What are your direct competitors doing in the way of backlink development? My research in over 30 verticals sheds some light on the question. This is part 2 of 2.
I posted Part 1 “What 70+ Hours of Backlink Checking and Research Shows…” on Search Engine Journal, in which I covered:
- Practical uses for this competitive intelligence,
- My methodology in conducting this research,
- Some fun data points for niche research,
Here, I’ll go over these three points:
- Screenshots of the data,
- My analysis and conclusions,
- Some caveats.
At the end, I’d love to hear comments from people of all experience levels. Don’t worry about sounding “dumb,” because there are no dumb questions: a desire to learn shows great intelligence!
The Raw Data From Majestic SEO
The screenshots below illustrate some of the data I used in making this analysis. The full data spreadsheet and all screenshots (including those not on this page) are available for download if you add my rss feed to your reader. If I put all the screenshots in this article, it would be data overload and look ugly.
Pay close attention to the vertical axis, as the increments it is measured in change from graph to graph.
Where 1 or 2 leaders were way ahead of their competition in backlink and/or referring domain counts, I took a second screenshot without them in the picture. This shows a clearer graph for comparison’s sake.
First, the single word keyword data:
Nasa’s relationship depth is 50 M/210K = 238.1 links / referring domain on average. The people who like NASA, like it A LOT.
However, that probably also includes some major blogroll and/or sitewide link love. And as a general remark, NASA is just a really remarkable organization…
Yet despite that, NASA ranks second for astronomy… behind Astronomy.com.
So the MLB is killing it, and then the other competitors are average Joes. Impressive that you can rank without being ESPN, TSN etc.
Also, notice how Baseball.com is second only to the powerhouse brand that is the MLB? Despite having fewer links and referring domains by far?
Exact match domain + ridiculous amounts of links and referring domains FTW! Ahead of the big brand! Damn…
Good luck beating the government for that keyword.
What’s really interesting about this market? Three things:
- 4/5 Ranking sites are major players in the food game – they’re big brand entities.
- 4/5 Have keyword rich domain names.
- 4.5/5 Are backed by major ideas that are in the popular conscience. FoodNetwork is a TV channel. Epicurious is a premium content brand, by that premium content brand company, Conde Nast. FoodTimeline is a ridiculously well researched resource that’s turned into linkbait. Whole Foods is of course the mega “healthy food” supermarket. And Slow Food is an anti-junk food reationary meme that got lots of press.
I don’t really get why, but Blue Nile isn’t in the top 3 for Jewelry, despite killing their competitors in backlink and referring domain counts.
Next, some 2-3 keyword data:
The most ridiculous numbers in absolute terms, by far. But according to Alex and various observers, these are inflated by links from parked domains that don’t have much real value.
Analysis and Conclusions
All keywords are not created alike!
Different commercial niches with comparable search volumes could have radically different competition levels.
For example, cat food and nutritional supplements show comparable exact match search volumes. Yet the number of links and referring domains you need to rank are significantly different. Cat food has a median 19K links, and 2K referring domains. Nutritional supplements has 71K median links and 4K referring domains.
For a business with its choice of niches, this literally means that each hour spent researching amounts to months saved link building.
You still need qualitative data.
If I were only to look at the numbers, I might conclude that cat food is a much better niche to go after than nutritional supplements. But that might be misleading, because if you look at who is actually ranking, you’re likely to recognize several national brands of cat food, but only 1 brand in the nutritional supplements game.
This maybe means that you need lots of trust to rank for cat food, in which case you need to focus more on PR and brand advertising.
These metrics are guidelines, not the 10 Commandments.
In other words, they’re just data points to consider in making a decision. If a metric shows great or terrible, investigate further. Don’t stop your research there.
For example, while I consider sitewide links to be one possible indicator of a strong brand, it’s not perfect. Indeed, the cat food brands didn’t seem to have high backlink/referring domain ratios that would tend to indicate a brand (I explain this metric in more depth below).
Furthermore, it’s unclear to me what referring domain count is useful for, except to find nepotistic junk if all of someone’s links are from a single site.
You absolutely need to start doing SEO asap.
This is because your competition are building links at a really aggressive rate.
- 60 of the 150 domains examined added over 1 million links last year.
- 72 of these domains have 1 million plus links now.
- 26 sites have 100,000+ referring domains. An additional 23 have 50,000 + referring domains. So 1/3 of the sites have 50,000+ referring domains. That’s some serious branding and relationship breadth to contend with!
Therefore, the historical numbers show that resting on one’s laurels isn’t enough, particularly in commercial niches.
Generic keyword domain names probably make life easier.
The data shows a really strong correlation between generic domain names ranking despite having fewer referring domains than competitors. As SEOs, we know that people link to us using our site names as anchor text, so this likely explains what happens with a generic domain name. You need fewer sources linking to you as “abc” to rank for “abc,” when your name is “abc.”
While generic domains that ranked often had their referring domain counts mostly below the median, they had as many or even more backlinks than the industry median. In other words, they can focus on link numbers and pay less attention to link diversity.
There’s a separate sheet in the Excel file I’ve created that addresses generic domains only, for those of you who want to see the numbers more closely.
Caveats and Limits on the Research
The exclusions I made are a significant limit on the validity of my research:
- I underrepresented blogs and other sites are located on subdomains of other sites, such as state government departments and university divisions.
- These exclusions lead me to the second or third page of search results for 2-3 keywords (eg Law)!
- Majestic SEO’s tool limits you to five domains to compare at once. So my research ended up looking at a broader selection of niches, but in less depth.
- I excluded many powerful domain names like CNN that compete with everyone. Analyzing them repeatedly would be pointless.
- Download.com – a redirect to Cnet – and few others’ numbers were odd, but don’t change much in the big picture. They’re highlighted in the spreadsheet.