Competitive Analysis: The Foundation of Good SEO

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For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jack Vivian and I’ve been doing SEO for the last 6 years. Most of those who do know me, know me from working as the community manager at BHC back in 2014/5. Aside from that I’ve also been doing agency work throughout those 6 years, working for both Todd Foster and now Charles. I currently manage Charles’ agency, SEO A.I. as well as DFY Links.

Today I’ll be covering something which has consumed most of my time over the past year, backlink analysis and anchor text selection.

Since we started DFY Links just over a year ago now, most of my day to day has been spent doing exactly this – People want to know how many links they’re going to need to rank and what anchor texts they should be using when they’re buying from our service, so we setup a specific service just for that for those spending over $1,500 at a time.
We’ve collected a lot of data during our time and we’ve placed literally thousands of links every month. While we haven’t found a perfect formula, yet, we’ve managed to get fantastic results for our clients. 

I’m going to show you the exact process that we use to get results like you can see below –

These are two affiliate sites that we have been link building for exclusively, over the past year they have seen exponential growth in both their organic traffic and their profits.
Both utilised our full service so we have picked what links, what target URLs and what anchor texts have been used.
But before we start I want to make it explicitly clear that off-page SEO is only part of the puzzle and both of these SEOs have impeccable on-page SEO with great content which makes the links a lot more effective.

 

Backlink Analysis: Can you rank with your budget?

So, to begin we will discuss backlink and competition analysis, it’s always important to look into a niche to make sure you have the resources to rank.
If you waste all your money and aren’t able to get to first page you’re not going to get any return on your investment.
I will often see newbies chasing high commissions which is understandable but a lot of the time high commissions = high competition. This of course isn’t always the case but if this is your first site and you don’t have a large budget it’s unlikely you’re going to rank for keywords like best bingo sites or best VPN.
So it’s worth taking the due diligence before entering a niche blindly, especially if you have a very limited budget.

The beauty of SEO and the resources we have nowadays is that we can look at who is currently ranking and reverse engineer exactly what they have done.
We are getting more and more data from tools like ahrefs which is the tool we will use for this tutorial.
For me this tool is non-negotiable and while we do use other tools such as majestic and SEMRush I find myself spending over 90% of my day on ahrefs, it just provides so many useful tools and filters.
But I do understand that not everyone uses ahrefs, if you are looking for an alternative single tool that is able to do this that would probably be moz pro as it has the keyword explorer and SERP overview like ahrefs and their own metric domain authority.

The reason we are specifically looking at backlinks is that can be the costliest part of SEO, on-page SEO is free and while content isn’t cheap when something isn’t ranking the majority of the time we find it is a backlink issue, whether that is the overall domains strength or the actual inner page you are trying to rank.

The Different Elements of Backlink Analysis

So, in this section we are going to look at our process to see how competitive a niche is, we begin broad and end up going more specific, there’s no point doing a lot of analysis on a niche when we can quickly exclude it if we are unable to rank it.
The main metric used will be domain rating by ahrefs and again this is by no means perfect but it’s the best we currently have available in our opinion. You can find our more about domain rating here if you aren’t familiar with it.

SERP Domain Rating Average

To begin the process we start by looking at the top 10 (as a minimum) positions. So if we take the keyword best Bluetooth speaker the top 20 positions look like this.

The average domain rating of these sites is 74.
This isn’t to say that your site needs this to rank, as you can see in position 15 there is a site with a domain rating of 23, much lower than the sites around it. This is probably due to the sites relevance, the whole site is about audio compared to the likes of tech radar who are very broad, but we’ll talk about this later.
Unless you are going to build a niche site (an example of this is shown below) or have the budget to get your site to DR70 and above I probably wouldn’t bank on ranking for this keyword.
This isn’t to say there aren’t hundreds of longer tail variations you could rank for with a weaker site for example look at the site below pressurewashr.com it is a very niche site outranking some huge authority sites.

Things to consider with average domain rating

⦁ Take into account whether the sites in the SERP are very targeted or broader sites. In this example is the site a general review site (e.g. wirecutter) or specific to the search (e.g. pests).

⦁ Look at low domain rating sites which are ranking and where are they ranking – this just confirms to me that a niche isn’t unrankable by a weaker site e.g. if a DR20 site is sitting top 5 surrounded by DR70+ sites.

