Backlink Analysis: Find Thousands of Link Building Opportunities (Part 2/3)
In this lesson, we’re going down the rabbit hole of endless link building opportunities.
It’s time to get into an advanced backlink analysis tutorial and find tons of new link prospects.
Let’s jump right in.
What stands behind the top ranking results in Google?
If we go to Google and search for the keyword, “SEO”, you’ll see that Search Engine Land’s “What is SEO” guide is ranking in the number one organic position.
Scrolling down, you’ll see Kissmetrics’ “SEO for Beginners” guide.
Comparing the backlink profiles of the top search results
Let’s compare these two pages that rank for the same keyword and analyze their backlink profiles.
Since we know that quality backlinks can significantly help a website rank high in Google, the first thing we’ll look at are the number of referring domains to each page.
Supposing we’ve already loaded up two different searches in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool and looking at them side by side, it’s pretty clear why Search Engine Land is ranking much better than Kissmetrics.
They have 10 times more referring domains or unique websites linking to their page.
If we scroll down a touch, you will see the “New/Lost Referring Domains” report.
And if we compare them side-by-side, you’ll notice that SEL has been acquiring backlinks of up to 100 referring domains in a week compared to Kissmetrics who is usually acquiring them at less than 10 per week.
And this makes sense. If we scroll back up to the top, you’ll see that Search Engine Land gets more than 10 times the organic search visitors from Google alone!
Translation? 10 times more free exposure which leads to more links.
Investigating the link spikes
If we wanted to dig deeper, we can look for large spikes in the graph and make a note of these dates.
Like here, you’ll see SEL’s biggest spike back in August of 2017 where they had 107 new referring domains link to their guide.
But looking at these graphs now, we kind of want to analyze the more dramatic spike of new referring domains that Kissmetrics has gotten recently.
You can see that in March of 2018, they acquired significantly more new referring domains than they had previously earned. So we’ll take note of the dates: March 11th - March 31st of 2018.
Next, if we scroll back up, we can click on "New" under the backlinks category.
And then we’ll choose the start and end dates on these calendars.
So we’ll set our start date to March 11th, and the end date to March 31st to see how Kissmetrics more than doubled their usual link acquisition rate for this post.
Finally, we’ll click “Show New Backlinks” to load up our list.
If we scroll down a bit, you’ll see the new backlinks that were acquired in the set date range.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that they’re consolidating some of their older content by using redirects. We are assuming that these were slightly less popular blog posts.
So passing the link equity through 301 redirects is probably a smart move on their part.
We could spend hours going through each spike, but we think this one example shows you how you can quickly find out what your competitors are doing.
And this can be a big-time help because as you look at different spikes from different websites, you’re going to notice that the way websites acquire backlinks today, might be very different from what they did 2 years ago, especially if they’ve been around for a while like these two sites.
So when you’re doing your backlink analysis, focus your energy on identifying patterns to decipher how your competitors are getting their good links.
Some common patterns off the top of our heads that you might find are guest posting campaigns, directory listings, resource page link building, forum links, PR stunts, redirects, and links that seem like natural editorial placements.
From there, you can pick and choose the different strategies that are worth your time and resources as you plan your link building strategy.
What new referring domains can tell you about the website’s link building.
You can also use the New Referring Domains report to quickly assess whether a website’s link building efforts were legit or just junk.
Just click “New” under the Referring Domains category in the sidebar.
And then we’ll set our dates to the same as we did before. Finally, we’ll run the search.
From here, you can take a quick peek at the referring domain alongside the domain rating, and you’ll have a rough idea of whether the links are good or not.
When in doubt, just click on the backlinks dropdown to see the linking pages.
It’s important to note that this report only shows links from new domains. So you won’t be able to see websites that had linked to the target URL or domain before.
But this actually gives unique insights into how a site is building or acquiring links over a specific period, which adds an interesting layer to your backlink analysis.
