Identifying competitors through co-link analysis

For some time now, marketers and competitive intelligence professionals have been using co-link analysis as a method of determining a company’s competitors. Essentially, the technique reveals the following:

“If company X and company Y are both linked to by company Z (i.e. both X and Y have inbound links from Z), then company X and Y are co-linked. The concept of co-links is analogous to the concept of co-citation in the academic world (scholars give more credence to articles that have been co-cited by experts in a particular area).”

For example, consider an industry association that maintains a website for members of that industry, such as AREMA  and ASLRRA for the railroad maintenance industry. These websites are broken into sections related to the sectors in that industry, such as maintenance-of-way equipment and rail flaw detection. If both the AREMA site and the ASLRRA site link to the Nordco site in their rail flaw detection sections, Nordco is considered to be co-linked. Now suppose AREMA and ASLRRA also both link to Sperry. A Nordco marketer using website analytics tools would be able to identify that Sperry is considered a competitor by more than one organization.

Vaughan and You (2008) took the concept of co-link analysis and added content mining, or keyword analysis, to further identify potential customers.

Re-using the example from above, suppose AREMA and ASLRRA both linked to hundreds of companies in their rail flaw detection sections, including everything from companies that manufacture transducers to groups doing guided waves research? Now suppose the Nordco marketer added keywords to the analysis, in particular, keywords related to light geometry testing. The reduced subset of companies that shares co-links as well as keywords would reveal the true (or vetted, so to speak) competitors for that type of rail flaw testing.

This technique may still miss the outliers or the competitors that are starting to emerge from the edges of the industry, but it could still prove to be an excellent tool for identifying competitors that might have otherwise been disregarded.


Vaughan, L., You, J. (2008). “Content-assisted web co-link analysis for competitive intelligence.” Scientiometrics. 77 (3) pp. 433-444.


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