Synopsis – Most people involved in search engine optimization at some point start to put together their own individual toolset for tasks such as keyword research, link analysis, domain analysis and the like. But in addition to tools collected primarily to help optimize websites, you also need tools to help you find out information about your or your client’s competitors.
Ross Dunn, in his article “Tooling Up For Competitor Analysis,” shares information on some items in the toolset he has put together for finding out the nitty-gritty about how competitors have achieved success online in terms of ranking, linking, and internal site architecture. In doing so, Ross also reveals much about the process he undertakes while analyzing a client’s competitors to figure out what can be learned from their success for use in his own optimization plans for that client.
Beginning by taking a snapshot of the competitive landscape primarily via the use of two specific tools – WMTools.net and WMTips.com – Ross moves on to success profiling, via a number of research tools that provide clues as to website performance, organic ranking, social media status, and website technologies used.
The resulting SEO review has two important components – the onsite review and the offsite review – and the article provides mini-reviews of a number of tools that will provide information on competitors identified with the earlier analysis of your niche. Pros and cons will help you decide which tools may help you put together your own individual toolset as you begin to explore the competitive landscape to improve your optimization efforts.
The complete article follows …
Tooling Up For Competitor Analysis
Since I began my online career in 1997, I’ve spent a lot of time carrying out competitor analysis. Clients often hire me to determine their degree of competitive edge and how they can assimilate a competitor’s tactics into their own marketing or site design. Over the years, I have learned different techniques for finding what some might think is the impossible, while other information is incredibly easy to find. The one essential technique, however, for every competitive analyst, is determining which tools are best for a given task. The fact is, competitive analysis (AKA competitive intelligence) has become a sexy, saturated marketplace chock-full of paid and free tools, each with positives and negatives. Everyone needs to find their own favorites, but I’m about to reveal some tools and part of the process I use for competitive research tasks.
Many tools claim to provide comprehensive overviews of any website but two of the most reliable are WM Tools.net and WMTips.com. Even better, both are free. Their data will include much of what is necessary to get a good snapshot of a competitor’s entrenchment and detailed information about their site technologies and efficiency.
- Noted backlinks in Google, Yahoo! and Bing
- The number of pages indexed on Google, Yahoo! and Bing
- Backlinks found within Google Blogsearch
- Bookmarks discovered on Digg and Delicious
- Indexed images on Google
- Current top rankings
- The history of the site in the archive and how many historical versions have been cached
- Robots.txt review
- Website load speed (reasonably detailed)
A consideration of this information will help determine which competitors are worth paying attention to, particularly useful if you have to whittle down a long list of viable competitors to just the cream of the crop. Once that is accomplished, move on and use the following success profiling techniques to add clarity.
Success profiling adds clarity to competitor snapshots, using avenues of research that provide unbelievably easy access to sensitive traffic data. Here are some possibilities, along with their respective strengths:
Quantcast — You may get lucky and find that one or more of your competitors have enrolled in Quantcast’s publicly available website measuring service. If so, you will be able to get a very good idea of the site’s traffic statistics, along with demographics of their average visitors.
SocialMention — Type a competitor’s name into the search bar at SocialMention.com and receive details on their social media activities, including social sentiment of their brand, top keywords used, the top social properties they spend time on, and more. I particularly like the top social properties function, because if you know a competitor is successful in certain social media, then these sources can serve as your road map to success. You no longer will be guessing as to where to focus your efforts.
Current Organic Rankings — To discover where competitors rank in the organic search engine results, you can use any of the following fee-based services: SpyFu, SEODigger, SEMRush, or Compete.com’s Search Analytics report. If you wish to go the free route, and have some patience, you can try this instead:
- Type the competitor’s homepage address into the URL field of the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
- Copy down the resulting keywords and omit any that look unrelated to your goals.
- Paste the list of keywords into a web ranking reporting tool like Advanced Web Ranking (a great tool with a free trial download), choose the search engines you want to poll, enter the domains you want to check for rankings (you can enter more than one competitor here if you wish), and then run the report.
- Depending on how many keywords you added, you will receive a comprehensive report in anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour without spending a cent.
Technical Website Audits
Once you have established your competitors of interest, to learn more about what makes them tick, it helps to explore their website technologies using a couple of free online tools.
