A long time ago, I used to be a link builder. I found so much passion in developing link building campaigns for my clients and networking with other link building folks like Garret French and the late Eric Ward. I was always looking for new ways to develop links and improve my client’s search engine rankings. Today, link building has gotten a lot harder and more strategic and for those who don’t know, link building is the second half of an SEO strategy. First, you have to have your on-page SEO dialed in and second, you need to have the right links pointing at the right pages of your website with the right anchor text.

In today’s post, I wanted to walk through how we perform a backlink analysis and set a link building strategy for our eCommerce clients here at Stryde. If you’re planning on doing this yourself, the only tool you will need to subscribe to is Ahrefs.com and you should plan on spending a few hours digging into the data and coming up with your plan. Before we dive in, let’s answer a few of the most commonly asked questions about link building.

What Is A Backlink?

A backlink is a hyperlink from one website to another. The search engines like Google & Bing use backlinks as a way to determine if a website is credible and deserves to rank. In theory, when one website links to another, they believe the content is trustworthy. Backlinks are still a major part of Google’s ranking algorithm and high-quality backlinks will help to increase website’s ranking position and visibility in the search engine results pages.

What Is A Referring Domain?

A referring domain is a single website that links to another one or more times. For example, if a web page has a backlink from Wikipedia, then it has one referring domain. If it has a link from Wikipedia and from the New York Times, it has two referring domains. If it has two backlinks from Wikipedia, it still has one referring domain. The search engines not only like to see more links pointing at a website, but they like to see a higher number of linking websites.

What Is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the words use that hyperlinks display when linking to another website. They traditionally display as blue underlined text, but each website can style them however they’d like. The search engines use anchor text to understand what they can expect to find at the link’s destination. It is another signal the search engines use to determine relevancy.

What Are The Different Types of Anchor Text?

  • Exact Match: Exact match anchor text is when you use the exact keyword(s) you want your webpage to rank for. An example of this would be using the words eCommerce SEO and linking it to our SEO page.
  • Partial Match: Partial match anchor text is when you use your target keyword you want your webpage to rank for in conjunction with other words/phrases. An example of this would be using the words check out our eCommerce CRO services and linking it to our CRO page.
  • Branded: Branded anchor text is when you use your brand name or URL to link to one of your web pages. An example of this would linking Stryde.com to any page on our website. In this case, I linked it to our paid social media page.
  • CTA: CTA anchor text, in when you use some form of a call to action like click here, learn more, find out how, etc. to link to one of your web pages. An example of this would be linking the words learn more to our paid search page.

Backlink Analysis

Now that we’ve addressed the most commonly asked questions, let’s dive into how to analyze a website’s backlinks. In order to create the strongest link building strategy, you have to collect and analyze different data points for your website as well as the highest ranking websites for the keywords you want to rank for. Before we dive in, I think it’s important to note that Google ranks individual web pages, not sites as a whole. So, what does this mean? It means that if you want to rank for a specific keyword, you’ll need to look at the SERP (search engine results page) and see which URLs are ranking for that keyword and perform a backlink analysis on that page, not necessarily the site as a whole. Make sense?

To start, we do want to analyze a couple of sitewide metrics to get a sense of how they are building links back to their website.  The four data points we are going to look at are as follows:

  • How credible a website is (domain rank)
  • How many links the website has (link volume)
  • How many unique websites link to the target site (referring domains)
  • Which pages of a website get the links (link distribution)

After we look at the sitewide metrics, we will dig into page level metrics to get to understand exactly what they are doing to build their links and attain their rankings. The four data points we are going to look at are as follows:

  • How many websites link to the target page (link volume)
  • What is the quality score of the links that link to the target page (link quality)
  • What types of links are pointing at the target page (link types)
  • What kind of link text is used to link to the target page (anchor text)

I like to keep all of this data in a Google doc so I can see each competitor side by side. Once you have the data side by side, it’s very easy to see exactly what you need to do in order to outrank them.

Domain Rank

In order to pull any of the backlink metrics we’ll be looking at, you’ll want to login to Ahrefs and enter the website URL into the search bar. When the results come back, you will be taken to the main overview page. At the top of the page, you will see eight different metrics.

