How to spy on your competitors

If you own a website and you want to get more sales than your direct competitors then it is a really good idea to know and understand what your competitors are doing with their websites.

By looking at their websites, you can learn all sorts of things that can really help your own website marketing. By taking the best bits from all of your competitors websites, you will be able to leap ahead of them all in the search engine Rankings (SERPs)!

The great thing is that there are a few tools out there that can really help you understand your competitors. MMD has many great tools (including some that we’ve written ourselves) to help our clients get great rankings and sales from their websites.  Most of them aren’t freely available but there are some tools which are critical in a successful SEO campaign.

I’m going to show you four tools and one technique that when used together provide an invaluable insight into how to get ahead of the competition.

“Know your Enemy”

Firstly, you need to know who your competitors are.  You can fairly easily find this out by carrying out a few searches on Google for your target keywords and listing the websites that frequently appear near the top.

By doing this, you will then have a list of websites that you’re aiming to leapfrog in the SERPs.  Now you need some tools to help you do that…


Alexa is a tool which ranks your website based the amount of traffic it believes you are getting.  It doesn’t give the most accurate results but it’s probably one of the better tools for ranking a website’s popularity.

Doing this with the MMD website shows that we are currently (24th Nov 08) ranked at position 490,311 and the trend is going upwards (a good thing!).  If you do the same with your own website and your competitors websites then you can get an estimate as to where you stand in popularity (and traffic) compared to your competitors.

This will give you a good idea of the scale of the task ahead.  If you are rated in the tens of millions and your competitors are rated in the hundreds of thousands then you have quite a lot of work ahead of you.

Google Index

The more popular a website, the more frequently it is cached by Google.  You can get a good idea of when Google last visited a website by looking at the cache.  Typing the following text into Google shows when it last visited the CityLocal site:

Compare this with when it last visited the BBC News site:

and you can see that the BBC News is (unsurprisinglt) more popular than the CityLocal site.

Try doing the same thing over the period of a few weeks with your website and your competitors websites and you’ll get an idea of the popularity of each.

Title tags

A search for “web design harrow” returns a number of websites.  Taking one of them at random, they have a title tag that reads like this:

“sks design – harrow, London, Middlesex, freelance design, website design, print design, graphics, logos, brand identity, manchester, london, mauritian, mauritius”

By looking at the title tags you can clearly see what search terms this company is optimising for.

By doing the same with your competitors websites, you can see what search terms they are aiming at and you may find a few lucrative terms that you hadn’t considered as part of your own SEO campaign.

Links from other websites

One of my absolute most favourite tools is the Yahoo Site Explorer.  It lets you type in a URL and look at how many links a website has from other websites.  Since Google calculates the popularity of a website based on the number of links it has from another website, this is hugely useful data.

Not only does it tell you how many links they have (again, it’s useful to know the scale of the task facing you) but it gives you a massive source of potential new links.

For example, you may find that they have a link from a industry body that you’re a member of.  You could then write to them and also ask to be linked to.  Going through the backlinks for your competitors is one of the best things you can do for your SEO!

Site Explorer Parser

One of the frustrations that I found with the Site Explorer tool was that you couldn’t aggregate the links up.

Often you’d find that there were literally hundreds of links from one website.  So I wrote a tool which reads the backlinks for a website and aggregates them up based on the number of links from each website.  The most popular (and possibly the most valuable) are listed at the top.

What Will I Find Out?

By using the tools above you can get a fairly clear idea of the following:

  • Who your competitors are;
  • How popular they are compared to you;
  • An idea of how much effort it will take to overcome them;
  • What keywords they are optimising for;
  • Where they are getting their links from;
  • Where they are getting most of their links from.

This is valuable data in your fight to get to the top of the SERPs.  Using this data can literally be the difference between a ranking on page 1 of the SERPs and a ranking much further down, where your website will never be found!

Please leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve found any interesting information using these tools and how you have used them.