Do-follow domains to the domain and URL

So, for the next step I have an excel sheet to speed up the process, you can download it here.
To use this sheet you just copy and paste your ahrefs export into A1 and it will tell you the amount of backlinks in each domain rating range.
Again, more data allows you to make a more informed decision but for the example I will just use position 1-5.
So we’re going to move over to a less competitive term – best mouse trap. This is how the SERP looks.

We’ll ignore the amazon and youtube result, if the amazon was in the top 3 I would check it but in this case it is purely ranking off amazon’s domain authority and it has no external backlinks so we can’t really gain much from looking at it.
So incase you want to try this yourself the URLs are:

We’ll begin with the domain, so to do this just put the URL into ahrefs and then select domain with all its subdomains from the drop down.

Then click referring domains and select live domains and do follow from the dropdown box so it will look like this.

The reason we only use do follow domains is that no follow domains don’t pass anywhere near the same ranking power. Now click export and make sure that you use a full export rather than the automatically selected quick export.
Now all you need to do is copy and paste it into A1 on the sheet that you downloaded.

It will give you an output like this.

Then change the ahrefs dropdown to URL and repeat the above process and do it with all 5 sites, make sure you are recording the outputs in a separate sheet.

Once you have done this you should have a sheet like this.

I have just realised how terrible of an example this SERP was so I’ll repeat it with a better one.

But if we do have a quick look at this example the wirecutter is a weaker site but has more powerful backlinks pointing directly to the article plus one of their links has 2 do follow tier 2 backlinks. Since both pests and pest strategies are more relevant sites I would advise they build 5 backlinks to this article with a DR of 30+ and see where they sit in 6 weeks’ time. If time isn’t an issue, I would probably build 3 then wait and see how the site reacts but I understand a lot of people want to do things quickly.

If after building these 5 backlinks you haven’t seen positive movement I would then consider whether it is an overall domain strength issue, I usually start with the URL link building first because increasing overall domain strength is a much longer process. In this case particularly, pests.org is never going to have as strong of a domain as thewirecutter.com.

Another quick thing to note for those of you who are newer to this, I would always rather over invest into one page and make sure it actually ranks first instead of spreading myself thin and trying to move a lot of pages at once and ending up on the bottom of page 1 for a few pages.

Position 1 gets around 6x the click through rate of position 5 and 15x position 8. So really try focus on getting to position 1 for a money keyword if this is your first site and budget is limited, build more supporting content and links rather than getting distracted and trying to rank for everything.

So for the next example we used a much more competitive SERP best VPN in the US and here is the output we ended up with.

So, I thought this SERP was particularly interesting because it gives us an opportunity to discuss a few factors that are probably causing this order in the SERP. So the first domain is using the homepage as the money page, this is a very strong strategy as the vast majority of links go to the homepage so it is 99% of the time the strongest page of a website by a large margin.

Also, while people have been saying that exact match and partial match domains have less effect on rankings I think that they are still going strong because almost every anchor to thebestvpn.com contains VPN, without over optimising the site because it is also their brand.

While Google as of recent has been prioritising large authority sites in the SERP they do still prioritise targeted authority sites over general authority sites. This could be partly due to the fact that for example in this SERP has the best VPN with 170 indexed pages and restore privacy with 183. All these articles are about VPNs or at least privacy online so each article is supporting content to the other. Whereas, tech radar only has 45 and I haven’t got any solid proof of this, but I have discussed with a few other SEOs and they agree that the fact that it is 45 out of 144,000 when expressed as a percentage is less than 0.05% of their website versus a near 100% for both the top 2 results. While they will outrank smaller niche sites with ease I think when you actually have authority niche sites in a SERP these generalised tech sites are going to struggle.

If we were advising on a new domain looking to enter this niche I would advise them if they haven’t already purchased the domain that it should include the word VPN if possible and that if they don’t have a very large budget or a very strong outreach team that this niche isn’t for them.

 

When looking at the number of domains needed to rank I will always leave out DR0-10 (sometimes 0-20) when it is a competitive niche like this because I find that you will pick up these links naturally as you start to gain traction and a lot of these will be spammy links anyway.

This does make the numbers a lot less intimidating but it you are still looking at absolute minimum 300 (same as restore privacy without the 0-10DR) referring domains but more realistically it’s probably going to take somewhere in the middle if you are using good, relevant links with impeccable on-page and technical SEO so 750 would probably be a good bet. Even if you are getting your links at a great price using your own outreach team it is probably going to be just under a 6 figure investment as the competitors have a lot of authority links, that being said if you did rank you could recoup this in a few months when you are ranking.

