Through my experiences with linking I found that turning what was once a chore into an opportunity helped me to open my vision. My goal is to build the presence on the net, for that particular niche and to make it happen I believe means stepping out of the box.
I researched this topic and found others who encourage and offer research services and that was very exciting to see. It reinforced my experience and that’s validating. I noticed some of the sites I dropped in on as those of posters here at Webmaster World. There’s good stuff out there for the picking folks.
When I think about the competition I need to know just who that is. Beyond finding them through a specific keyword/phrase you can run a search at Hoovers and other such databases for a list of businesses within your industry. During the industry research [webmasterworld.com] phase you’ll see names popping up. Keep an ongoing list and take notes on what appears to be important to you on first glance so you can come back later for further information.
From there you can then go through your keyword list and see how your competition is doing for specific keyword/phrases. Check out their backward links and actually go to the site that links to them and see what form that link takes. Every industry is a bit different from the other and you’ll find the more competitive industries having much higher linking standards. You’ll soon see standards of linking that may work well for a small craft hobby site not showing up at all for a site offering financial advice.
<side note>Strive for high standards in linking out and linking in, even if you see an acknowledged link for your competitor that appears to be working for them now, if it is tricky now I would consider it risky. <simple cautionary note>I make no claims but I do point out when it's good to be reminded to think before you link.
With linking as my focus I look to where my competitors can be found in the news. Can you find news releases and if so where are the showing up? Check out trade journals, trade newsletters, trade magazines and then see if you can find news on them through non-industry more generic and mainstream media. You want to ask yourself who is writing about them and what are they writing about? This includes the key people in the organization. We can find out a lot when researching the news for ‘Google’ now try looking for news on ‘Larry Page’. You’re bound to find references to Google and links in those news items.
During your research of your competition and your industry for that matter, you will most likely find companies that actually compliment you so keep an ongoing list handy. These complimentary sites can be turned into link partners at the very least and if you think in terms of Linking Outside the Box [webmasterworld.com], much more than that. This is where the ideas can flow.
Remember to look at the competitions internal linking structure. Gems, often I find gems.
Another tip and something you might miss in your research is discovering what the public feels about your competitors. Unfortunately for some, links to their site may be found surrounded by negative commentary. This won’t necessarily affect the link, unless they use negative text in the link but it can affect the company. Often you can find commentary on competitors through newsgroups, on message boards, or in chats.
If they have it, check out their career page or job listings section. There’s a whole industry of linking possibilities from this alone. Years ago I started getting extra listings in directories by filling out the career and employment/jobs section of the corporate site and submitting them separately. Good for the client and good for the directories. We didn’t even know then how important those directory links were to become. Now I can see especially how those early efforts have paid off.
So many of us look at our competitors that do well for the tricks they play and believe me, I am fond of a trick or two myself. I assure you that for over three years I did this. For these past 2 ½ years though, I’ve been focused on linking and themes and how these can work together to build a presence. Research is a key aspect I found all too often over looked.