The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

How much do you really know about your competitors? Do you know what their strategies are, how well they’re performing, what traffic their website is getting and what people like about them? As a business owner, you need to always stay one step ahead of the competition, and the best way to do that is to monitor your competitors’ online marketing activities. In this blog post, I’m going to go into the how, what and why you should spy on your competitors.

And don’t forget to scroll through to the end to access the list of over 20 useful tools for spying for your competitors – or download them below.

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Why spy: the benefits
What to spy on: traffic, website/blog, ads, SEO, media mentions
Useful tools for spying on competitors
Website traffic tools
SEO: backlinks, keywords & strategy
Advertising
Social Media
Blog/Website content
Media Mentions

Why spy?

 

As I mentioned before, businesses need to be constantly aware of what their competitors are up to in order to grow and scale their business.

Competition is a good thing; if forces businesses to grow and evolve and it helps build better products and services for the consumer.

Monitoring your competitors is all about learning their strengths and their weaknesses, about what works and what doesn’t. It’s about learning and growing.

For example, spying would help you learn what type of content works best for your competitors, which you can then use to create better, more targeted content in the feature.

Or, it can help you find the best places to advertise your business, by checking to see where your competitors are placing ads.

Why you should be spying on your #business competitors via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

Basically, spying on your competitors is there to help you improve your business and get better results.

It’s not about being threatened by your competitors’ presence in the marketplace; the truth is, except for very, very few companies around the world (and even those still struggle to keep up the pace), there will always be someone that is a little more successful than you are at something – maybe they’re getting new leads more easily, or maybe they have a more engaged audience. But rest assured, they might also look at you and say “argh, why can’t we have their traffic!”

Plus, it’s very likely they’re keeping an eye on you too…like, right now.

 

 

What to spy on

Now that we’ve gone through why spying on your competitors is so important, let’s now look into all the different aspects that you should be spying on:

Website traffic

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

One of the first things that many of us want to know is…how much traffic are my competitors getting? Other marketing activities of theirs – social media, their blog and website, their ads – are clearly visible, but traffic is pretty much a mystery, so it’s only natural that we really (like, really) want to know. But, there’s more to traffic than that – here’s what to look out for:

  • Total traffic numbers: what type of traffic do they get on average?
  • Monthly unique visitors: how much of their traffic is formed by unique visitors?
  • Traffic sources: where is their traffic coming from, particularly the main sources?
  • Traffic demographics: who is visiting their website? Where are they from and what are their interests and occupations?
  • Time on site: they can get a lot of traffic, but if that traffic isn’t actually spending time on the website, then it’s either not the right traffic, or the website didn’t deliver what it promised.


Look for consistency; if they have big occasional spikes of traffic, try to find out what their cause is – chances are, it’s probably something like an ad somewhere online. If, however, they consistently get more traffic, try to find out why that’s happening – is it where they promote their website? Is it the content?

SEO

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Monitoring your competitors’ SEO can help you improve your own search engine ranking and optimisation. When you learn more about the keywords they’re bidding for, what backlinks they’re getting and so on, you’ll be better equipped to optimise your own website, as efficiently as possible.

Find out:

  • What keywords they’re ranking for: if your competitors have a better search engine ranking than you do, this very useful information can help you improve your own. See what organic and paid keywords they’re ranking for and use this to inform your SEO keyword strategy.
  • Their backlinks: which websites are linking to them? What new backlinks are they getting from quality websites and why? How can you get more similar backlinks as well?
Spying on your #business competitors: what to spy on via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

All of this information will help improve your SEO – it can help you find great opportunities for backlinks and the best keyword options (based on what your competitors are using) for improving your search engine ranking.

Advertising

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

How much do you know about your competitors’ online advertising strategy? Just like with search engine optimisation, keeping an eye on their advertising strategy can help you improve your own.

