Link Audit: Competitive Backlink Analysis

Vagelis Varfis

Vagelis is the Head of Search for Nudge Digital , a digital agency in Bristol offering web design, web development and full SEO marketing services. Vagelis is a Google Analytics Qualified Individual and an Adwords Certified Professional. Vagelis is passionate about SEO, Google Analytics and PPC. Search now is no longer just a job but an indispensable part of his life. Connect with Vagelis on LinkedIn or Twitter .

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    A link audit is an in-depth analysis that allows us to emphasise on a certain aspect of link building, and it helps us detect problems or opportunities in terms of backlinks. For instance, the link anchor text distribution is an aspect of a link audit.

    Like any other onsite SEO audit, link audits are an essential part of the offsite SEO process. Link audits may include various link building components which constitute overall the link audit process. Indicatively some of these components are:

    • Backlink analysis
    • Backlink competitor analysis
    • Anchor text distribution/analysis
    • Broken link building strategy
    • Guest posting
    • Link relevancy
    • Site-wide distribution etc.

    Which tools to use?

    One of the most effective tools for in-depth link audits is Ahrefs. The case in point, for this post we will emphasise on the backlink competitors’ analysis and particularly on the:

    • Anchor text distribution/diversity,
    • Type of backlinks (URLs linking to our site) –backlink competitor analysis
    • Type of links (dofollow or nofollow)

    Anchor text distribution/diversity

    Anchor text and distribution is a particularly important factor when it comes to the backlink competitor analysis. It is important to know in advance that the anchor text diversity is important when you want to know in which long tail keywords you want to rank higher on search engine results.

    As general best practices, when you review the anchor text distribution of your backlinks or your competitors’ backlinks, bear in mind:

    • Make sure that there’s diversity amongst anchor text. If only one anchor text is repeated (e.g “seo services uk”), it’s an obvious attempt of the link builder to manipulate search engine results by submitting the site in various directory submission sites. Search engine spiders are very sophisticated and they are able to detect such kind of manipulative methods.
    • Deep linking — Apart from diversified anchor text that will be pointing to your anchor text, it is important to use diverse anchor text that will be pointing to the other pages of your site (deep linking), as in this way the PageRank juice will be transferred to the other pages of your site.

    Link Audit – Backlink Competitor Analysis

    One of the most straightforward and effective backlink analysis tools (for link audits) especially for backlink competitor analysis is Ahrefs. Link builders can get plethora of data either for their own backlinks or for their competitors. Some of the indicative data for which you can have access are:

    • New backlinks acquired or backlinks that were lost (within a period of day, or even 3 months ago)
    • Anchor text distribution etc.

    Backlink Competitor analysis

    The backlink analysis can be very enlightening for the link builder as he can identify which of his competitors implement black hat, grey hat or (ideally) white hat techniques.  The backlink competitor analysis can be segmented into two parts, which of course include many other steps.

    STEP 1 – Overview

    So let’s assume that’s we are performing a backlink competitor analysis and we see this sudden huge spike on the backlink overview from our competitor.

    Spike on referring pages starting from 1st Nov

    Spike on referring pages starting from 1st Nov

    This sudden spike can be a result of natural link building . For example if the content team of this website writes a high quality post and this post is shared via StumbleUpon then this sudden spike is perfectly justifiable. However, on the other hand somebody would assume that this sudden increase is a result of unnatural link building but definitely it is something that worth further investigation.

    Another indicator for an effective backlink competitor analysis is the use of the Anchors Cloud (as you see from the screenshot below).

    Anchors Cloud helps to analyse competitor's backlink work

    Anchors Cloud gives an insight on competitor’s backlink work

    Once you see high percentage for such kind of non-branded terms, someone can assume that it can be a result of unnatural link building. As a link builder if you want to know more by going to the ‘’Anchors’’ you will be able to find in more details the source (the destination URLs) of these anchor texts.

    STEP 2 – In-depth analysis

    Once you have a full overview of your competitors’ backlinks (as described above) you can evaluate more in-depth the quality of their backlinks that can help you adopt some of their link building approaches (only the white hat techniques).

