Weekend Warrior: Spy on the Competition

OK, let's get it straight, there's nothing wrong with wanting to spy on your competition. 

It's neither unethical nor illegal.

What's more, it's nothing new; businesses have been spying on their competition for years. 


They collect their competitors' marketing collateral, check out their websites and secretly peek at their conference booths. All with a single goal in mind - to understand how they reach out to their customers. 


It could be argued that competitive intelligence is nothing else but a different way of gathering data. 

What's important though, is that it works. Analyzing competitors' tactics and strategies can give you distinctive market advantage:


- You can make more informed business decisions. Knowing what works for your competitors allows you to be more focused when making decisions regarding your own marketing activities.

- Spot new opportunities. Competitive intelligence also helps you identify gaps in your competitors' marketing and use this knowledge to your advantage. For example, monitoring their PPC campaigns can suggest what areas of the market you should focus on next and which ones to pause.

- Predict your competitors' next moves. With competitive intelligence data you can anticipate what your competition is going to do next. You can spot a new trend in their marketing or first signs of a new product or service they are going to launch. 

- Find your competitive edge. Lastly, competitive intelligence will give you a chance to assess your strengths against a competitor. For example, you may discover that they have a much bigger budget for online advertising than you. But instead of trying to chase them, you can look for and target other marketing areas they do not heavily focus on. 


The key to successful competitive research is looking at details and drawing conclusions based on them. You should research most common online marketing practices while paying close attention to information that's hidden in those numbers.



1. Organic keywords 


Your main competitors on the Internet are the sites that take your potential traffic. Traffic comes with certain keywords. So your competitors are sites you "share" semantics with. That is why keywords are the foundation of all online marketing strategies, fact. 


They are what customers use to find information online, be it products, services or just general advice. Thus, they are a factor that makes every ad, offer or piece of content on the Web relevant to what the visitor's search. 


Different keywords also relate to various customers' buying intents - to learn, to compare or to buy. Knowing what keywords your competitor targets in each category is a low hanging fruit, allowing optimizing your site for keywords guaranteed to drive targeted traffic to the site.  


Special tools and other competitive research applications make this step very easy. Conducting a search for a particular URL reveals all keywords the website is optimized for along with a lot of data about each keyword, helping you to assess its popularity. 


Some of the metrics to analyze include:


Search Volume:

This is an average number of searches for this keyword a month. Don't get discouraged by low volume for some keywords though. These might be long tail keywords and even though less people search for them, these people are usually more likely to buy. 



The position your competitor's URL receives for that particular keyword. With this information you can assess how much work you need to do to overcome them.



This metric reveals the number of organic results displayed for that keyword. This metric can help you establish how many websites try to rank for it. 


Keyword Trend:

This information will tell you what is the interest of searchers for a given keyword in the last 12 months. Trend can reveal seasonality of these searches, helping you to assess when you should be targeting that keyword. 



SEMrush tool (my company) allows users to see the list of the websites with high level of competitiveness. Take the top five competitors and enter into Domain vs. Domain tool and get the whole picture of keywords that website is missing. 



You can see the amount of keywords that website is missing and sharing with other websites. We need just simply collect and compare lists of keywords - yours and your competitors. The advantage of this simple method is the ability to compare and estimate the level of competitiveness for a particular word.


It means that you can exclude the keywords that can be too difficult to fight for. And vice versa, if your weakest competitors has great semantic - so, you will learn from them and use it better than they are. 


2. PPC Keywords


For many businesses Google AdWords is their main growth engine. There are many reasons for that. PPC offers instant results and the ability to bring highly targeted traffic, for instance. Its downside is that it costs money. With AdWords you pay every time a customer clicks on your ad, regardless of whether they later buy from you or not. 


It is therefore crucial to discover keywords quickly that are most likely to result in a sale. 


A PPC report will reveal how your competitor optimizes their campaigns, what keywords work best for them, how much they spend per keyword but also, what is their estimated budget for online advertising per month and how much traffic they get from it. 


Information to pay attention to on the list of PPC keywords:



The position of the domain for a particular keyword. This can help establish which keywords your competitor focuses their efforts on. Some applications also show previous month position, further reiterating keywords the competitor pushes ads for.


Search volume:

The number of search queries for the keyword. This will help you establish the popularity of the keyword.



The average price advertisers pay for an ad containing that keyword. This is invaluable information, firstly helping you to assess your budget and capabilities but also a signal which keywords offer the highest opportunity for conversion. The higher the price advertisers are willing to pay per click for a keyword, the bigger indication of the keyword commercial value. 


Traffic %:

The share of traffic your competitor receives for the specific keyword. 


Costs %:

Estimated price for the given keyword in Google Analytics. 



The density of advertisers for a given keyword. Along with CPC this could be an indication of the keyword commercial value. 



Just like with organic keywords, you should also pay attention to search trends for a particular keyword. Knowing when the keyword is mostly searched will help you to assess when's the best time to invest in it. 


The basic principle here is the same as for organic keyword research - compare, estimate the value of the keyword and competitiveness level and use them for your ad campaign. 


3. PPC Ad Copy


Just like keywords are the foundation of most online marketing campaigns, the content is what often attracts a visitor to take notice. When it comes to PPC, well-targeted ad copy can generate more clicks that will result in conversion than a generic one. 


Therefore what you say in an ad is equally important to keywords you optimize it for. There are many tricks companies use to increase their click through rate:

- using numbers in the copy as they make the ad stand out from others, 

- making irresistible offers and promises that will attract the buyers interest,

- including strong calls-to-action to entice searchers to take action and many more. 


When you're conducting an online competitive research, take notice of how your competitors write their ad copy, what benefits they offer and what are any other ways they try to attract clicks. 


Some ideas what they might include:


- Same-day shipping,

- Multitude of shipping locations (meaning faster delivery),

- Savings,

- No Sales Tax collected,

- Special offers


Also pay attention to the extensions your competitors use. Just search your main keywords in Google. If page results looks like this, you definitely should think about some improvements to be done, because you'll just waste money on ad, which cannot compete.



Collecting all the ads copies by hand is simply impossible. Use SEMrush Domain Ads History report. You'll be able to collect all the text of ad copies your competitors have and see the positions in SERP they've got. 



4. Backlinks


Backlinks are one of the key aspects of gaining search engine rankings. The more good quality backlinks you have, the better your chances at ranking higher. 


Analyzing your competitors' backlinks can reveal many low hanging fruit, backlinks you can quickly recreate to point to your own site. You can also go deeper and understand strategies they use to rank. This can be invaluable information when designing your own SEO strategy. 


Information to look for in this report include:


  • Source of the backlink: what site is the backlink on
  • Type of site: is this a blog, PR news site, a press mention or something else? This information will help you to assess your chances at recreating the link. For instance, if the link comes from a resource page on a industry related blog, you could contact the owner to get your website included as well. Getting a journalist to include a link to your website from an article they wrote might not be that simple. 
  • Anchor text: Anchor text isn't as important ranking factor as it once was. It is still a great indication of what your competitor is trying to rank their site for. 


One of the best tools for backlink research on the market is Ahrefs tool. Great amount of valuable data will help to discover new opportunities for improving content marketing strategy, for example. Which will help your website to rank higher?



Conducting competitive research is neither unethical nor illegal. Finding out how your competitors reach out to the market, however, allows you to make more informed decisions about your own activities. It helps you assess your strengths and spot quick gains your competitors have missed. Overall, it allows you to launch more successful campaigns while reducing the amount of costly targeting errors.