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Lesson 7: Finding New Backlink Opportunities on Autopilot

So far in this course, we've shared some great link-building tactics that will help you rank on the front page of Google.

But if we’re honest, ranking on the front page of Google (meaning in the top10 results) is not that hard to do. The hard part is ranking in the top3. And the real challenge, of course, is securing the #1 spot.

So in today's lesson, we’ll share a smart way to get new backlink opportunities on autopilot and gradually work your way to the top of Google.

But first, let’s look at why this strategy works so well.

Top-ranking pages tend to attract new backlinks naturally

If you take the URL of a page that ranks #1 in Google for your desired keyword and put it into Ahrefs' Site Explorer, you'll probably see a link graph that looks like this:

Over time, top-ranking pages don’t stay stagnant. They attract new backlinks like a super magnet.
Most people know you need to acquire a lot of backlinks to secure the #1 spot in search engines. But what they don’t realize is that once a page is in the #1 spot, it naturally attracts even more backlinks.
Why #1 results tend to stay #1.

That’s why it’s so hard to overthrow a #1-ranking page. You’ve got to break this cycle by creating higher value content and generating at least as many backlinks as they do. And you’ve got to get these backlinks without the benefit of being #1.

It’s a challenge, to be sure, but we’re here to help. In this lesson, we’ll give you two smart tips to find at least as many backlink opportunities as your competitors.

Tip #1: Piggyback off your competitor’s newly acquired backlinks

In this lesson, you’ll be aiming at your top competitor in search, the #1-ranking page for your target keyword. And since backlinks are one of the key ways to rise in SERPs, that’s where you’ll start.

But rather than starting your link building strategy from zero, it’s a good idea to piggyback off your competitors and replicate as many of their backlinks as you can.

To start, begin monitoring your competitor’s new backlinks.

Just plug the URL of the #1 page for your keyword into Ahrefs’ Alerts (on the "Backlinks" tab), and we'll send you an email alert whenever we discover new links to this page:

Set up a Backlinks Report for the #1 ranking page for your target keyword.

That email alert will look something like this.

Tracking your competitors’ new backlinks is easy with the New Backlinks Alert.

This email lists your competitor’s newest backlinks, so these pages (or the links) have just been created. And they’re sorted by the referring site’s domain rating, with the highest DRs at the top of the list. That simplifies your task of prioritizing your link building efforts.

Once you get this alert, you know:

  • The sites that are linking to your competitor’s page
  • The pages they’re linking from
  • The anchor texts of the links

Now, you only need to figure out how to replicate them for your own page.

Replicating your competitors’ existing backlinks isn’t easy, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to replicate all of them. But if you set up a Backlinks alert, not just for the #1 ranking page, but for the top3 or even the top5 pages, you should get enough backlink opportunities to be able to keep up with the link growth of each individual page.


We've discussed the challenge of replicating your competitors’ backlinks in previous lessons, so I won't go into much detail here. But revisit Lesson 4 if you need a refresher.

Now you

  1. Identify the #1 page for the target keyword you want to rank for, and create a Backlinks alert for this URL.
  2. For extra link opportunities, create a Backlinks alert for the top3 or top5 pages for your target keyword.
  3. When your email alerts arrives in your inbox, review the list to find sites where a link to your page would make sense.
  4. Reach out, let these sites know about your article, and quickly explain why it would be worth mentioning it in their article. (Don’t worry if you aren’t sure how to do that. I’ll share a few tips for outreach later in this lesson.)

Tip #2: Track mentions of your target keywords

"Piggybacking" on your competitors is a good way to start your link-acquisition strategy, but you’ll never win if that’s all you do. You need an extra source of new link-building opportunities, so you can acquire links your competitors don’t yet know about.

For that, you’ll need to track any mention of your target keyword anywhere online—whether it includes a link or not. And it’s as easy as setting up a Mentions Alert under the “Mentions” tab of Ahrefs’ Alerts.