Other factors to consider:

Internal Linking

The reason I mention internal links even though I said I wasn’t going to cover on-page is because if you have a super powerful page internally linking to the page you are trying to move up the SERPs it can pass a lot of juice. This is why sites like //www.gearhungry.com/ have so many internal links from the homepage, the homepage is generally the most powerful of the site and therefore it spreads the link juice throughout the site efficiently.

Another example is Andrew Drinkwater when his (fantastic) internal linking article gained traction and backlinks his link building page shot up in rankings even though no changes to the page had been made and no new links acquired. So if you’re in a rush to rank this is something I always suggest looking at, you can build links to pages which are already internally linking to a page or edit content on a page which already has external links (note: I would actually make content changes rather than just adding the internal link). But that being said I think the relevance of the page also needs to be taken into account, with large tech sites like tech radar who we looked at earlier it can look like they have more supporting content than they actually do. So if we look at the first link here they are placing internal links in non-relevant articles and non-contextually. If you build internal links within content from relevant content, you will see far better results in my opinion.  

Tier 2 Backlinks

Tier 2 backlink is something we preach about at DFY because they’re a great way to make your guest posts go further while keeping a clean tier 1 backlink profile. So while I’m not going to go into great depth with this section it is always worth checking the tier 2 of the backlinks pointing at a site. I actually know of a large agency who really show the power of tier 2 link building, whenever a new client comes onboard the only thing they do for link building initially is build tier 2 links to the backlinks the client already has and they generally see good movement, quickly without too large of an investment. To check for tier 2 backlinks look at the tier 1 referring domains and click the down arrow on the links to target column.

Link Relevance

I’ve left this one to last because while it is very important to have strong referring domains we are seeing more and more that the relevance of the links is what is really moving the needle but it is hard to quantify this one using tools. I think you just have to look at the backlink profile of your competitors manually on ahrefs.

So lets say you have a skincare site, (assuming both the sites metrics are equal) a backlink from another skincare site will give you more movement than a guest post about skincare on a general news site. At least this is what we have been seeing. This is something that Gary Wilson has been preaching in our facebook groups for a while and having built thousands of links over the last year I completely agree. That being said we will often take placements where we can and take into consideration that we will require more backlinks than competitors if our links are less relevant. This is a for a few reasons such as, it’s hard to get a large amount of links from a very niche type of site, you will soon run out of inventory, also, these niche sites are often weaker than the more general site type of links we can get, so this helps to even it out a bit.. But that isn’t to say it isn’t super important to try and secure these relevant links.

 

The best way I’ve found to check relevance was again shown to me by Gary Wilson and it does take quite a lot of manual input. So you go over to ahrefs and look at the backlinks tab of the URL you are wanting to check. Select do follow backlinks again, for the reasons previously explained and then go across to the drop down of Any 2 targets and unselect the bottom 3. It will then look like this:

So the keyword this was ranking for was payday loan, so I began with payday loan as these links that show up are going to be super relevant for the most part. Remember if the domain contained payday loan or was about payday loans specifically this is better than a payday loan article on a general site.

So this link would be the most highly relevant link you can get.

The domain, the URL and the title all include the main keyword. It’s a shame it isn’t a very powerful link but the relevance definitely will help move the needle for payday loan related keywords.

So, I begin very specific with the first search and then will go broader.

So, my next search of the backlinks would be loans and I am just looking to see how many links the sites have that are relevant. Quite often when a site which isn’t ranking but is more powerful in all aspects the issue comes down to relevance so they will have lots of non-niche specific links compared to their competitors. In Googles eyes if you have a lot of links from very niche specific sites it establishes you as the authority as they are essentially referencing you. But you do still need the power so there is a balance that needs to be maintained.

Anchor Text Selection

When it comes to anchor text selection at my previous agency we had subscribed to Matt Diggity’s method where you look at the top positions of the SERP and follow the anchor text ratios seen there but now we have moved on to a different method.

Now it isn’t so precise, we try to keep the anchor text very natural, so this means we utilise a lot of branded anchors (even to inner pages), title, URL and a lot of partial match anchors but never really repeating the same anchor. This isn’t to say that we don’t look at what our competitors are doing, we always look at the top positions but we are less rigid on following what they have but we have seen great results for our clients doing this. Some comment that we don’t use miscellaneous anchors in our selections e.g. click here or read more, this is because we find we pick up these links naturally but if your site doesn’t you might want to sprinkle in a few of them in but even then we wouldn’t use many of these.

