4 ways you can use Open Site Explorer to build links

My love of SEO software and tools doesn’t come down to laziness (I think the SEO who physically relies upon software is the worst kind of SEO) but because I like for me and my team to be able to utilise a suite of apps which take the heavy lifting out of our day to day roles, freeing up our time to perform real analysis and put the data output to good use.

One tool we use frequently is Open Site Explorer (OSE); you may have heard about OSE and if you haven’t, to put it simply it is a backlink search engine, explorer and research tool. Many use it for competitor research and finding backlink opportunities.

Here are just some of the ways we get more out of Open Site Explorer…

#1 – Identify Guest Post Opportunities with Traffic & Conversion Potential

Guest posting is a time consuming channel to pursue but it is so worthwhile – it offers unrivalled opportunities for exposure, traffic, strong backlinks and actual sales. I’m always on the lookout for ways to identify strong guest post opportunities and I came up with this method a few months back…

  • Find 5-10 websites of clients you would like to work with
  • One-by-one enter them into Open Site Explorer
  • Since most comments are no-follow, select the option to filter by ‘only no followed’
  • You get a list of blogs that your prospects are engaged enough with to comment
  • Identify common blogs (where a number of your target customers spend their time)
  • Pitch them with your guest post – you get a strong industry link AND the traffic and conversion potential of a spot on a blog that is well-known to your target customer base.

This technique saves you the time and hassle of searching around for the right blogs. This method means you get a list of blogs that potential customers read, know and respect – perfect for pitching to since you can say with some degree of certainty that time invested in creating content for this site will be worthwhile.

#2 – Look at top pages as part of your linkbait research

Creative linkbait is awesome fun but in order for your hard work to have maximum impact it is smart to try and reverse engineer the kinds of linkbait that are working in your industry. You might also get some inspiration.

If you are an SEOmoz PRO member then you will enjoy the benefit of social metrics as well as the standard link data which is useful enough in itself.

Phase 1 – Competitor research

If you think one of your competitors is doing a particularly good job at leveraging content to attract links and eyeballs then it is prudent to take a look behind the scenes and try to build a picture about what is working and in particular what is working best for them.

Make judgements and form opinions based on the data that OSE presents…

  • Does a type of content standout as being the most effective?
  • Has a subject area worked well? Why do you think that is?

Phase 2 – ‘Superstar’ research

There are of course internet top dogs that we can all learn from and OSE can help us do this in a scientific manner. Take a look under the bonnet at your favourite blogs and dive inside their top pages. Learn from their triumphs and work this into your linkbait production.

#3 – Team up with Excel to make things more manageable

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data that Open Site Explorer outputs – this isn’t a criticism, because I love having loads of data to play with, but knowing how to manage and work with it is essential.

Microsoft Excel is very useful tool that can be used in conjunction with OSE. There are numerous plugins and tools out there SEOGadget’s Link Categorisation and Niels Bosma’s SEO Tools for Excel to name but two that I like using.

A simple way to use Excel to make the most of OSE data is as follows:

  • Perform a search for a competitor URL
  • Filter for external links that are followed or 301 (add extra filters if you wish)
  • Download to CSV all the links
  • Use the filter functionality within Excel to identify specific link opportunities

Directories (a much maligned form of linkbuilding which still has a place in my opinion) for example can be easily identified by filtering the page title column to display links from pages with ‘directory’ in the title. Similarly other types of links can also be easily identified. You can then scoop up low hanging fruit and make hitlists of link opportunities that require more leg work – a real productivity win

Filtering in Excel isn’t watertight but there again if you were to trawl manually through a huge list of links I doubt the small extra reward would be worth all that extra time.

#4 – Look beyond your bubble

There is a focus on researching competitor websites and whilst this is a useful place to start, entirely replicating your competitors link profile may not prove as smart a strategy as you had hoped…At worst, some links that they have may be harmful to your website and at best you will simply ‘match’ the power of your competitor’s website when the real aim is to surpass them.

One way to do this is to think laterally – don’t just analyse your direct competitors.

  • Analyse other websites based in your geographical area – geo-specific links?
  • Analyse other websites based in other parts of the country or world – diversify your industry links?
  • Analyse other indirectly competing websites – Broaden your link profile?

In linkbuilding, you’re looking for the edge, competitor based linkbuilding is common practice these days so if your competitors are investing in SEO then chance are they are looking at your backlinks and your mutual competitor’s link profile – your job is to find new pastures to feed from.


  1. avatar
    Grumpy Old SEO September 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Nice article. I’m a big fan of SEO tools and SEOMoz in particular. Can you just expand on what you meant by “Find 5-10 websites of clients you would like to work with” ? I’m not sure I follow this. Do you mean 5-10 competitors ?

    • avatar
      James Agate September 17, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      I was referring to identifying some clients you would like to work with say for example as an eCommerce SEO company we wanted to work with zavvi.com – the owner of that company (if it were smaller) may be trying to brush up on their online marketing and so would be reading and possibly commenting on some industry blogs. This gives you an idea that they are A) in the market for your services and B) They read a particular blog and therefore makes that blog a strong guest post opportunity and you know it won’t be wasted time creating content for it.

      Hope that helps to clear up any confusion. Do let me know if you have any questions…

  2. avatar
    Jon Simons October 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    I agree about looking for links beyond what your competitors are doing (or just working harder than them) but I’m wondering if that’s easier said than done?

    Since any links created can be found by the competition using tools like OSE, and if the competition is diligent at all they’ll start spotting the new links, I guess it will just become an ongoing game of staying ahead of the competition links wise, and/or putting in the effort to create difficult to replicate links.

    • avatar
      James Agate October 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

      It is essentially a case of identifying link opportunities and working hard for them. If they are difficult to replicate then you’re competitors are going to find it hard to keep up with you.

      That’s part of the reason you can’t “depend” on easy links like directories, articles, social bookmarks etc because not only can Google devalue very easily, they can also be easily scooped up by competitors.

  3. avatar
    Mike Kalam January 14, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    Thanks for this. I have very recently discovered OSE and have been searching for ideas to maximise it’s benefit. Cross industry research is great tool to build quality links. Thanks for sharing.

    • avatar
      James Agate January 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      No problem at all Mike, glad you found it useful. If you ever want any help with getting the most out of OpenSiteExplorer I’m happy to answer questions…

  4. avatar
    Cheryl April 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Thanks for The updates

  5. avatar
    Mark Cody April 16, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Great article here and will be implementing the CSV Download of links. Thanks for sharing!

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