by Juan Robin II
Let me tell you a story.
It begins with me in a hotel room halfway across the country, trying to figure out how I’m going to land a contract from a fantastic new lead, worth annually $250,000. We weren’t in over our heads by any measure, but the potential client was definitely looking at what most would call “enterprise” solutions and we weren’t exactly “enterprise.”
Could we meet their needs? Hell yes we could — better than our enterprise competitors — but there’s a saying that “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM”; in other words, it’s always safe to go with the big guys. We weren’t an IBM, so I knew that by reputation alone we were in trouble. The RFP was dense, but like most SEO gigs, there wasn’t much in the way of opportunity to really differentiate ourselves from our competitors. It would be another “anything they can do, we can do better” meeting where we grasp for reasons why we were better. In an industry where so many of our best clients require NDAs that prevent us from producing really good case studies, how could I prove we were up to the task?
In less than 12 hours we would be meeting with the potential client and I needed to prove to them that we could do something that our competitors couldn’t. In the world of SEO, link building is street cred. Nothing gets the attention of a client faster than a great link. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to land a killer backlink, completely white-hat, with no new content strategy, no budget, and no time. I needed to walk in the door with more than just a proposal — I needed to walk in the door with proof.
I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to link building, so I wasn’t at a loss when it came to ideas or strategies we could pitch, but what strategy might actually land a link in the next few hours? I started running prospecting software left and right — all the tools of the trade I had at my disposal — but imagine my surprise when the perfect opportunity popped up right in little old Moz’s Open Site Explorer Link Intersect tool. To be honest, I hadn’t used the tool in ages. We had built our own prospecting software on APIs, but the perfect link just popped up after adding in a few of their competitors on the off chance that there might be an opportunity or two.
There it was:
- 3,800 root linking domains to the page itself
- The page was soliciting submissions
- Took pull requests for submissions on GitHub!
I immediately submitted a request and began the refresh game, hoping the repo was being actively monitored. By the next morning, we had ourselves a link! Not just any link, but despite the client having over 50,000 root linking domains, this was now the 15th best link to their site. You can imagine me anxiously awaiting the part of the meeting where we discussed the various reasons why our services were superior to that of our competitors, and then proceeded to demonstrate that superiority with an amazing white-hat backlink acquired just hours before.
The quarter-million-dollar contract was ours.
Link Intersect: An undervalued link building technique
Backlink intersect is one of the oldest link building techniques in our industry. The methodology is simple. Take a list of your competitors and identify the backlinks pointing to their sites. Compare those lists to find pages that overlap. Pages which link to two or more of your competitors are potentially resource pages that would be interested in linking to your site as well. You then examine these sites and do outreach to determine which ones are worth contacting to try and get a backlink.
Let’s walk through a simple example using Moz’s Link Intersect tool.
We start on the Link Intersect page of Moz’s new Link Explorer. While we had Link Intersect in the old Open Site Explorer, you’re going to to want to use our new Link Intersect, which is built from our giant index of 30 trillion links and is far more powerful.
For our example here, I’ve chosen a random gardening company in Durham, North Carolina called Garden Environments. The website has a Domain Authority of 17 with 38 root linking domains.
We can go ahead and copy-paste the domain into “Discover Link Opportunities for this URL” at the top of the Link Intersect page. If you notice, we have the choice of “Root Domain, Subdomain, or Exact Page”:
I almost always choose “root domain” because I tend to be promoting a site as a whole and am not interested in acquiring links to pages on the site from other sites that already link somewhere else on the site. That is to say, by choosing “root domain,” any site that links to any page on your site will be excluded from the prospecting list. Of course, this might not be right for your situation. If you have a hosted blog on a subdomain or a hosted page on a site, you will want to choose subdomain or exact page to make sure you rule out the right backlinks.
You also have the ability to choose whether we report back to you root linking domains or Backlinks. This is really important and I’ll explain why.
Depending on your link building campaign, you’ll want to vary your choice here. Let’s say you’re looking for resource pages that you can list your website on. If that’s the case, you will want to choose “pages.” The Link Intersect tool will then prioritize pages that have links to multiple competitors on them, which are likely to be resource pages you can target for your campaign. Now, let’s say you would rather find publishers that talk about your competitors and are less concerned about them linking from the same page. You want to find sites that have linked to multiple competitors, not pages. In that case, you would choose “domains.” The system will then return the domains that have links to multiple competitors and give you example pages, but you wont be limited only to pages with multiple competitors on them.
In this example, I’m looking for resource pages, so I chose “pages” rather than domains.
Choosing your competitor sites
A common mistake made at this point is to choose exact competitors. Link builders will often copy and paste a list of their biggest competitors and cross their fingers for decent results. What you really want are the best link pages and domains in your industry — not necessarily your competitors.
In this example I chose the gardening page on a local university, a few North Carolina gardening and wildflower associations, and a popular page that lists nurseries. Notice that you can choose subdomain, domain, or exact page as well for each of these competitor URLs. I recommend choosing the broadest category (domain being broadest, exact page being narrowest) that is relevant to your industry. If the whole site is relevant, go ahead and choose “domain.”
Analyzing your results
The results returned will prioritize pages that link to multiple competitors and have a high Domain Authority. Unlike some of our competitors’ tools, if you put in a competitor that doesn’t have many backlinks, it won’t cause the whole report to fail. We list all the intersections of links, starting with the most and narrowing down to the fewest. Even though the nurseries website doesn’t provide any intersections, we still get back great results!
Now we have some really great opportunities, but at this point you have two choices. If you really prefer, you can just export the opportunities to CSV like any other tool on the market, but I prefer to go ahead and move everything over into a Link Tracking List.
By moving everything into a link list, we’re going to be able to track link acquisition over time (once we begin reaching out to these sites for backlinks) and we can also sort by other metrics, leave notes, and easily remove opportunities that don’t look fruitful.
What did we find?
Remember, we started off with a site that has barely any links, but we turned up dozens of easy opportunities for link acquisition. We turned up a simple resources page on forest resources, a potential backlink which could easily be earned via a piece of content on forest stewardship.
We turned up a great resource page on how to maintain healthy soil and yards on a town government website. A simple guide covering the same topics here could easily earn a link from this resource page on an important website.
These were just two examples of easy link targets. From community gardening pages, websites dedicated to local creek, pond, and stream restoration, and general enthusiast sites, the Link Intersect tool turned up simple backlink gold. What is most interesting to me, though, was that these resource pages never included the words “resources” or “links” in the URLs. Common prospecting techniques would have just missed these opportunities altogether.
While it wasn’t the focus of this particular campaign, I did choose the alternate of “show domains” rather than “pages” that link to the competitors. We found similarly useful results using this methodology.
For example, we found CarolinaCountry.com had linked to multiple of the competitor sites and, as it turns out, would be a perfect publication to pitch for a story as part of of a PR campaign for promoting the gardening site.
The new Link Intersect tool in Moz’s Link Explorer combines the power of our new incredible link index with the complete features of a link prospecting tool. Competitor link intersect remains one of the most straightforward methods for finding link opportunities and landing great backlinks, and Moz’s new tool coupled with Link Lists makes it easier than ever. Go ahead and give it a run yourself — you might just find the exact link you need right when you need it.