Getting ahead of the competition is as much about your competitors as it is about yourself. Having what you feel is the best product or presentation, may not gel with the reality of the industry you’re in.
Sometimes in business we feel as though a wall has been hit. Sales growth has flatlined and you need that something extra to pull you out of the slump. That’s when you think – is someone doing something better?
In the digital world, discovering what the competition is doing can be simple. However, the entire process from evaluation to implementation might not be so easy.
Before that, let’s take a look at some of the competitor monitoring tools you can use.
Note: When looking at these tools it's important to understand that they aren’t necessarily always competing choices. Some are designed to meet certain areas of SEO or Social Media Marketing, while others may be a bit more comprehensive.
1. WHSR Tool
For Website Infrastructure & Technology Research
Before moving on to other areas of SEO, you also need to consider the foundation that your site and its competitors are built on. This isn’t just about web hosting but includes the various technologies that combine to help websites run.
The WHSR Tool offers direct and simple service and can be used very effectively. All you need to do is provide a site URL. From there the Tool does the rest of the work and rummages about to see what it can find.
Typically the information provided to you will include details like possible usage of web apps, scripts, environment, hosting information and even use of Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) like Cloudflare.
The logic behind this is that you can run an analysis on a number of sites to see what the competition is using. While you don’t have to match it, it may give you some ideas of how you might like to combine certain elements to achieve better results.
This tool is extremely lightweight, fast, and best of all – completely free to use. Make a list of your top competitors and give it a spin. Note down areas of interest and simply make up a list – you can always keep it for reference in any case.
For Webpage Speed Performance Monitoring & Analysis
Raw performance is another element of SEO that should not be overlooked. That’s where GTmetrix comes in. The free version will let you know how your site performs and can help identify areas for improvement.
Similarly, being able to gauge how the sites of your competitors run can also be of some use. If they’re doing much better than you, inspecting the results may help you understand what areas you need to focus on.
When used in combination with the WHSR Tool you can have a pretty formidable means of improving your SEO based on performance elements. While GTmetrix is free to use there are more advanced features only available to registered accounts.
These include site monitoring and the ability to tweak test settings. For example – running tests from different locations, which will affect some parts of the results. This can help if you’re specifically targeting regional traffic.
If you’re willing to sacrifice some personal details you can sign up for a free account. This is helpful if you intend to use GTmetrix for site monitoring. It will note the sites you want to track for easier tracing of your site performance.
3. Alexa Site Info
For Web Traffic Monitoring & Analysis
Alexa site info tries to give you some of what many of us get from Google Analytics (GA). Metrics such as page views per use, bounce rate, and time on site can be useful. However, where GA limits itself to only your own sites, Alexa can be used more broadly for competitive analysis.
There are also other areas of Alexa which might be of interest – their search analytics. If you don’t have access to a paid tool, Alexa can come in handy in a pinch. Bear in mind though that most of the comprehensive results here are also masked unless you subscribe.
The biggest problem with using this as a source though, is it’s slightly questionable reliability. Alexa draws data from users who have some form of its script installed on their browsers. Not everyone has this and as such, the results are less reliable than Google.
For example, I’ve noted a tendency for it to display tags and keywords for sites that are entirely out of scope. This can be a little puzzling at best and at worst case, throw your SEO efforts right out the door if you’re overly reliant on the tool.
For Website Traffic Research
SimilarWeb is similar (no pun intended) to Alexa site info, but personally I feel that it’s been more reliable so far. Providing it with a URL will extract a pretty extensive list of information again, similar to GA.
A lot of this is presented neatly in big font and split into segments with generous usage of visual aids like graphs and bar charts. Despite that kindergartener-ish feel, it’s clear and concise without being overwhelming.
There are areas where some level of detail is listed – for example you can see the keywords driving the largest chunks of search traffic. At the same time, if you’re applying this tool to a competitor’s site, knowing how much of that is paid traffic can be interesting.
Other areas of interest include social reach and composition and audience interest. As a whole, it does offer enough for you to get started on SEO research. Not comprehensively, but as a simple launchpad.
For Content Marketing & SEO
Ahrefs is one of the biggest names in the SEO business and has a massively comprehensive database. However, its service entirety is also pretty expensive. Thankfully they’ve been kind enough to offer some free tools.
The Ahrefs free backlink checker is one of those and is designed to help you find broken links so you can fix them. For those scrimping on the SEO budget, this can come in handy if you need a little help with your outreach.
