Backlinks are a core tenant of SEO, but they are also an area that many site owners and agencies struggle to understand. I get it. It took me a while to nail down our process.

In this video, I’ll share how to do a backlink audit on your competitor to see what links they have. This will help inform your decisions about which links you need.

The best part is, I only use free versions of SEO tools to achieve this. Alright, let’s go!

Video Transcript:

Thanks for checking out this video. If this is your first time watching, or maybe you’ve been watching a while and you haven’t subscribed yet, please do so now. We would love to have you join our community and don’t forget to turn on alerts, that way you know each and every time we create new content. As I said in the intro, we’re going to be looking at how we can spy on our competition’s backlinks.

When we do SEO, backlinks are a fundamental part of that. Some of these links you’re going to earn naturally where people are going to see your content, they’re going to like your content and they’re going to link to you and that’s why you need to have good content that really helps people and that engages people because then they’re going to do it naturally. But sometimes if you want to get some of those high level links, you’ve got to do a little bit of PR.

You got to do a little bit of nudging and you’ve got to start to build some of those links and some links that are really good to build our sites, like resource sites and directory sites and forum sites that are in your niche that you’re building relationships in. So there’s a number of links that we can use to build our authority and our trust with the search engines.

When we’re starting out and we want to make sure that we’re going to rank well or maybe we’re in a competitive space and we want to beat the competition, we’ve got to make sure that we have the links that our competitors have. At least the good links that they have. That way it evens the playing field as far as Google is concerned and then all the other stuff you’re going to do on top of that, it’s what’s going to help you grow and increase your visibility.

You might have a list of competitors, companies that you know that you’re directly competing with. What you need to make sure is those are the same companies that you’re competing with in the search results. A lot of times people will give us a list of their competitors, but the reality is the terms that they’re targeting and the terms that their competition is targeting are not similar. So one thing we can do is make sure that we’re targeting the right terms, but also that the competition that we’re going after is the competition in search. What I like to do to get started is do a search and see what the search results look like. Go to Google, type in one of your keywords. So for us, we’re an SEO agency. Now here’s a cool thing, right? Google is going to do this suggestive search for you.

This can also give you some other terms that you can search for. I’m in incognito right now because I don’t want Google pulling my search history and influencing the results for me. I want to see a broad generic result. I don’t want to be signed in. I want to see this natural results that they’re going to show me. So when I hit this, it’s going to give me a couple of things here. I don’t want them to know my location fully right now, but they are going to pull some things in the map pack because of my IP address. So you do see us here ranking here locally, which is fine, but that’s not what we’re going for. We’re not talking about the local pack right now. I want to look at some of these other sites in here.

We have a list of websites that we could possibly target that are targeting the same sites, and are showing up from the same results as a term that we would want to show up for. So we can take a look at some of these and make a list of them. And what I would do is export all of these URLs and domains. But for the sake of this, I’m going to go ahead and minimize this and pull it over here.

You’ll notice I’ve got three tools over here you opened up and the reality for this is we can use each one of these tools at a free capacity to get a lot of information. So for instance, let’s say we’re going with I know this guy’s actually more local to me.

But we can pull over and first we’re going to look at Serpstat. This is going to have a number of tools. It’s an all in one SEO platform. I’ve done some stuff on Serpstat before. I think it’s actually a really good tool and it’s got good data. So you take the URL with your free account and you drop it in here and you hit search. Now this is the domain overview tool. So this is going to use the basic domain metrics, visibility, search engine traffic, number of organic keywords. They don’t have a lot going on here as you can see. It’s probably not a site that I’m going to spend a lot of time and energy on, looking at their backlinks because as you can see they don’t have a lot going on. We want to go back to our list here and let’s look at somebody maybe a little bit bigger. So we can go here, Next Level Digital Marketing.

Again, I know nothing about the companies I’m typing in here. I don’t do a lot of direct competition. I think there’s a lot of business out there for everybody. But I do like to look at where people are getting their links from.

