Why a Link Analysis is Anything But a Waste of Time

21 Jan

Earlier this week, I came across an article by Michael Martinez about why competitive link analysis wastes your time, which could have been inspired by two posts about the same subject that had been published earlier this week. Although I enjoy reading most of the long posts Michael writes, and I agree with some of the points he makes in the article, I absolutely disagree with his headline and conclusion.

In my opinion, starting an online marketing campaign without a competitive link analysis is like starting a company with only half of a marketing plan. You want to be well aware of your surroundings, before you enter a market or start a new project. Sure, there are plenty examples of companies that succeeded without one, but I think that there are over twice that amount of companies that would still exist today, if they had made a thorough plan when they started. “A well prepared man is worth two others”, as a French saying goes.

Michael already mentioned one very valid reason to perform a competitive link analysis, which is securing links from sites that already link to competing websites. The sole fact that these sites already link to your competitors is not a bad thing, as that has absolutely no influence at all on whether these sites may pass traffic, link juice or conversions to yours. Agreed, you can never be 100% sure if a link passes value or not, but if you think that it may provide relevant traffic, any additional link juices comes as a bonus.

Most link builders don’t need any other reason to start a link analysis, but there are much more reasons to perform one.

Goal deprecation

When a prospect (or your employer) tells you “this is what we want to reach, and this is our budget”, a competitive link analysis may be a good way to find out whether it’s achievable or not.

For example, “we want to rank in the top three for keyword X, and we have a budget of $x,xxx to achieve it” might not be such a good idea when you find out that your competitors have been attracting lots of high quality links for several years, and you’re just starting. Of course, a goal like that is never a good idea, but in some cases you’ll simply end up with such a goal on your plate. And it’s good to have some data laying around that you can use to prove that this goal can probably not be achieved within the outlined time frame, as links are -whether you like it or not- of big influence on search engine visibility.

Content ideas

During a link analysis, you’ll come across lots of different pages. It’s remarkable to see how quickly you’ll get to know an industry that’s completely new to you, just by doing some research. This also helps you to find content gaps and to come up with other ideas for linkworthy content.

Identify networks and relationships

Some competitors may use link networks to artificially improve their search engine rankings, and a link analysis can identify such networks. Use this information to avoid contacting sites in this network, to keep track of linking behavior between these networks, or for any other reason that you think it’s valuable for.

The same goes for identifying relationships. In some cases, a link analysis can go as far as telling you which journalists your competitors knows, or where your competitor spends his entire sponsoring budget.

Identify timely patterns

One of the things that I like about Majestic SEO, is that they offer historical linking data. Although this is link discovery data, it can be used to identify patterns, or to show competitors that are either very lazy or very active, link building wize.

Competing websites that have not been attracting links for several months may be interesting targets to acquire, especially for affiliate publishers. Websites that more or less act as link magnets, on the other hand, are worth keeping a very close eye on. Just like you would do with an offline competitor who is suddenly getting a lot of traction.

If several of your competitors show seasonal patterns in their link growth (ie link spikes in the Summer, or near Mother’s Day), but you are not, it may be a good thing to investigate why this is happening. You might be wasting an opportunity – and not just a linking opportunity, but sometimes even a business opportunity in general.

Find common linking reasons

Persuasion plays an important role in link marketing. People always link for a reason, but the most important linking reasons can be different in another industry. In highly competitive industries, for example, reciprocation (link buys, link trades) plays an important role, while authority might be the main influencing factor in some other industries. Finding out who link to your competitors is not the most important thing, it’s learning why they do so.

Identify spammers

When you work at an agency, I think that it’s part of your duty to report any spammer (cloaking, blatantly buying links, or any other spam strategies) in your client’s industry you may come across to your client.

It’s up to you to provide your client with as much information as possible, and it’s up to them to decide what to do with this. Competitive link analysis can be of great assistance with identifying websites that use dodgy linking strategies.

General competitive intelligence

Almost any link analysis that I have performed thus far has provided other competitive information as well. It’s funny to see what kind of information a competitor’s backlinks can take you to sometimes. Content marketing strategies, press releases with business information about the company, interviews with former employees that you would not have found otherwise, and more stuff like that.

I’ve also used link analysis to determine the added SEO / link value of an offline marketing campaign, for example in print or press. This is a bit tricky, but if an offline campaign is somewhat isolated, it is possible to draw relatively safe assumptions.

I know that Michael is not a big fan of the artificial link building, in relation to the more natural link marketing. However, with the current link-driven algorithms that Google uses, deliberately neglecting the link building part in a competitive market is like wanting to ride with the Nazgûl on a pink My Little Pony.

PS – Although I don’t agree with Michael’s post about competitive link analysis, I do recommend subscribing to his blog. You don’t always have to agree with someone to learn new things.

33 Responses to “Why a Link Analysis is Anything But a Waste of Time”

  1. Hugo the enterprise SEO guy January 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Well said, and I like the professionalism you’ve displayed in disagreeing with Mr. Martinez (something that I happen do often, but don’t ever take the time to write about).

