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Backlink Profile Benchmarking: Measuring your Site Authority vs. your Competitors

Top eCommerce Lead Generation Strategies
Backlink Profile Benchmarking: Measuring your Site Authority vs. your Competitors

CTO/Founder at LinkGraph
Since the early days of SEO, Google’s #1 ranking factor has remained the same: Backlinks. So if you want to rank on page 1 for valuable keywords in your industry, it’s important to understand how your backlink profile measures up against your competitors.

Comparing site authority metrics like Domain Authority and Domain Rating is a good place to start, but site owners should also be considering other factors in order to understand if they can actually compete for high-value keywords in organic search.

Backlink competitor analysis can give site owners strategic guidance on how to create an off-site link-building strategy that helps them outrank top competitors. The following post will cover the fundamentals of backlink competitor analysis, including:

  • What is a backlink profile and why it matter for SEO
  • The qualities of a healthy backlink profile
  • How to do a backlink profile comparison
  • Reverse-engineering your competitors’ off-site strategy

What is a Backlink Profile?

Your website’s backlink profile is the collection of links that direct users to your website. It also includes anchor texts and the referring domains where your backlinks come from. Collectively, your backlink profile represents how well-trusted and reputable your website is in comparison to other websites in your industry.

Why Do Backlink Profiles Matter in SEO?

Google’s original PageRank patent states that “the rank assigned to a document is calculated from the ranks of documents citing it.” In the landscape of the internet, those citations are backlinks. Every time one page links to another, it passes along a portion of its PageRank.

PageRank is the primary way Google measures the trustworthiness, value, and quality of a web page, and pages with higher PageRank are more likely to rank well in search results. Google used to show site owners the PageRank of web pages, but they removed this feature after black-hat SEOs leveraged PageRank to manipulate search engine results.

Today, a website’s backlink profile is the best way to understand how Google perceives the authoritativeness and trustworthiness of said site. Understanding your backlink profile, and making efforts to improve it, is arguably one of the most impactful SEO strategies a site owner can implement.

What Makes a Healthy Backlink Profile?

Simply having a few backlinks doesn’t mean your site authority will automatically improve in the eyes of search engine crawlers. When it comes to a strong, healthy backlink profile, Google looks at a variety of factors.
Total Number of Backlinks: More authoritative websites tend to have more backlinks. However, not all links are created equal, and more backlinks is not a guarantee of stronger site authority.
Unique Referring Domains: A referring domain is any website that links to yours. Of all factors, the number of unique referring domains in your backlink profile has the most impact on your site authority.
Dofollow vs. Nofollow: If a link is “nofollow,” it does not pass along any PageRank to the linked page. Most SEOs agree that only dofollow links help build site authority
Domain Authority/Domain Rating: Because more authoritative web pages pass along more PageRank, backlinks from websites with higher DA and DR scores move the needle on your own site authority more quickly.
Relevant Anchor Text: Google also looks at the anchor texts of our backlinks to understand their quality. If the anchor text is irrelevant to the linked page, Google will be less trustworthy of the link.
Anchor Text Diversity: Diverse anchor text is a sign of a healthy, natural backlink profile, because not every website is going to link to your website in the same way.
Topical Relevance: Not only do backlinks from more authoritative websites have a greater impact, so do backlinks that come from websites with topical relevance to yours.

How to Benchmark your Backlink Profile Against Competitors

A backlink profile comparison involves analyzing two or more domains for the above quality factors in order to better understand PageRank and ranking potential.

To actually perform competitor backlink analysis, you will need to use a backlink tool that allows you to see your own backlinks as well as your competitors, like Serpstat, SearchAtlas, or Ahrefs.

There are many ways to do backlink analysis – some more granular than others – but for site owners just getting started with developing their off-site strategy, these steps give you the best high-level overview of what it will take to complete.

Step 1: Identify your Competitors

There are two ways to do backlink profile benchmarking. 1) Analyzing the links of a specific SERP that you want to rank for, or 2) Analyzing the links of a single domain.

If your team is primarily focused on ranking for a specific keyword, then you would want to compare the backlink profiles of the web pages that are ranking for that desired keyword.
Serpstat Keyword Research tool: Competitors in organic search
Serpstat Keyword Research tool: Competitors in organic search [Source]
If you’re more generally focused on becoming more authoritative in your industry for multiple keywords, you will want to identify a website that is similar to yours and is already ranking in top positions across a multitude of high-value keywords in your industry.

Once you identify who your competitors are, then you can move forward with your benchmarking.

Step 2: Compare your Backlinks and Referring Domains

The next step in your competitor analysis is to get a high-level overview of how your backlink profile measures up against your competitors.

Because backlinks and unique referring domains will have the biggest impact on your rankings, you will want to primarily focus on these two factors. It’s also important to look at other performance metrics like site authority, organic keywords, and organic traffic.

They can provide insights on whether or not your website can compete with another in the SERPs.

Backlinks and Referring Domains Comparison Example
In the below example, I compared my own company website, linkgraph.io, against a competitor’s. If I were to only look at the total number of backlinks, it may seem that my website could not compete in search engine results.
But when comparing performance metrics, linkgraph.io ranks for more keywords and earns more monthly organic traffic than vazoola.com. How can that be?

Although in general, more authoritative websites tend to have more backlinks, this comparison highlights that simply getting more links is not a guarantee of increased site authority and better keyword rankings. There is a dampening factor with links. The second, third, or fourth link from the same site will not be as impactful for improving rankings.

Because although having far fewer backlinks, linkgraph.io has more unique referring domains than vazoola.com.
Having many referring domains in your backlink profile looks more natural to Google than having tons of backlinks from just a few sites. It’s also possible that Google values linkgraph.io’s links more because they come from more authoritative websites.

