October 18, 2009
SEO is a race. And in any race learning from your competitors makes you a better runner. Even when you’re running first it’s sometimes good to look back and check the runner-ups. And if you’re not the yellow jersey guy, you absolutely should examine the leaders: their gear, their training, their strategy. In SEO the most interesting thing about your competition are their links.
Whether you like it or not SEO is still pretty much about links. Good link profile can make up for almost any lack of optimized content and other onpage flaws. Love or hate, the best thing you can do about it is embrace the fact and run with it.
So let’s go through some tricks that will enable you to look deeper into your competition’s link profile granting you access to the restricted areas: their locker room, dirty laundry and even the briefing hall where they plan their link building strategies.
Let’s Talk Competitive Link Research
Finding out where your competitors’ links come from is not all that hard. You just go to Yahoo! or Google and type in link:www.your-competitor.com to get a list of inbound links to the site.
Yahoo’s much better in that respect as it tends to give more extensive and accurate data. The problem here is that there’s a limit of 1,000 links per website which is often not enough as the fattest link sources get left behind the limit fence.
Here’re some tips to break through to the other side.
Note: If you’re lazy like me skip to the end of the article where I’ll share a tool that does it all much quicker.
Trick 1: Search for Links to Particular Web Pages of a Competing Site
Alongside with link:www.your-competitor.com search for link:www.your-competitor.com/products.html or link:www.your-competitor.com/services.html and so on.
Trick 2: Exclude Internal Links
You may examine the internal linking structure of your competition if you want to gain some insight on their navigation and marketing steps. But as we want to find more external links, let’s exclude the internal ones.
You can do this by adding -site:site.com operator to your search query. Type in:
link:http://www.your-competitor.com -site:your-competitor.com or linkdomain:www.your-competitor.com -site:your-competitor.com and you’ll get a list of external backlinks only.
There’s a dropdown option in Yahoo! site explorer that does the same.
Trick 3: Exclude Links Coming from Certain Domains
The -site: modifier lets you exclude links coming from specific sites. So, whenever you see a large chunk of links coming from the same domain add -site:thisdomain.com modifier to your query and the links from this site will get replaced with new ones.
You can add -site: multiple times in one query so that you have something like this:
link:http://www.cnn.com -site:cnn.com -site:en.wikipedia.org
Trick 4: Check Links Coming from Certain TLDs
This is a little known trick. The site: modifier actually lets you get a list of links coming from domains with certain TLDs:
.com, .org, .edu, .co.uk and so on. Just type in link:http://www.your-competitor.com site:.gov or linkdomain:www.your-competitor.com site:.gov and you’ll get a list of .gov sites linking to your rival.
Note: Do this in Yahoo! regular search, not site explorer
Trick 5: Exclude Links Coming from Certain TLDs
This is an even lesser known trick. You can exclude certain TLDs from the results with the -site:.tld modifier. Usually the biggest chunk of links comes from .com’s so add a -site.com modifier and you’ll get lots of new link data.
Trick 6: Use Different Combinations of the First 5 Tricks
Try link:http://www.your-competitor.com/page.html -site:your-competitor.com -site:.com
Or link:http://www.your-competitor.com site:.org -site:wikipedia.org
Give it a thought and I’m sure you’ll come up with lots of your own. Feel free to share your findings in the comments
Trick 7: Use the Above 6 Tricks in Different Search Engines
Don’t limit your searches to Yahoo! and Google, go to AltaVista, Alexa, (Bing doesn’t give you link data, so forget about it) but then there’re Exalead, Excite and tons of regional search engines. Search them, remove the duplicates and you’ll have a goooooooooooooooogol of competitor’s links to study.
Note: Some search engines have a different set of operators so you’ll need to type domain: instead of link:.
Getting It All Done Fast
This sure seems like a lot of work and it is. Moreover, getting the links list is only the beginning and the easy part of competitive link research. Once you get the list you need to analyze each link, weed out poor quality sites and only leave the ones you can get a link from. Now THAT’s a lot of work.
I’m too lazy to do this all by hand, besides I value my time too much to waste it on such kind of work. That’s why I use SEO SpyGlass (http://www.link-assistant.com/seo-spyglass/) an advanced link analysis tool that employs all the tricks described in this article (plus some more advanced ones I don’t even know) to get up to 25,000 links per domain, which is much, much more than any other tool can get.
SEO SpyGlass also finds all the data I need to analyze the links:
- Google PR of the domain and linking page
- The URL and title of the linking page
- The anchor text and description
- Whether the link is still on the page (sometimes the link gets removed but search engines will think it’s there till they reindex the page).
- Whether the link is no-follow or dofollow
- How many other links are on the page
- How much link value the link passes
- And some other data like TLDs, domain age, country, etc.
If you want to do competitive link research seriously, I’d strongly recommend trying SEO SpyGlass out. And of course you can always use my tricks whenever you want to run a quick background check on that new guy on your block.
Note: This article first appeared on Site-Reference.com (http://www.site-reference.com/articles/Search-Engines/7-tricks-to-get-a-Goooooooooooogle-of-links.html)
Get more link building advice and SEO software (http://www.link-assistant.com/seo-spyglass/) to help you implement it. Richard Gilmore is an Internet marketer, freelance SEO, author and addicted guitar player.