Watching Your Competition to Build a Connected Brand

Read the original post published on the iCrossing Great Finds Blog on Mar 21, 2012.

CMOs worth their salt compare competitors’ search engine presence against their own. The savvy CMO probably has someone on his or her team tracking competitors’ ranking and traffic data as part of the process of watching the competition. But those metrics don’t create an adequate competitive snapshot. You also should look at your competitors’ inbound link profiles if you want to build a connected brand by being more visible.

Inbound link building has long been a cornerstone of a successful SEO program. It’s no secret that search engines value signals passed from other sites and sources via links to your site and that those signals have an impact on your site’s authority. Conventional wisdom says that having more signals via links means you have a more authoritative site. Consequently, some companies measure their visibility by comparing only the number of their inbound links to the number of their competitor’s inbound links. But it’s not just the number of inbound that can have an impact on site authority. The following inbound linking factors, and related action items, can make your site more visible than your competitors’ sites.

Most Linked-To Pages

Your homepage sees more links than any other page on your website. However, identifying which categories, product pages, or blog posts are receiving many inbound links can help you understand which information your competitor feels is important, or which topics are popular enough to receive many inbound links independently.

Anchor Text

Because a link counts as a vote for a website, the anchor text of that inbound link tells the search engines which keywords are being “endorsed.” Consequently, the site is going to be found relevant for the keyword phrases associated with the anchor text of their inbound links. Plenty of tools can help you see the anchor text of your competitors’ inbound links. Having that visibility can help you understand which phrases your competitors might value in their online marketing activities, and which phrases the public already associates with their site.

Looking at the anchor text of their inbound links can also help you identify some of your competitors’ less “wholesome” link building tactics. If you’re seeing many links with the same anchor text, and those links are also coming from sites that aren’t terribly relevant to their industry, your competitors may be engaging in paid linking, which is frowned upon by the search engines. This type of activity – while it may boost rankings in the short term – can be found out and penalized by the search engines. Paid linking can easily be identified. So take care to dig deeper into your competitor’s linking tactics before moving forward with your own.

Unique Domains

If you and one of your competitors both have about the same number of backlinks coming to your site, take a look at how many unique domains those links are coming from. All things being equal, 1,000 links coming from one site are not as authoritative as one link coming from 1,000 sites. Having a higher volume of unique domains linking to you and finding you relevant and authoritative on a topic will make you a stronger authority. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on the amount of domains linking to your competitors.

High-Authority Domains

Alternatively, fewer links from authoritative domains are going to hold greater value than many links from average domains. Typically, authoritative websites (such as a .edu or a .gov domain) can pass along a greater amount of link equity than a .com domain. When you’re taking a look at your competitor’s inbound links, try to identify which educational or government organizations are linking to them, and think about what you can do to attain those types of links for yourself.

When you’re reviewing the basics of your SEO reporting, don’t be afraid to dive deeper to gain a better understanding as to what the competitive data can mean. Each competitor, and the link building tactics they deploy, has a story, and discovering that store can mean the difference between an insightful, successful online marketing strategy, and a disconnected one.

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