Backlinks are extremely important for SEO. The reason is that Google sees them as a “vote of confidence” from one website to another.
Relevant and authoritative backlinks signal to searchers and search engines that your website is credible and trustworthy. That’s why you get higher rankings when you build more quality backlinks.
But how do you build quality backlinks?
By first implementing a process known as backlink gap analysis.
In this guide, we go over what a backlink gap analysis is, why it matters, and how the analysis can help you uncover great backlinking opportunities to tap into.
But that’s not all. We’ll also be showing you useful SEO tools to help run a quick backlink gap analysis. Ready to learn? Let’s dive in!
What is a Backlink Gap Analysis?
For starters, to understand what a backlink gap analysis is, we must be familiar with what a backlink is in the first place.
Backlinks—aka inbound links, incoming links, or one way links— are links from one website pointing to another website. If you have a link that connects to your website (homepage or internal pages) from an external source, that is a backlink.
You’ve heard that Google’s algorithm considers backlinks as endorsements for your website. And so, at first glance, it makes sense to have as many backlinks as possible.
However, search engines simply don’t work that way. Google values backlinks differently.
For starters, to rank highly for the keywords you’re targeting, you want quality backlinks coming from high authority domains with low spam scores.
This is where a backlink gap analysis comes in to help.
In a nutshell, a backlink gap analysis is the process of comparing the backlink profiles of your biggest competitors against those of yours. A link gap is the difference in both the number and quality of external links that your competitors have vs. those that you have already acquired.
Your backlink gap analysis needs to zero in on the competitors that rank at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs).
Why is a Backlink Gap Analysis Important?
Nothing summarises the importance of a backlink gap analysis better than the words of Chinese general Sun Tzu, revered for centuries for his influential life.
In his book, The Art of War, he says:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”.
In the context of a backlink gap analysis for SEO, your enemy is your competitor. The whole search landscape is your battleground. And backlinks are your ammo.
Competitor here is any website that Google pits against you. Specifically, we’re talking about websites that outrank you in the SERPs.
Benchmarking your most important competitors’ backlinks helps you know which backlink profiles perform well in your industry.
By calculating the backlink gap between you and your competitors, you’ll be able to:
- Know how many backlinks and content assets your main competitors have more than you.
- Figure out which sites your competitors have links on that you don’t.
- Determine which pages you need to build backlinks to.
- Map out your backlinking opportunities. Create a priority list of relevant, high-authority sites to source links from.
- Strategize your backlinking outreach campaign and budget.
- Create a valuable guest post for the host site’s readers and get a quality backlink in return.
The bottom line of conducting a backlink analysis is to know how you stack up against your biggest rivals. This way you can adjust your SEO strategy to replicate their best work.
So how should you do a backlink gap analysis? It isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
Let’s find out below.
A Step-By-Step Process To Conduct a Backlink Gap Analysis
Identify Your Competitors
The first step of the backlink gap analysis is to find who your main competitors are based on the specific search terms that you want to rank for. If you don’t identify the right set of competitors, you may end up with incorrect results from the analysis.
The specific SEO keywords that you’re targeting will define the confines on which to engage your competitors.
There are many advanced SEO tools that you can use to find specific keywords that contribute to your search visibility.
SpyFu, SE Ranking and Ahrefs are a few capable keyword research tools. But we now prefer using SEMrush to all the other options.
The reason is SEMrush generates detailed reports for all the relevant ranking factors and correlates all the analytics info in a holistic way.
SEMrush’s Organic Research tool, for instance, not only shows you the specific search keywords that drive traffic to your website, but also:
- The topic organic search competitors across the keywords.
- The competition level for each keyword.
- The amount of organic search traffic across each of the keywords.
- Your search ranking for each keyword.
- The history of your ranking on each keyword.
To run this organic search report on SEMrush, simply enter your domain name and press Search. The data will appear within seconds.