  2. SEO Moves January 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Great blog post, not sure what Mr. Martinez is thinking, but often reviewing a back link profile and making the required changes you can often help a website without even adding a new link.

  3. Nick Stamoulis January 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    I agree that it’s good to know what your competition is up to. Not to copy them, but just to get an idea of what they are doing. It can especially be useful if you are new to the game and don’t really know what you’re doing yet.

  4. Jgar January 21, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    @SEO Moves if you have ever followed him or his comments you will see he always just disagrees with what anyone is saying. IMHO its just to attract links. IMHO he’s a total dick :)

  5. Josh January 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Thank you for posting this it is a well written piece that I agree with as well.

  6. Michael Martinez January 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    “he always just disagrees with what anyone is saying”

    Which, of course, is a total lie. At least I don’t run around the Web posting lies about people.

  7. Himanshu January 22, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Can’t agree with you any more. Had i written a blog post response to Michael’s post it would have been something like this. Competitive back link analysis is a great way to determine the current ranking potential of your competitors and for determining whether you have any chance of beating them in SERP. Good post.

  8. Himanshu January 22, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    The first sentence should be: I couldn’t agree with you more :-D

  9. Steven January 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Go and read Michael’s blog, there are so many incorrect assertions made that you may fall off your chair with laughter.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Michael.

  10. Martin Bach January 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    I just started to SEO for my first site, and by link analysis I found that my competitors had nothing but links from blogs; no sites with similar content links to them, and their own content are very bad. However, they have about 1500 links and I can only show about 60… Is this then a lost cause?

  11. John Callaghan January 24, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. Competitive link analysis is particularly useful in community driven areas. I like to add the hub’s of the community on twitter, immerse myself in discussion and the links follow. It’s often worth the effort for referral traffic alone.

  12. Jim Rudnick January 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    As noted, Wiep….persuasion plays a VERY important role….we find that when such persuasion is offered up in a hand written letter (good writing style is also VERY important too, eh!) then such snail-mail posted letters work well….

    Least over here in Canuckland….



  13. Burst SEO January 25, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    @ Martin Bach – looks like you’ve found an industry and market where nobody is effectively pursuing SEO with a long term view.

    If you follow the best guidelines in your design build, produce good quality content (ongoing) and follow ethical link building techniques then you will benefit in the long run.

    I see so many sites in many industries that have spammy links and sure, they rank high for a while..but they always come crashing down eventually.

  14. Wiep January 25, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    @Hugo: Thank you :)

    @Michael: I expected a somewhat longer comment. Thanks for dropping by, though.

    @Jim: snail mail link requests – that’s what I call out of the box :)

  15. Martin Bach January 25, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    @Burst SEO: Thank you for the encouraging words. Since the last port I got 10 links from relevant sites and my site raised its position 12 spots in Google (from page four to page three). It looks like you’re right in relation to just being persistent.

  16. Ros Phillips January 25, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Discord often produces great conversation… but i agree with you – I just can’t imagine going into business without gathering as much info as I can about the competition in the marketing vertical, and with it so easy to gather with the click of a button. Link analysis is just one more piece of the data to give you the picture.

  17. Sjaak Hummel January 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Great post Wiep. I do agree with Martin that it consumes a lot of time, but it’s time spent well. Imo a competitive backlink analyses is a solid base for your online marketingcampaign. You can determine the feasibility of your goals on it, for instance.

  18. Vlad January 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    Thanks for the article! I really didn’t agree with the previous article myself so I’m glad to see your rebuttal. You pretty much touched on all the points I would have commented on as well.

  19. Ashish January 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Michael’s analysis are usually risible and easy to be missed. As jgar said, I think he does it purposefully on some of the most well known SEO communities like SEOmoz and this one to gain traction.

    Agreeing with all your points, here is what I have to add: sheer number of links give you an idea of what the competition is like for a lot of keywords that you have missed in your analysis. Usually, you would go analyze a site that is ranking very well and along with the content angle, always come keywords which can be focused upon with great content and good internal/external linking.

  20. Dev Basu February 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    You pretty much summed up exactly how I feel about Michael’s post. Like Jim (above) we like the personal touch too when prospecting high value links. Another neat approach is to check the 404’s of all the links pointed towards a competitor and then contacting those prospects with a better resource.

  21. David O'Donnell February 3, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I thought this was a great, comprehensive reply, and I agree with a lot of it – especially for competitive analysis and knowing your enemy (well competitor). Michael would have been better served crafting a better comment, or ignoring the post completely in my opinion.

  22. Kieran Flanagan February 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    Great post Wiep, competitive link intelligence can be really powerful for a number of reasons (all listed in your post).

    I would actually flip Martins argument and say competitive link intelligent can be a time waster for people just starting in SEO or not knowing what they are looking for. You can get lost in the data and as the link analysis tools improve, there is more and more of it.

    Link analysis in the right hands is no time waster.

  23. Jeff McRitchie February 7, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Great post! I especially agree with Content Ideas. I write a ton of articles for my company and can’t tell you how many times link analysis has generated ideas for a few pieces, often on issues unaddressed by my competitors. Thanks for your insights.

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