Lesson 3: Building Backlinks to Rank in the Top10
If you’ve got any experience at all with link building, you know it’s true…
Getting strong backlinks that can boost your site to the Top10 of search engines is HARD!
But what if you could peek behind the curtain at the pages that currently rank for your keyword—so you could see all the backlinks that helped them secure a Top10 position? Wouldn’t that kind of information guide your strategy and save you tons of trial and error?
Well… that’s exactly what you can do with Ahrefs.
And with the 3 steps you learn in this lesson, you can uncover the methods your competitors are using, plan your own strategy, and start boosting your pages today.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Step 1: See who ranks in the Top10 for your keyword
Link building isn’t easy, no matter how you approach it. But starting “blind,” not knowing which sites might be interested in linking to content like yours, makes it even harder.
So we’ll need to start by finding out who’s ranking well for your keyword because, obviously, they’ve figured it out already.
Enter your target keyword into Google to see which pages rank in the Top10 search results.
So for instance, if I’m trying to build links for a page on “procrastination,” my search would look like this.
And it looks like my top competitors are waitbutwhy.com, Wikipedia, and psychologytoday.com.
To easily research your competitors’ sites, install the Ahrefs toolbar. It gives you a SERP Overlay with SEO data about the top-ranking pages in Google and shows you at a glance how many backlinks each ranking page has.
Now you do it
- Put your keyword into Google.
- Note the pages that rank #1, in the Top3, and in the Top10. We’ll focus first on the #1 result, but later, you’ll come back to the others.
- Open the top-ranking page and review it to see why it’s worth linking to.
- Now copy its URL for Step 2.
Step 2: Browse their backlinks
Ahrefs' Site Explorer tool shows you the backlinks of any given URL in just a few clicks. So it’s perfect for researching the backlinks your competitors are acquiring.
Every 24 hours our robots crawl over 5 billion web pages and 200 million root domains, updating our backlink index every 15 minutes. And according to the Imperva Incapsula Bot Traffic Report, Ahrefs has the best web crawler after Google’s (even better than Bing or Yahoo!).
This means no other backlink tool will come close to the quality of the data you'll get with Ahrefs. And finding the data you need is as easy as calling up the right report:
- Open Site Explorer.
- Paste in the URL of the page you’re researching.
- Select the Referring Domains report from the sidebar.
The Referring domains report shows you all the domains linking to the page you’re researching, ordered by DR (Domain Rating), so you can see the most powerful websites first.
Why look at referring domains rather than backlinks? As a general rule, it’s more beneficial to get individual links from a wide diversity of websites than many links from the same sites. So rather than focusing on the site’s backlinks, you’ll get better results by focusing on the linking domains.
Now you do it
- Paste the URL of the top page for your keyword into Site Explorer.
- Open the Referring Domains report.
- Review the sites linking to this page.
Step 3: Replicate their backlinks
After reviewing your competitors’ backlinks, you’ll see that some will be fairly easy to replicate, while others will be nearly impossible to get.
Sometimes you can get a link just by registering an account at a certain website and filling in your profile details, but far more often, acquiring a link requires a ton of time and effort.
Here’s what I mean by that...
The pages that typically attract backlinks contain a lot of useful information and were probably created to be “linkable” resources. To do something similar, you’d need to update your article with fresh data and graphs, expanded research, and answers to commonly asked questions.
We talk more about how to create a “linkable asset” in Lesson 8: How to Attract Backlinks Naturally.
Another option for building backlinks is to write a high-quality guest article for a high-DR website, including a link back to your page. You’ll need to find your target blog, study their content to come up with a great article idea, pitch it to them, etc., etc.
Either way, there’s no “easy” button. You’ll need to invest in research, content creation, and promotion.
Here’s the rule of thumb: If a link can be easily acquired, it won’t carry a lot of weight with search engines. But if you have to hustle to get the link, it will likely to be a good one.
So don't look for shortcuts.
Analyze what your competitor did to acquire the backlinks that put them at the top of search results and adopt a similar strategy.
Building vs. Earning Links
Should you build links or earn them? To succeed at SEO, you’ll spend time doing both, but let’s look at the difference before deciding which is more valuable.
Building links is proactive on your part and requires a lot of manual work.
Earning links is somewhat passive. The key is to create a link-worthy page and put it in front of potential linkers. With this approach, most of the work is done up-front.
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to research competitors’ backlinks with an aim for earning similar links. So rather than focusing solely on individual backlinks, look for patterns instead. Find the general strategies your competitors repeat frequently or something they did to acquire the majority of their backlinks.
For example, let’s say you see there's a link from business directory. Instead of just replicating it and moving to the next backlink, do a Google search for more local business directories you can list your website in.
If you notice a link from a blogger review, don’t just ask that blogger for a review of your product. Find a beefy list of niche bloggers and offer them all your product for review.
The idea is to find the patterns that have put your competitors at the top of search engines and develop a winning strategy that can beat your competitors at their own game.
Don't limit yourself to individual backlinks, look for patterns and strategies.
For each referring domain, click the “Backlinks” button. This opens a list of the pages on that domain that link to the page you’re researching.
For example, in this report, there are 8 backlinks coming from huffingtonpost.com. When I click the backlinks button, I get a list of the pages linking from HuffPo, including their anchor text, their URL rating (UR), and the date the backlink was seen by our crawlers.
You only need to click the referring page’s URL to open the page and see how the link was made. If you’re reviewing a lot of backlinks, this step will take time, but it’s important to know what it will take to replicate the links.
As you review each page, ask yourself questions like these:
- Is there a statistic or useful piece of data that’s being referred to?
- Are they quoting something the article’s author said?
- Did they cite the article as a useful resource to learn more about the topic?
Once you understand why each link was made, you need to decide if it’s something you can do for your own page.
Now you do it
- In the Referring Domains report you opened in Step 2, click the backlinks button for each of the referring domains.
- The first column shows you the Referring pages. Open them up one at a time.
- On that page, find the anchor text (shown in column 2) where the link was made to see how or why it was made.
- Decide if you could replicate the link and, if so, how.
- Develop a strategy for getting similar backlinks to your own page, then create an action plan and do the work.
Repeat steps 1-3 with all the Top10 pages
It’s unlikely that you can replicate every backlink from the #1-ranking page for your target keyword—especially if your site isn’t well known. But you have 9 more pages to research, right? (As we’ve mentioned, there’s no “easy” button!)
Repeat the 3 steps above for each of these pages, and as you do, create a list of ideas and tasks to build backlinks for your page. This will give you a solid link-building strategy personalized to your page that relies on methods your competitors have already proven.
Your plan could include simple items, like creating a profile page on a forum, or joining a LinkedIn group and mentioning your page. But it will probably also include more challenging tasks, like creating an in-depth guide, updating your page with new data, or creating some high-quality, sharable graphics.
Keep in mind that it takes time to see real results, but every SEO-related task you complete will help.
How long will it take to rank?
Read this article from the Ahrefs blog to see our research on how long it takes for a page to rank at the top of search engines.
Now do the work!
The truth is, there's no single strategy or tactic that’s guaranteed to land quality, authoritative links from a wide variety of websites (other than bribery, but that’s against Google's quality guidelines!).
Every page and every site is different, so you'll have to study what your competitors are doing to win backlinks and secure the top spots in search results, then see if a similar strategy could work for you.
But rest assured, if you put in the work, you’ll likely see results—and with Ahrefs, you have the tools you need to do it right.
Need some extra guidance? Check out Tim Soulo’s video tutorial, where he shares even more tips on replicating competitor backlinks: