8 Actionable Ways To Get Backlinks By Spying On Your Competitors

David McSweeney
David is the blog editor here at Ahrefs, the owner of Top5SEO and a white hat SEO evangelist. SEO case studies make him a lot happier than they should, and he has a tendency to overuse ellipses...
    You’re probably reading this guide because you want to build backlinks and grow your search traffic. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a moment.

    But before we go any further, answer this question:

    Who are your top 5 competitors?

    If you know who they are, then add them to a spreadsheet:

    competitors-1

    If not then open a new browser tab and go and find out before reading on. A simple Google search for your product, service, or niche should do the trick.

    Or use the new "Competing Domains" report in Ahrefs Site Explorer, which shows sites ranking for similar keywords to your domain.

    competing-domains

    Got them? Great.

    Because today I’m going to show you 8 ways to leverage your competitor’s link building efforts to grab needle moving backlinks for your own site.

    We’ll be using Ahrefs for several of the steps below, so if you don’t have an account yet you can sign up for a 14 day free trial here.

    Let’s get started!

    1: Start Gathering Information On Your Competitors

    Much of what we will be doing today will focus on the past. But we’re going to start with the present (and the future).

    We want to keep track of our competitors’ current link building and online marketing. We’ll do that by setting up a series of alerts in Ahrefs.

    Step 1: Set Up Backlink Alerts

    First we will create backlink alerts for each of our competitors in the “Backlinks” section of Ahrefs Alerts. This will send us a weekly email listing all new backlinks Ahrefs has discovered for the site.

    Alerts > Backlinks > Add Alert > Enter Domain > Set Frequency > Add

    GIF

    Step 2: Set Up Alerts For Brand Mentions

    To make sure we don’t miss any opportunities, we’ll set up alerts for each our competitor’s brand names. This way we’ll get a notification whenever they are mentioned anywhere online.

    Alerts > Mentions > Add Alert > Search Query > Daily > Add

    GIF
    Recommendation
    Keep tabs on new links pointing to your competitors and look for opportunities to reach out and promote your own content.

    For example, a new link to a page on your competitor’s site might be a “further reading” link in a blog post.

    If you have similar content on your own site, reach out to the linking site and ask them to consider adding your page as an additional resource. As the post will be fresh in the blogger’s mind there is more chance of them being receptive to adding your link.

    One advantage of tracking mentions is that you will pick up on any media mentions of your competitors that don’t include a link. Look for ways to insert your brand into the conversation, or collect journalist/editor contact details for future outreach.

    2: Find Sites Linking To More Than One Competitor

    If a site is linking to more than one of your competitors, you’ll want to try and get a link from that site too.

    These “hubs” can be fertile ground for link building.

    So let’s say I have a website that sells quadcopters. How can I find sites that are linking to 2 or more of my competitors?

    Easy. I use Ahrefs’ Link Intersect Tool.

    Here is the process.

    Step 1

    Enter your competitor domains into the Link Intersect tool and hit “Show link opportunities”. I’ll start by looking for sites who are linking to ALL my competitors.

    Tools > Link Intersect > Enter domains > Set to “all of the below targets” > Show link opportunities

    link-intersect

    Step 2

    Ahrefs will return a report showing sites that link to all the domains you entered. The pink writing is my addition, which I will explain in a moment.

    link-intersect1

    Step 3

    To view individual links, click on the numbers.

    In the example above, Ahrefs found 18 sites that link to all 5 domains. I already checked each of them and discovered that:

    • 10 of the domains were forums
    • 1 was youtube
    • 1 was Reddit
    • 1 image sharing site
    • 1 didn’t load
    • 1 scraped? (ask.com)
    • 3 junk

    We could easily grab 13 of those links - the forums, youtube, Reddit and the image sharing site.

    And before you say “forum links are junk”...

    These look like niche relevant forums - the kind where our potential customers are likely to hang out.

    forum

    And that’s exactly where we want to be promoting our business.

    Our customers are there. Our competitors are there. So we should be there too!

    Now let’s widen the search.

    Step 4

    Run the search with the Intersect Tool set to show sites linking to ANY of the domains.

    Tools > Link Intersect > Enter domains > Set to “any of the below targets” > Show link opportunities

    link-intersect3

    Step 5

    This time we will get a lot more results - sorted by the number of intersects.

    link-intersect4

    Step 6

    Work your way through the report and you should find a number of backlink building opportunities.

    Recommendation

    The great thing about finding link hubs is they can give you a real insight into a niche. I already mentioned forums above, but you might also discover:

    • News sites/blogs covering your industry
    • Industry specific portals/communities (i.e. inbound.org for marketing)
    • Quality industry specific directories

    All places where your potential customers are likely to be. And all places you should be promoting your business in the future.

    3. Check Your Competitor’s Branded Home Page Links

    Over time you’ll want to work your way through all your competitor’s backlinks looking for opportunities.

    But when there are thousands of links to go through that process can be a little daunting.

    So here’s a hack that can help you uncover some of the lower hanging fruit.

    We’ll be looking for branded anchor links that point to our competitor’s home page.

    Why?

    Because these are likely to include links such as:

    • Guest Posts
    • Directories
    • Resource/Links Pages

    Links that can be (fairly) easily replicated and will be contributing to your competitor’s domain authority.

    Step 1

    Enter your competitor’s home page URL into Ahrefs Site Explorer and run the anchors report.

    Site Explorer > Enter domain > set filter to “URL” > Explore > Backlink profile > Anchors

    site-explorer

    Step 2

    Identify branded, or naked URL anchors (more on what these are here). In the example below there are 6 variations.

    branded-anchors

    Step 3

    Click “Details > Referring Domains” to view linking sites for each branded anchor. Work your way through the report looking for opportunities.

    anchors-2
    Sidenote.
    If there are a large number of referring domains for each branded anchor, you might want to export the results into a spreadsheet. To do that just click on “Export” (highlighted in the image above).

    4. Find Your Competitor’s Guest Posts

    Despite the bad press, guest blogging remains one of the cleanest ways to build authority boosting links to your site.

    The process above will often surface some of your competitor’s guest posts, but here are some other ways to find out where they have been posting.

    I’ll use Ahrefs contributer Benjamin Brandall of Process.st for the examples.

    Method 1: Use Google search queries

    Your starting point for finding competitor guest posts should be Google search. There are several queries you can try, but this is the one I find most effective:

    “Author name” + “guest post” -site:competitordomain.com -site:https://twitter.com

    And here are the results for Benjamin:

    ben1

    Method 2: Look for author pages

    Technically this is another search query, but I’ll list it here separately as it can often surface additional results.

    “Author name” + inurl:author

    ben2

    Method 3: Use reverse image search

    You can use Google’s reverse image search (right click an image while using Chrome) to find posts containing the author’s headshot.

    ben3

    Looking good Benjamin!

    Sidenote.
    This method is also useful for finding “expert roundup” contributions.

    Method 4: Use Ahrefs Content Explorer

    You can also use Ahrefs Content Explorer to find content written by a particular author. Just enter the following query:

    author:"Author name"

    Here's what we found for Benjamin.

    GIF
    Recommendation
    Guest blogging is a great way to get high quality backlinks that will boost your search traffic. If your competitor has already been accepted for a guest post on a particular site, then there is a good chance that your site will be too.

    5. Find Your Competitor’s Most Popular Content

    The skyscraper technique is well documented, so I won’t go into too much detail on the process.

    Here’s an overly-simplified summary:

    Find your competitor’s most popular content > create something even better > promote it

    It’s a great way to build backlinks as you already have a list of sites that you can reach out to once your content goes live.

    Finding your competitor’s most popular content with Ahrefs is simple.

    Find your competitor’s most linked to content

    Site Explorer > Pages > Best by links

    best-by-links

    Find your competitor’s most shared content

    Site Explorer > Pages > Best by shares

    best-by-shares

    When you are ready to promote your content, simply plug the URL of your competitor’s page into Site Explorer and click the “Referring Domains” report to find their backlinks.

    referring-domains
    Recommendation
    Use Ahrefs Site Explorer to find all backlinks for your competitor's content, then reach out to the linking sites and point them to your own similar (but improved) resource. For tips on improving your success rate with email outreach see this post.

    It’s also worth searching Twitter to find out who has recently shared your competitor’s page.

    seo-tips-twitter

    Or you can use the "Who tweeted" feature in Ahrefs Content Explorer.

    Content Explorer > Enter URL > Explore > "Who tweeted"

    who-tweeted
    Recommendation
    Reach out to recent sharers of your competitor's page by email (or a tweet), and send them the link to your content.

    6. Fix Your Competitor’s Broken Links

    And by fix I mean grab them for yourself of course!

