Copying your competitors’ backlinks, good or bad?


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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
This post was written by , Dave is a digital marketer specialising in SEO and PPC, and can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

3 Responses to “Copying your competitors’ backlinks, good or bad?”

  1. Dave, excellent advice. I’m doing some competitor analysis for a small manufacturing client. One of my objectives is to identify high-quality industry-focused directories to submit to. One of the first directories I found, requires going through a promotional service which (along with the free submission option to this directory alone) offers packages of 5,000, 25,000 and 100,000 directory submissions (max pkg. price = $100.)

    Two immediate thoughts here 1) Google sees the links (to this brand new website) go from a handful to 1000s more or less overnight, and 2) I have absolutely no insight into the directories to which my client would be submitted — or how many of those are already in Google’s “doghouse”.

    I realize bulk directory submissions are a fairly common practice. I’d be interested in any opinions you’ve developed around this.

    • Dave Cain says:

      Hi Glenn,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Having seen this kind of exercise done before, results in the first month may be good, but after that, the website will drop off the face of the earth. The other thing is directory submissions which are low quality, and will ultimately look spammy at such a high submission level.

      I’d only spend a very small amount of time doing directory links and that’s just to make the backlink profile look natural and diverse.


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