Are you tired of being outranked by your competitors?
Do you wish you could steal their backlinks, rankings and traffic?
(“YES, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I WANT, ROBBIE!”)
Good, because this is exactly what I’ll be showing you how to do in this post with a technique I like to the call the RLR approach.
This is the first link building tactic I implement when taking on new clients, and has helped me land hundreds of high quality links for businesses across a range of industries, from B2B SaaS companies to national franchise operations.
And drive this blog steadily towards 1,000 referring domains:
This is a step-by-step “technique” that can be replicated for any website.
It requires zero creativity; all you need to do is follow the step-by-step framework laid out below.
Here’s the process in a nutshell:
- Find competitors (i.e. similar websites and/or pages in your niche) with many high-authority inbound links (research)
- Figure out how competitors are building links (learn)
- Replicate/steal their tactics (replicate)
And if that sounds simple..it’s because it is.
But before we get started, I recommend you make a copy of this Competitor Backlink tracking template:
You’ll need this as we go through the post.
But before we dive into the tactics, let's better understand why we're doing this...
Why Should You Start Analyzing Competitor Backlink Profiles?
Competitor analysis is an important element of any link building campaign.
Because running an in-depth backlink analysis across your top competitors gives you several valuable insights that can save you a ton of time and money, while increasing your chances for success.
It teaches you about the industry:
Which competitors are landing the most backlinks, and which sites in your vertical are more likely to give backlinks.
It helps you understand several key things about your competitors:
- Get a behind-the-scenes look at your competitor’s backlink profile, and why they rank for different search terms
- The specific strategies and tactics used to land quality links
- The growth of their link profile (are they dedicating a lot of resources?)
- The types of content attracting the most backlinks
And, arguably the most important insight:
Understand the resources that didn't acquire many links.
This information can help you avoid investing a ton of time and money into link building campaigns that have little to no chance of success.
It's kind of like having your own secret crystal ball :)
Ok, let's dive in!
Step #1 - Find top "linked-to" competitors (i.e. Research)
Before you can start replicating tactics, you first need to find competitors who have a proven track record of landing quality links.
I’m going to run through a process for doing this but first, let me ask you a question:
Are you trying to build links to a specific (already-existing) page, or to your site in general?
The competitor backlink analysis process will differ slightly depending on your answer.
Because if you’re looking to build links to a particular page, you need to find page-level competitors rather than domain-level competitors.
Let’s say that I was trying to build links to this post, for example:
In this case, it’d make much more sense to find other highly linked-to pages about “seo tools” and reverse engineer the links pointing directly at those pages, rather than looking at links for the site as a whole.
But if you’re looking to build links at the domain-level, analyze your competitor’s overarching link building strategies (or are simply looking for “linkworthy” content ideas), it makes more sense to find domain-level competitors.
Either way, there are three main ways to find competitors, and the basic process is the same whether you’re looking to replicate domain-level or page-level links.
Let’s walk through them now!
Method #1 - Find “competing domains” / “competing pages” (using Ahrefs)
Select the “Competing domains” option from the left-hand menu:
This will show a list of sites ranking for similar keywords to your domain:
Note: If you’re building links at the page-level, select “Competing pages” instead (this is directly under “competing domains”)
You should now see a list of competing domains or URLs.
Here are the competing pages for my list of SEO tools:
Look through the competing pages.
Add any pages/sites that compete with your content to the Google Sheet (in the Prospects tab):
Method #2 - Find the top 10 ranking pages for your target search term (via Ahrefs KW Explorer)
Go to Keyword Explorer.
Enter a target keyword (e.g. “buy homebrew kits online”):
Scroll down to the SERP overview. This shows you the top 10 ranking pages (in Google) for that search term:
It will also provide several page-level SEO metrics, including URL rating, backlink and referring domain count.
Add competing content to your Google Sheet (again, just add them onto the Prospects tab):
Note: I recommend adding only sites with 20+ referring domains (RDs) to your spreadsheet. Any sites/URLs with less than 20 RD’s usually aren’t worth the time investment because of the filters we'll be setting up later in this tutorial.