    Broken link building is not as scalable as it once was (because SEOs can’t have nice things), but it can still yield results.

    A good place to start is to check for broken links pointing to your competitors. We can do that with Ahrefs.

    Jumping back to quadcopters for a moment, here is a quick example.

    If we plug one of the domains into Ahrefs Site Explorer and run the “Broken” report under “Backlinks” we can see that there are a lot of broken links pointing to this particular site.

    Site Explorer > enter domain > Explore > Backlinks > Broken

    broken-links

    We would probably want to export these results, but with a quick scroll down I can see one that looks promising.

    broken-links2

    Clicking through and using the “Check My Links” Chrome plugin, confirms there are multiple broken links on that page.

    broken-links3

    So we could reach out to the site, advise them of the broken links, and offer our site as an alternative (full process here). But even better, in this case we can simply add our link.

    add-url

    Recommendation
    Check for broken links pointing to your competitors and offer your site/content as an alternative.

    7. Find Your Competitor’s Recurring Backlink Sources

    This is a neat little Intersect Tool hack that I previously wrote about here.

    We’re looking for sites that are linking to multiple pages on our competitor’s site, which will:

    • Give us an insight into their content promotion strategy
    • Surface regular linkers in our niche that we should be looking to build a relationship with
    • Generally uncover a number of quick backlink opportunities

    The process is simple.

    Step 1

    Grab your competitor’s top 10 pages from the “Best By Links” report.

    Site Explorer > Pages > Best by links

    best-by-links2

    Step 2

    Use the Link Intersect tool to find sites that link to 2 or more of your competitor’s top pages.

    link-intersect5

    Tools > Link Intersect > Enter URLs > set filter to “any of the below targets” > set parameter to “URL” > click “Show link opportunities

    Step 3

    Analyse the results to find out which sites are regularly linking to your competitors.

    Recommendation

    Look for content sharing sites (i.e. scoop.it, inbound.org above) that regularly link to your competitors. Add these to your own content promotion strategy.

    If you notice a blogger regularly linking to a competitor, then that’s probably someone you want to start fostering a relationship with.

    8. Grab ALL Your Competitor’s Backlinks

    Ok, so I mentioned in section 3 that trawling through thousands of links was a pain.

    But unfortunately it’s still something you’re going to want to do.

    While the tips above should help you find some of your competitor’s best links, it’s still good practice (and recommended) to run a complete backlink analysis.

    It can also reveal a lot about your competitor’s link building strategies.

    For example you might spot multiple product review posts, or perhaps they are sponsoring organisations or charities.

    Either way, only a full analysis will reveal everything you need to know about your competitors.

    You can export your competitor’s entire link profile into spreadsheet format by running the “Backlinks” report in Site Explorer.

    Site Explorer > Enter domain > Explore > Backlink profile > Backlinks > Export

    backlinks

    For an “at a glance” view - which is easier to digest directly within Ahrefs - use the "Referring domains" report.

    Site Explorer > Enter domain > Explore > Backlink profile > Referring domains

    referring-domains1
    Recommendation

    As with all the tips in this guide, start with the low(ish) hanging fruit.

    For example, if a site is syndicating their content, or re-purposing into other formats (video, slideshare etc), then those are links that can be easily replicated.

    Finally… Don’t Rely On Just Replicating Your Competitor’s Links

    As you can see there are numerous ways you can spy on your competitors and “steal” their backlinks.

    But replicating links should just be part of your overall link building strategy.

    After all, isn’t the purpose of any link building campaign to overtake your competitors, not just catch up with them?

    To do that you’re going to need to be both:

    • a) gaining new links that your competitors don't already have
    • b) doing so at a faster rate than they are (after all your competitors won't stand still)

    But here's the good news...

    By following the processes above you'll already have gained a deep insight into what's working in your niche.

    Not only will you have identified backlinks you can replicate, you should now have some solid ideas about the topics and content formats that will resonate with your target audience.

    Use that knowledge to create your own unique campaigns and your site will soon be climbing to the top of Google.

    If you have any questions, comments, or link building tips you would like to share, then please leave them below.

    David McSweeney
    David is the blog editor here at Ahrefs, the owner of Top5SEO and a white hat SEO evangelist. SEO case studies make him a lot happier than they should, and he has a tendency to overuse ellipses...

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    • Ty Stewart

      Great article! I knew this was doable but having the steps is excellent. Very helpful to learn about what is working.

