One of the most important facets of SEO is learning how to build your portfolio of back links. These are links that reference your site and help to establish it as a trusted domain inside the crazy world of Google’s search algorithm. With a lot of high quality backlinks, you can build your website to untold heights; without them, you’re going to have a lot of trouble ranking for your target keywords. They’re important and you need to build them, but figuring out who to get them from can be a daunting task. Fortunately for you, a lot of this groundwork has already been done for you – by your competitors.

If you’re trying to break onto the first page of Google for a particular keyword, seeing which pages are linking to your competitors is a great way to go about finding potential link-building opportunities. It stands to reason that a page that’s willing to link to them will be willing to link to you: after all, you’re offering similar content/products that they’ve already expressed an interest in!

So how do you go about finding who’s linking to their sites?

Simple: with a back link checker. There are a number of free services online that will do it for you (although they typically only offer the first 10-20 links), and a number of paid services like Moz that will provide you with an in-depth report of who is linking to whom. Once you have these links, you can see which pages are being linked to, and in what context. You’ll be able to tell at a glance whether it was a guest blog post, a product given away in exchange for a review, or an original, informative publication that garnered the link – and after you’re armed with that information, you’ll know exactly what to do to get a link of your own. Do what your competitors did (but better!), reach out to the people who link to them, and watch the links flow in.

Not only will this process show you what your competitors are doing successfully, but it will also show you what types of content websites in your niche find most linkable. This will help make your link-building campaigns much more precise and likely to succeed. Are the majority of links going to their respective blog posts? If so, you’ll know right away that you need to pour some serious time and effort into a blog of your own. Do you see a lot of links originating from product review sites? If so, it’s time to start giving away products in exchange for reviews. You’ve got all the knowledge at your fingertips; now it’s time to use it to your advantage.

Finally, once you’ve done an in-depth assessment of your competitors’ links, it’s time to see where they’re falling short. Which influential sites haven’t they contacted? Who can you reach out to that they haven’t? The easiest way to find this discrepancy is by looking up a list of influential blogs and pages in your niche, and cross-referencing it with your competitors’ back link profiles. Identify the pages they’re missing, and target them aggressively. Each link you build will put you one step closer to leaving them in your e-dust.

Link building can seem incredibly difficult, but in reality it’s the online equivalent of door-to-door sales. If you knock on enough doors, you’re eventually going to get links, and once you do you’ll be well positioned to work your way up the search engine ladder. Use your competitors’ hard work to your advantage, identify their deficiencies, and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with in no time.