Webmaster tips » SEO

Nov 16, 2006
Kim Roach

5 Tools for Spying on Your Competition

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Did you know that an ancient Chinese military document unlocks many of the secrets to your online success? This book is called "The Art of War" and was written during the 6th century by Sun Tzu. This famous document is one of the oldest and most famous studies of strategy and has had a huge influence on military planning as well as business tactics.

Sun Tzu wrote about the importance of knowing your competitors before competing. This wisdom is crucial to your online success. Here are some quotes that verify this truth in the art of war as well as business.

"If you know yourself, but not your enemy, for every battle won, you will suffer a loss."

"If you know your enemy and yourself, you will win every battle."

Before you create your own marketing strategies, you must first know your competitors. By understanding your competitor's strategies, you can always stay a step ahead of them.

The key is knowing how to obtain all of this vital information without having to hire a PR firm, an FBI agent, or an undercover spy. Luckily for us, all we need are a few online tools to find out exactly how are competitors are running the show.

SpyFu.com

The first tool you should add to your arsenal can be found at SpyFu.com.

SpyFu.com is the long-awaited sequel to Googspy.com, a free competitive research tool that allows you to research your competitors marketing campaigns. SpyFu.com, however, stands head and shoulders above its predecessor, providing over twenty times more data.

This website monitors nearly 4.5 million domains, showing you exactly how much your competitors are paying for search advertising on a daily basis, the total number of clicks they are receiving, and their average ad position. SpyFu also reveals the exact keywords that your competitors are ranking for in organic search and who their top 100 competitors are.

Internet Archive

The next spy tool will enable you to explore a website's history and how it has changed over time. You can find all of this information at http://www.archive.org.

Many of you have probably heard of the Internet Archive. However, you may not realize that it is an extremely powerful tool for spying on your competition. Using this free and simple tool you can discover:

  • How often a website has changed their copy?
  • Whether or not a website is split testing? (This alone could show you years of data on what type of copy works best. Testing your own website copy is extremely important, but you should also be checking to see what your competitors are doing as well. You can learn volumes just by looking at what their sales page looks like over time.)
  • Find out if your competitors have made any big changes in their offer, including price, bonuses, guarantees, etc.

If you're just looking to have a little fun, then look up Google in the Internet Archive and see what their site looked like in 1998. You see, competitive intelligence can informative as well as amusing!

Next up is one of my favorite search tools.

Search Status

Search Status is one of the best SEO tools around. It is a plug-in for the Firefox browser so it comes completely free of charge.

You can use this tool to:

  • Highlight no-follow links
  • View any page in Archive.org
  • Show all Whois information. This is especially useful if you want to find out who the owner of a website is. (great for setting up a joint venture)
  • Show robots.txt file. This feature will show you exactly which pages and directories a website does not want listed because they want to keep them private. (can be quite informative.)
  • Show Indexed Pages. Find out exactly how many pages a website has listed in all 3 major search engines.
  • Show Backward Links. This feature will show you exactly which sites are linking to the current page or website that you are visiting. This is especially useful for finding link partners and affiliates.

The next tool will allow you to find out which web host a company is using. This information can be found at:

Whois.sc

Once you arrive at this site, you simply enter the domain name into the search box. You will then be taken to a page that will give you a wide variety of information on that domain. Scroll down to where it says "name servers". In this column you will often find the exact URL for the web hosting company they use.

Our final spy tool comes straight from Google, allowing you to keep full-time tabs on the Internet without the hours of research it would normally require.

For many years, companies paid lots of money to PR firms to provide news items and updates on their competitors, often referred to as a "clipping service". With the onset of the Internet, these tools are now automated and free.

One such tool is:

Google Alerts

Using Google Alerts, you can easily monitor what is being said online about you, your company, your products, and your competition.

Google alerts shows results from the Web, Google News, and Google Blog search. All of this competitive intelligence can then be sent directly to your email inbox.

Simply enter the terms you want to track and Google will scour the Internet on a daily basis to keep you updated on your particular industry.

These alerts can notify you of when new links start pointing to your website, when someone uses one of your articles, or when the blogosphere mentions your name.

If you want to keep up with your competitor, simply enter the company name or their product and you can begin tracking what people are saying online about them.

Google Alerts is an indispensable tool for market research. Start creating your own Google Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts.

Keep in mind, however, that these are only tools. Some of the most powerful competitive intelligence comes from actually surfing around your marketplace, visiting the forums, and buying your competitors' products. This is the only way to get a complete picture of what is happening in your industry.

If you want to win in your marketplace, it's time you go undercover.

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About The Author
Kim Roach is a staff writer and editor for the SiteProNews and SEO-News newsletters. You can also find additional tips and news on webmaster and SEO topics by Kim at the SiteProNews blog.
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