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Chapter 13. Competitor Research and Analysis
When starting your competitor research, you will almost always want to start with your
local competition. Visit the local online business directories in your niche to find
potential competition. Research the Yellow Pages (Local Directory) or your area equivalent. Use your local version of Google to find businesses in your area by using your
targeted keywords. Also visit the Google Local Business Center to find current advertisers. Visit the Yahoo! Directory, Dmoz.org, and BBB.org to find more competitors in
your niche. Note their directory descriptions and analyze the keywords they use in these
descriptions. Create a list of your top 10 to 20 local competitors.
If you have global competitors, see whether you can learn anything from their online
presence. Just focusing on your local competition can be a mistake, especially if you
will be providing products and services globally.
Even if your business or clients are all local, you can still pick up tips from your global
equivalents. Chances are someone is doing something similar somewhere else in the
world. Create a list of 10 to 20 global competitors.
You can find your competitors using a variety of online tools as well. Later in this
chapter, we will explore several tools and methods that can help you identify your
Keyword-Based Competitor Research
When researching your competitors, you will likely be doing many things at once.
Figure 13-1 depicts the basic manual process of competitor research. You also have the
option of using some of the online tools that are available to help you along the way—
not only to find your competitors, but also to save you time.
Figure 13-1. The basic manual process of finding competitors
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The manual approach
With the manual approach, you run all the keywords on your keyword list through at
least two of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, or Bing). Of course, not all of
the search results will be those of your direct competitors. You will need to browse and
research these sites to make that determination.
You might need to browse through several SERPs to get to your competition. If you
do, this may mean the keywords you are targeting may not be good. If you find no
competitor sites, you may have hit the right niche.
While going through your keyword list, analyze each competitor while finding any new
keywords you may have missed. For each competitor URL, run Google’s related:
command to find any additional competitors you may have missed. Repeat this process
until you have run out of keywords.
Analyze your competitors’ sites using the information we already discussed regarding
internal and external ranking factors. When analyzing each competitor site, pay attention to each search result and to the use of keywords within each result. Expand your
research by browsing and analyzing your competitor’s site.
You can determine the kind of competitor you have just by doing some basic inspections. For starters, you may want to know whether they are using SEO. Inspect their
HTML header tags for keywords and description meta tags, as these can be indications
of a site using SEO.
Although the use of meta keyword tags is subsiding, many sites still use them, as they
may have done their SEO a long time ago when meta keyword tags mattered. The meta
description tag is important, though, as it appears on search engine search results. The
same can be said of the HTML tag. Examine those carefully.
Continue by inspecting the existence or the lack of a robots.txt file. If the file exists, this
could indicate that your competitor cares about web spiders. If your competitor is using
a robots.txt file, see whether it contains Sitemap file definition.
Sites syndicating their content will typically expose their RSS link(s) on many pages
within their site. You may also subscribe to those feeds to learn of any new developments so that you can keep an eye on your competition. If a site contains a Sitemap
(HTML, XML, etc.), scan through it, as it typically will contain a list of your competitor’s important URLs as well as important keywords.
For each competitor URL you find, you should do more research to determine the
URL’s Google PageRank and Alexa rank, the age of the site and the page, the page copy
keywords, the meta description, the size of the Google index, and the keyword search
As you can see, doing all of this manually will take time. There ought to be a better
(easier) way! And there is.
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Utilizing SEO tools and automation
Automation cannot replace everything. You still need to visit each competitor’s site to
do proper research and analysis. But automation does help in the collection of data
such as Google PageRank, Google index size, and so forth. This is where tools such
as SeoQuake can be quite beneficial.
You can install SeoQuake in either Firefox or Internet Explorer. It is completely free
and very easy to install. It comes preconfigured with basic features, as shown in Figure 13-2.