Now, based on the keywords you’re looking to rank for, there are two types of competitors to watch out: domain-level competitors and page-level competitors.
Let’s discuss each one below.
These comprise websites that compete with you for many search terms in the SERPs. Essentially, they have several pages that are similar to yours.
For this, you can use the Domain Overview tool by SEMrush. Once you enter your domain, SEMrush will display a page with loads of information.
Navigate down to the “Main Organic Competitors” to find websites where you share several common keywords across multiple pages.
You can filter the results by:
- Competition Level
- Common keywords
- SE Keywords
- Costs (USD)
- Paid Keywords
One thing you should remember is that domain-level competitors may not necessarily be your real-world competitors. There are two types of domain-level competitors:
Inside-niche domain level competitors
These are websites that evolve in the same industry as you and thus compete with you on many keywords that you’re targeting.
Think of Amazon and eBay, Fox News and CNN, SEMrush and Ahrefs, etc. Not only do they target the same keywords but also share an audience across search engines.
Outside-niche domain-level competitors
These websites target many keywords that you too are targeting but aren’t from the same niche or industry as you.
Consider Nike and NBA, Moz and Search Engine Journal (SEJ), and Ahrefs and FatJoe.
In the screenshot below, for example, you can see that Moz and Search Engine Journal both compete on the SERP for the search term “link building in SEO”.
Yet, the two businesses are pursuing completely different goals. While SEJ is on a mission to build an audience looking for SEO-related content, Moz is a popular all-in-one SEO software that targets an audience looking to improve their search engine visibility.
Competitors on a page level are those websites that compete with you for certain topics or search terms related to a particular page. In essence, these websites don’t compete with you on a whole lot of keywords.
You can easily find who these competitors are using SEMrush’s Keyword Overview tool. All you need to do is choose any well-optimised blog post and copy the primary keyword that you’re trying to rank for.
Paste the keyword into SEMrush’s Keyword Overview tool and scroll down to the SERP Analysis to view the report.
You’ll see all top ranking competitors who’ve published the same content as yours. Those are your page-level competitors.
Once you’ve zeroed in on both your domain-level and page-level competitors, create a list for each. You want to perform a backlink gap for each of these competitors to identify potential link-building opportunities.
Examine Your Competitor’s Homepage
After identifying and narrowing down on a few important competitors worth analysing, the next step is to examine their homepage.
Why start with the homepage and not elsewhere, you ask?
The reason is a huge chunk of backlinks will often point to the homepage for websites with a normal backlink profile.
For this analysis, SEMrush’s Backlink Analytics tool will come in handy. Enter one of the competitors’ homepage URL in the search bar and scan through the list of domains linking to that URL.
Another way to gather the same information is by using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. Simply enter a competitor’s URL and run the test.
On the “Backlinks” page, Ahrefs will show you all the pages that are pointing to your competitor’s website. For clearer information, navigate to the “Referring Domains” section to see all the actual referring domains linking to the competitor’s website.
Now, repeat this process until you’ve gone through each of the competitors in your list.
Only by analysing each backlink gap individually can you know the number (and quality) of backlinks you need to move closer to—or even outrank—your competitors.
Assess Backlinks Pointing to Individual Pages
In addition to analysing your competitors’ homepage, it’s also important to assess backlinks connecting to their individual pages. This is where your list of page-level competitors comes in.
Again, the Backlink Analytics tool can help you find all links pointing to these page-level competitors. Just enter your page-level competitor’s URL in the tool and hit “Analyse” to collect this data.
The tool will show you the following attributes related to the URL link profile:
- The number of referring domains linking to the particular web page.
- The number of backlinks linking to the web page.
- The number of backlinks a web page has earned and lost in the last six months.
- The industry categories from which the referring domains are obtained.
- The most common search terms and phrases in the anchor texts.
- The types of inbound links that point to the page.
You want to pay attention to how these pages have linked back to your page-level competitors. This gives you an idea of what you should do to outrank them for those specific keywords.