How to discover the backlink magnets
Alright, onto a super cool report that’s a favorite to a lot of Ahrefs users, and that’s the “Best by Links” report.
For our example, we’ll open up a new instance of Site Explorer, and we’ll be examining the Ahrefs blog.
Next, we’ll click on “best by links” in the left sidebar.
This report ranks the pages of the subfolder, /blog/, based on their total number of backlinks, which you can sort by clicking any of these columns.
The one filter we’d recommend setting is to set the HTTP code to 200. This will weed out some of the 301 redirects as well as the broken 404 pages, which by the way, we’ll cover in the next lesson where we’ll talk more about link building.
So now that the filter is set, we are going to sort the table by the number of referring domains in descending order.
From here, we can start analyzing these pages to see what topics and types of content are attracting a ton of links for Ahrefs’ Blog.
As expected, you can see that our main blog URL, ahrefs.com/blog is our most linked-to page.
And the rest of our top pages are individual posts from our blog. Just by looking at the top 10 pages, you’ll notice a pattern on the type of content that generates backlinks for us.
Content types that you could replicate
Half of our most linked to pages are unique research studies.
A key point that we can take from these posts is that statistics tend to drive links to our site and that big and actionable guides resonate well with people in the SEO and marketing space.
And that’s because with things like stats, people link to references to show that they’re not just making up numbers.
To prove our point, if we click on the caret (featured snippets study), and then open up the backlinks report, we can get a bit of context as to why people link to this page by looking at the anchors/surrounding text column.
Right away, you’ll see that there are numerous mentions of a specific percentage, which resulted in a link back to our post.
So Boom! Stats equal links for this particular page and a similar anchor text pattern exists for our other studies too.
Now, we are not telling you to go and create a unique study on 2 million featured snippets. Since we have access to a ton of data, we’re able to create these awesome posts, which the SEO and marketing industry happen to love and link to.
But what works in our industry may not work in yours; and vice versa. So you’ll need to start digging through some of your competitors’ top pages, see which types of content attract backlinks, and then look at where those links are coming from.
The Best by Links report is similar to the “Top pages by traffic” report we talked about in a previous article.
This is a super helpful report to help you understand which pages on a website attract backlinks. And from there you can easily research the backlinks of each individual page.
Unveiling the most recent linkbuilding efforts of your competitors
Next, we have the perfect complimentary report to this one. And that’s the best by links growth report.
If we click on it in the sidebar menu, you can see the table which shows you the link growth of the pages which you can sort by the last day, 7-day, or 30-day growth.
And you can click any of the links, which will open up the New referring domains report where you can see which new websites linked to this page.
As we mentioned before, the way that a website builds and earns links today may be completely different than how they might have done it 2 years ago.
So this report gives you that extra layer of “timely” insight on the best pages by links right now.
Looking at this report, the first thing that we notice is that the majority of pages are recent articles on the Ahrefs blog.
If we click to open up the new referring domains report on our White Hat SEO post, you’ll notice that we’ve acquired links from 19 new referring domains, which is rather quick considering the post was published not too long ago.
And if you investigate a bit further, you’ll notice that there are certain sites like diyseocourses.com. Clicking through to the page, you’ll see some kind of RSS feeder that curates new posts from their favorite blogs.
Let’s take a closer look at bluleadz.com. When we click to reveal the backlinks, it shows that they’ve linked from numerous pages to our post with the same anchor text. This is likely a sitewide or some kind of widget link.
And if we open up one of these pages, you’ll see that it seems to be someone who loves our content and included us in their editor picks for April.
All backlinks in one report
Alright, so the last report that we’re going to look at, which is likely the first report you went to when you first signed up with Ahrefs, is the raw backlinks report.
Let’s go back to the best by links page and analyze our study on how long it takes to rank in Google.
We’ll click on the caret and then click on backlinks.
Once the page loads, you can see all of the websites that are linking to this page.
There are a few key metrics to note.