Figure 13-2. SeoQuake Firefox menu options
The best way to learn about SeoQuake is to see it in action. For this small exercise,
we’ll search for winter clothes in Google using the basic method as well as with the help
of SeoQuake. Figure 13-3 shows how the Google SERP looks with and without
SeoQuake augments each search result with its own information (at the bottom of each
search result). This includes the Google PageRank value, the Google index size, the
cached URL date, the Alexa rank, and many others.
When running SeoQuake, you will see the SERP mashup with many value-added bits
of information, which SeoQuake inserts on the fly. You can easily change the SeoQuake
preferences by going to the Preferences section, as shown in Figure 13-4.
The beauty of the SeoQuake plug-in is in its data export feature. You can export all of
the results in a CSV file that you can then view and reformat in Excel.
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Figure 13-3. Google SERPs: With and without SeoQuake
Figure 13-4. SeoQuake preferences
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The creators of SeoQuake are also the creators of SEMRush. SEMRush provides competitor intelligence data that is available either free or commercially. You can find lots
of useful information via SEMRush. Figure 13-5 shows sample output when browsing
Figure 13-5. SEMRush
You can do the same thing with your competitor URLs. Simply use the following URL
format in your web browser:
SEMRush provides two ways to search for competitor data. You can enter a URL or
search via keywords. If you search via keywords, you will see a screen similar to Figure 13-6.
Finding Additional Competitor Keywords
Once you have your competitor list, you can do further keyword research. Many tools
are available for this task.
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Figure 13-6. SEMRush: Keyword search mode
Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool Website Content feature
Google offers a Website Content feature in its free AdWords Keyword Tool. Using this
feature, you can enter a specific URL to get competitive keyword ideas based on the
URL. So far, I have found this feature to be of limited use.
Using Alexa keywords
You can also use Alexa to find some additional keyword ideas. More specifically, Alexa
can give you keywords driving traffic to a particular site. Figure 13-7 shows a portion
of the results of a keyword search for oreilly.com. The actual Alexa screen shows the
top 30 keyword queries (as of this writing).
Figure 13-7. Alexa.com: Keywords
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Using Compete keywords
You can use Compete to get similar data. The professional version gets you all of the
data in the report. Figure 13-8 shows similar keyword data when searching for
Figure 13-8. Compete keywords
The free version of Compete gives you the top five keywords based on search volume.
Although you can get by with free tools for obtaining competitor keyword data, if
you do SEO on a daily basis you will need to get professional (paid) access to
Compete.com. You may also want to consider using Hitwise.
Additional competitive keyword discovery tools
In addition to free tools, a variety of commercial tools are available for conducting
competitor keyword research. Table 13-1 lists some of the popular ones.
Table 13-1. Commercially available competitor keyword research tools
Provides keyword research, affiliate research, and real-time data tracking for Google, Yahoo!,
Allows you to download your competitors’ keywords, AdWords, and much more
Allows you to download your competitors’ keywords, AdWords, and more
A writing suggestion tool to boost your position in search results
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Many other tools are available that focus on keyword research. Refer to Chapter 11 for
Competitor Backlink Research
Backlinks are a major key ranking factor. Finding your competitors’ backlinks is one
of the most important aspects of competitor analysis. The following subsections go
into more details.
Basic ways to find competitor backlinks
The most popular command for finding backlinks is the link: command, which you
can use in both Google and Yahoo! Site Explorer.
In addition, you can use many other commands to find references to your competitor
links. The following commands may be helpful:
You can also use variations of these commands. Although some of these commands
may not yield backlinks per se, you will at least be able to see where these competitors
are mentioned. The more you know about your competition, the better. To expedite
the process of finding your competitors’ backlinks, you can use free and commercially
available backlink checker tools.
Free backlink checkers
Some of the free backlink checker tools available today are just mashups of Yahoo! Site
Explorer data. With the latest agreement between Yahoo! and Microsoft, it will be
interesting to see what happens to Yahoo! Site Explorer, as Bing will become the search
provider for Yahoo!’s users.