BuiltWith.com — Enter a competitor’s site address and BuiltWith will spit out a simple report outlining the various technologies used on the website, from analytics tools to coding and framework, including the content management system (CMS) used. More data is available in the paid model, but I have yet to find it necessary to pay. The information available indicates the level of technical expertise required to make a site of this caliber, which is especially critical if your research determines that a competitor’s site architecture is a determining factor in their success.
Robtex.com — Aptly self-named the “Swiss army knife Internet tool,” Robtex offers a variety of tools for in-depth digging around a competitor’s server to determine any number of details, including other sites on the same IP address, DNS information, etc. Warning — this site is not for the technically challenged.
Search Engine Optimization Review
The SEO review is a critical component of any competitor analysis, primarily because it includes an analysis of two areas that, in combination, are often the main reason for a competitor’s success: onsite SEO and offsite SEO.
1. The Onsite SEO Review
If you have any knowledge of SEO, you can probably critique the quality of optimization on a given page in a minute or less. That said, it could be difficult to do so for a large number of pages. It also helps to have overall statistical data to compare various successful pages with, such as areas optimized and the incidence of important keywords on a given page. Here are some tools that I have used in the past to quickly analyze pages and the overall success of a site’s onsite SEO:
- OptiSpider — This paid software tool does a great job of indexing a competitor’s site and providing useful data about the keywords targeted in all page titles and links. It also highlights vulnerabilities such as missing title tags, orphaned pages, broken links, etc.
- WebsiteGrader — Enter a site URL and WebsiteGrader will compile a report comparing the competitor’s site to a number of optimization factors.
- GRKda or Ranks.NL — GRKda is a paid software application and Ranks.NL is a paid online service that analyze individual web pages, providing detail about the use of specific words in different site elements (e.g., the title tag, description tag, heading tags). This information is not often very revealing, but it can point to simple optimization issues not previously considered (e.g., your site has no optimized heading tags while all of your competitors do).
2. The Offsite SEO Review
A key factor for search engine rankings is link popularity, which establishes the necessary credibility Google and other search engines look for when evaluating rankings. I use the following tools to establish how well each competitor is doing in this regard:
- Backlink Analyzer — Download and install this free program from SEOBook.com and run it on your competitor to create a quality report showing up to 1,000 backlinks pointing to their site.
- Advanced Link Manager — This tool has a free (fully functioning) 30-day trial you can use to run reports on your competitor’s backlinks. The system allows you to use the results to craft your own link building campaign. •
- MajesticSEO.com — Majestic SEO.com offers incoming link reports at a volume that no single software tool on your computer could manage, making it very attractive (even as a paid option). If you want to analyze 250,000 incoming links for a given site (an extreme example), MajesticSEO can deliver. Not only that, but the service has loads of sorting tools and various related reports to put the results into as much context as possible. My favorite report groups all of the discovered links into their respective domains, serving to highlight how many of a competitor’s links are coming from the same domain.
- OptiLink Software — From the creator of OptiSpider, this tool offers interesting reporting features on a maximum of 1,000 competitor incoming links crawled. For example, it will create a report like my favorite above by grouping all 1,000 links into their respective domains (if multiples are, in fact, found on the same domain). OptiLink also reports on the keywords used in the backlinks, along with information on the credibility of the page on which the link(s) are found (i.e., PageRank, backlinks for that page).
Tip: If you are dealing with a competitor with an immense number of links (especially if they have many more than any other competitor), use the domain sleuthing tools at DomainTools.com to find other domains the competitor owns. You might be surprised to find that many of the backlinks this competitor has are from domains he/she owns. What you do with the information is totally up to you, but at least you will have the answer to their “success.”
Making use of the above toolset will doubtless reveal some very intriguing information about your competitors. That said, I have only touched on a small number of the many tools and tactics available for competitor analysis, especially for large and entrenched competitors. The fact is, competitor analysis is a multifaceted discipline, with numerous methods of finding out information that may or may not seem logical to an untrained observer. Always keep in mind, however, that the whole point of this process is to avoid reinventing what has already been established as successful. Instead, your goal should be to grab the secrets to your competitor’s successes and then make them all the better on your own site.