Method #3 - Search Google for “competing domains” / “competing pages”
At this stage, you probably have a decent sized list to work with.
But if you still want to scale up and find more sites (or if your site doesn’t currently really rank for much and, thus, Ahrefs has a hard time finding a good list of competitors), do this:
Go to Google and enter a keyword/phrase that defines what your site (or page) is all about (e.g. if you run a plumbing company in London, you might search for “london plumbing company”):
Use this free scraper extension (for Chrome) to extract the search results into a neat list:
Note: Make sure to use the settings shown in the screenshot above!
“Copy to clipboard” and…yep, you guessed it, paste them into the Prospects tab in your spreadsheet.
Rinse and repeat this process for additional pages and/or keywords if necessary.
Note: Because you’re scraping all results here, you may need to manually remove any non-relevant results from your spreadsheet.
This can be solved in two ways:
#1. Run your entire list through URL Profiler.
Just make sure to check the Ahrefs checkbox under URL Level Data:
This will kick back a spreadsheet with both the number of backlinks + referring domains.
Remove the other columns then copy/paste the data into your Google Sheet (I recommend that you just overwrite the existing data in the Prospects tab, it won’t matter).
Here’s an example of how it should look (I also added a filter and sorted by # of RDs):
Now you will have a massive list of competing content with the number of backlinks and referring domains mapped back to each page.
You can quickly remove pages/posts that do not meet the minimum RD threshold discussed in the previous step.
#2. If you don’t have URL Profiler, you can use the Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool to do this. However, you’ll be limited to 200 URLs at a time.
Simply paste the URLs into the tool and hit "Start Analysis":
The tool will map a bunch of link and keyword data back to each URL.
Export the list and filter by number of RDs to get a cleaned list of targets to start replicating.
Step #2 - Finding where (and how) competitors are landing backlinks
Now you’ve got a list of competing websites/URLs, it’s time to start reverse engineering their backlink profiles and figure out where they’re getting links.
I’m going to split this step into two sections:
- Getting a 10,000-foot view — I’ll discuss a few tactics for getting a high-level view as to where and how your competitors are getting links.
- Five quick-win tactics — my five go-to tactics when doing competitor research; these are super-actionable things you can implement right away.
Note: I’ll be using Ahrefs for most of this guide going forward. While I do wholeheartedly recommend using Ahrefs if you intend to follow this guide (you can get a 14-day free trial here!), you can also use other tools like SEMrush, Majestic, Open Site Explorer or just find out what the top link builders use here.
The 10,000 Ft View: Find where your competitors get links
The “10,000-foot” process is not about pinpointing (and replicating) exact link sources, but rather:
- Analysing the niche as a whole to identify where and how competitors are getting links.
- Understanding the common backlink types and sources in the niche (e.g. forum links, guest posts, product reviews, directories, etc.)
- Figuring out what type of content is going to land links (e.g. long-form blog posts, videos, interactive content, case studies)
In short, it’s about getting a high-level view of what’s working (and what isn’t working) for the competition. This will help define your SEO and content strategies going forward.
Here are 3 ways you can do this:
#1 - Look at all competitor backlinks
Go to Site Explorer, paste in a competitor's domain, then go to:
Backlink profile > Referring domains > add a dofollow filter:
Look over the domains and find patterns as to where the links are coming from (e.g. forums, blogs, directories, etc.) — if you do this for a few of your competitors, you’ll start to see common themes and quickly understand the link building strategies that work well in your niche:
#2 - Look at branded anchors
Go to Site Explorer, paste in a competitor's domain, then go to:
Backlink profile > Anchors > add a dofollow filter:
Branded anchor links usually derive from one of the following sources: guest posts, directories, editorial mentions, or testimonials.
These are links that can quickly boost authority for sites of any age, and are relatively simple to replicate.
So, if you notice that one or more of your competitors has a lot of branded mentions, it may be the case that one (or more) of these link building strategies works well in your particular niche.
Hit Details > Referring domains to take a closer look at the sources for these links:
Click the "Backlinks" dropdown to find the individual pages on each domain linking to your competitors.