    • One of those articles you share with your entire time, looking forward to use some of these points, especially for an agency like ours where we use ahrefs all the time.

      • good stuff Bruno. I think a lot of people just simply export backlinks and trawl through them, but there are a lot of ways to use the data/reports to find quick opportunities.

    • That’s one heck of a great actionable post David. I’ve been doing quite a few of these, but it’s nice to have a process. It’s the Outreach which remains my Achille’s Heel though … or maybe it’s hell.

      • Yeah, I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys outreach, but it does make it worthwhile when you see the results.

    • Thank u David McSweeney

    • Hey David,
      Highly appreciated article. I believe once can easily compete the ranked website using these link building techniques. Thanks a lot for sharing and yes, Thanks Tim as well for help me reach(via email) this article.

    • Checkoutthatsass

      Fantastic post! I really enjoyed reading through this post — looking forward to the next one.

    • latlon technologies

      its looks like very effective idea. great post

    • Jade Loussedes

      Loved the post! Very usesful — thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Arizno

      I am in the construction field. When I search for my competitors I see some of them in the Google Ads section. But in the organic results I get nothing but lead generation companies such as Angieslist, Home Advisor, Houzz, and Zillow. Would i pick my competitors from the ads section as they seem to be local providers or do I claim that Angieslist and other lead generator service providors are my actual competition?

      • The good news is, if that’s the case, then it should be a lot easier for you to outrank your competitors. If you really can’t find any competitors with links, then I would widen your niche out a bit. For example, if you build houses, then you could look at Real Estate etc

        • Arizno

          Now 5 months later I am aware that you were correct. It was easy to outrank my comp. There is only one that is ahead of me. Most of us in my local niche have about 100 backlinks, but this company has over 2000 (Chinese backlinks). Basically they are buying links. Still ranking extremely well. I will stick to high road and build good backlinks all the while cursing that company along the way. Thank you for your help.

    • Great article!!! very very useful!!

    • Hey David, Great Article Bro,Quality Backlinks Building is always a challenge for beginners. Ahrefs Site Explorer is a awesome tool to analyze your competitor’s pages, keywords, anchor text, Backlinks. I’m Using this tool from last 2 years and much useful.

    • Awesome stuff!

    • VAIBHAV JAISWAL

      Very useful Post Sir…!!!

    • Great post, will keep following 😀

    • Another great share, Thanks.

    • Shahryaar Rehman

      Hey David. This is what I am doing from 3 months. I am following the same strategy to build links.

    • Really helpful post. Replicating competitors backlinks strategy is working quite fine for me especially for business niches for which it is hard to find linking resources (like metal industry). Now I will also follow your suggestion about not completely relying on competitors backlinks.

    • I’ll try it now

    • This is the exact strategy we use after we have established our sites social presence. Nice in-depth post. Oh and yes there is plenty of work to be done, but you do get results!

    • Very informative blog. I learn a lot from your competitor analysis method. Thanks

    • Paddy lock

      Great Post thanks for sharing

    • I LOVE in-depth, actionable guides like this. Great work David, this is such a value packed article!

    • Hello David,

      thank you for your great article, helps a lot.

      I have a technical question — I have found a competitor’s website, have analysed it using Ahrefs and found lots of domains where I can put links to my website; these all are high ranked pages, no spammy ones. The question is — how many backlinks per day is it safe to gain? I am doing it all manually.

    • Lots of great advice in this article. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi there David,

      This is the most complete guide for getting backlinks on whole worldiwide web. I’m grateful that I found

    • Hey David. This is what I am doing from 3 months. I am following the same strategy to build links.

    • Now that is a very useful post on outranking your competitors websites… 

      Almost should come with a price tag good stuff. 

    • Sinta Bella

      I love the post

    • really i love thois post . that s the true way to get new backlink
      thank you very mutch

    • Magnificent info, thanks

    • Lots of great advice in this article. Thanks for sharing!

    • really awssome stuffffffffff

    • nice share, very useful sir thank for it

    • Boss,

      Good article is shared. Thank you for sharing it. Some points are not clear to me by the way I am really happy to read this kind able blog. Keep in favorite bookmark

    • Very nice article and words to be trying
      Thanks for sharing & keep it that way…!!!

    • useful share

    • Nitika Suneja

      All the steps are great.

      Can anyone please tell me how can I find bad backlinks of a website?

    • Carlos

      Awesome post, loved it.