You can use different tools (you’ll find them at the end of this post) to find out:

  • Where they’re advertising: what platforms they’re using to advertise, where they’ve taken out a banner ad and so on. Should you also consider advertising on some of the platforms they’re using?
  • Best converting ads: which ads convert the best? What is it about their ad copy and visual content that got people to convert?
  • Best converting landing pages: success is not just about the ad, but also about the copy; which landing pages convert the most?

Use all of this information you’ve gleaned from your competitors for your own marketing and advertising strategy. This way, you can go directly for the biggest and best publishers and platforms, and you can also improve your ads’ copy so as to convert at a higher rate.

Social media

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

How popular are your competitors on social media?

Keeping an eye out on your competitors’ social media activity can ultimately help you improve your own – but I’ll get to that in a second.

First, how do you monitor their social media? You most likely already have a tool that you can use for this; for example, if you use a social media dashboard, it probably has a monitoring function which allows you to set up monitoring for certain keywords or users.

Use it to:

  • Keep track of all the social networks your competitors are on: what are their most popular accounts? Should you consider joining other social networks, based on their overall performance?
  • See what they’re posting: what types of updates are they posting on their social profiles? Which ones get them the most engagement, the most shares and retweets? You can use this information to learn from them and from their performance – but don’t copy them – and improve the types of updates that you post.
  • Check their followers and their engagement: how engaged are their followers? Why are they getting more/less engagement than you do?
  • Keep an eye out on their followers and customers: by keeping an eye out on their followers, you might discover some opportunities for getting leads. For example, customers complaining about your competitors’ service.
  • Keep an eye on their ad campaigns: are they using social media ads, and if so, which types of ads? Most importantly, how successful are their ads? This can help you discover better ways to advertise ways to advertise your business on social media.


When it comes to social media, you should try to look beyond vanity metrics like follower numbers, and instead focus on actionable metrics. For example, if a particular competitor is getting a lot of engagement on their updates, consistently, that can help you gain some important insights: what types of updates work well, what gets people to share and comment and so on. If there are any big spikes in numbers, it’s quite possible it’s because they paid for ads to boost a post.

Blog/website content

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

You should also monitor your competitors’ website, and most importantly, their blog content. This can help inform and improve your own content strategy for your website and blog.

To keep track of them, you can simply visit their website regularly; or, better yet, use an RSS reader (some examples in the tools section at the end of this post) where you can follow as many blogs and websites as you like and get their latest posts automatically. You can then also order all of your competitors into one category, so it doesn’t mix with all your other news and sources.

Keep an eye out on:

  • What types of content they publish: are your competitors posting different types of content (infographics, videos, how to guides, etc.)? But most importantly, how successful are their posts? Which ones get the most attention? Use this knowledge to help you improve your own blog
  • Social media shares: which blog posts get the most shares? Are they getting more than you do, and if so, why?
Spying on your #business competitors: what to spy on via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet
  • Posting frequency: how often do they post new content? Should you consider posting more often, or can you actually cut down on your weekly blog posts?
  • Engagement: do people comment on their blog? What makes them engage?
  • Traffic: which posts and pages get the most traffic? Why?

By keeping an eye on your competitors’ website and blog, it can help you improve your own content strategy. It’s easy to keep track of – it would only take you minutes to check what new content they’ve published, especially with a tool to help – and it can help keep you one step ahead.

Media mentions

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Another important thing to monitor is your competitors’ media mentions. Basically, any mention of their business name online: from blogs to news outlets, just like you would do for your own business name.

This way, you can keep an eye out on all of the moves they’re making; what new press releases have they put out? What new products are they releasing? Which major websites and blogs are mentioning your competitors?

Look beyond vanity metrics

 

A lot of the information you’ll find by spying on your competitors will most likely be vanity metrics. Meaning, metrics that aren’t exactly helpful to you – they can’t help you make a decision that will help grow your business in any way.