    The importance of the in-depth analysis lies on the important fact that you easily detect if your competitors follow grey/black or white hat techniques.

    By selecting ‘’Anchors’’, and then by clicking ‘’Domains’’ on the anchor text that you wish to review, you can see the number of referring domains which concerns ‘’the total count of the backlinks starting from those with the biggest number of links’’.

    By clicking on the ‘’Snippets’’, you can also see the destination URL where this anchor text comes from. The anchor text actually indicates the clickable part of the text that directs users to the page of the site.

    It is very important to note the various types of anchor texts that you are going to notice in this analysis, including:

    • Naked anchor text: The URL only can be defined as a naked anchor text


    • Hybrid anchor text: It means that it’s a combination of a branded and non-branded term. Ideally you can create a hybrid anchor text that can be even more targeted.


    • Exact match anchor text(preferred) : It means that the anchor text is targeted by using a non-branded term that actually describes accurately the services of a website.


    In case you notice a very high amount backlinks pointing to one type of anchor text, it is most likely that your competitor is following unnatural link building practices. Once you select the destination URL you will be able to see quality of the URL and that points to your competitor’s site.

    If the directory submission sites are niche then it’s considered as good link building practice. However if you find a directory submission site, e.g. (and the backlink you want to get is about your marketing agency), then it will carry no significant SEO value for your site.

    Guest Posting - Apart from questionable SEO practices that you can detect through the use of Ahrefs, you can identify high quality websites, blogs, or niche directory submission sites, from which your competitors get a backlink and you can also see if these high quality backlinks transfer any link juice to your site (‘’nofollow’’ attribute or ‘’dofollow’’) .

    Once you detect these high quality websites or blogs you can easily log these sites in your database and contact webmasters in order to provide high quality posts, which is a purely legitimate and white hat SEO practice.

    In a nutshell

    By following the process above you can identify from each competitor:

    • The kind of SEO techniques they are using (black hat or white hat SEO).
    • First indication can be given by the Anchors Cloud. For in-depth analysis you can refer to Anchors.
    • The type of anchor texts they are using and what kind of site-wide distribution these links have throughout the website.
    • What kind of sites the competitors are using for their backlink acquisition process.
    • Which of these backlinks have the dofollow or the nofollow attribute?
    • Start using some of the backlinks that they are using, as long as they are of high quality.

    Are there any methods that you are implementing for your backlink competitor analysis using Ahrefs? I am looking forward to hearing your sharing in the comment section.

    Vagelis Varfis

    Vagelis is the Head of Search for Nudge Digital , a digital agency in Bristol offering web design, web development and full SEO marketing services. Vagelis is a Google Analytics Qualified Individual and an Adwords Certified Professional. Vagelis is passionate about SEO, Google Analytics and PPC. Search now is no longer just a job but an indispensable part of his life. Connect with Vagelis on LinkedIn or Twitter .

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    • Mama’s Boy Leather Goods

      How offen do you audit? What is broken link analysis?

      • vangelisGRUK

        Hi. Thank you for your questions. In my blogpost I am talking about the broken link building strategy. It basically means that you find backlinks (using ahrefs) that point to your old URLs (in case you have redesigned your site and your URL structure) that are now 404s. So, for this reason you need to contact your link partners and ask them to update the URL destination using the new URL. Broken link analysis is the process where you find the internal links in your site that instead of pointing to another page of your site, these internal links point to a 404 page. As for the link audit… it is entirely up to you. It depends on your client. Once you start working for the first time for a client, then you need to perform a link audit so that you see the status of your client’s backlinks. Once you know the status of your client’s backlinks, then you can perform the link audit, every twice or 3 times a month, so that you monitor their performance. I hope that you find this answer useful.

    • Nico

      I’m getting this:

      URL Rank 24
      Ahrefs Domain Rank 53
      Backlinks 763
      Referring Domains 111
      Referring IPs 87

      Would you consider this profile healthy?

    • Is there a more up to date article on the back link analysis? The software has changed a lot since 2013. thanks.

      • vangelisGRUK

        Hi Marie. Thanks for your feedback. The content around diverse link anchor is still valid even in 2017 — the same stands for the type of link anchor texts. For the rest I agree.