So again, pulling page trends, all this kind of jazz here, competitor graph. As you can see there’s a lot of things going on here. They’ve got 10 referring domains, is what Serpstat is pulling. In my case, I’m looking at this and I’m like, 10 referring domains, probably not worth my time and energy. A lot of these sites are local sites. Let’s go a little bit deeper here. All right, it looks a little bit bigger, that seems like a pretty big domain. You have to spend a lot of money if you want to domain like that. All right, so let’s take a look.

All right, here we go. These guys have almost a quarter of a million monthly visitors in their search traffic. Ranking for 20000 organic keywords. This site probably has a lot of content. It’s got a lot of traffic. It also means it probably has a lot of backlinks.

So I scroll all the way down here and I’ll look at here and I want to see the backlink overview. This site has 105,000 referring domains, according to Serpstat. I want to look at referring domains and not just backlinks in total. The reason for that is you can have tons of different links from one domain, but we’re looking at that root domain, not all the different links. We don’t need to know that they have 20 links on a Forbes article. That doesn’t really help us. We need to know that they have a link at I can type into this report and this is going to give me all of the referring domains and I can export all of this data, which is typically what I like to do.

And then I’m going to go through and start to build some analysis around it. Again, page rank. If you hover over there to tell you what they all mean. Page rank influential, the URL, the domain is, this is their stack. Trust rank is how much authority or trust the domain has. This is how Serpstat will do it. You pull this list out and then you make a list of sites that have a good authority, that have good trust rank. If they’re sites like this, like zero and they’re not probably worth your time and energy to go after. That’s one way to do it with Serpstat. Moz Pro has some free tools as well, Link Explorer got an update I think it was a year ago and now you can do lots more with Moz Pro.

Let’s go ahead and put that same domain in here. And what do you know it’s not pulling any information. All tools getting their data from other places. Let’s continue to see, maybe we need to do but they’re not seeing anything.

So this might mean they just don’t have it indexed in their system, which is really interesting. I’m going to go ahead and refresh one more time. That’s what happened. Got logged out. So once you log in to Moz, you can have a free account, you can do a paid account. Moz has a number of good free tools as well. They have a new tool they put out. A domain analysis tool that’s pretty cool as well. I highly recommend you check it out. But Link Explorer is great. I can do up to 10 queries a month or something.

This side has a domain authority of 50. Now domain authority has become a very commonly used metric in the SEO world. The thing about domain authority, it is a metric that Moz has created. Google doesn’t look at domain authority, but domain authority can give you an idea of how how strong a domain is. So that’s why it’s still worth looking at. According to Moz, they’re seeing 6100 ish linking domains, is number of actual links, root domains, and then through those sites we’re seeing over 400,000 links. Again, we want to look at the linking domains here. Once again, we can export all of this to a CSV. And then we’re going to want to look at things like domain score, linking domains of that site, spam score. This is really cool.

This is one of the reasons I would probably lean more towards the Moz tool, if you’re going free right now. You’re not going to get a ton of links. You’re going to have to obviously sign up lot more. But you can start to see links like it has a high domain authority, but if you notice it has a 33% spam score. And the reason why is one, all of the links you’re going to get Forbes are going to be no follow. And number two, they have a lot of guest content and people have used Forbes to promote themselves a little bit instead of to add value.

You’ve got to be careful with the way you build links. You can’t write content, keyword stuff in and stuff your anchor text. You have to make sure that you do it in a natural way. Build a link that’s going to give you good referral traffic as well.

That’s one of the things I learned a long time ago from Eric Ward and he would always say, when you’re deciding whether or not to build a link, you need to say, would I build this link if it had no impact on search? Would I still build it? And that’s the only thing you have to ask about Forbes or Feed Burner. You can click and look at these sites, but Feed Burner is an RSS feeder from Google and so again, sometimes that can be used for for SEO spam as well. Moz is going to give you not as much data but it is going to give you some of this cool stuff in spam score and you can unlock more rows. If you have the Moz tool, linking domains from the link research is good.

