Maybe I’m stuck in the past but I don’t think link builders give enough attention to back link analysis. The process of understanding who links to who is, in my eyes, an unavoidable step in the process of building the type of links that lead to more search traffic.
I think a big part of this oversight is based upon the fact that many people oversimplify the back link analysis process. In my talk at A4U London today on the Competitive Sleuthing Panel, I explained where I think the real value is in back link analysis.
Backlink Analysis to Determine Tactics
I think that a lot of people miss a trick with backlink analysis. They might see how they compare against their biggest competitor on a tool like OpenSiteExplorer, but they don’t understand how they compare to the market as a whole or use this insight to determine their link building tactics.
One approach I’ve become a fan of is using radar graphs to better understand how your back link portfolio differs from your competitors, and using this to decide the mix of your approach. I typically take one of our client plus ten of their leading competitors and access them on four independent axis. At SiteVisibility we love a good acronym and the four axis are Volume, Authority, Velocity and Anchor Text. Using predominantly MajesticSEO I can give the client a score in each of the areas. Using a bit of Excel Wizardry I normalise the scores and then work out how far each of the websites scores vary from the average. Now I can have a radar graph where I can simultaneously compare a client against a single competitor while understand how they both compare to the market as a whole.
With this data visualisation I can start to determine the mix of tactics required. If a client has a high authority score compared to the market and a leading competitor, I should concentrate my attention on tactics which are better equipped to deal with other aspects of VAVA.
Backlink analysis can now tell you whether you should be doing directory submission, blogger outreach, linkbait etc. based on your competitor’s performance.
One piece of feedback I get from my peers when they learn my love of Back Link analysis is, what happens when you’ve looked at all the links of your competitors. They have missed the point of backlink analysis; you should be using it to find types of sites that could provide links, not just specific sites. In my A4U presentation I took the example of a Digital Marketing Recruitment company looking to build links. I took one of their rivals Propel and popped them into OpenSiteExplorer. One of their top links was from sponsoring A4U Expo. I liked the circularity of this in my presentation.
Now on a simple level back link analysis would suggest approaching A4U about sponsoring and leaving it as that. Instead, what I prefer to do is understand what type of website it is, then approach similar websites in similar ways. So in this case it was a marketing conference, I’d then be looking for lists of and the search results for marketing conference, now I have a whole series of websites to pitch and build relationships with.
Also I often make use of Google’s related:domain.com which shows me a list of websites which Google see as similar to website that’s provided the link. Again more prospects and opportunities.
I genuinely think that related:domain.com will change a link builders life.
Second Order Links
If you had the opportunity to get a link from a national newspaper on a contextually-relevant page containing all your keywords, linking through to a deep page on your site, you’d think this was the perfect link right? On a recent pitch I was involved with the prospective client had dozens of links like this secured through good PR and a good level of link building hustle, but when you looked deeper at these links they weren’t quite as good as they could be. They were buried away in the site with a couple of internal links from pages which themselves were buried, it wasn’t re-cached frequently and unlikely to receive high volumes of traffic on its own. So although in many regards this link was powerful, it could be working harder. In these types of situations we explore whether some of the more scalable, low-end link building methods can be used to improve the perceived value of the page. It already ticks a lot of the boxes but external links should help even more.
What we’re exploring here is second order links. First order links are who links to you, second order links are who links to the people who link to you. If you’ve gone to all the effort of getting these great links it’s usually worth the investment of sending some links towards your best links.
I’ll admit this starts to move into the world of link wheels, which I think aren’t as effective as a lot of their advocates suggest. Instead what we are trying to do is give the people who help you a little bit of extra love – a bit of link building karma if you will.
So look at who’s linking to you and your competitors but look at who is one or two steps away, that might be where the real value of the link is coming from.
What’s the Tipping Point Link?
I think in most cases websites don’t actually need that many additional links to have a dramatic impact on their rankings. There are always going to be certain links which have a disproportionate influence on the results. These are the links we want to replicate.
One feature I love about Majestic SEO is how it captures the date that links are detected. This isn’t foolproof, but it does give you a rough idea of what links were acquired when. We also use Raven Tools, which allow you to track changes in rankings over time. Using the two at the same time helps me track down what I call tipping point links. If I see a competitor making dramatic rankings improvements I will run a report in Majestic SEO and see what links they acquired at this time. This allows me to potentially track down the small number of links which led to their dramatic rise.
These are just a few ways in which backlink analysis can be used. I think it’s a lot more powerful than people realise.