And, in some cases, those numbers might be a bit skewed. A good example is social media; for example, let’s say that one of your competitors had over 100k fans on their Facebook Page, while you have a few thousand. But, look beyond that: are those followers engaged? Are they liking their updates, sharing their content and retweeting their tweets? If they aren’t, then it’s quite likely that they bought those followers.

Another important thing to remember is that you should always look for consistency; they might be getting the occasional big spike in numbers, but that’s usually due to another factor (such as advertising).


For example, maybe one of their blog posts got a big boost in traffic and/or social media shares – much more than their usual posts. If that happens, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their post is so incredible it went viral – in fact, if their other posts don’t get nearly as much attention, it could be that they boosted that post with advertising and other paid promotional methods. That said, in this case you can learn something else of importance: where to promote your posts in order to get big boosts in traffic.

But, as a rule of thumb, whenever you see a big spike in numbers for one of your competitors, look beyond the numbers to find out exactly why they got that boost.

Read on for a list of useful tools for each category, updated from my older post on 25 tools to spy on your competitors – you’ll find that some tools are gone and a few new ones have been added:

Spying on your #business competitors: useful tools via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

Useful tools

Website traffic

1.     SimilarWeb

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

With SimilarWeb you can search for any website or app to see what traffic/installs they are getting, as well as ranking by country and category, and much more. And that’s just the free version – with Pro, you’ll have access to your competitors’ detailed traffic statistics.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @similarweb via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

2.     Traffic Estimate

You can use Traffic Estimate to perform searches for any website and see traffic estimations and other analytics, such as their Alexa Rank.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

3.     StatShow

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

StatShow is a free tool that you can use to search for any website and get interesting stats such as the global rank, traffic, unique page views and even an estimated value of the website.

4.     Alexa

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Alexa’s competitive intelligence tools allow you to perform a more in-depth research. For example, you can see what kind of traffic your competitors are getting, what their traffic sources are and how many monthly unique visitors they have. You can also get demographic, reputation and engagement metrics and create site comparisons.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @alexainternet via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

SEO: backlinks, keywords and strategy

5.     Rival IQ

RivalIQ is a really cool tool as it allows you to get insight into social media, SEO keywords and website content, all with one tool.

You will be able to see a detailed analysis of your social media activity and how it compares to your competitors, which is great for figuring out how you can improve your social media strategy and learn from the competition.

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Another cool feature is their hashtag analysis, as it tells you what hashtags your competitors are using and which ones get the most engagement:

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

RivalIQ also provides reports on various social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and Instagram, as well as a cross-channel report.

Their SEO competitive analysis is also very strong, with meta description comparisons, keyword comparisons and Adwords spending comparisons:

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @rivaliq via @lilachbullock Click To Tweet

6.     SpyFu

With SpyFu, you can easily find out what your competitor’s keyword strategy is, as well as other useful SEO information.

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

You will also get to see information about their ad campaigns, their ranking history for various different links, a list of inbound links as well as an organic search ranking analysis.

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Go to SEO Research and enter your competitor’s website URL and you’ll get a sneak peek into their SEO strategy, which is very useful as you will be able to learn from their mistakes, as well as from what they do well.

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @spyfu via @lilachbullock Click To Tweet

7.     MozBar

MozBar is a really cool all-in-one SEO toolbar that you can add to your Chrome browser and get instant SEO metrics for any page you might be viewing. You will be able to see and compare things like link metrics by type of link, see social shares for each page, discover any keywords used and much more – when you’re finished, you can easily export your findings to a CSV file for further analysis.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @moz via @lilachbullock Click To Tweet

8.     SEMRush

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

With SEMRush, you can easily search for any domain, keyword or URL and perform detailed competitive research. You will be able to see what your competitors are up to, what their strategies in display advertising and organic and paid search are, what kinds of links they are getting and more. You can also use the data provided to compare domains between them.


