Competitor link building is an SEO strategy that follows a simple principle: do what works. Rather than getting backlinks from websites at random, this strategy has you focus on getting the same links that are helping your competition rank higher than you.
Of course, the idea here isn't to just mindlessly copy every link. Your goal is to evaluate your competitor's backlinks, so you can copy the best part of their strategies. Do that with 2-3 competitors, and you may be able to beat all of them.
This guide will cover everything you need to know to start building your own competitor links today, for free. All you'll need is an SEO tool and some patience.
How to Build Competitor Links
The nuts and bolts of competitive link building are quite simple. The process comes down to identifying your competition, getting a list of their backlinks, qualifying that list, and building your links.
1 - Identifying Your Competition
There are many ways to go about determining your SERP competitors. But the simplest method is to see who is ranking higher than you for your target keyword.
I'll be using eSimfy.com as an example for this guide. That's an Invalley pet project we launched earlier this year, and we used competitor link building as part of the strategy there with great results.
Since eSimfy is an eSIM price comparison tool, keywords such as "eSIM comparison", "eSIM finder", and "eSIM + LOCATION" were all high on our priority list. A quick look at the top results for "eSIM comparison" gave us several prime candidates for competitor link building.
Ideally, your chosen competitors should offer the same or a similar service to yours. In the image above, the top 3 results — esimdb.com, esims.io, and esimradar.com — are all direct competitors to eSimfy.
2 - Obtaining a List of Backlinks
Finding out where your competitors are getting links from is easy if you have the right tool. SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz.com can all get the job done. I'll walk you through the process of getting it done using SEMrush.
First, you type in the name of the website you want to inspect and click on Domain Overview.
Then, you click on the number of backlinks that the website has.
And that will take you to an extensive list with every single backlink pointing to your competitor's domain.
You don't have access to professional SEO tools? Don't panic! There are free alternatives out there. Ahrefs' free backlink checker shows you the top 100 backlinks a website has, for example. Once you have the list, we need to work on narrowing it down.
3 - Qualifying the List
Trying to navigate a list with thousands of backlinks can be overwhelming. But you can narrow that list down a lot by being clever.
Let's take a look at esimdb.com for an example. That website ranks #1 for "eSIM comparison" and it has a total of 1.4 thousand backlinks to its homepage. Let's narrow that list down.
First, we filter to only show links from English-language websites, since eSimfy.com is only available in English.
Next, we can tell SEMrush to only show us "active links". By default, SEMrush will show us lost and broken links as well. That can be useful for other SEO strategies, but not for what we're doing today:
And as you can see, that already narrowed the list down from 1.4 thousand links to just 434.
Finally, you can filter based on the type of link.
You probably know the difference between a do-follow and no-follow link. So let's talk about the other two filters.
A sponsored tag marks a link as coming from paid content. Our goal here is to get competitor links for free, so you can ignore that tag. And "UGC" means "User Generated Content". That tag is mostly used for links posted on forums and social media.
UGC links are typically the easiest ones to obtain. So if you're looking for easy wins, that is a good place to start. For esimdb.com, applying the UGC tag gave us a list of niche-relevant forums we could get links from.
Use these filters to check the backlinks of your various competitors. And build a short list of sites you may want to get links from. Make sure to veto the SEO quality of those websites as well, as links from toxic pages can do more harm than good. This link building quality checklist can help you with that.
4 - Building the Links
This is the most context-dependent portion of the guide. Now that you have a shortlist of sites, how do you go about building your links from those sites? Well, there are four main methods you can use.
4.1 - Submit Content Directly
This is the method you use for sites that accept user-generated content, such as social media pages, forums, Q&A websites, etc. Getting links from these is easy — you just create an account and then look for opportunities to direct users to your website.
This should be done in a way that genuinely helps other users. Such as suggesting a useful blog post on your website to answer someone's question.
We haven't been building Forum Links for eSimfy.com. But we did get an organic mention in this forum post.
4.2 - Create a Listing
There are plenty of sites and business directories out there such as Google My Business, Carrd.co, and About.me. Often, getting a link from those sites is as easy as creating an account, and then adding your business to the directory.
4.3 - Reach out to the Website
Outreach is the method you'll use to secure guest posts and press coverage on various websites. You can get both of those for free, I've written both a free blogger outreach and a free press outreach guide already.
How hard this will be to pull off depends on the size of the site you're targeting. Big news websites may never even open your pitch emails. While small and niche blogs may be excited to interview or accept a guest post from someone involved in your industry.
4.4 - Reach out to the Author
If your competitor was mentioned as part of a list article, you may be able to get your website included in that list. Link insertions are a popular link building method, and they can be very effective when done right.
Just contact the website or the author behind a list article, and suggest that they edit the list to include your site. Make a case for yourself by explaining how having your name on the list would benefit readers.
We have gotten eSimfy.com mentioned in a few relevant lists around the web, including moneysavingexpert.com:
In some cases — such as links in wiki pages — you may be able to edit the list directly. Like in this example from prepaid-data-sim-card.fandom.com:
We didn’t edit that ourselves. But we could've.