Competitive Link Building with Open Site Explorer and BuzzStream

Competitive link building is identifying and acquiring links to your competitors’ websites. Going after these types of links is a great way to “help level the playing field” and may have a higher success rate than other types of link requests since websites (prospects) are already linking to one or more of your competitors.

In this post, we are going to walk through the process – from identifying to the links with Open Site Explorer to requesting these links using BuzzStream.

Step 1: Getting Started

Let’s pretend I’m working for a client that sells high quality dog collars at a competitive price.  While I may already know my client’s top competitors, it’s valuable to use Google’s results pages to get a feel for who ranks highly for different competitive keywords and search terms.

The first step in the process will be to choose a keyword or search phrase that we’ll perform a non-personalized search for in Google. We will be looking at and making note of competitor’s specific pages and domains that are ranking on the first or second page that we can analyze for link opportunities.

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I use the Mozbar for Chrome extension (it’s also available for Firefox) to quickly qualify prospects by examining the Page and Domain authority and the number of backlinks pointing to a page or domain.

After you’ve found and made record of 3-5 competitors’ pages, it’s time to login to Open Site Explorer so we can start exporting data.

Step 2: Gathering Data

After logging into Open Site Explorer, enter one of the competitor’s URLs and hit search. Once the tool has loaded the results, filter them to make sure you are getting just external backlinks and not internal results from the root or sub-domain.

Set the filters in OSE to show “all” links from “only external” pages to “pages on the root domain” (or to “this page” if you’d like to limit your results to a specific page relevant to the query) and “show links ungrouped.”

Choose “all” links to look at no-follow and non-equity passing links in addition to followed links  – nofollow links are still valuable for diversifying a backlink portfolio and potentially sending valuable referral traffic back to a website. Once the results have been filtered, click Export to CSV and follow this process for all competitor URLs you’ve collected.

Once the results have been filtered, click Export to CSV and follow this process for all competitor URLs you’ve collected.

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Being Efficient: 404 Analysis in OSE

Because we’re already in OSE looking at competitors’ backlinks, let’s also navigate to the Top Pages tab in the OSE tool for each competitor, and look for any pages that are returning a 404 header status in the HTTP Status column.

If we do find a top page on a competitor’s site that is returning a 404, click through to the page from OSE to verify that it’s indeed a 404 error. Once on the page, a quick way to see if a page is truly returning a 404 header status is to install the AYIMA Redirect and HTTP header checker plugin for Chrome which will immediately show if the page is returning a 404 header status.

If the page does return a 404, copy and paste the URL into the Wayback Machine to get a feel for the content that was on the page and determine if your client has comparable content you could suggest as a replacement or supplement to the broken link.  Navigate back to OSE and click the magnifying glass underneath the result to view the inbound links pointing to this page. We’ll again need to quickly filter our search to show all links from only external pages to this page and show links ungrouped.

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Click-through to any inbound links pointing to the 404 you’ve discovered that you feel would be good opportunities and qualify the prospect (decide if this is a page that makes sense for your website to have a link on).

If you feel this is good opportunity to pursue, BuzzMark the page, and update all relevant fields (be sure to add all appropriate tags!) and click save. After clicking save, you’ll be directed to the next screen where you’ll add a note describing the approach and the opportunity. Next, click on the email that was discovered for the link partner to go to BuzzStream where you can perform outreach.

Once we’ve searched the competitors’ website for a replacement page for the original broken link we discovered in OSE, it’s time to reach out to the prospect letting them know about the broken link, provide them with a replacement for the broken link (if one is available) and suggest our  website as an additional resource for the page.

Informing a prospect about a broken link on a specific page is a great ice breaker and keeps outreach emails centered on providing value as opposed to potentially jumping the gun and asking for a link. If you do find a broken link and time permits, you may want your initial outreach email to only include information regarding the broken link as well as a compliment or reason why you like the prospect’s website.

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Step 3: Back to Our Competitive List

Once we have all of our competitors’ backlinks downloaded to CSV files, we’ll need to copy and paste the URLs from our exports into the BuzzStream tool.

There are a few different ways to add prospects into the tool, but the method we’ll be using is to click on the “Add Link Partners” tab and select “Add from List of URLs” in the drop-down menu.

Next, copy and paste all backlinks from our competitors’ inbound links exports from OSE into the tool and select “Specific web pages I want links on (or that are already linking to me)” and click “Add Websites.”

Don’t worry about matching any additional fields, since BuzzStream will discover contact info, social networks, and authority metrics which you can later configure in your column preferences.