Having a variety of referring domains that are well-trusted is a strong signal to Google that your website is perceived as authoritative in the larger community of the internet. This is likely why Ahrefs rates linkgraph.io as having a higher Domain Rating score than vazoola.com.

At first glance, linkgraph.io can most likely compete with vazoola.com in search engine results. To stay competitive, linkgraph.io will want to continue widening the gap by earning more high-quality backlinks from new, relevant websites.

Step 3: Compare Anchor Text Distribution

In addition to total backlinks and referring domains, there are other quality indicators Google looks to in a website backlink profiles, including anchor text and topical relevance.

To get a better understanding of how those anchor text factors may be impacting the ranking potential of your site in comparison to your competitors, you can use a tool like SearchAtlas.

Although site owners have very little control over how other webmasters choose to link to theirs, it’s important to understand that anchor text does have an impact on how Google perceives the quality of your links.
Anchor Text Comparison
Let’s continue the backlink profile analysis by comparing linkgraph.io and vazoola.com’s anchor text.
backlink profile analysis in linkgraph.io
A few key observations:
Linkgraph.io has more branded anchor text than vazoola.com
Linkgraph.io has more anchor text diversity than vazoola.com
Linkgraph.io has more high CPC anchor text than vazoola.com
Vazoola.com has little to know high CPC anchor text
In a natural backlink profile, the majority of a website’s anchor text will be branded, so 30-40% branded anchor text is expected. When looking at our analysis, linkgraph.io’s anchor text distribution looks fairly healthy.

However, too much exact match anchor text, or anchor text with high CPCs, can signal to Google that a website may be trying to manipulate search rankings. In my website’s link building and public relations efforts, we would want to reduce our percentage of high CPC anchor text by building up more branded and partial match links.

This will help Google crawlers better see our link profile as natural and organic.

Step 4: Analyze Topical Relevance of your Referring Domains

If you are a technology site, but all of your backlinks come from arts and entertainment websites, that will look less organic to Google crawlers. A healthier backlink profile will have lots of referring domains that share some industry relevance.

Google is smart enough to understand not only your website content, but what industry your brand belongs to. As a result, their crawlers want to see backlinks from websites in similar industries to yours.

Some websites do have multiple areas of expertise, but when considering your primary service offerings or products, it’s important to understand the type of topics your products or services fall under.
Example Topical Relevance Comparison
So let’s continue on with our competitor analysis example. As SEO agencies, I would expect the majority of linkgraph.io’s and vazoola.com’s backlinks to come from business or technology websites.
Example Topical Relevance Comparison
In this analysis, both my company’s website and my competitor show a healthy level of topical relevance with our backlinks. If this were not the case, my team would want to focus on earning more relevant links from websites in the SEO or digital marketing industries.

If you’re not quite sure what websites you should try to be earning backlinks from, this is also a great way to discover better outreach targets.

Reverse-Engineering your Competitors’ Off-site Strategy

Off-site SEO is arguably the most challenging part of search engine optimization, because for the most part, backlinks are completely outside of site owners’ control.

Site owners can not make other webmasters link to their web pages, and organically earning high-quality backlinks requires lots of effort and resources on PR and content marketing teams.

But one benefit of backlink profile benchmarking is that it can help you understand your competitor’s off-site signals and try to reverse-engineer it with your own strategy.

See Why your Competitors Are Getting Backlinks

To take a granular look at your competitors’ backlinks, export a list in a tool like Serpstat’s competitor backlink analysis tool to get more details.
Serpstat Backlink Analysis tool
Serpstat Backlink Analysis tool [Source]
Some insights to gather from this list include:
The referring domains where your competitors are getting their backlinks
The most common anchor text being used to link to your competitors
The type of content being linked to on your competitors’ websit
You can leverage this information to deploy a more targeted link-building and public relations strategy.

Also, look at the top pages report in Serpstat to see which pages on your competitor’s website are earning tons of high-quality backlinks. Make sure you create similar content on your own website.
Serpstat Backlink Analysis tool: Top Pages
Serpstat Backlink Analysis tool: Top Pages [Source]

Reach out to Similar Websites for Organic Link Building

In addition to backlinks, download a list of your competitor’s referring domains. Then, do manual outreach to the same or similar websites to see if they want to link to your content.

Here is a look into vazoola.com’s most authoritative referring domains.
Checkout page
You can also easily export that same information to a spreadsheet. Below is linkgraph.io’s top referring domains as seen in spreadsheets. Naturally, you’ll see similar referring domains because of the similarity of our service offerings.
Checkout page
In addition to Ahrefs’, SearchAtlas allows you to compare up to 4 competitors and get a list of common referring domains they share.
Checkout page
From this list, you might identify websites that you have not yet considered in your own outreach efforts. Prioritize earning links from the most authoritative websites so you can move the needle on your site authority more quickly.

Target Similar Keywords Where your Competitors Are Ranking

If your competitor backlink analysis proves that your backlink profile has a long way to go to catch up, then avoid those more competitive keywords where your competitors are likely to get on the first page, regardless of how high-quality your content is.

But when you identify competitors with whom you can compete, look to their top-performing keywords and optimize your content for them. Most likely, you can get into top positions alongside them, or outrank them, with a high-quality, relevant piece of content.
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Final Thoughts on Competitor Backlink Analysis

Although this process takes some time and the right software tools, the insights your team can gain are extremely valuable for being more targeted and effective in your off-site SEO efforts.

Leverage the backlink data as best you can so you can start building your own site authority and ranking for keywords that bring your website qualified traffic and potential customers.
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The opinion of the guest post authors may not coincide with the opinion of the Serpstat editorial staff and specialists.

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