Overall, SEMRush is a really useful tool that will help you get better insights into the competition.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @semrush via @lilachbullock Click To Tweet

9.     iSpionage

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

iSpionage allows you to perform competitive research so that you can improve your own strategy. You can use it to find out what organic and paid keywords your competitors are using and how much they are spending every month on AdWords. You can even find out which ads bring in the most traffic and who your top PPC competitors are, and you can perform comparisons to see whose strategy is working best.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @ispionage via @lilachbullock Click To Tweet

10.  Link Alerts

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Link Alerts from Link Research Tools are, as they put it, “like Google Alerts – but for links”. You can use it to monitor your own links and backlink history, but for the purpose of this article, the focus is on their competitive backlink analysis feature.

Once you’ve set up the alert, you’re going to get a full list of what backlinks they’re getting as they receive them. Their LRT Power Trust features will let you know how valuable each link is, so you can easily decide if it’s worth pursuing as well or not – which you can do directly from within the app.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @lnkresearchtool Click To Tweet

11.  Monitor Backlinks

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Monitor Backlinks is a great tool for monitoring your own backlinks, as well as your competitors’.

This useful tool will monitor your competitors’ backlinks and it alerts you whenever they get a new link that has good SEO value. It also has a keyword rank checker that allows you to monitor your keywords and then compare your rankings with your competitors.

With this information, you can create a better strategy for your website and get better backlinks to help you boost your search engine ranking – and hopefully help you beat the competition.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @monitorbacklink Click To Tweet

12.  Open Site Explorer from Moz

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Open Site Explorer is a free tool from Moz that allows you to easily research any URL and find out what backlinks a website has, discover any potentially damaging links and find awesome opportunities for link building.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @moz via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

Advertising

13.  Adbeat

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Adbeat is a very valuable tool as it provides you with all the information you could need about your competitors online advertising strategy.


With it, you will be able to see where they’re placing their ads, and what the best-performing publishers are, what their best converting ads and landing pages are and other useful information about their ads.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @adbeat_com via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

14.   What runs where

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Very aptly named, What Runs Where is a tool for keeping track of your competitors’ ads and strategy. Use it to see where they’re publishing ads, as well as their best and worst performing ones and to uncover your competitors’ entire advertising strategy.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @whatrunswhere via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

Social media

15.  Agorapulse

Agorapulse may be primarily a social media management tool, but they also provide awesome analytics that allows you to compare your brand to the competition so that you can always be one step ahead of them.

Once you’ve set up your accounts with Agorapulse, go to the “Competitors” tab on your dashboard to see how you’re faring against your competitors:

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @agorapulse via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

16.  Quintly

quintly

Quintly is a social media analytics tool for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and blogs, all in one central dashboard.

The best part about Quintly is that it allows you to easily benchmark your social media analytics and performance against those of your competitors, as well as best-practice examples. With Quintly’s help, you will be able to more easily create a strong, powerful social media strategy that will make you stand out amongst your competitors.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @quintly via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

17.  Followerwonk

With Followerwonk, you can analyse your Twitter followers more in-depth, discover social influencers from your industry, search for Twitter followers and more. But the main feature for this article is that you can use it to compare your followers with your competitors’.

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Use it to explore your competition’s followers and to make comparisons between your own followers and theirs and see how your audiences overlap.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @moz via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

 

Website/blog content

18.  Buzzsumo

10 Top Tools for Discovering Amazing Content

Monitoring the content that your competitors are creating can help you build a better content marketing strategy and provide better, more relevant content for your website visitors.


With Buzzsumo, you can research the best content being shared in any niche. You can find out what the best performing content is, what gets the most shares on social media, find out what backlinks they have and much more. You can also filter your searches to research the best content by time frame, by content type (regular blog post, video, infographics, guest blog posts, etc.) and by language and country.