Another thing that we have done more and more is move away from exact match anchor texts, I’m not saying we won’t use them but we will usually save them for a very powerful, super relevant link where possible and then not use them again (unless it is a very competitive term). While there are many variables as always in SEO a few friends that do SEO had commented how they had been  noticing drops or no movement when they used exact match anchors. While I haven’t seen the drops in rankings that they were talking about I have seen them used a lot with no real effect.

So that sort of explains our anchor text selection, it is a little chaotic and I’m sure it has left you with a few questions of what do we actually do for anchor text selection? It’s always easier to show an example so I’ve picked this URL to show you (I’ve chose a URL which already has a decent amount of links as I know a lot of people struggle more with this):

www.wayfair.co.uk/furniture/sb0/coffee-tables-c225536.html

If I was building 10 links to this page the anchors would probably be:

  1. wayfair.co.uk/furniture/sb0/coffee-tables-c225536.html
  2. coffee tables for your lounge
  3. coffee tables from wayfair
  4. here is where we purchased our coffee table
  5. a large selection of coffee tables
  6. view the coffee table on wayfair
  7. Coffee Tables – Glass, Oak, Marble & More You’ll Love | Wayfair.co.uk
  8. wayfair.co.uk
  9. buy coffee tables here
  10. UK stockist of coffee tables

The only anchor text that we repeated was the URL or branded, the others are all new variations. The majority of the anchors actually include the keyword but within a phrase.

 

Not all sites are going to need this many links to rank for their main keywords, we actually do a lot of link building for local clients. So lets say that we have a builder like (Acorn in the screenshot) from Southampton looking to rank for builders Southampton.

When we look at their backlink profile (combined with the domain rating of 1) you are able to realise that they have a lack of power, so the authority sites are able to outrank them based on sheer power alone. Their links are all citations / directories.

So I would use 5xDR35-50 niche edits with the following anchors:

  1. //www.acorn-builders.co.uk/
  2. Building services Southampton
  3. This is the builder we used in Southampton
  4. Acorn Builders
  5. Acorn Builders in Southampton

I would also look to pick up a few very Southampton specific links as well (e.g. Southampton city council / Southampton Echo / Southampton networking events) the power of the links doesn’t matter so much, it’s more for the geo relevance. Usually the client will have links to pick these up themselves, you might need to do the email asking for them, but they will usually have the connection to talk to.

Out of 5 of the selected anchors 3 are branded but they all contain the keyword due to the branding so this should give the site the relevance to push it up the SERPs along with these local links that often the bigger sites like check a trade / yell won’t ever get.

5x DR35-50 Niche Edits should only set you back $650 pre-discount.

Thanks For Reading

I hope that this blog gave you some insight into how you can improve your backlink analysis and anchor text selection to see awesome results like we have with our SEO campaigns.

We are always improving our processes in-house so if you found this useful let us know in the comments and we will update this in the future as we learn!

And if you have any other methods that you are using that I have missed or have a question, the comments are open down below.

Thanks

– Jack

More To Explore

29 Comments

Reply Gonçalo Costa March 27, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Awesome article Jack. Really enjoyed it. Are you heading to Brighton SEO in April?

Reply Jack Vivian March 27, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Thank you, yes I will be, are you? If so will catch up with you there.

Reply Gonçalo Costa March 28, 2019 at 7:58 am

Yes. I’ll be there!

Reply Jack Vivian March 28, 2019 at 12:53 pm

Awesome will catch up with you at the meal.

Reply Tom Livingstone March 27, 2019 at 2:59 pm

Jack, insane write up dude! Your strategies are tidy.

I’m using partial anchors in abundance, very aggressively in some niches, and in some cases without any exact matches at all, and seeing some awesome results.

Not to say I’m not going to drop any exact match anchors in soon, but keeping meta and contextual relevance as high as possible from niche sites (I’ve got to thank Gary Wilson for enlightening me about reverse relevance in Chaing Mai) is working wonders this year.

Reply Jack Vivian March 27, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Thanks Tom 🙂
I’ve been seeing the same, hammering the partials really has been working well for us.
Yeah man, it really is working wonders. I’m the same I knew about relevance but Gary helped me take it to the next level and it has really paid off.

Reply Chris Lewis March 27, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Interesting article, but the links to spreadsheets are missing.

Reply Charles Floate March 27, 2019 at 3:12 pm

Fixed that for you now 🙂

Reply Andy Halliday March 27, 2019 at 7:51 pm

What a great article. It’s full of great advice which even experienced SEO’s can take advantage of.

