Tommy McDonald explains how to get backlinks by ‘stealing’ them from top competitors in Google search.
It’s no secret that links are the most important piece of the SEO puzzle.
Some people, like myself, will openly admit it. Yes, links matter. They matter a lot, actually.
Some SEO gurus rave about creating awesome content, but why are they creating that content? It’s to get backlinks!
Don’t let them fool you. You can write content until you are blue in the face, but if it isn’t getting read, shared and mentioned (linked to), it’s not going to produce the results that you might have expected.
Links. You need links.
If a website is ranking on top of the SERPS for a keyword that you are targeting, wouldn’t it make logical sense that they have a solid link profile that is saying to Google
“Hey, look at us! We are well trusted and you should probably show our website on top when your users search for [insert keyword].”
Don’t forget: Google uses an algorithm. There aren’t people manually checking every single link in a profile. This is why spam and low quality websites will sometimes surface.
It’s simple really. The websites that are on top of your niche have link signals that work.
Will they work tomorrow? Will they continue to keep those particular websites hovering in the top positions? Nobody knows, and that is what makes SEO so interesting. It’s a constantly changing game, with SEOs trying to catch up and stay ahead.
I’m a big fan of the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
How does this apply to SEO and ranking?
Well, links are and should be a top priority for anyone trying to improve their rankings.
The websites sitting on page number one of Google obviously have backlinks that the algorithm currently favors. So, duplicate them, improve your on-site SEO, and make your offer and conversion path better than any of the websites you are competing with.
That’s simple, right?
It takes some work. OK, actually, it takes a lot of work.
But, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, I promise that you will see improved rankings for the keywords you are going after.
So, continue reading if you aren’t scared of rolling up your sleeves and getting to work!
Step 1: Do Smart Keyword Research
The days of mapping out your keyword strategy based only on search volume are long over.
Let’s assume you run a financial blog and monetize it through CPA offers from credit card companies and financial service providers.
While the term “credit card” might show a high search volume in Google’s keyword planner tool, it’s not a keyword you are going to want to throw your SEO effort and money into.
Well, we know the data in their keyword planner is for PPC campaigns, but the search volume is relevant. With 90,500 estimated monthly searches for the keyword “credit card” why wouldn’t you want to go after that keyword?
The answer is simple: it’s a ridiculously difficult keyword to rank for. Just take a look at the top 10 results
Creditcards.com, Wikipedia, Chase, Capital One, Nerd Wallet, Wells Fargo, Credit Karma, Bank of America, Forbes and Bloomberg are not going anywhere.
They are huge authority websites with amazing link profiles.
It would take so much content, outreach, and links to break into page one for this keyword that I’m going to say it would be impossible as well as entirely useless to go after this keyword.
Well, since nothing is impossible, maybe I’ll change my wording and say it would be completely stupid to attempt to rank for the keyword “credit card.”
The Smart Way To Do It
If you were interested in obtaining a new credit card what would you type into Google search to find some suggestions? You wouldn’t just type “credit card,” I can promise you that.
The search query is going to depend on what type of credit card the searcher is interested in. This is where long tail intelligent keyword research will either make or break your SEO.
Terms like “free balance transfer credit card offers”, “18 month no APR credit cards” and “business credit card with no annual fee” are keywords that are going to attract searchers willing to complete an offer.
Never lose sight of what your goal is on your website.
Which would you rather attract:
a) 10,000 visitors a month that are just looking for credit card information for research papers
b) 200 visitors a month that are going to complete a credit card application through one of your referral links (and earn you commissions)
I think you know the answer.
Compile a list of keywords that are going to attract people who are looking for whatever it is that your website offers.
Here’s a quick way to find some rankable keyword ideas by analysing your competitors with Ahrefs Positions Explorer.
1. Enter your competitor’s domain into Positions Explorer and click on search. We’ll use ‘Nerd Wallet’ as they showed up in Tommy’s example search for ‘credit card’.
