I recently started re-reading some Chinese philosophy and it got me thinking about link building. I am a fan of Sun Tzu （孙子）—the Zhou Dynasty author of The Art of War. Even though the book was written over 2,500 years ago, it's quite relevant to the world we live in today. In fact, one of Sun Tzu's quotes is directly applicable to link-building!
“Analyzing your competition is much like preparing for battle.”
Sun Tzu once stated that one should know the enemy before going into battle. It’s the same when it comes to getting links that will help you outrank your competitors in search engines—know who they are, what they do, and how you can leverage this so that you can win. Let me elaborate by comparing some of Tzu’s ideals:
1. Study the enemy and their resources: Analyze your competitor’s website—who exactly links to them and why? You can use Moz Open Site Explorerto see who links to your competitors and what content is linked to the most. This helps you compare the needs their website is filling that yours isn’t. The audience that is interested in their content may not even know that you exist.
2. Study the enemy and how they fight: This is crucial. Find competitor's inbound links--find out if they are paid or organic, directories or articles, mentions or guest posts, etc. If their links are paid, figure out a way to counter those in a more legitimate fashion such as good content creation and link baiting. Do not follow their bad example - instead over achieve by going above and beyond with high quality content.
3. Use their own strengths against them: Sun Tzu says this in a variety of ways from supplies to psychological tactics. Find out the few most valuable links they have pointing toward them - perhaps by using SEOMoz's Linkscape - and make sure to get those and even better!
Doing analysis alone will not necessarily get you on page 1 of Google, but it is an important step toward getting you there. While it may not literally be a war when you want to improve your visibility on the web, the tactics are the same. Get to know your enemy and you'll already be on the path to victory.