Competitive research is an elementary but sadly overlooked practice in search engine optimization (SEO). It’s through thorough competitive research that SEO professionals and other digital marketers can understand the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. Understanding what serious competitors are doing may be crucial for creating resource-efficient strategies that will improve a client’s website rankings, ultimately helping their site generate more qualified leads and sales.

Here, we’ll look into what competitive link research is and how Ahrefs’ Link Intersect could be used to boost your link building campaigns.

“What Do They Have That I Don’t?”

While this is usually a terrible thing to ask in personal relationships, this is a key question when doing competitive research in all digital marketing disciplines. This is especially true when discussing SEO as it is, almost by definition, a zero-sum game.

In SEO, one of the critical areas that websites need to compete in to get the best rankings is backlink profiles. Essentially, the more links from high-quality websites that point back to a page, the better that page’s backlink profile. In most cases, pages with good backlink profiles have a better chance of rising to the top of the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

In the early days of SEO, Google SERPs positions were largely determined by the PageRank algorithm. Today, however, Google employs newer, more complex algorithms to identify a web page’s EAT (expertise, authority, and trust).

These algorithms employ backlinks to identify a page’s relative authority in its category. The more quality links that point to a page, the more authority Google’s bots think a page has.

While Google’s algorithms are dynamic and cannot be definitively confirmed by anyone outside the company, Google’s John Mueller and Gary Illyes have confirmed that the search engine’s algorithms use backlinks as well as linkless mentions to determine authority.

The quality of the sites providing links and mentions also counts. The more mentions and, more importantly, links a page has from high-quality sources, such as established media and news sites, the better the odds of a site ranking high on the SERPs.

Given this, we can see how performing competitive research on backlinks could help SEO professionals determine how to match and outperform competitors on Google’s SERPs rankings. This type of backlink-focused competitive research is generally referred to as a “link profile analysis”.

What is a Link Profile Analysis?

Competitive research for SEO encompasses all SEO practices, including on-page SEO, technical SEO, and content marketing, to name but a few. However, as link building is highly effective and has near-limitless potential for improving site rankings, it is the most important area to consider in most SEO campaigns. Therefore, knowing how to perform a competent link profile analysis will be crucial for staying on top of Google’s search rankings.

A link profile analysis is an audit of all the links that lead to a site. The results of a link profile analysis can indicate to an SEO professional any backlink-related issues that may impact a website’s SERP performance. Multiple sites or pages could also be analyzed for backlink-related comparative research purposes.

Skills Needed to Perform a Link Profile Analysis

To perform a link profile analysis, SEO professionals only need two skillsets:

  • A mastery of link intelligence tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, and others.
  • Advanced knowledge in the use of Microsoft Excel or similar spreadsheet applications.

Traditionally, SEOs would download the entire backlink profiles of their client’s pages as well as those of their direct competitors then export these to their preferred spreadsheet application. Then through filtering and other spreadsheet functions, they can figure out the domains that link to the target pages as well as the relative value of their links.

This process could be time-consuming, especially if you have to analyze a client’s page against those of multiple competitors. Fortunately, Ahrefs already has a tool that can automate most link profile analysis processes.

Ahref’s Link Intersect

Click Here Online Technology Website Wireless Concept

Ahref’s Link Intersect is an often overlooked time-saving tool that can potentially make a huge difference in your link building campaign. This tool helps you easily find sites that link to your competitors’ pages but don’t currently link to yours. This allows SEOs to dedicate more of their time on value-creating analysis rather than on data-wrangling.

Using the tool does require a subscription but it is worthwhile for any serious SEO professional or digital marketing agency. You can see how exactly to use this tool in the video above, starting at the 4:59 mark.

To use the Link Intersect tool, simply do the following:

  1. Log in to your Ahrefs account.
  2. Look for the “More” drop-down tab. The “Link Intersect” tool should be located here.
  3. Select “Link Intersect”. This should take you to the tool.
  4. Under “Show me who is linking to these domains or URLs”, add up to three domains or URLs from your competitors.
  5. Under “But doesn’t link to (optional)”, add the website domain or page that you are trying to optimize.
  6. Click “Show link opportunities” and wait for Ahrefs to send you your results.
  7. Once you get the results page, you should be able to see a table of the domains linked to your competitors’ pages that are not linked to the website you’re optimizing.

From the tables provided by the Link Intersect tool, you can get a lot of useful information about the domains linked to your competitors, including their domain rating, URL rating, specific pages, as well as the number of backlinks, among others. The table could then be exported and the data further processed with the spreadsheet app of your choice, albeit without information on specific links associated with the domains.

Final Thoughts

The Link Intersect tool makes it possible to do a detailed link profile analysis in a fraction of the time it would take to do it manually. The time savings you get from the tool could then be used to do other SEO tasks or serve more clients. This fact alone makes an Ahrefs subscription a worthwhile investment for SEO agencies and professionals that specialize in link building campaigns.

But as great as this tool is, it’s still important for SEO professionals to hone their analysis skills. Users will still have to draw on their SEO training, experience, and common sense to effectively interpret the data provided by the tool. With this in mind, it’s important for aspiring SEOs to not only understand the benefit of things like the Link Intersect tool but also the underlying value and purpose of competitive research as a practice.

As of now, relatively few SEO specialists in the Philippines can provide a quality link profile analysis that could be used for serious competitive research. This leaves aspiring SEO professionals a great opportunity to set themselves apart. By building the skills needed to create a truly professional link profile analysis, SEOs can provide clients with a serious and rare value proposition that could boost their careers in digital marketing.