2. From the overview page, click on ‘Organic Keywords’ under ‘Organic Research’.
3. Order the report by ‘Results’. Click it twice, to put the phrases with the least amount of results at the top of the report.
4. Now scroll down the report and look for relevant phrases with a reasonable search volume. This one looks interesting. Not huge volume (110 US searches per month) but could easily be tied to a lead gen offer.
5. Next, verify the title competition is low with an “allintitle:keyword” search in Google.
6. As you can see, Google only has 34 pages indexed with “credit score mortgage rates” in the page title, so with good on-page SEO and a few links we should be able to rank for that quite easily. Add this to a spreadsheet, continue to browse through the keywords and you’ll be sure to uncover some keyword gems.
Here’s a quick video showing the whole process
Back to Tommy…
Step 2: Map Out Your Competitor Targets
Now, search for the terms that you have brainstormed, and take note of which websites are ranking on page one for each term. Use an excel spreadsheet to make it easy for you.
Make a column for each keyword and then have 10 website URLs under each.
That’s it. This part is easy.
Time saving tip: You can use a neat little bookmarklet called SERPs Redux to quickly grab the top 10 URLs for each of your target keywords. See the full process + video tutorial in Step 2 of Doug Cunnington’s Skyscraper Method Case Study.
Step 3: Gather Link Lists
There are two things you need to be fully aware of:
1. You should use several tools to dig into and analyze link profiles, because not every tool will deliver the same results. The larger the sample, the more insight you will gather.
2. You aren’t going to find every link that is contributing to high rankings. Let’s be honest for a minute: a lot of websites are using private network links that sit on websites that aren’t accessible to the crawlers of these tools.
Personally, I believe Ahrefs is the best tool on the market, which is one of the reasons I started to contribute to the blog here. I’m a huge fan of the tool and use it daily, so naturally I’m going to use it as the example for this post.
Here’s the process for collecting competitor links using Ahrefs.
1. Start by entering the URL of the webpage you want to analyze into Ahrefs Site Explorer. Be sure to select ‘URL’ from the drop down list and then click on ‘Search’.
2. From the overview page, click on Inbound Links -> Links
3. Ahrefs will return a full list of backlinks that it has found pointing to the URL. Click on “Export” to pull the results into a CSV file.
4. Repeat this process for each URL in your spreadsheet.
Remember, Ahrefs and other tools are just that: tools.
They aren’t going to do the work for you. They help, and make it easy to give you the data to get to the next level, but it’s the actual work that comes next that leads to most people throwing their hands up and quitting.
So, depending on how many keywords you are targeting, you might have a lot of CSV files. I would suggest that you just do it 1 keyword at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Even a single keyword is going to have 10 files to comb through and sort.
Step 4: Dive into Your Data & Remove Low Quality Links
Just because a website’s link profile includes a specific link, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a link you will want to secure as well.
There are a lot of reasons.
It could be a spammy link that they received from a low quality SEO service or a Fiverr gig in the past. It could also be a link that was sent to the website by a competitor, in an attempt to sabotage their rankings. Yes, negative SEO exists. Just look at these nasty chineese guest book links.
Now, some of your CSV lists are going to include thousands of links, so there are a few tricks to really cut the list down to a manageable size of data to work with.
The first thing I do is to sort the URLs, A – Z, ascending order.
You will sometimes see several hundred links from the same URL, and this can happen for a few reasons. The main reason for this is a footer or widget link that is site wide.
You only need to keep one URL, so quickly delete all of the extras. This will help give you a more manageable list, so always do this first.
Remember, you are doing this to identify the BEST links to go after, not EVERY link to go after. Some links in a competitor’s link profile might actually be HURTING them, so it’s important that you focus on quality.
This isn’t a race to find thousands of links to go after. This is going to take a combination of time, SEO knowledge, and common sense.