Domain rank is a score given by Ahrefs that helps you quickly understand how trustworthy a website is. It takes into account how many links a website has from how many referring domains and what each of their trust scores are. The higher this number is, the more likely the website as a whole is trusted by the search engines. For example, if your website is a 20 and your top competitor is a 50, you’ve got some work to do in order to catch up. This doesn’t mean that you can’t outrank them with a lower DR score, we have done so plenty of times, it just means that, in general, the site is more trustworthy.

website domain rank

Total Website Links

After looking at domain rank, the next number we should be concerned about is “backlinks”. This metric is important because it includes all links the website has and the more “quality” links, the higher a site typically ranks across the board.

total backlinks

Total Referring Domains

After looking at total backlinks, you’ll want to look at the next metric, referring domains. This metric is important because the search engines like to see links from as many unique websites as possible. We also like to take an average number of links per domain. We get this number by dividing number of backlinks by referring domains. For the example site I’m looking at, they have approximately 16.5 links per website linking to them. Obviously, the lower that number is, the better.

total referring domains

Web Page Link Distribution

The last metric we’re going to look at for the site as a whole, is what we refer to as web page link distribution. To get to this report, you will navigate down to the pages section in the left sidebar and click on the words best by links. This will give you a list of all of the pages on a website that has backlinks pointing at them. You will want to sort the results by clicking on referring domains.

Link distribution shows us how many links each page of a website has. One of the things that the search engines look at to determine if a website is trying to manipulate rankings is how many links are going to each page. If a website has the majority of their links going to one or two pages, it looks very unnatural and can bring penalties. Naturally, the home page will collect more backlinks than others. What you want to see is that 10-15 pages of the site all have similar counts of backlinks within a dozen or so links.

backlink distribution

At this point, you should be able to tell if a website has done a pretty good job with their link building. Let’s get into the page-level metrics. This is where the magic starts to happen.

When it comes to eCommerce SEO, 99% of the time, your category or product pages are going to rank vs your home page. The first thing you’ll need to do is identify which page on your website you want to rank for your keywords. Once you know that, you can run the following analysis on your individual page and the rankings pages of your competitors. Enter the page URL and start looking at the following metrics.

Total Page Links & Quality

To get to this report, you will navigate to the backlinks section in the left sidebar and click on backlinks. Next, you’ll click on one link per domain, this will give you the number of links this individual page has. Our example page has 142 unique domains linking to it. That’s a decent amount of links and a good metric to compare against.

Next, you’ll want to sort the links by UR (URL rank). This is the credibility score that the individual page linking to the site has and passes through to you or the competitor, whichever site you’re analyzing. What we’re trying to understand here is how many great links this page has and how many great links we will need in order to outrank this URL.

total page backlinks

In theory, if this is the top-ranking competitor, you would need 142 links to your page with the exact same UR for reach link + one more in order to outrank them. However, we want to do it with fewer, better links.

What you’ll need to is pull in all of the links with a UR of more than 15 into a spreadsheet. From here, we like to use the rule of 10, meaning, we’ll need that many links with a UR of ten more in order to have the credibility needed to outrank them. Here’s what that might look like in a spreadsheet.

top links report

This isn’t a perfect science, but gets us close. Basically, we will need 10 links with a URL of 52, 39, 38, 34, 30, 28, 28, 27, 27, 27 and then maybe a few more depending on where things land. It’s pretty straight forward.

Types of Links

Next, we want to look at what type of links the page has, this activity is very manual. Start clicking through to each site and making note of what they are. Are they all bloggers talking about/featuring the product? Are they business directories? Are the news publications? The reason you need to understand what link types they have is because you’ll likely need to get similar links in nature. If they are all blogger links, you’ll probably need to get blogger links as well. If it’s a blend, you’ll probably need a blend.

Anchor Text Usage

Lastly, we need to look at the anchor text used to link to the page. Remember, anchor text is used to tell the search engines and users, what the linked page is about.

To get to this report, you will navigate to the anchors section in the left sidebar. Next, you’ll sort by referring domains. Our example page has 68 variations of anchor text. We like to pull the top ten anchors.

anchor text

From here, you can gather a few things. One, this particular website uses a lot of branded and partial match anchor text. In order to outrank them, you’ll also need to use a fair amount of branded and partial match anchor text, but you’ll also need to start working in some exact match anchor text. All it should take is a few variations of the keywords like “baby carrier”, “ergonomic baby carrier”, etc. and you’re in business.

After you’ve gone through the process for one competitor, you’ll need to repeat the process for your top 4-5 ranking competitors and analyzing the data to build your link strategy. As you have clearly seen, it’s not rocket science, but does take some time to pull the data, analyze it and come up with a plan. From there, you just need to document and execute the plan. Start reaching out to bloggers to see if you can work with them, start submitting your site to high-quality business directories, etc. We like to create a 90-day map that shows which links we’re going to build or acquire each month and then work the plan. It keeps us organized and results-oriented.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some SEO and link building help, please request a proposal here. One of our strategists will call you to learn more about your business and put together a custom plan to help you achieve your goals.

Greg is a member of the executive team at Stryde and a seasoned digital marketer who has worked with thousands of businesses, large and small, to generate more revenue via online marketing strategy and execution. Greg has written hundreds of blog posts as well as spoken at many events about online marketing strategy. You can follow Greg on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.