Table 13-2 provides a summary of some of the most popular backlink checker tools
currently available on the Internet. When choosing a tool, you may want to make sure
it shows information such as associated Google PageRank, use of nofollow, and link
Finding Your Competition | 271
Table 13-2. Free backlink checkers
Yahoo! Site Explorer
Provides a robust interface with the ability to export the first 1,000 backlinks to a
Provides a backlink interface with up to 100 backlinks displayed (hint: change the
“URL” to the actual competitor URL)
Provides an online backlink report; allows CSV export
Provides an online backlink report with several additional features including outbound link counts
Provides basic backlink checker functionality with associated Google PageRank
Commercially available backlink checkers
Free tools may be sufficient for what you are looking for. However, the best of the
commercially available tools give you the bigger picture. You get to see more data. You
also save a lot of time. However, no tool will be perfect, especially for low-volume
keywords. Table 13-3 lists some of the popular commercially available backlink
Table 13-3. Commercially available backlink checkers
Provides the Referral Analytics platform with a breakdown of sites bringing traffic to you
or your competitors
Provides the Hitwise Clickstream platform with a breakdown of sites bringing traffic to you
or your competitors
Provides many valuable features including detailed backlink analysis
Analyzing Your Competition
You can use many tools to analyze your research data. Many of these tools provide
similar information. It is best to use several tools to gauge your competitors. Even
Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool is not perfect.
It will take some time for you to find what works and what doesn’t (especially with the
free tools). Whatever the case may be, make sure you use several tools before drawing
your conclusions. Try out the free tools and see whether you find them to be sufficient.
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After you know who some of your competitors are, you will be ready to roll up your
sleeves and conduct a more in-depth competitor analysis. We’ll start by examining how
your competitors got to where there are, by doing some historical research.
The Internet Archive site provides an easy way to see historical website snapshots. You
can see how each site evolved over time, in addition to being able to spot ownership
changes. Figure 13-9 shows an example.
Web archives do not store entire sites. Nonetheless, they can help you
spot significant changes over time (at least when it comes to a website’s
Figure 13-9. Internet archive for “oreilly.com” (1997–2009)
To find historical Whois information, you can use the free Who.Is service at http://www
.who.is/. Alternatively, you can use the paid service offered by Domain Tools.
Web Presence and Website Traffic Analysis
To scope your competitors’ web presence, you need to determine how many websites
and subdomains they are running. Additional tools are available for estimating this
Number of sites
Using the domain lookup tool available from LinkVendor, you can enter a domain
name or IP address to get all domains running on that IP address. Figure 13-10 shows
partial results from a search for all domains running on the Oreilly.com IP address
Analyzing Your Competition | 273
Figure 13-10. LinkVendor results for Oreilly.com
The method we discussed in the preceding section covered both domains and
subdomains. If you are interested only in subdomains, you can visit the Who.Is page
at http://www.who.is/website-information/. Figure 13-11 shows a portion of all the subdomains of Oreilly.com.
Figure 13-11 also shows the reach percentage, which is calculated based on the number
of unique visitors to the website from a large sample of web users; the page view percentage, which represents the number of pages viewed on a website for each 1 million
pages viewed on the Internet (these numbers are based on a large sample of web users);
and the number of page views per user. As this data is aggregated by analyzing web
usage from a large user pool, these are only approximated values. For more information,
visit http://www.whois.is. The benefit of these numbers is that you can compare each
subdomain in terms of popularity and relative importance.
Hosting and ownership information
By looking at IP-related data, you can deduce several things. For instance, you can make
educated guesses as to the type of hosting your competitors are using. If your competitors are running on shared hosts, this should give you a good indication of their web
budget and what stage of the game they are in. There is nothing wrong with hosting
sites on shared hosts. However, the big players will almost always use a dedicated host.
Figure 13-12 illustrates the two extremes. Utilizing the Registry Data section of the
service provided at http://whois.domaintools.com/, we can see that the top screen fragment belongs to a shared hosting site, as its parent DNS server is also home to another
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