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Posted by mihai.aperghis

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.

Without a doubt, one of the main steps in creating an SEO strategy is the competitive analysis. Competitor backlinks can offer information on their link building strategies as well as giving you opportunities to strengthen your own link profile.

These opportunities are hard to identify manually, especially in competitive niches, where websites tend to have a significant amount of backlinks. Although some tools do exist that can ease up this process, like the Moz Link Intersect tool, I chose to build my own tool using Excel that would offer greater flexibility in handling data.

I wrote this guide to explain how you can build your own competitive link analysis in Excel, including a template to help you start right away.

What can you find in this guide:

What Is Link Intersect Exactly?

As you may know, the Moz Link Intersect tool (also known as the Competitive Link Research Tool or Competitive Link Finder), along with other tools of its kind, allowed you to find domains that link to your competitors but aren’t linking to you. You can thus find lots of link opportunities, especially on the domains that link to more than one of your competitors, since there’s a higher chance they might link to you as well.

The Moz tool is currently unavailable, but I have it on good authority it will be back up down the road.

The Excel version is somewhat the same thing, allowing you to view these domains, the competitors they are linking to, and from exactly which URL they link to them, in addition to other metrics that will help you decide which ones to contact.

Why Would I Need the Excel Version?

Here are the advantages of using the Excel version over other tools:

First of all, most tools that include finding link opportunities from your competitors are part of a bigger platform that usually requires a monthly subscription. Excel is a one-time thing (though the backlink source is usually a monthly subscription platform itself), and chances are you might have it already.

Second, if you have a small SEO business like I do (or are a freelancer) and can’t really afford a developer to build your own tools yet, Excel might be one of the most useful software at your disposal. It’s great for data analysis and visualization and has lots of nifty plugins that aid you in your day-to-day SEO job. Even more-so, almost every major online-marketing-related platform out there has the ability to export to Excel, giving you a centralized location of all the data.

Third, the Excel version will allow you to:

  • Use backlink data from ANY provider, not just OSE, as long as it has a Source URL (where the link is posted) and a Target URL (where the link points to); of course, any metrics can help you, but are optional for the functionality of the tool
  • Sort the data the way you need it, either by the number of competitors the domains links to, or by one of the metrics that came with your data
  • Analyze as many competitors as you want (as long as your computer can handle it)

Got It, Now Show Me the Magic!!

OK, if you’re still with me, I assume you’re interested in this tool, so I’ll take a step-by-step approach to explain how to create it. It does include a pivot table, but it’s really not that hard to use and I’ll use screenshots to show how to implement it.

If you want to skip to the end result, the last chapter includes a template and instructions on how to use it.

Tools of the Trade

Before we start the Excel-fu, here’s a list of what you need to have at your disposal:

  • You might be shocked by this one, but you will need Excel to make this work 🙂 I used the 2010 32bit version in my example, but other versions should work just as well.
  • Backlink data. You can use the Moz OSE, Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, MajesticSEO’s Site Explorer, basically anything that meets the requirements I mentioned above and has the ability to export to Excel. For this example, I’ve used OSE exports. An alternative would be using an API to get the data, that’s up to you.
  • 6 to 8 hours of your time. I’m joking 🙂

Step 1: Export Your Backlink Data (skip if you already know/have this)

This is fairly basic. If you’ve used Excel for backlink analysis before, you probably already know how to do this. Personally I have a Moz PRO account, so I’ll be using OSE for this step.

Since I’ve just recently launched my company website, I won’t be using it as an example. Also, since I am too lazy to pick a random website, I’m going to use seomoz.org as my primary domain.

I’ll choose 3 competitors (I mentioned you can choose as many as you want, but since these are fairly big websites, three should be enough for this example). These are: distilled.net, seerinteractive.com and seogadget.co.uk.

Getting backlink data from each of those sites (including the primary one) is straightforward. Go to OSE, enter the domain and click search. Next, you will want to filter the results to include only external links to pages on the root domain or subdomain (the latter if the site’s hosted on a subdomain that is fairly separate from the root domain, like a blogspot.com blog).

Open Site Explorer

IMPORTANT NOTE: Getting links to the root domain will usually get you more data, but will require the need of two additional formulas in step 3.

Optionally, you can filter this more to only include dofollow links. Be sure to click the Filter button once you’re done.

Next, you’ll want to download these links. Now, OSE gives you two options. Either use the “Download CSV” button and get up to 10k links, or use the Advanced Reports module where you have a daily credit limit and can export up to 100k links.

In case you use that, you’ll need to choose the “External linking page” and “Any page on this root domain” (or subdomain, accordingly) options. Everything else can be left as is, though you can choose to filter links with DA/PA higher than a certain value, to reduce the total number of results.

Open Site Explorer Advanced Reports

Note that you can queue exports, so you don’t have to wait for one to finish until you start the next one. You’ll get emailed when they’re done.

Repeat this for all your competitors as well. In the end, we should have four different CSV files (one for our backlink data, three for the data of our competitors).

Step 2: Import It Into Excel (skip if you’ve already done this and removed the errors)

It’s time now to open the magical software that our people refer to as Excel.

To get the data from CSV files, we have two options:

  • Either open the CSV files directly, copy the columns we’re interested in (this would be the URL, Target URL and any metrics you need) and then paste them into a new worksheet
  • Or use the Excel Text Import wizard to import the data into an empty worksheet without opening the CSVs

Both options are fairly simple, though the first one is easiest to do (won’t even do screenshots for this). The problem is that the first option doesn’t work if your Windows installation is set to a European country.

That’s because a CSV contains Comma-Separated Values, the comma being the default list delimiter in the US. For European countries, the default delimiter is usually the semicolon (“;”), which means Excel won’t read the CSV files correctly.

To resolve this issue, you need to open the Regional and Language Options from the Control Panel in your Windows installation and either set it to English (United States), or keep your current country and, in the Advanced Settings, set the decimal symbol to dot (“.”) instead of comma, and the list delimiter to comma instead of the semicolon. You can view the exact process here (Solution #3):

Alternatively, you can use the second option. The problem is, due to the way Excel imports data, some of it may be displayed erroneously, which would lead to some extra steps to clean up the data by removing all the errors. Due to this issue I decided not to include a tutorial on how to do this (but you can do it regardless if you prefer not to change your list delimiter).

Regardless of your choice, after including data from the first domain, copy the data for the other domains underneath, without including the header row again. This way you’ll …

You can read the full article at Moz Blog

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Posted by mihai.aperghisThis post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc. ...