To give you a better idea of how this might work, use it to run an analysis on a competitors website. Grab the broken links that the tool shows you can then use them in your own outreach campaign to build links and new content for yourself.
While this methodology may seem a little crude – it’s free and if you put effort into it, can pay off in spades.
6. Moz Domain SEO Analysis
For Content Marketing & SEO
MOZ is a name that many in the SEO game will be familiar with. It competes with a few other top brands in SEO analytics and has been kind enough to offer a domain analysis tool for free use.
It has a ton of data and effectively combines all of it to offer some comprehensive analytics possibilities. For example – domain authority, keyword ranking, links, clicks, and more. Of course you don’t get the whole hog for free though.
Still, the MOZ free domain analysis tool does give one of the most accurate and reliable top-down snapshot views. In fact, some of the things it provides can be used to great effect if you put in the effort.
Let’s take the case relating keywords with clicks. Being able to see how the keywords a competitor ranks for is one thing. But Moz also lets you see the number of clicks generated by those keywords.
Instead of too limited a functionality, Moz is offering users a brief, quick glimpse into it’s more comprehensive offering. The only drawback of this is you’re limited to generating three reports per day, so use it consistently.
Unlike most of the other tools here, you’ll need to sign up for an account at Seobility in order to use it. However, signing up is free and the basic plan will let you track a single domain pretty comprehensively.
At the same time, it offers a number of other tools as well. This includes checkers for SEO, keyword, ranking, and backlinks, as well as SEO comparison. If you combine these with the domain tracker, it’s a pretty hefty utility that’s coming for free.
Do note though that most of the checking tools are subject to an overall daily limit in usage. For the free account, you get five daily checks – combined, not per tool. That means you’ll have to plan your usage wisely.
Personally I feel that if used correctly, seobility really gives you an opportunity to brush up your content SEO. It approaches this along various channels and you can make tweaks as you go along in minor increments.
For SEO, Content Ideas, and Social Media Marketing
For anyone who’s used a tool like Ahrefs or Moz, you’ll instantly be struck by how similar Ubersuggest is in many ways. Aside from the striking orange colouration, Ubersuggest tries to do very much the same things.
Unlike some tools which are very domain-focused, Ubersuggest tries to integrate other functionalities as well such as offering keyword analyzers, content idea generation, site audits, and more.
The important distinction here is that you can get a completely free account with Ubersuggest. Even their paid plans are also remarkably cheap compared to established services in the market.
Part of this is likely that they’re still new, but personally I find the data a little less reliable than I would like. Still, unless you want to spring for a premium paid account elsewhere, this is one great free tool that’s got a bit of everything.
I especially recommend it for those wanting to do research on your competitor's keyword data.
For Overall Competitor Analysis
For those who’ve reached this point on the list, Nibbler is a little bit different. Instead of focusing on keywords and content links, it’s a top-down audit tool for websites. Don’t mistake this for simplicity though, Nibble is pretty comprehensive.
At the top, it breaks down the audit into major categories and allows you to expand those moving further down the chain of each. These come along with problems it has identified and offers recommendations on how to fix them
While this certainly can be useful in testing your own site and fixing problems, I’d like to recommend another way it might come in handy. Use it on a competitor’s site to see what problems crop up.
This way, you not only find their weaknesses but also learn enough to avoid these problems in your own future enhancements of anything. Oh yes, you don’t even need an account with them to use the tool.
For Technical SEO & Hidden Link Data
Host.io isn’t terribly well-known in SEO, but that’s likely since it is pretty much a simple crawler. However, its relative obscurity is helpful since not many will have already blocked it in their Robots.txt files.
This makes it handy for some sneak checks, such as identifying the Private Blog Networks (PBNs) that competitors may have built and are using. For those not yet aware, PBNs have been considered by some as an SEO disaster waiting to happen.
Think about it this way – search engines like Google use backlinks as one of the ways to rank websites. If you’re generating backlinks yourself through PBNs, that’s obviously not very organic.
If you can track a relationship so easily with a tool like Host.io, what happens when Google or other search engines decide to come down on the ranks of PBN users? To stay clear of or make use of PBNs – that’s up to you. Host.io just helps you identify the relationships.
Monitoring Competitors & Making Use of the Data
Despite SEO being a relatively ‘modern’ thing, The Art of War attributed to Sun Tzu hundreds of years ago sums it up well:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles
That’s where competitive analysis comes in as part of the online business game. When building and running websites, many are often focused very introspectively. We are concerned by how nice our sites look, how great our content is, or how effective our sales are.