The last tool I’m going to share with you is SEMrush, S-E-M rush, however you want to say it. Again once you log into your free account, you want to drop your domain there in the top and hit search. What it’s going to do is pull your organic search it’s going to give you the backlinks. So as you can see out of all of them so far, SEMrush has found the most total backlinks and it’s going to give us a lot of different data here. Very similar to what Serpstat did. Now what we want to do is take a look at the backlink report.

As this is loading SEMrush is going to give you a ton of additional data as well. Internal links, when it was last seen, when it was dropped. Some of these links might not be on this site anymore. You can filter through this and things like include, exactly matching, or only show links that are live, that sort of thing. You can also figure out if these are no follow or not. These can be helpful because let’s say you’re building links and you want to make sure that you’re getting followed links. SEMrush will tell you, okay well they’ve got a link on this domain market site but these are no follow links. So you’re not going to pass authority. They are going to show you a limited amount of information. Serpstat is going to give you the most information for free, but Moz and SEMrush are going to give you deeper data on the level of the link, it’s no follows, is it followed. Again, what’s the page score, what’s the trust score?

Everybody’s got their metrics here. Once you go into there, you want to look and make a list. Do you need to do follow links? Do you need to do no follow links? What kind of trust score do you want to get? If you’re beginning a site, you can probably go after sites with 20 or 30 trust scores. If you’re an older site and you already have a trust score or a page score of 50 or domain authority of 50, you’re going to want to go to sites that are bigger than that. Now, like I said, we’re only getting pieces of information here.

One tool that SEMrush has as well is called SEOquake. This is the last thing I want to share and it’s a powerful SEO tool for your browser. I can go over here into and I can put this domain in here. What SEOquake will do, it’ll allow me to see a bunch of data right here in the SERPs. Once you download it, you always want to make sure that you connect this with your SEMrush account. I’ve connected it. It’s starting to pull the domain score, the trust score, the average visits, the page per visit, the age, the bounce rate of the site, some good domain metrics. It’s going to give me here, here’s the linking domains.

I can click into this report and what SEOquake is now taking me over here to that report as well. Here in SEMrush. I can also pull things like domain score and once again it will feed into the domain score so I can get all that data straight here in the search results. You can also export the data from here or you can go a little bit deeper into each one of these different reports that they have available. It’s a pretty cool plugin and it does allow you to get right to some of this data, just by clicking it from the search results.

There’s also other parameters you can add so you can add backlink group domains. That’s obviously important. We were talking about root domains. Link root domains waiting, and it’s pulling that data right now. I can even do this thing called the SERP report. What it’ll do now is it’ll show me all the links that were showing up on that page. This is all of these links and it’s given me a list of other links. It’s going to give me the Alexa rank, which I don’t really care about, but Bing index web archive, how old the site is, and I’ll start pulling all the backlink data here too, which I then we can go deeper and deeper with.

All right, so there’s a number of different tools that we can use to spy on backlinks. And then what we want to do, like I said, is build a sheet in a Google sheet or Excel and organize them. Base them on, what’s our priority? Followed links, the trust score, how many links we can get, the niche that we’re in. Those are all the important things that we want to do in the analysis we want to do afterwards. But we have a lot of tools that are available even if we want the free plan. Serpstat is going to give you tons of data but maybe not as many different metrics, but they’re going to give you all this resources for free. And then SEOquake and SEMrush are going to give you a lot of data, Moz as well. But again, they’re going to cap you out at a certain level.

So I hope you guys learned something from this and know that there’s a lot of tools available to you. When it comes to link building, you want to do it in a targeted way. But you also want to make sure that you’re doing it in a human way, that you’re going after links to help build your authority, but also give you targeted referral traffic. Each one of these tools, depending on which one you’re using, has its pros and cons. I highly recommend you check them out and see which one meets your needs unless you have to already.

The tool that we use the most at our agency is SEMrush. It’s one that we’re in all day, every day, pretty much have a lot of really good data and it connects things really well for the SEO as well as your content team and a lot of other people working with you. Thanks so much for checking out this video. If you’ve got questions on anything, please comment below or message us. We’d love to continue the conversation and until next time, Happy Marketing.