlinks > external, then backlinks > new/lost in order to export as many backlinks as possible.
Check the “one link per domain” box to make sure you maximize the number of unique results you get.
Make sure you are checking through both the new/lost link and new/lost referring domains sections to maximize the number of link prospects that are returned. You also have the option to filter these results.
Set the filter to 60 days to capture the highest number of link prospects –
Hit the “backlinks” dropdown to get the referring URL and anchor text associated with each backlink.
You will notice above that this blog post has a backlink from Columbia University a PR8 domain!
The paid account allows you to export all the backlinks into a CSV file with a single click. If you work in SEO, I would highly recommend upgrading to the paid account for this tool.
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer is part of the Moz SEO tool suite.
The free account will give you a list of 50 backlinks for each URL.
By default, Open Site Explorer provides a list of both internal and external links. In order to filter the list so that you only get external backlinks, select “external only” from the “links from” dropdown.
Pay close attention to the page and domain authority for each backlink. The higher the authority the more page rank (link juice) the URL will pass onto your site.
Higher authority URLs will also be harder to get backlinks from.
Open Site Explorer also allows you to filter a “top pages” report by clicking the tab as shown below –
This is a fantastic tool for identifying the types of content that your competitors are using to attract the highest number of backlinks. This can help shape your content strategy moving forward.
If you want to take this strategy to another level hit the drop down next to the “filter” button. Select the 400 error option from the dropdown –
Make a note of the top pages that are returning 400 errors. These are dead links.
Next, enter the dead URL into the WayBack machine. This tool will give you an archived snapshot of what content used to live at that URL.
Now, simply plug the dead URL back into Open Site Explorer and filter the external links pointing to that URL.
This could give you hundreds of additional prospects for link poaching.
What’s link poaching?
Essentially, you’re replacing existing content (or dead links) with your own content.
Outreach to all the sites that are linking to the dead page and pitch your content as a replacement for the dead URL.
I usually get a 5-10% success rate with this outreach tactic.
Word of advice: make sure your content is just as good, if not better than content you want to replace.
Majestic SEO is a close rival to Ahrefs when it comes to backlink analysis.
If you sign up for a free account you can export all the backlinks for sites you own and verify. However, it will only let you pull the top 10 backlinks from your competitor’s profile.
You can get a few additional backlinks by navigating to the backlinks tab and then clicking the new tab.
Pay close attention to the “trust flow” of each URL. This is proprietary algorithm that indicates how trustworthy Majestic SEO thinks the URL is. This is based largely on the quality of links pointing to the URL.
You can see a host of other valuable metrics such as the type of link, when it was first indexed and last seen. You will notice that Majestic SEO also lists 301 redirects and even checks for links to both the www and non-www versions of the site.
SEO Spyglass is one of my favorite backlink checkers.
It runs as a piece of desktop software.
Up until a year ago this tool might not have even made my list of backlink checkers. However, recent updates have it pulling more backlinks than Ahrefs and Majestic SEO combined.
The best feature of this tool is the analysis you can do for each backlink prospect. The free version will check if the links are live, display anchor text, page rank scores, social shares and alexa rank. All of this information is real-time fresh data.
The “linked-to page” analysis is my favorite piece of data. This shows which content your competitors are using to attract backlinks. This saves you a lot of guess work when tweaking your own content strategy.
If you are using the free version of SEO Spyglass you will be limited to 1,100 backlinks for each URL, and you won’t be able to export the results. My advice, focus on the backlinks that have a PR of two or above.
Cognitive SEO is a new addition to my backlink analysis tool set. Like the other tools it allows you to extract backlinks at the domain, subdomain and page level.
Hat tip to Kristi Hines for introducing me to the tool.
The free version of Cognitive SEO provides some handy backlink analysis data, including anchor text, follow/no follow, social shares, link and domain authority metrics, link velocity, as well as a breakdown of fresh links.
But, the thing I like most about this tool is that it filters out duplicate results. This leaves you with a greater number of unique backlink prospects.
The free version allows you to pull 25 backlinks and a list of 10 referring domains. You aren’t able to export the results until you sign up for their 14 day free trial.
Backlink Watch is a free tool that uses Ahrefs to power its database.
The tool only returns about 11% of the results Ahrefs generates, but you do have the option to copy and paste the backlinks directly out of the tool.
The cool thing about this tool is there aren’t limitations on the number of backlinks you have access to.
You should pay close attention to the “outbound links” (OBL) column in the table of results. If the number is high very little page rank will be passed onto your site as it being split up between all the other outbound links.
Try and target PR2 URLs that have a relatively low number of outbound links to maximize the amount of link juice passed onto your site.