Then as we feel we’ve built the perfect site and are doing well, one day traffic collapses. What happened? All your traffic may have been diverted to a competitor who’s made some tweaks, or a new upstart that just launched.
They likely learnt about your success and have done what you did. Except they improved on it. That’s the wonder of competitive analytics. If you don’t want to become the victim in a scenario like that, you need to work on your own competitors.
5 Rules to Effective Competitive Strategy
The great thing about working out a competitive strategy online is that research is a lot easier than on the ground. Many things are measurable and systematic rankings or research, resulting in good potential for great accuracy.
By following a few simple guidelines, you can almost assure yourself of not just staying relevant, but getting ahead of the game.
1. Know the Competition
In the physical world it can be somewhat easier to know who you’re competing against. This is especially true when that context is more localized. The Internet is vast though, and in most cases you’re competitors span the globe.
Inherently being aware of your competitors can be very difficult without the use of some tools to help trawl the web. The most important aspect of this all though, is to be aware that your customers may not see things in the same way you do.
Carrying out competitor analysis needs to be done from an independent standpoint, or you may go off on the wrong vector.
2. Understand Competitors' Strategy
When we build our own sites and content, we often have a plan in mind. However, building on that momentum itself is never enough. Your competition has its own strategy as well. This means you need to come up with a plan taking that into account as well.
By researching and understanding your competitor’s strategies, you can work that knowledge into your own plans. Instead of a direct line, your final goal should not only leverage consumer needs, but work to undermine your opponents strategy as well.
3. Experiment Voraciously
Many of the things we associate with online sales and SEO are highly metrics-based. However, these metrics often need time to materialize. It’s similar to working on a real-world sales forecast – you need to study collected data to gauge effectiveness.
Based on that, you can test various strategies over time to see which works out most effectively for you. Consider them long term experiments – never be satisfied with a single solid outcome.
At the same time, by swapping and testing various strategies, you may also confuse your competitors. You can bet that as you’re keeping an eye on them, they are on you as well.
4. Make Full Use of Tools at Your Disposal
When opposing forces meet, it is often the one which has the best intelligence that wins. Using one massive premium tool like ahrefs can make you a formidable force if you use it correctly. Bear in mind though, that there are many features.
Do your SEO research based on needs, rather than simply what the tools do best or are restricted to. If necessary, look beyond the behemoth you’ve put into play and combine the resources of varying utilities.
Your aim is to dominate the competition before they even realize that there might be a problem in the works.
5. Don’t Neglect Social Media
Although most websites compete primarily on content, diversifying consumer interest means we need to look beyond traditional channels. Social media can be a powerful channel to look towards for competitive analysis.
In addition to seeing what the opposition is doing, it also is a perfectly (in some ways) transparent guide to consumer sentiment. In fact, social media channels can be a great guide for many things – from consumer insight to emerging trends.
Mistakes to Avoid in Competitive Analysis
As with most powerful tools, competitive analysis can be a double-edged sword. Especially if used incorrectly. Be aware of some of the potential pitfalls when doing yours:
Track Your Competiton Consistently
Competitive analysis is an ongoing game. It’s not something that can be done once and then forgotten about. Even too large a gap increases risk, especially where data collection activities are concerned.
Each of us have our natural inclinations and opinions. Where competitive analysis is concerned, leave those at the door and focus on the data. Those are facts that we can’t argue away.
Getting a ton of information is useless unless you plan to use it. Make sure your activities always result in an action plan, or you’ll simply have wasted your time. At the same time, keep in mind that overaction should be avoided as well.
Time the Market
Analysis and action are good, but always remember the third element – the market. No matter what you’re doing, be aware of current conditions and try to time your activities optimally.
Keep a Broad Focus on Your Business
Since SEO is something that can be very extensive, don’t place too much focus on too many specific areas. You’ll find that you will end up creating more work than you can cope with. Be realistic.
Final Thoughts: Putting it all Together
Metrics, Market, and Experimentation – no matter how you look at it, competitive analysis is something that’s really measurable. The most important thing to realize though all of this is that it’s more than just about the competition.
Build your strategy on a combined groundwork of your own and your competitor’s efforts to stay ahead of the game. If it feels a little underhanded to you, just remember, if you aren’t ahead, you’ll be behind.