When it comes to link building, we often see SaaS companies make the following costly mistakes:
- They build backlinks to the wrong (low-intent) assets.
- They build backlinks when they aren’t actually needed.
- They build the wrong quantity of backlinks.
- They don’t assess the quality of backlinks needed to rank.
The end result:
A lot of wasted time and money — and frustration when there’s little or no return from link building investments.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the three-step process our agency uses to quickly identify the number (and quality) of backlinks needed to rank a piece of content.
Step 1: Prioritize your backlink targets
When planning a link building strategy for a new client, we start by identifying which existing high-intent assets need additional backlinks to rank higher.
There are a couple of ways we do this:
Most SaaS companies house high-priority assets within specific subfolders.
/compare (competitor alternative and comparison pages)
We review the main navigation and footer to quickly identify those subfolder locations. Then, we enter that subfolder URL path into a tool like the Ahrefs Site Explorer >> Top Pages report:
Next, we filter out all the pages that are ranking in Positions 4-10.
This leaves us with a short list of priority assets that are already ranking mid-bottom on page one. Now, we need to determine whether the client needs additional backlinks to these pages in order to move them up in the rankings.
Use keyword modifiers
If a site doesn’t organize its content within subfolders, our team uses keyword modifiers to pinpoint high-priority assets.
For example, SPOTIO has a main features overview page:
But the features themselves aren’t nested off a /features subfolder. They’re housed directly off the root domain:
So, in this case, we’d enter the domain into the Ahrefs Site Explorer >> Top Pages report and add a Keyword Contains ANY filter with the following modifiers:
This returns a mix of 51 blog posts and product/feature pages that rank for keywords with high-intent modifiers on the first page of Google:
Once we identify the assets most likely to drive conversions for our clients, the next step is to identify the number and quality of backlinks needed to rank them higher.
Step 2: Review SERP metrics
This step is all about determining if you need to build backlinks, and if so, how many.
We start by clicking the keywords dropdown for the first URL and then right-click on the primary keyword to open the report in a new tab.
For example, SPOTIO might decide to set a backlink target for its “best sales management software” article that ranks on the bottom of page:
We land in the KW Explorer report and then scroll to the bottom of the page to view the SERP overview:
We focus on higher-ranking URLs that:
- Have a domain rating score similar to our client’s.
- Are ranking with the same content type and format.
- Have a higher referring domains count.
In the example above, we can see that SPOTIO has a DR70, which is close to fifth-ranked Nutshell (DR74), and both URLs rank with a blog content type in a listicle format.
We can also see that if SPOTIO were to move into the #5 position, they could potentially 3-4x monthly organic traffic to their blog post.
Now: A key point here is that the RD count can sometimes be misleading.
While Ahrefs is showing 12 RDs for Nutshell compared to three for SPOTIO, the true backlink gap that we’d need to fill might not even be close to that. It’s likely going to be fewer.
Which brings me to the most important step in this process…
Step 3: Analyze competitor backlink profiles
To analyze competitor backlinks profiles, we right-click on the RDs link:
That opens the RD report for Nutshell’s article.
Now we add some filters to get a better idea of the true number of backlinks needed to rank.
- Dofollow: we’re only interested in the links that are passing authority.
- DR 30+: to trim off a lot of the low-quality domains that won’t have a big impact on rankings.
- Domain traffic > 1: to exclude sites that have artificially high DR scores.
Once we filter out the junk links from domains that aren’t getting any traffic, we’re left with just one referring domain — Pandadoc.
Next, we scan the list of remaining domains and note any topically irrelevant results. This isn’t applicable in this example, but we normally subtract those from the original number of referring domains, as they likely won’t have a big impact on rankings.
We’re most interested in understanding how many backlinks a competitor URL is getting from quality, topically relevant websites that actually receive traffic.
So, in this example, SPOTIO would be looking to build one or two new backlinks to its article.
Assess domain rating distributions
Once we have an accurate estimate of the number of RDs needed to rank, the next step is to understand the quality needed.
We do this by looking at the domain rating distributions.
So for this example, we can see Nutshell has one referring domain (Pandadoc) in the DR80-89 distribution range.
But, in cases where there is a sizable backlink gap, you may find that you need to build backlinks in multiple different distribution ranges.
The domain rating distributions show us whether we need to build a lot of high-authority backlinks, which in turn helps guide the strategies we use to model those DR distributions for our clients.
For example, we can click through to see how the competitor has placed different types of backlinks (guest posts, paid acquisitions, etc.)
Determine link velocity targets
We have a better idea of the number and quality of backlinks needed to rank at this point.
But, for high-value assets, we often find that competitors build links on an ongoing basis to defend their rankings.
We want to know how actively they’re building links month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter, so we can factor that into our overall backlink targets.
To do this, we simply filter the New Referring Domains across 30-, 90-, and 180-day intervals to gauge how consistently the competitor URL is getting backlinks:
In this example, we can see the competing URL is landing less than one new backlink each month.
This shows that the competitor likely did a hard push to quickly build the foundational backlinks needed to rank and is now actively adding new backlinks only every few months, if at all.
So, now we know the number and quality of backlinks needed to close the current backlink gap, and how many we need to build each month to remain competitive in the SERP, all else equal.
We repeat this analysis for each of our client’s most important assets that aren’t already ranking in the top five positions and then aggregate the insights to provide an overall target for our backlink campaign. This ensures we’re going after the most valuable backlinks for our clients, and pointing links at assets with the highest business value.
This upfront analysis helps ensure our SaaS client’s link building budgets — which can be thousands of dollars per month in competitive industries — is used as efficiently as possible.
If you’d like help with your link building or broader SEO strategy, book a discovery call with me here.