#3 - Look at the site's most linked-to content
In Site Explorer, enter a competitor’s domain and go to:
Pages > Best by links
This will show you the most linked-to pages on that domain:
If you do this for a few competing domains, you’ll start to get a sense about which content types and topics attract the most backlinks in your niche.
For example, in the SEO niche, lengthy blog posts seem to attract the most backlinks:
But in the graphic design niche, it seems that “list posts” (e.g. “XX ways to do ______”) attract a lot of links:
Whereas personal injury attorneys in competitive locations like Houston get quality links (.edu) from scholarship campaigns and interactive maps:
Clicking on the RDs link for the scholarship page shows all the authoritative .edu links this attorney has been able to generate with a single niche-targeted scholarship campaign:
After you've followed the 3 steps shown above you should be starting to get a clearer idea of the strategies, tactics and types of content your top rankings competitors are using to build backlinks.
Knowledge is only as powerful as the execution. Now it's time to start replicating your competitor's best backlink sources...
5 “quick win” tactics for replicating competitors links (today)
I’m going to share five super actionable tactics for replicating competitor links.
This is where the Link Tracking Sheet comes in.
At the bottom of the sheet, you’ll see five different tabs:
This is where you’ll be logging the prospects you find using each of the five tactics covered below.
Make a copy of the Sheet and let’s get started!
Method #1 - Find websites linking to one or more competitors
If a site is linking to one or more of your competitors, chances are they’ll be open to linking to you, too.
These sites are high-priority prospects.
But how do you find sites linking to multiple competitors?
The Ahrefs’ Link Intersect Tool.
Here’s how it works:
Grab a handful of competing domains/URLs from the Prospects tab in the Tracking Template (up to 10) and paste them into the tool one-by-one.
Add your domain/URL under the “But doesn’t link to (optional)” section:
Note: You should also select the “Any of the below targets” from the “Show me who is linking to…” drop-down at the top of the table.
Click “show link opportunities”.
It will now show you all the websites linking to one or more of the competing domains/URLs you entered, but not your page.
By default, the results are ordered by # of link intersects (from highest to lowest):
If you click the corresponding numbers below each URL, it’ll show you individual links:
Work your way down this list and add any high-priority prospects to your spreadsheet.
Basically, you should make sure to log the referring domain/URL + site type (e.g. blog) for each prospect. If you like, you can also note which of your competitors the site is linking to:
Method #2 - Find recurring backlink sources for your competitors
If you see that a competitor is getting links from the same website time and time again, it tells you two things:
- That website is likely very receptive to link requests
- They’re likely to be interested in the content on your website (as they’re linking out to similar content already)
These two attributes make for a great link prospect.
Here’s how to use Ahrefs Link Intercept tool to find these recurring backlink sources:
To begin, pick one of your competitors from the spreadsheet.
Paste it into Site Explorer:
Note: It’s important that you use the root domain here, not an exact URL.
Select: Pages > Best by Links > filter for only pages that return the status code 200:
Copy/paste the first 10 pages (minus the homepage) into the link intercept tool:
Note: Select “URL” under each of the dropdowns and leave the “but doesn’t link to” section blank. Also select “any of the below targets” from the top dropdown.
Click “show link opportunities”.
You will now see a list of domains that link to your chosen competitor’s website at least once. Results will be ordered by # of link intersects:
Most of the websites will likely be forums, communities (e.g. Inbound.org), and other content sharing websites. While these are rarely the most powerful links, they will usually be easy to replicate and provide potential new referral traffic channels.
But, I recommend looking out for any high-authority blogs with multiple link intersects. These are sites you really should begin forging relationships with, as they’re likely to be very receptive to link requests further down the line.
Add any prospects that fit the bill to the tab labelled “2. Recurring BL Sources”:
Rinse and repeat this entire process for the rest of your top competitors.
Method #3 - Replicate your competitors best backlinks
If you plug a URL into Ahrefs Site Explorer, it’ll show you all backlinks pointing to that URL.
Now, you could export all of these links and try to replicate each and every one.
But, given the fact that most sites have hundreds (if not thousands) of links, this would be a time-consuming process.
