By Nicolas Pustilnick

Analysing your competitors
backlinks – a case study

Last week I decided to get back to the basics of SEO: Analyse my competitors backlinks profiles, a task that I have to say is not done by many SEOs these days at least not as much as they say. One of the most important key-phrase in our niche is ‘’SEO company Sydney’’ due to the local factors and also the fact that it’s a keyword which is part of the prospecting or researching phase of the buying cycle, plus it has a good chunk of searches a month. My plan was pretty obvious, I did a search and took the first ranking result, a company that has ruled the first place for the key-phrase for at least 1 year – they must be doing something really cool. 1- I started analysing the classic stats, Domain authority and Page authority are normally correlated with good rankings, In this case the company have achieved 47/100 in Page authority (the home page), which is not bad at all, but the domain authority was actually pretty low. The next step was finding its Google Page rank, and I found it was a Page Rank 3, so a good results’ but far from great.

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Image source: Moz graph (opensiteexplorer.org)

I was a bit surprised that the website, which has pretty much monopolized the number 1 ranking for a very competitive keyword in the SEO word had these very ordinary stats. 2- I decided to dig into their backlinks, I wanted to know which sites were linking back to my competitors’ website using the key-phrase ‘’SEO company Sydney’’, I found something that was both really interesting and very obvious: my competitor also develops websites, the same as we do, therefore they are able to reach their clients and ask for footer links, which is or was the most common thing to do in the past, the pre-history of SEO. Also checked for domains pointing to the competitor’s site using ‘’SEO company Sydney’’, I found that the first domain had a domain authority of 40 which is not bad for a backlink.  I found at least 20 domains with the exact key-phrase pointing back to my competitor’s website.

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Image source: Moz opensiteexplorer.org

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Actual view: Site wide footer back-link OK, until that point I wasn’t all that surprised. It was when I took the next step that I began to think everything I thought about SEO is wrong. I found that most of the back-links came from site-wide footer links that come from third party not topically related websites, a practice that has been demonised by all the SEO experts out there, specially after the Penguin algorithm. This was one of Dr. Pete’s (a guy I respect) recommendations after Google Penguin, so things we should avoid.

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Source: http://moz.com/blog/penguins-pandas-and-panic-at-the-zoo But then a few weeks ago, I read another great MOZ post http://moz.com/blog/ranking-factors-2013 (I’m not trying to promote MOZ! Its just that they do pretty good articles) in which they explain the correlation of their stats. Moz has probably the biggest link index out there excepts for Google and Bing and they can check the correlation in rankings of the different SEO variables, e.g. meta title, keyword used in the h1 tag, organic anchor text distribution amongst many others. They also published what SEO’s thought the search engine factors were. The first graph depicts what Moz’s index showed were the most important rankings factors (computational driven statistics), and the second graph shows what the SEO experts think based on their experience. Let’s discuss one item: Anchor text. The Mozcape stats say that the number of exact match domain anchored text is the most important variable in the anchor text world, while SEOs think it’s the organic distribution (a more theoretical view post Penguin) what it’s more important. Clearly my research shows that in this case SEOs sometimes speculate a bit too much, or that Google in this case is not classifying the backlinks based on the editorial qualities as we tend to read.

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MOZ – mozcape statistics

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  SEO professional’s opinions. Now I have a problem.  Should I reactivate these very old practices and achieve my goals faster or should I follow my instincts (which tell me site wide footer links will be banned by search engines)? I think I will try out into my competitor’s methods as an experiment, and I’ll get back to you with my results in later post.

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