After you have copied the backlinks open an excel spreadsheet and right click > paste > special > text > ok and you’ll have a sizeable list of backlink prospects to pursue.
I once extracted 1,247 backlinks out of this tool! Not bad for a free tool.
The Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a piece of desktop software that allows you to quickly analyze and audit your website’s key SEO, including technical and on-page elements.
One way you can use this tool to steal your competitor’s backlinks is to identify 400 response codes.
Enter the domain of your competitor into the spider and hit start.
Once the spider has crawled the website, select the “4xx” option from the response codes drop down –
This will give you a list of the site’s pages returning 400 errors.
These are dead pages.
Now, export this list of 400 pages and enter each of them into the URL checkers to get a list of sites linking to these dead pages.
The next step is to write a piece of replacement content, pich it to the site’s webmaster and get your backlink.
Small SEO Tools
Small SEO Tools is another free tool.
Just hop over to the website and enter your competitor’s URL, fill out the captcha and hit the “check” button.
You will be a list of backlinks along with additional data including, domain PR, page PR, as well as an SEO flag indicating whether or not the links are no follow.
If you want to export the links you will need to click through and export each of the results pages one at a time.
Rank Signals is another great free tool that provides useful backlink data.
Simply enter the URL of your competitor’s backlink and hit “explore links”.
You will given the backlink URL, anchor text and PR value.
Raven Tools pulls backlink data from Moz and Majestic SEO. You can create a free account and export up to 50,000 backlinks for any domain or URL.
After signing up for your free account, skip the app requests and hit the SEO tab on the left side of the screen. Scroll down and select “backlink explorer”.
From here, enter your competitor’s URL, select “fresh index” and choose whether you want to analyze the entire domain or an individual URL. Hit “explore”.
A report will be generated for the URL you entered. Click the URL and you’ll be taken to the backlink portfolio.
Here, you can filter the results based on a variety of SEO elements.
Raven Tools will also provide you with backlink analysis data, including – the backlink source URL, anchor text, citation flow (Majestic SEO metric), and whether or not the link is follow/no-follow. You will also be able to filter the results based on these metrics.
If you want to export the results, click the “Tools Options” button in the top right corner and select “export data”.
Your Master List
Open notepad and copy all of your backlink prospects into a new .txt file.
Next, remove all of the duplicate URLs or domains using the free Scrapebox duplicate removal tool.
To remove the duplicate URLs or domains from your master prospect list, click the “select source file button” and select your master list. Then click the “Select Target File” button, and give your new dupe free file a name.
Finally, click the “remove dup URLs” or “remove dup domains” button and your prospect list will be duplicate free.
Your master list is probably full of irrelevant (garbage) backlink prospects.
This is the stage where you will analyze your backlink prospects to identify the best link building opportunities.
Remember those two Chrome extensions (Mozbar and SEOQuake) I had you install earlier? You’ll need those soon.
In general, I look for backlinks that are relevant, indexed and have a PR of at least 2. This way you can maximize the amount of link juice you can get from each backlink.
Bonus tip: don’t pursue backlinks from unrelated low quality sites as this could put you at risk of a Penguin penalty.
Here are the tools I use to analyze my link prospects –
#1 – SEO Spyglass
One of the reasons SEO Spyglass is one of my favorite tools is it’s ability to double as both a backlink checker and backlink analysis tool.
Paste in your backlink prospect URL. After the tool completes the backlink extraction you will see this pop up –
Click “yes” to perform the additional backlink analysis step, then select the SEO elements you would like analyzed. Click “next”.
After the analysis is completed you will be able to see additional backlink information such as anchor text, anchor URL, the number of external links and page rank for each backlink prospects.
I like to click the PR column to sort the list in descending page rank order to get a quick look at all of the PR 2+ backlinks.
You can also click “view statistics for all backlinks in project” from the top “backlinks” dropdown and sort by TLD type (.edu, .com, .gov etc)
It’s no secret that a few .edu/.gov backlinks can give your domain authority a significant lift.
Method 2 – Inspyder Backlink Monitor
Inspyder Backlink Monitor is another great free tool for analyzing backlink data.
Copy your list of backlink prospects and paste them directly into the backlink URL section and click “go”.
The tool will then crawl the list of backlinks and reveal a bunch of valuable link metrics such as anchor text, page rank, number of outbound links and whether or not the link is follow/no follow.
You can also use the selection tool to filter the list by backlink type, age, page rank, number of inbound links and a variety of other metrics that can save you a bunch of time when narrowing down your list of prospects.
Once you have sorted the links as desired, you will have the option to export them in a variety of formats.