Identify Websites Linked to Multiple Competitors
At this point, you know which websites have linked to your domain-level competitors and page-level competitors. Your next step is to determine how many of these websites are linking to not one, but the vast majority of the competitors.
And how is that useful?
If a website is linking to multiple competitors but not you, chances are that it brings value. Approaching them for a backlink will likely boost your SEO efforts.
So, how can you determine the sites that are linking to most of your competitors?
For this, we recommend using the Backlink Gap tool on SEMrush. To use this tool, enter your domain in the search bar, followed by domains of up to four of your competitors. Then press the “Find Prospects” button.
The system will run the test and display your competitors’ backlink attributes for comparison as shown below:
To identify the backlinking opportunities that you’re missing out on (referring domains that link to your competitors but not you), you can filter your search by:
- Best – The domains that point to all of your competitors except you. These are the best prospects to approach to build backlinks.
- Weak – The domains that point to your competitors more than you.
- Strong – The domains that exclusively point to you but not your competitors.
- Shared – The domains that point to everyone, including your competitors.
- Unique – The domains that point to only one of all the analysed domains.
- All – All potential domains
The “Best” domains are the websites you should approach for your link building campaign. You’d, however, need to analyse these websites further before trying to get linked to by them.
Find Websites Where Your Competitors Have Published Guest Posts On
Finding websites where your competitors have published guest posts on is another effective way to perform a backlink gap analysis. The reason is when you write and publish a blog on another website, usually you get a link back to your site from that post.
So, if you find websites where your main competitors have published guest posts on, it makes sense to guest post on those websites too.
But how do you discover these websites?
Search Them Manually
The manual search is by far the simplest and most straightforward approach to finding guest posts written by your competitors. Start by looking for the author name under which your competitors often publish guest posts. This holds the key to finding all other posts they’ve written on other websites.
After finding the author name, go to Google and type in the “Author name” + “guest post”. For e.g. “Jessica 0” + “guest post”.
Google will bring up a list of websites on which the author has been featured. You can then go ahead and pitch them your guest post ideas.
Yet another way of finding guest posts written by your competitors is by using tools. We like using Content Explorer by Ahrefs for this purpose.
All you need to do is open Content Explorer and input the query author:”author name”. For instance, the query author: “Tim Soulo” brings back all the posts written by “Tim Soulo”.
The advantage of using this tool is that it’s possible to see a lot of data related to posts written by your competitors, including:
- Domain rating
- Social shares
- Organic traffic
- Referring domains
- Word count
- Publishing date
This makes it easy to conduct a further analysis and decide if it’s worth pitching your guest post ideas to those websites.
Honestly speaking, competitor backlink gap analysis is a pretty involved process. Not only do you have to find who your top competitors are in your niche, but you also need to segment them based on the type of level of competition.
The goal is to scour deep insights into your competitors’ backlink profiles and discover potentially rewarding backlink opportunities you’re missing out on.
By analysing competitor backlinks, you should be able to come up with a solid strategy for building both dofollow and no-follow links.
Now, keep in mind that competitor backlink gap analysis is just the beginning of the whole process of a link building campaign. For the most part, the outcome of your outreach campaign will determine whether you’ll close the gap and maintain a higher ranking than the competition.
There’s one final piece of advice which we find incredibly important—think long term when it comes to link building.
As mentioned, link quality matters above all else. You want to prioritise links from pages with high authority and low spam scores. But partnering with these high authority websites doesn’t happen overnight, neither is it so easy.
The owners of these prospective websites want to know the value you bring to them before agreeing to your link building partnership.
Therefore, your best bet is to focus on establishing long-term relationships with them before asking them for backlinking favours. Alternatively, you can hire a reputable link building agency like us here at Profit Engine to fast-track your results.
So, over to you.
Let us know if you have any questions and we’ll get back to you as soon as humanly possible.