Track every mention of your target keyword online, whether it contains a link or not.

Then, on the frequency you set, you’ll get an email alert that looks like this.

The Mentions Alert tells you who’s mentioning your target keyword.

As with the Backlink Alert, your results will be sorted by the site’s Domain Rating, so you know which sites to prioritize. Remember, just one backlink from a high-DR site is more valuable than many links from a low-DR site.

So let’s say you’ve created an advanced guide on the topic, “link building.” You’ll probably want to track that keyword, plus some related keywords:

  • link building
  • link acquisition
  • build links
  • acquire links

The Mentions Alert is the perfect way to do this. Just set up an alert for each keyword and wait for your emails to arrive.

In the email alert, you can see the context around each mention, so you only need to pick the ones that look promising, then open them up to verify that they’re a good place for a backlink.

If everything looks good, reach out and pitch your high-value content. Be sure to contact them right away, though, while their new page is still being promoted.

Keep in mind, you aren’t just asking someone to add a link to their article. You’re offering to help them raise the value of their page. But you need to do this when they’re still focused on getting the word out about their page. If you wait too long, they may no longer be interested in optimizing it, and your window of opportunity will have passed.

How do you reach out?

Whatever else you might do, don’t be spammy about it!

Outreach emails should be friendly and straightforward, and they should mention the article you’re targeting as well as the page you’d like them to link to. But be very clear that your goal is to offer value, not get a link.

In the screenshot below, you can see how the link-building team here at Ahrefs does it.

Outreach emails should be about the recipient, not you. Be friendly, not pushy.

Pay attention to the last paragraph:

“What do you think of it? Maybe you’ll find a place to mention it in your post or in your future writing.”

This is your call to action, and notice that it’s low stress and low pressure. You’re not demanding a link now. You’re just asking to be considered for one in the future—and only if they like your article.

This is important because, let’s face it, no one is sitting in front of their computer, waiting for an opportunity to do some extra work to give you a link. Your email should be about them, their article, and how you might be able to help them. Any value to you should be icing.

And by the way, this approach does work. Notice the response we got: “I added a link to your guide.” That’s what we were hoping for. We just didn’t ask for it outright.

Why we like this approach so much

Tracking keyword mentions is an even bigger opportunity than tracking your competitors’ backlinks because it gives you link opportunities that your competitors haven’t found yet. Instead of just piggybacking off the links they’re acquiring—which means you’re always one step behind them—you’re finding new opportunities that no one else is leveraging.

Not only that, this report shows you mentions that, many time, don’t contain a link. The fact that a writer mentions your topic doesn’t mean they’re adding links. So all you need to do is reach out and suggest yours.

Further reading

Outreach is difficult, and it can come off as spam if you aren’t careful. For guidelines that actually work, read our article, How We Use Blogger Outreach to Promote Content and Build Links.

Now you

  1. Make a list of target keywords related to your page.
  2. Create an Ahrefs’ Mentions Alert for each of these terms.
  3. When an alert arrives in your inbox, review it and reach out to the sites mentioning your keywords.
  4. In particular, look for opportunities where the mention doesn’t have a link, so linking to your page could add value.

Don't expect 100% success with link-building outreach

We've talked a lot about "outreach for backlinks" in our previous lessons, but it’s important to understand that persuading someone to link to you is incredibly hard.

The odds are high that most of your efforts won't result in immediate backlinks. But at least you’ll put yourself on the radar of your niche’s "linkarati" (this is what SEOs call people who own websites and are thus able to link to you).

If your page is truly awesome and if your outreach is genuine and timely, these people might remember your content and give you a link whenever they write about this topic again.

And if they take you up on your request for feedback, listen carefully to what they have to say. Use their expert opinion to improve your page and make it objectively the best resource on the topic that the web has to offer. This, too, will contribute to your ranking success.

Next lesson

How to Attract Backlinks Naturally