play watch

How to Do a Basic Backlink Analysis on Your Competitors (Part 1/3)

In this lesson, we are going to show you how to do a basic backlink analysis on your competitors’ websites.

In other words, it’s all about analyzing your competitors’ websites and webpages to uncover actionable link building opportunities for your own site.

If you’re an experienced SEO, what we are about to share with you right now may seem somewhat basic, but there will be two follow-up lessons with advanced techniques that you’re going to love. We promise.

By the end of this series, there are two things you’ll be able to do:

  1. Analyze any website and uncover potentially thousands of link prospects.
  2. Speed up your link building efficiency using some really cool hacks that you may not be using yet.

Let’s jump right in.

First, we’ll go to Site Explorer and enter in a domain or URL that you want to analyze. We’ll use the domain, for our example.


Here, you’ll see a top-level view of the website we’re analyzing. And since we’re just focusing on backlink analysis and link building throughout this tutorial series, we’ll just be talking about these two metrics.

Backlinks and referring domains overview


You can see that has 1.99 million backlinks with 22.9 thousand referring domains.

But you might have noticed that right below, there’s a mention of “Recent” and “Historical.”

These 3 numbers represent our 3 backlink indexes.

The Live Index

The Live Index contains all links that were live on our last recrawl, which tells you that they are almost certainly live right now.


The Recent index

Our Recent index contains all live links plus lost backlinks that were removed within the past 90 days.

So this could mean anything from the website having temporary downtime when we last crawled it or the website no longer existing at all.

The Historical index

Finally, is the Historical index. And these contain the history of all links, dead or alive. This is the reason why each link index is bigger than the next.

Visualized backlink history

If we scroll down a bit, then you’ll see a few interactive graphs that show you the dynamics of link acquisition over time, both for the number of referring domains and referring pages.


And there are a few filters you can use here too. By default, you’ll see the growth over the last year, but you can narrow this down to the last 30 days, or look at an all-time view to see how each website has done over time.


These graphs are the most useful when you compare another website to it side by side. This will reveal the site or URL that’s more effective at acquiring backlinks.

So if we go back to Site Explorer, we can do an apples to apples comparison of another website in the content marketing industry. We’ll use as our comparison site.

If we look at these side-by-side, you’ll notice that CMI has had consistent year-to-year link growth, while Copyblogger’s link acquisition has been a little bit stagnant, especially in the past couple of years.


When you find websites that seem to acquire links at a fast pace, these are totally worth deeper analysis, which is exactly what we’ll be doing in the next couple of lessons.

In the graph above, we’re looking at an overall domain comparison, but if you compare URLs of two pieces of content on a similar topic, you’ll instantly see which page is more popular with link acquisition.

Again, we’ll be going deeper into this throughout the series.

This is a quick 5-10 second analysis you can do before you actually jump into the individual backlinks reports, so we highly recommend doing this.

Alright, the last graphs that we’ll be covering today, are the new and lost referring domains and backlinks graphs.

New and lost referring domains and backlinks graphs

These graphs show you a non-cumulative view of a website or a URL’s backlinks growth.

The cool thing with this graph is that you can quickly scan for spikes that will help you identify new link worthy pages that your competitors are creating, and it will also help you reverse engineer link building strategies or campaigns that were implemented over a specific period of time.


We’ll have a really cool example for you of two titans fighting for the keyword “SEO” in the next lesson.

The last thing we want to show you in this basic backlinks analysis is the referring domains report.

Referring domains report

If you look to the sidebar and click on “Referring Domains”, you’ll see a table that shows you all of the unique linking websites to this target domain that we’re analyzing.


Now, if the site has a ton of referring domains, manually reviewing it will be near impossible. In this case, you’d need to use some of the filters in this report to narrow down the results.

Using filters to narrow down the results

So the first thing we would do when we hit this table is to set the link type filter to dofollow to find only the domains that are passing link equity.


All of these columns are sortable, so if we sort by the number of dofollow links in descending order, you’ll notice some websites link to CMI hundreds of thousands of times.


Normally, when you see a ton of backlinks from a single referring domain, it means that they’re sitewide links.

If we click the number of backlinks from, you can see all of the pages, some key metrics, and the anchor/backlink that was created.


And right away, we can tell that this is a sitewide link without even clicking through to a page since the anchor text and the backlink URL are all the same.

You can just type in a domain and see if it’s linking to the target website or URL. So we’ll type in and you’ll see that we’ve linked to CMI 11 times.


And if we click on the number of backlinks we've created for them, you can get more details on where the backlinks are coming from and where they are pointing.


With a website as popular as CMI that has a good amount of backlinks and referring domains, it’s tough to get a ton of value.

But we’ll finish off by showing you how easy it is to filter through small websites using the Referring Domains report.

A practical example for smaller websites

So we are going to enter a very unpopular domain into Site Explorer,


We’ll click on the referring domains report in the left sidebar.


Then we’ll filter it down to just the dofollow links.


And you can see that there are a few decent links in here from some high DR websites which tells us that we are not blatantly using any shady link building tactics…


And we can click on the number beside, which again, will show us some more details on the backlinks and linking pages.


We could even reach out to these people to start building the further relationship.

We’ll open one of the websites in a new tab.


Hopefully, you got the point. With smaller websites, you can quickly use the referring domains report to see whether a website’s link building strategies are legit and worth replicating, or if you should move on to your next backlink analysis.


That’s it for part 1 of our backlink analysis and link building series.

Make sure to come around to read more actionable lessons on SEO and marketing.

Now let’s move on to part 2, where we’ll be taking this backlink analysis a step deeper and getting into some actionable insights.

Next lesson

Backlink Analysis: Find Thousands of Link Building Opportunities (Part 2/3)

Marketing with Ahrefs

  • 5 tutorials
  • 4 hr 57 min

Exclusive free access to the course has been granted for 30 days only, go through it while it’s still available!