Spying on Your Competitors – and Learning From Them

You can learn a lot from your competitors, and you’d have to be a fool not to stay on top of what they’re doing. Whether you’re looking to stay ahead of them in terms of SEO, social media or a general business perspective (which I’m sure you are nodding at all three!) then competitive research is a must.

I’m going to break down a simple approach to carrying out monthly/weekly/daily competitive research (depending on how obsessive you are!). First things first, let’s take a look at some competitive keyword research…

Competitive Keyword Research

Keyword research is an incredibly important part of any SEO campaign. Whenever I take on a new client, their competitors are my first port of call for sourcing keywords to target. This usually helps me find a load of long-tail variations and alternatives that I can work on for some quick wins, but it also gives me a good steer on industry terminology.

Carrying out competitive keyword research is easy and through using Keyword Eye, it can be done in a few clicks.

Competitor Analysis

Once you’re logged in, click on New (top-left) and then select Competitor Analysis. You’ll then be presented with a box (as shown in the above image) where you can type in the domain name of your competitor, select the search engine and then run the full report.

Keyword Research Word Cloud

Once you’ve ran the report you’ll get a nice big word cloud that you can order by search volume or their search ranking (amongst other factors). This helps you to quickly highlight where your competitors are bringing in search traffic from.

If you then navigate to the Grid View tab, you’ll get a breakdown each keyword complete with search volume, keyword competitiveness, your competitor’s organic ranking, the URL that’s ranking and the number of organic results for each query.

This data is gold.

On top of this, you can drill down to find long-tail variations for each of the keywords that you’ve found from your competitors. To do this, navigate back to the Keywords tab (the word cloud), right-click any of the keywords and select Find Questions.

Find Questions

Keyword Eye will then pull in long-tail variations of the short-tail keyword that you’ve selected to find more informational queries related to this. For example, this could be, What is social media? How many people use social media? Or, How to use social media for business.

The search volume and keyword competition score is also provided within these results. Awesome!

Exported Keywords

My next step is to repeat this process for a number of competitors (3-5 to begin with) and the download all the data and collate it into a .csv file.

This data in itself can be used to get a good idea on the types of keywords that you may want to start targeting, but I then take this a step further by adding each of the ranking URLs of my competitors into Google’s Keyword Planner Tool to find other semantically related keywords and add them into my spreadsheet.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to uncover low-hanging fruit this way.

Competitive Link Research

Like with keyword research, link prospecting is a staple part of any SEO campaign. Links add a huge amount of weight towards ranking well in the SERPs (I don’t need to tell you that, I’m sure!), so finding quick wins can have a big impact on the results of your campaigns.

I carry out competitive link research for each of my clients at least once a month. There are a number of tools that you can use to do this, each with their own pros and cons (which I’m not going to go into – check out this post from Matthew Woodward if you’re interested.)

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use my most favoured tool, Majestic SEO (paid tool). For the competitive link research that I do, I combine the power of Majestic SEO with the functionality of the SEO Tools plugin for Excel (free).

The process is really simple, so all you need to do if follow these steps:

  1. Open Excel and navigate to the SEOTools tab (this is assuming you’ve installed the SEO Tools plugin.
  2. Select Majestic SEO and click the login button within the left-hand pane. Use your Majestic SEO login details to sign-in and grant the SEO Tools plugin full access.
  3. Once logged in, select New&Lost Backlinks from the Select Command: drop-down.
  4. Insert your competitor’s domain into the URL field.
  5. Select the interval as Last month.
  6. Select the mode as New.
  7. In the Fields: box, tick SourceURLTargetURLAnchorTextFlagNofollowSourceCitationFlow and SourceTrustFlow.
  8. Set the Max Results to 1,000.
  9. Select the Fresh radio button from the Datasource field.
  10. Click the Insert button.
SEO Tools Plugin

You’ll then be presented with a big juicy list of the links that your competitor has gained in the past month, accompanied with metrics on the power of those links (Citation Flow and Trust Flow).

The next step is to filter the data by Citation Flow (largest at the top) and work through the list to find if there are any opportunities that you could capitalise on. Typically, these are some of the things I look out for:

  • Mentions of my competitors within the press.
  • Guest post content written by my competitors.
  • Links to images or video content they’ve produced.
  • Directories or useful links pages.
  • Links to their product pages (if applicable).

Upon finding each of these, it’s a case of following the paper trail back and trying to form a relationship with the linking website that can result in you acquiring a similar link.

Alongside this, I find that it helps me identify any new approaches that I could take to link building and replicate any success that my competitors have had. It also gives you a bit of an insight into how you can try to build links that make it tough for your competitors to replicate because I’m sure that they’ll be doing the same thing to your link profile.


  • Don’t ignore what your competitors are doing.
  • Use link analysis tools in tandem with Excel to easily identify competitive link opportunities.
  • Monitor your competitors’ rankings to uncover new keyword opportunities.
  • Expand on your competitors’ short-tail keywords with long-tail question variations.

Written by AJ Silber

Read more of AJ's articles.