When you're in business, there's no better thing to urge you on like a competitor's success. Losing a big contract or opportunity to an industry neighbor is fuel enough to get most business owners moving. Wouldn't it be nice if, say, every time your competitor put up something new on their website, that you knew about it right away?
The great thing about the Internet is that everything (well, almost everything) is public. Once you publish something online, it's out there for your customers, vendors and competitors to consume - like it or not.
But most of your competitors aren't going to visit your website on a regular basis to see what you're up to. And let's face it - you're not about to do that either. What you need are a few automated shortcuts that can help alert you when there's activity so you can be less of a reactive company. And that's what I intend on showing you today - ways that you can spy on your competitors.
Ever wish you had a magic button that would allow you to spy on the competition’s website? After all, such a power would allow you to unravel the threads of their online marketing strategy in order to look for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It’s important for any successful marketing campaign to track the activities and online marketing efforts of other websites in the same industry to keep an eye on the competition.
You won’t be able to have an effective marketing strategy if you don’t know who the enemy is and what they are doing to rank well online. But there’s just one problem. Even though there are oodles of web tools that help you track rankings, analyze keywords, inspect back-links, and so forth, many of them cost a fair amount of money. For instance, some of the Moz tools will set you back at least $99 per month. Other similar tools were really only designed for massive marketing firms and multi-million dollar brand names, and cost as much as $999 per month!
The presents a challenge for small businesses, since they typically have much smaller marketing budgets. While I do think some small businesses could benefit from subscription based services that only cost between $50 and $99 per month, I’ve got a much better solution for you. Believe it or not, there are plenty of free tools that will help you spy on the competition’s website.
Open Site Explorer
I also mentioned Open Site Explorer in the best paid tools article, but I also have to list it as a fantastic free tool as well. It does have both a free and a paid version, and it will help you discover the onsite and back-link profiles of your competitors. It’s good to see how well a site ranks and how strong their back-link profile is for keyword planning, too.
For instance, if you notice that several authority sites that have existed for almost 20 years are competing for the same keywords as you, it may not be a good strategy to try to overtake those sites for those specific search terms. OSE will help you discover the page authority of your competitors as well. All you need to do is input one to four domains and the free version will do all the heavy lifting for you, spitting out a variety of metrics at the click of a button.
The Site Comparison tool is another great alternative for small businesses who are looking for a great (and free!) competitor research mechanism. It will gather and display a smattering of different types of information and statistics, and helps aggregate data that helps small businesses understand their pages’ overall SEO score.
However, it even has the ability to pit two different web pages against each other to see which one is outperforming the other. It uses a variety of metrics to make that determination, which is arguably a little subjective since we don’t know 100% how the Google algorithm functions. Still, it will use key determinants like text, keywords, keyword density, images, links, anchor text, back-links, meta tags, headlines, and more to see which page is more highly optimized.
Keyword research is tough for many reasons. Not only are there thousands of different keywords to target, but you also have to do a fair bit of research with each keyword to find out who the top competitors are for each given search term. Keyword Spy is incredibly useful for gathering loads of keyword research in order to save time by automating the process.
All you have to do is query a desired keyword or phrase, click on the button labeled “keywords,” and let Keyword Spy do all the heavy lifting for you. It even has ways to refine searches, such as the Organic Competitors section. The data generated will help you understand which domains and businesses you will be competing with, which will help you determine whether or not a keyword is worth the time and energy it takes to pursue it.
After all, some keywords won’t ever be reasonably attainable unless you want to spend decades building out a site or have a huge budget.
Excel’s SEO Tools
Unless you’re an Open Office goober (I can’t argue with free software), chances are you use Microsoft Excel as your main spreadsheet application. There is a handy add on called SEOTools for Excel that adds a lot of extra functionality to help you plan your online marketing strategy. In addition to keyword planning and analysis tools, it also has reconnaissance tools to help scope out the competition.
Unlike the aforementioned services, this tool first needs to be downloaded and installed. A lot of other tools only require a domain name or web page to be entered into a text field on a website, but SEOTools for Excel needs to be added to your existing Excel installation.
To perform research, you’ll want to Google your target keyword and copy/paste the top results’ URLs for analysis. The tool will populate a large list of fields and metrics such as HTML Title, On-page items, title tags, and a variety of other useful data. This will help you determine how well competitors’ are ranking for the target keywords, helping identify what needs to be done to beat them.
There are a thousand and one free tools to help boost your SEO efforts, but these free tools are among the most useful. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on expensive SEO tools and subscriptions, at the very least you have some free alternatives to use that won’t leave you blind to the competition.
In addition to these tools, I recommend watching my free 17 Point SEO checklist webinar to ensure all your ducks are in a row and that you haven’t forgotten something simple.
With SEO, the devil is in the details, and you want to make sure you appropriately optimize your site to take advantage of every ranking signal possible. Remember, every little bit helps.
Updated in 2020