So rather than try to replicate each and every link pointing to your competitor’s website/URL (including the spammy/low-quality ones!), I recommend you focus on replicating only the best ones.
Here’s how to do it:
Paste a competing URL (from your spreadsheet) into Site Explorer:
Go to Backlinks profile > Backlinks (on the left-hand menu):
Add the following filters:
- One link per domain
- Platforms > WordPress
- Languages > English
- Link type > Dofollow
I’ve found that applying this filters reduces the number of backlinks by roughly 50-60%, in most cases.
But why am I telling you to filter out over half of your prospects? Isn’t that counter intuitive?
Not at all.
Doing this filters out the junk prospects and leaves you with the cream of the crop. Almost all remaining prospects should now be:
- English-speaking sites (or set language relevant to your target outreach audience)
- Real blogs hosted on a WordPress CMS (easy for folks to quickly add a link to your site)
- Likely to link out using dofollow links (pass link equity)
Note: If you still have a ton of junk prospects after adding the filters, add a Domain Rating (DR) filter too (I recommend DR 30+).
Add any worthwhile prospects to the tab labelled “3. Replicate backlinks”:
The tactic above is one I use to launch large scale cold outreach campaigns to land quick link wins in the new niches.
After identifying top competing article (by link count), I'll add all the URLs into a "Competitors" tab. Here is an example for my recent on-page SEO post:
I will then have a VA go through each competing article and set the filters shown above.
From there, the VA will spend a maximum of 1-2 minutes finding contact information for each referring page.
This process will be repeated across the tabs created for each competing URL:
I'll be left with hundreds of relevant link prospects I can now target with semi-personal outreach.
Method #4 - Reverse engineer your competitors for guest post opportunities
Guest posting remains one of the best ways to not only build links (note: be careful with this), but also get the word out about your website/business.
I mean, there are companies out there that use guest posting to leveraging the domain authority of large websites to quickly rank for competitive search terms that drive ultra targeted referral traffic to their websites.
Let’s take Moz as an example…
Casey Meraz, the owner of Juris Digital, leveraged the authority of Moz to rank for the highly competitive search term “local seo”:
This article has probably been a healthy meal ticket for Casey's agency over the last 3 years.
Finding guest post opportunities can be a mundane, time-consuming process.
I mean, who really wants to sift through thousands of “intitle:write for us” search results!?
Luckily there’s a better way: reverse engineer your competitors.
Note: In order to do this, you’ll need to know the name of the person behind each site on your list. This is easily done with personal blogs (e.g. it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the guy behind robbierichards.com is, in fact, Robbie Richards ), but it can take a bit more research if it’s a multi-author blog. I recommend getting a VA to do this.
Here are 3 methods for doing this:
#1 - Search Google for “author” pages
Let’s assume that I’ve identified Backlinko.com as a competing site and I want to know what other sites Brian [Dean] has written for.
I could use the following search term:
- TOPIC + “author name” + inurl:author -competitordomain.com
Here’s the search term in action:
#2 - Find posts by the author with Ahrefs Content Explorer
Content Explorer allows you to use the “author:” operator to restrict results to posts written by a certain person.
Here’s an example:
Copy/paste any relevant sites into your Google Sheet.
Note: I recommend checking the one article per domain checkbox, otherwise you can end up with a ton of results from twitter/youtube/etc
#3 - Search Google Images for posts containing the authors headshot
Look through the guest posts you’ve already found for each author and see if there’s an author headshot included.
If there is (and if he/she is using the same headshot for multiple guest posts), you can do a reverse image search to find every page containing that image.
Just right-click on the image and select Search Google for Image:
This will find every other page on which the headshot appears, some of which will be guest posts:
Add any websites to the tab labelled “4. Guest Posts” in your spreadsheet:
Method #5 - Fix competitor broken links
Broken links are surprisingly common; some of the largest sites are riddled with them.
While this is bad news for website owners, it’s good news for you.
Why? Because if you can find broken inbound links to pages on competing domains, you have a good chance to steal those links for your website.
