Copying your competitors’ backlinks, good or bad?


Image from SXC.hu

I was recently asked what my thoughts were around “offsetting competitors’ backlinks” – or in other words, copying what your competitors are doing.

As an SEO, one of the first things I and many other SEOs do is review the backlink profiles for competitors’ websites and review things such as anchor text, link source, relevance and so. But, looking at the longevity of link building and how this may be viewed by the search engines, it could actually cause more harm than good.

Point 1) It looks unnatural…

Google and the other search engines use backlinks as just one of their ranking signals, links work like votes. Apart from being able to see all these backlinks, they can also see how fast you may be achieving these links and how they stack up against familiarly websites.

Whilst it may work for a very short period of time, Google will undoubtedly devalue these links and potentially penalise your website, as this type of link acquisition looks unnatural.

Point 2) Walk before you can run…

With any link building campaign, you need to start out somewhere; typically this involves research and full back link analysis. Simply copying your competitors may see quick results – but then what?

Your competitors have already done the above (research and analysis) and they’ll know the places to gain good links. They’ll always be one step ahead of your website and ultimately will rank better than you – and this doesn’t consider point 1 above.

Point 3) Google may be tipped off…

Whilst it’s something I’ve never done and would do, other SEOs may and will report competitor sites to Google.

Once this has happened Google will be forced to act based on the information provided and this then could result in a penalty or the links being devalued.

So what should I do about link building?

I’d always advise reviewing what competitors are doing but ultimately, you need to find the best sources and link opportunities, yes there will probably be a cross over with some back links, but this is normal.

I’ve a few golden rules with link building which I’ve also found to work well:

  • Build links with a natural pattern
  • Gain links from many different sources
  • Use social as your primary link building tool
  • Trading links is pointless
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