SEO metrics of the referring pages
The first is Domain Rating, or DR, which represents the overall strength of a backlink profile of an entire website.
The next 3 columns go hand-in-hand.
The URL rating is one of Ahrefs’ proprietary metrics that represents how strong a backlink profile of a target URL is, which is largely determined by this number here, the total number of unique domains pointing to the referring page.
The third factor on this page that plays a factor in the UR calculation is the Ext. column. This column tells you the total number of external links on the referring page, which dilutes the URL rating.
Then we have traffic! We recently added this column to the backlinks report and it’s an absolutely killer feature unique to Ahrefs and instantly loved by the good people in the Ahrefs Insider Facebook group.
Not only are these pages passing link equity to the page, but there’s a good chance that they’re sending some quality referral traffic to the outbound links on their page.
Pretty cool, right?
Then we have the column which is going to help you skim through these reports quickly.
The surrounding text and anchor text column is a very cool feature that gives you some context of a link without ever having to visit the page.
And then there’s the first seen and last checked column which tells you when Ahrefs first found the link and when we last recrawled the page to see if it still existed.
Now, for smaller sites and pages with just a few backlinks, you can quickly skim through the titles and URLs in this column and then look at the surrounding text and anchor over here to get context on the backlink. No problem.
But with larger websites with a ton of backlinks, it would take days, weeks, or months to get through the list.
So here are a few cool hacks you can use to narrow down your results to a smaller list of relevant link prospects.
As a basic setup, we would change the link type to dofollow and set the language to English or whatever language your website is in.
After setting these two filters, you should see the total number of backlinks narrow down quite a bit here.
The platform filter here is a pretty helpful one too. You can set this to just WordPress sites, which further brings down the results and gives you a pretty clean list of links that are most likely editorial links.
Alternatively, you could set this to message boards to find easy to get links, but we should note that message board links are generally nofollow and are sometimes just pure spam links.
A highly unique filter is to set the link type to ‘content’. This is going narrow down the results to identify links that are found within a big chunk of text, which makes it super easy to discover quality editorial links.
Resource page link building
The last thing we want to leave you with is a super cool hack that can save you hours in your link building process.
You may have heard of resource page link building. Basically, you find pages that have curated lists of links on a page with helpful resources related to a topic.
If you’re familiar with this link building tactic, then you know that scraping through Google’s search results using search operators like inurl:resources “keyword” often leads to a ton of irrelevant results or pages that have zero outbound links.
Well, a cool thing you can do in Site Explorer is to do a domain search on a website in your niche that you know has a lot of backlinks.
So we’ll open up a new instance of Site Explorer and, we’ll type in contentmarketinginstitute.com, which we all know writes about...content marketing.
Next, we’ll click on the backlinks report.
And then we’ll set our basic filters again. So link type will be dofollow, and the language will be English.
And then we’ll type in the word, “resources” in the search bar.
This is going to narrow down the backlinks results to only ones that have this word in the titles, URLs, or anchor/surrounding texts.
If we scroll down a bit, you’ll see that this one is called, “The essential list of startup marketing resources.”
And if we click the link and scroll down a bit, you’ll see that this is literally the perfect example of a typical resources page.
The best part about using this hack is that right within Site Explorer, you can quickly look at metrics like the number of external links on the page as well as the organic traffic numbers to see if the site is worth reaching out to.
You can use this exact prospecting hack with other keywords like “roundups”, “links”, or whatever words people in your industry use to define a ‘resource like’ page.
Rinse and repeat for some of the top sites in your industry, and you can literally find more than enough link prospects than you’ll be able to handle.
That’s it for this SEO tutorial. I’m sure you’re anxious to dig into Site Explorer and to start using some of these techniques to find more prospects for your next link building campaigns.
Make sure to let us know in the comments which prospecting tip you’ll be adding to your link building strategy.
The third and final lesson in this series is all about combining everything that we covered in the first two lessons and turning it into a workflow full of link building hacks.
So make sure to proceed with it.