Here’s how to find them:
Go to Site Explorer, paste in a competitor’s domain (or specific page), then go to:
Backlink profile > Backlinks > Broken > add a dofollow filter
This will show you all broken inbound links pointing towards that domain/URL:
Here’s what happen when we click the broken link on this page:
Add any broken links you want to steal to the “5. Broken links” tab in your Google Sheet.
It’s then a case of reaching out to these sites and suggesting they replace the broken link with a link to your content instead.
Just make sure the content you’re asking them to swap the link for is similar to the original broken content. If you’re unsure what the broken content was, use the Wayback Explorer to check it out.
Tip: If you identify a page with a ton of broken links — yet you don’t have anything similar on your site already — it may be worth creating something similar so you can launch a broken link building campaign!
Or, you could just let them know to seed the relationship for future outreach opportunities
Step #3 - Steal your competitors tactics
OK, so you’ve analysed your competitors and filled the spreadsheet with a bunch of actionable information…
Well, it’s time to “steal” (i.e. build) some links!
Some of your competitor’s links will be easy to replicate.
Directory links can be obtained in minutes.
Forum/community links can be acquired by simply registering and posting (in most cases).
But, most of the super-valuable links will require outreach.
While outreach can seem confusing, there is a simple process you can use to streamline things and get the greatest return on your time investment.
Here’s the basic process:
- Find the appropriate contact information (i.e. name + email address; here is a great video on doing this).
- Send the person an email (this can be done either manually or using automated tools — I’ll touch on these in a moment).
- Track the responses and follow-up where required.
It really is that simple. Don’t overcomplicate things.
And, if you’re wondering what your outreach email should say, it depends on the type of link you’re trying to acquire.
If you navigate to the “Recommendations” tab within your Google Sheet, you’ll see the spreadsheet automatically recommends the link building tactic it feels is most appropriate for that particular prospect. It also tells you why this is the recommended tactic in most cases:
Note: While I’ve tried to recommend the most effective tactic here, it’s worth noting that some sites will respond well to a number of tactics (e.g. guest posting, broken link building campaign, etc.).
Your choice of tactic is your decision at the end of the day; the recommendation is only there as a helpful guideline.
I’ve also included a link to a document full of example scripts inside the competitor link research spreadsheet (download here).
I don’t recommend using these exactly as they are (you should always customise your outreach!), but they’re a good starting point. Just match the outreach email with the tactic you want to use.
In terms of what you should be using for outreach, there are several great tools I recommend checking out:
There’s also the option of a manual approach (i.e. sending each email one-by-one) but this can be very time-consuming, so I don’t recommend it.
Whatever your choice of software, I recommend using the “link tracker” tab built into the spreadsheet.
The way this works is extremely simple:
- Add any site you want to contact to the “website” column
- Find their contact info (i.e. email + first name) and add it to the appropriate columns
- Choose the outreach strategy/approach you want to use (e.g. guest post request, etc.)
- Keep track of the outreach status for each prospect in the “status” tab.
Here’s an example of how this might look:
There’s also an (optional) column where you can add a follow-up reminder date — this will highlight red if the follow-up is due:
This is also a good place to keep track of live links:
I'm not going to cover each outreach script one-by-one in this post, but you can access examples for each link building strategy in the Recommendations tab in the link tracking document:
Remember, organisation is key when it comes to outreach, so make sure to keep on top of it!
Conclusion (+ one final tip!)
Before I wrap this up, I want to give you one last bonus tip…
Assuming you’ve done everything mentioned above, you will now know who your competitors are, how they are getting links, where they are getting links from, and you should have replicated as many as possible.
But don’t stop there…
Keep tabs on your competitor’s ongoing campaigns to find out where and how they are landing new links.
That way, if they land any new links, you can jump right in and grab them for yourself.
Ahrefs alerts provides an easy way to do this.
Select “+New Alert” and enter one of your competitors domains:
Now, whenever they land new links, you’ll get an automated email telling you about them.
It’s then simply a case of checking out the links and seeing how you may be able to replicate them.
Finally, I must note that while replicating competitor links is an amazing long-term strategy, it should never be your only link building strategy.
Replicating competitor links will only get you so far, so make sure to seek out independent opportunities, too. This is the only way to gain an edge over the competition.
Have any questions? Let me know in the comments below.