Add all the PR2+ backlinks to your master list.
Method 3 – SEO Tools For Excel
You can also download SEO Tools for Excel and extract a range of backlink analysis data.
This excel add-in offers a huge subset of tools, including advanced scraping capabilities and direct integration with Google Analytics and Majestic SEO.
For the purpose of this post, I would recommend using the “Offpage” SEO analysis feature.
Once you have downloaded the add-in to excel, navigate to the “Offpage” button and select “Google Pagerank” from the dropdown.
Select the backlink you want to analyze, then drag the formula down the column adjacent each of your backlink prospects. This will then give the PR value for each link.
Sort the column by PR 2+ links.
The only problem with this tool is that it is slower than the other tools when analyzing a large set of backlinks.
Method 4 – Chrome Extensions
The Mozbar and SEOQuake extensions are useful when analyzing individual backlink prospects.
These are great if you have a small set of link prospects and want to to get a quick in-depth analysis.
Navigate to your chrome extensions page and enable the mozbar and SEOQuake extensions.
Open up Google (or Firefox) and enter the backlink URL and hit search.
You will see a number of SEO metrics listed with each search result, including domain authority, page authority, age, and the number of linking domains.
Note – Toolbar PR isn’t updated very often. As a result, newer pages with high PR sometimes display “n/a” for that metric. Instead, focus more on the ‘page authority’ for the page. This metric is updated monthly and is much more fresh than the PR metric.
I’ve found that the Mozbar gives a much more accurate linking domain count compared to SEOQuake which pulls its data from SEMRush.
Hit the “link analysis” tab and you’ll be taken to Open Site Explorer for an in-depth backlink analysis.
This is a slightly more tedious approach to backlink analysis and I would only recommend using it if you are working a handful of link prospects.
I’ve found this analysis technique better suited for the link profiles of smaller local businesses.
It’s Time To Start Replicating Backlinks
After you have cleaned your list and have a solid list of relevant high PR2+ backlink prospects, it’s time to start replicating as many of those backlinks as possible.
Open each link in your browser and identify how and where your competitor got the backlink.
If it’s a blog comment, you should get involved in the conversation and plug a link where it adds value to the conversation.
You might find that your competitor got a link through a forum post. Sign up to the forum and start engaging.
There may be backlinks from guest posts. You could reach out to the owner of the blog with an awesome piece of content and request your own guest post opportunity. Pay close attention to the guest post guidelines.
You will often find niche directories that your competitors are listed in, many of which are free. Create your listing and get your backlink.
In the case of ecommerce sites you might find that your competitors are getting backlinks from sponsor pages, product review sites, press releases or through partnerships.
Word of advice: you should never pay for backlinks. This includes sponsor pages and advertorials. Further, guest posts and press releases should be viewed as a channel for generating targeted traffic to your site.
It’s recommended that contextual backlinks from press releases and other advertorials be no-followed to avoid a Penguin encounter.
It helps to separate your link prospect list based on backlink type. This way you can filter the backlink prospects quickly.
As you move through the list replicating links you will quickly get a feel for your competitor’s link building strategies. Often, each competitor will have a different approach. Some of your competitors may focus more on directory links, others more on guest posts, while some may be investing in private blog networks and advertorial links.
This is a great opportunity to beat them at their own game(s). You can combine and leverage all of their strategies in one go.
Building A Killer Lists Of Backlinks
As you are moving through and replicating your competitor’s backlinks keep close track of all the links you have submitted/replicated.
Once you have finished replicating the list of backlinks plug them into Inspyder Backlink Monitor and check to see how many of those links are live and indexed. Monitor this over the next month and track the number of new backlinks you were able to acquire.
Update this list of “live backlinks” as you continue your link building efforts.
The great thing, you can re-use this spreadsheet and link building strategy over and over again.
Bonus Tip: If you replicate more than 50 of your competitor’s backlinks, it’s worth signing up for a tool such as Linkody. For only $5/month you get detailed backlink change reports emailed to you daily so you know where your links are placed, when they go live, and if they ever get removed. Linkody offers a 30 free trial.
Replicating your competitor’s backlink profile is a powerful link building strategy. It can help you acquire backlinks quickly, lay a sustainable foundation for future link building efforts and provide valuable insights into the link building strategies of your highest ranking competitors.
By using all of the backlink tools listed above you will be able to build a giant list of highly relevant backlink prospects. The best part, you will be able to do it for free!
You will be able to get the backlinks of your top 10 competitors pointing back to your site and improve your content strategy.
You’ll also have a rock solid backlink profile to build off and be well on your way to the top of the SERPs.
What are your favorite link building tools?