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Step 4: Qualifying Prospects

Now that we have a list of our top competitors’ inbound links uploaded into the BuzzStream tool, we can start qualifying pages and performing outreach. You may choose to again filter by different authority metrics and start with pages that meet a certain criteria (e.g. websites with a Domain Authority greater than 30, or PageRank greater than 3/10).

Filtering can be quickly done by selecting “Filter” directly underneath “Link Partners” in the top navigation which will give you the option to filter your list using a variety of different options and fields.

Now that we have a list of filtered URLs, we’ll want to navigate back to the “Link Partners” tab, find and click on “View in BuzzBar” and select “All Link Partners in the Current Filter.”  The BuzzBar is a great new feature in the BuzzStream tool that lets you quickly qualify a prospect, add notes, change the project status and more.

BuzzStream Tip: You can open a prospects website in a new tab while in the BuzzBar by clicking the right arrow in the far right corner in the top menu.

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Not Qualified

It’s highly likely that we’ll run into prospects that aren’t good opportunities. For these types of websites, make sure to change the current status to Not Qualified before moving on to the next link partner by clicking the right arrow to the left of the prospect so we can filter out and delete these results when we return to the task.

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Outreach Best Practices

One of the great features of BuzzStream is the ability to test different email templates. Some possible components that you may want to test is the length of email, how many emails (follow ups) you send, opening salutations and more.  For more insight into outreach testing and best practices, check out this awesome case study from iAcquire.  The following are some basic components we will want to include in every outreach email:

Introduction: If we can’t find any specific contact information, testing has shown a simple “Hello” can be effective. Next, we’ll want to introduce ourselves, our position, and a brief description of who we are representing.

Proposal: Next we’ll want to explain why we are contacting the website, what we like about the website (comment on a recent article, the website’s purpose, the functionality, layout, etc.), and why including a link back to our client’s website will enhance an article or resource list and provide value to their readers. This is also where we’ll want to alert the website to any broken links we may have discovered on the page using the Check My Links Chrome extension. It’s also a good idea to follow an individual or brand on their social media accounts and engage with them on a recent post or update. We may additionally need to use utilize these social channels for outreach if we don’t hear back from our email outreach.

Outreach tip: It’s O.K. to follow-up with a website a few times if you don’t initially hear back.  In iAcquire’s outreach study, they found that they were able to achieve 60% more responses by sending a second or third follow-up email to a prospect.

In his SMX Advanced 2013 presentation, Justin Briggs cited a Xerox outreach case study which showed a 57% increase in request compliance when “because” was used in the outreach email e.g. “Our resource would serve your readers because . . .” This type of testing highlights the flexibility and power of BuzzStream and is another brilliant insight gleaned from testing to make outreach more effective.

Looking Beyond a Link Request

If the website looks like it serves your target audience, we may also want to do a little research and provide a few topics we feel would resonate with the site’s audience for a potential guest post opportunity.  Be sure to include a link to your website which will make the email look legitimate and also provide the recipient with a few links to recent posts on your website which will give them a chance to look at the awesome content that’s already being created.

Building Relationships Takes Time

Content marketing and relationship building is fun when you’re strategic and focused on value. Because we are looking to build long-term relationships with high-quality sites that serve our target audience, it’s important to remember that these mutually beneficial relationships worth building are usually not built overnight.

We can make sure the odds are in our favor by taking the time to do a little research, making sure our entire message is centered around value, testing and making the most out of every opportunity we find.  You’ll find that by following these guidelines, you success rate will improve which will assist you in becoming more efficient and effective.



  • Ruben

    Hi, i don’t want to sound dumb but when you say “copy and paste the URLs from our exports into the BuzzStream tool”, which BuzzStream tool do you mean, i see many tools… sorry i’m new here :).

  • Hey Ruben,
    In this case, Brian’s referring to the “Add a List of URLs” option in the “Add Websites” dropdown.

  • This is something I have never done so far in SEO. Looks like a good way to get links from relevant websites. Will definitely try it out.

  • Rod

    Hi Brian,

    Just an FYI, Open Site Explorer does not let you export all external links of webiste (only a small part). You can view all of the external links however directly inbound links tab but that is not ideal..

    You can check the large difference with the amount of links by counting the ones you export and by checking the amount of Total External Links if you go to the Compare Link Metrics tab (towards the bottom).

  • Phillip

    Great article Brian! I love learning how BuzzStream can increase my efficiency and provide greater results for my clients.

    I appreciate the details in the post as well. I was familiar with some of it, but not all of it, and so actually seeing the screenshots and having instructions helps me to quickly begin using these methods.

  • Hey Brian.. Sweet and simple article on getting quality backlinks

  • Well written and helpful article. I love the in depth step by step process Brian provides. He makes a complex process easy by walking us through the steps to obtain quality links to increase the SEO. So easy a small business owner can do this.

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