3 Ethical Ways to Improve SEO by Spying on Your Competitors

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 5 minutes

This might come as a shock, but did you know I can spend less than one hour analyzing your top competitor’s website and SEO standings, and put together an aggressive organic strategy that will rank your site above theirs?

I am going to share a technique used by the absolute best SEO agencies focused on growth marketing tactics. This spying tactic has no secret formula, but the execution and content creation that goes into it is very difficult for even most SEO experts to execute, as it requires a deep understanding of Google’s algorithm, target buyers, and reverse engineering the competition’s content marketing strategy.

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1. Start With Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer is a Moz tool that identifies top pages and researches backlinks. By identifying top pages you can discover various points as to why these pages rank the way they do. From target keyword to titles and tags, knowing where your competition stands in regards to top web pages will give you the necessary insight to create a strategy that will outperform theirs.

Google’s ranking algorithm pays close attention to backlinks. Mack in the day SEOs could link to multiple directories as a way to manipulate rankings. But today backlinks must be relevant and fall within strict best practices to avoid being spammy.  You will want to get backlinks from sites with high domain authorities, they should have the “dofollow” link attribute, the referring domain content should be directly related to the target landing page, and the referring domain’s own backlink portfolio should be void of toxic links.

When you enter your competitor’s domain into Open Site Explorer you will see their domain authority–a score on a 100-point scale that forecasts how well the site will rank in the search engines. Moz allows you to compare up to four competitors at once. Once you have recorded your competitor’s domain authorities you will want to open an incognito window and do a Google search for their (and your) target keywords and search terms. These should be directly relevant to your industry and customer’s needs. For example, “dentist in Studio City CA” or “alpaca sweaters from Peru” would be ideal examples.

If your competitor has a higher domain authority than you, there is a strong likelihood they will rank above you in Google. Whether this is indeed the case, or you find that your domain authority is higher but your ranking is dismal, there are likely a number of reasons why that can be easily ameliorated. Use the Moz tool to run a full audit on your site, and your competitors. You may have some serious site errors that are causing your site to live at the bottom of the Google barrel. And by discovering your competitor’s errors, you can explode them in a specific strategic approach. For example, if they have duplicate content and canonical errors pertaining to a primary product page on pullover sweaters, you can create a strategy amping up high-quality content and backlinks on this exact subject to outperform the competition.

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2. Spy on Your Competitor’s Analytics

In order to exploit your competitor’s SEO weaknesses, you will need to get access to their analytics. It may not sound ethical, but it is. Nacho Analytics by SpyFu allows marketers to see their competition’s sales, and how they got them. By seeing your competitor’s data such as most visited pages, conversion rates, and bounce rate data (among others) you can tell what kind of content best resonates with their customers (and yours).

Once you have a list of your competitors top pages for session durations, conversion rates, and other telling information that speaks to how people value their content, make note of those pages and visit them. When analyzing these pages, you will want to look for the following:

  • What are the target keywords / search phrases?
  • Which buyer audience is this content speaking to?
  • What is the context?
  • How is this page different from others?
  • What is the word length on each page?
  • How is the page design / layout different from others?
  • Where is the CTA located?

Once you have logged these notes, refer back to your buyer personas and note how each of these above points can be addressed on your pages to offer greater value to your web visitors with an organic search strategy in mind designed to convert readers into paying customers.

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3. Hack Your Competitor’s Social Accounts

No, I don’t mean to pay someone from the Dark Web to gain access to your competitor’s Facebook account and post photos of their CEO with ladies of the night from Taiwan. An ethical way to hack a brand’s social accounts is to first identify their hashtags and note how their consumer audiences engage their content. What are the most popular hashtags? What blog topics get the most “likes”, shares and comments? Who are the people (buyer personas) that engage their content the most? What time of day does your competitor get the most engagement? What context is used in blogs that get the most engagement, and how many words do they have? Finally, what is the common pain point illustrated in buyer engagement?

When you have clear answers to these questions, you will have greater focus on what kind of content audiences love. And when you write content that engages people, it leads to better rankings and conversions.

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Do You Need to Work with an SEO Agency?

These are only three ways to gain valuable competitor insight. The real skill is in taking that data and building a strategy that promotes your brand above the rest while generating revenue. This is a time consuming task that requires advanced search marketing knowledge. If you decide to partner with a professional, learn how to find the best SEO agencies that are growth-focused and build strategies around your unique goals. Just remember that cookie-cutter agencies that use rinse and repeat services deliver slate results.

Were these SEO Tips Helpful?

If this article has inspired you to get in the SEO weeds when it comes to what your competition is doing, we know you will love our FREE guide on our original, modern approach to SEO. Learn how we borrow methods from inbound marketing to enrich SEO strategies designed to both rank websites AND convert visitors into buyers? Got questions? Give us a call and let us learn about your growth goals, and we will share how a custom SEO strategy will help you get there.
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