I’ve been using Gary trick for about a year since the mastermind – its pretty powerful technique.

Reply Jack Vivian March 28, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Cheers Andy, yeah man by the sounds of it all of us at the mastermind got a lot of value from it! See you at Brighton?

Reply Dean Scaduto March 27, 2019 at 8:04 pm

Enjoyed reading this article, Jack. I appreciate and respect your methodology to competitor analysis. This article felt like the perfect combination of written content and imagery. Great work buddy!

Reply Jack Vivian March 28, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Thanks Dean, appreciate it.

Reply andrew March 27, 2019 at 11:13 pm

got a ton of value out of this post, great stuff!

Reply Aaron March 28, 2019 at 2:39 am

You killed it Jack! Dropping some knowledge bombs on the community 🙂

Just messaged you guy’s on a custom order. Looking forward to it!

Reply Jack Vivian March 28, 2019 at 12:54 pm

Cheers Aaron, glad you enjoyed it. Will get back to you ASAP 🙂

Reply cyrusshepard April 2, 2019 at 6:05 am

Jack, great post. Would love to see a post from you focused 100% on anchor text selection 🙂

Reply Jack Vivian April 2, 2019 at 11:53 am

Thanks Cyrus, glad you enjoyed the post. This might be my next post actually, I’ve had a few people asking about the anchor text selection. I do realise this section probably isn’t the clearest in this article.

Reply Andy Cockayne April 2, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Interesting stuff Jack, very useful and I’ve bookmarked… I’m currently working on my first ‘real’ affiliate site and so I will refer back to this and will be using the DFYLinks service in due course!

Reply Jack Vivian April 2, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Cheers Andy, let me know if you get stuck. Will you be at Brighton next week?

Reply Abindra Raj Dangol April 2, 2019 at 2:38 pm

Jack Vivian, Loved your insights on choosing anchor texts for the backlinks. Do you maintain the percentage for exact match keywords? Can you share this one?

Reply Abindra Raj Dangol April 2, 2019 at 2:39 pm

What about anchors for internal links??

Reply Jack Vivian April 2, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Abindra, this is a totally different subject again I tend not to repeat many anchors unless it is natural to do so. The exception is that I will repeat exact match anchors with internal links as I think you can be a lot more agressive with internal anchors. If I have time I will often look at the top 3 positions of a SERP in sitebulb / ahrefs and see what their internal linking strategy looks like. Hope this answers your question.

Reply Jack Vivian April 2, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Hey Abindra, glad you liked it. No I don’t maintain a percentage for any of my backlinks to be honest. I am always looking at the rest of the niche, for example I know in casino there has recently been a big increasee in exact match anchors and I am watching the data to see what is happening before jumping in and doing it myself as I try to avoid exact match as much as possible because I think once you’re over optimised it is hard to unoptimise and I am still getting really good results from partial variations.

Reply Abindra Raj Dangol April 3, 2019 at 5:01 am

Thanks 🙂

Reply Johnny April 4, 2019 at 8:38 am

Nice post Jack

Reply Eric Van Buskirk April 9, 2019 at 8:40 pm

Fantastico post, Jack. Seriously. I’ve been endlessly puzzled as to why there aren’t more articles about link “types” as opposed to outreach strategies. White/Black, whatever, the fact is there is not much written about how G treats the actual “placed” or “altered” or “removed” link and how all that effects ranking. I also don’t understand why there isn’t research using 20 thousand + data points of URL, anchor text, and niche of URL/domain to see how niche of the url or domain effects power of the going to similar niche. Not easy to do, but I’ll do it if Tim S. wants, if, and it’s a big if, I actually have time to do a sizable data study this spring.

Reply Jack Vivian April 10, 2019 at 2:49 pm

Hey Eric, firstly thanks for taking the time to read it. I completely agree, I know in my circle there’s a lot of talk about link loss and the negative effects it has. I would particularly be interested to see how altered links are treated. I’m pretty sure Tim is happy to share data for research and if you could analyse it I know I would be interested to see what you find out. The problem with SEO is that there are so many moving parts it always makes me warey of what data supposedly ‘shows’

Reply Top Shelf Bread April 23, 2019 at 7:06 am

With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or
copyright infringement? My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it looks
like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my agreement.
Do you know any methods to help protect against content from being ripped off?

I’d definitely appreciate it.

Reply Top Shelf Bread April 28, 2019 at 11:52 pm

I love the efforts you have put in this, appreciate it for all the great content.

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