Identify The Links
Once your list is free of duplicate URLs you will need to go down your list, visit each website and identify the competitor’s link.
This is a checklist that I use:
- What type of link is it? (contextual, comment, guest blog profile, sponsored, etc.)
- How was the link likely obtained? (guest post, content outreach, paid, etc.)
- If Google manually reviewed the page would they have a problem with the link? (does it appear to be natural)
- If it passes the question above, how would I go ahead and duplicate it and secure it for my website?
This is really all you need to do for this quick checklist.
If a link looks suspicious, delete it from your CSV file and move onto the next one.
Don’t worry about deleting too many. I would rather have a CSV file with 30 possible link opportunities that I know for a fact are solid, than a list of 200 that may or may not be that great.
Step 5: Visit Your Targets & Rank Them by Acquisition & Difficulty
You will want to add another column to your CSV file. I have mine named “Duplicate” and I have the following options:
Guest Post: If the link is a guest post link I will look to see if I can quickly find out how to get in touch with the website owner to pitch them. I look for a “write for us” or contact page. If there is neither, I will do a who.is search. If I can’t find anything I remove the opportunity form my list. Never waste too much time, because there are plenty of other opportunities to look for.
Paid: This includes sponsored content, an award or a scholarship. This would be any link that requires a payment to get my hands on it.
Resource Link Back: This is a link that the website got because they created a nice blog post of some other form of content on their website. I will find out how to contact the site to pitch them and note that as well.
Directory: These are business listings or directory listings that I can add my website too. Make sure they are high quality and/or niche related. These can be the easiest links to get live and I’ve successfully used this strategy to add 20 – 30 solid directory links with an hours worth of work.
Comment: I hear a lot of people talk about blog comments being useless because they are no-follow. Listen, Google loves a natural and diverse link profile and comment links are part of the mix. Also, if you are only dropping comment links on high quality and relevant websites, you might also drive referral traffic, which is a nice bonus. Lesson: don’t think blog comments are useless, because they are far from that.
Once I assign an “acquisition type” to each, I rank them.
I use my own rating system, from 1 – 10. For example, a guest post link on Forbes is going to get a 10, because that requires a lot of work. On the other hand, a niche related business directory listing link might get a 1 or 2 form me, depending on the approval process.
Once I finish this, I sort my CSV file by the ranking column. This allows me to quickly secure all of my low rating link opportunities.
NOTE: I do NOT do them all at once. The worst thing you can do is secure 100 new links one day and then nothing over the next week. It doesn’t look natural at all and could be interpreted by Google as unnatural link acquisition. If I have an abundance of “easy”link opportunities I spread them out over time — usually I’ll drop a few every day while I also work on the hardest acquisitions.
Step 6: Follow Through
This is the part where a large percentage of people will fall off.
I’m not going to give you an outreach template or a pitch, because I don’t use them.
If I am approaching a website for a guest post opportunity I will make sure I am familiar with their blog and the style of content they publish. I will then create a custom message that has meaning behind it.
Websites get pitched multiple times a day and can smell a spammy pitch from a mile away.
Tip: let your personality shine. Once you figure out how to combine your personality with a unique pitch style you will start to see many wins.
Also, don’t be afraid to create content for the sole purpose of using for bait to link back. For example, if I found a great blog post with high metrics on a website that I want a link from I might create an infographic based on a specific part of their post and then reach out and mention that it would compliment their post and allow them to link to the content.
I very rarely see people creating content AFTER they find an opportunity. They usually create it first, then seek out opportunities. Give it a try, it works!
Now Go Ahead And Get Those Backlinks!
Links still matter and they will continue to still matter.
They are a vital part of the ranking equation, but the thought of moving up in the SERPs shouldn’t be overwhelming. As you can see, with a little organization and a plan, you can duplicate the links that are helping your competition outrank you.
So that’s how to get backlinks by analyzing your competitors. Any comments or questions, please leave them below!