Although this tool is primarily used for discovering the best content published in any given niche as well as the influencers and authors behind this content, it can also help you monitor your competitors’ content so that you have all the necessary information to create better, more relevant content for your audience.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @buzzsumo via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

19.  Feedly

Feedly is primarily an RSS reader and content curator, but you can just as easily use it for monitoring your competitors’ content.

10 Top Tools for Discovering Amazing Content

Set up a folder for all of your competitors and then add their blogs and YouTube channels to get their feed directly in the app. This way, you can see what new content they’re publishing, all in the same place. You can also plug in any Google Alerts that you’ve set up so that you can monitor any mentions of your competitor’s brands within the same app.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @feedly via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

Media mentions

20.  Google Alerts

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

In order to keep up with every move the competition is making and any mention of their name online, the easiest way is to set up a Google Alert.

It’s probably the easiest, cheapest and fastest way to make sure you’re up to date on every mention of your competitor’s brand.

21.  Mention

Mention is a really great tool for monitoring any mentions of yourself, but it can also easily be used to monitor the competition, as well as any other topic or keyword you can think of.

Mention monitors in real time, in over 40 different languages and check millions of sources, not just the press or blogs, but also social media, videos, forums and images.

All of the mentions are updated in real time, and you will also be able to see detailed statistics, such as mention locations, the top Twitter, Instagram and web influencers talking about the brand, reach, sentiment, and more.

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Another cool feature is that you can create multiple alerts that you can then compare them – very useful tool to highlight exactly what the differences are between you and your competitors, or perhaps even between competitors.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @mention via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

22.  Brand24

The how, what and why you should spy on competitors

Brand24 is a tool designed to help you track any mentions of your brand online, in real time. That said, you can also use it to track mentions of your competitor brands so that you can find out who is mentioning them online, what they’re saying, what social influencers are saying about them and what the sentiment behind these mentions is.

You can also use it to compare any social mentions you receive against your competitors and search for any keywords, topics or trends on the social web.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @brand24 via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

23.  Brandwatch

how to measure your social media roi

BrandWatch is a very powerful monitoring tool, used in particular for getting insights into consumer opinion on any given topic. The tools monitor the web – social media, forums, blogs, videos and images and much more – to track any mentions of your selected keywords and find out what the sentiments behind them are, what customers have to say and what trends are popping up.


That said, you can also use BrandWatch to track more than just your own brand, but also the competition. With this powerful tool, you will be able to find out what customers think of the competition, what the sentiment surrounding them is, demographics data and much, much more.

The how, what & why you should spy on competitors: useful tools @brandwatch via @lilachbullockClick To Tweet

Conclusion

As you can see, reading this blog post, monitoring your competitors can bring a lot of benefits. Most importantly, it can help you improve your overall online marketing strategy, from your social presence to your advertising strategy, and it can help you always be one step ahead of the competition.

Are you spying on your competitors? And if so, what are the most important things for you to spy on? And what tools are you using to help?

Let me know in the comments section and please share if you found this post useful:)

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Highly regarded on the world speaker circuit, Lilach has graced Forbes and Number 10 Downing Street. She’s a hugely connected and highly influential entrepreneur. Listed in Forbes as one of the top 20 women social media power influencers and was crowned the Social Influencer of Europe by Oracle. She is listed as the number one Influencer in the UK by Career Experts and is a recipient for a Global Women Champions Award for her outstanding contribution and leadership in business.

  1. Garrett on 2017-07-20 at 1:15 pm

    Another awesome post Lilach! Competitor research plays such a huge role in strategy. Sometimes, it gets forgotten, because it doesn’t traditionally fall under ‘social media’ but looking at competitor’s online reviews on 3rd party review sites can provide a ton of insights as well.

    What are the other companies doing right that leads to positive reviews?

    What are they doing wrong that your business can learn from, so they don’t make the same mistakes?

    Keep up the quality content! 🙂

    • Lilach Bullock on 2017-07-24 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks so much Garrett 🙂 Great questions to consider 🙂 There’s so much we can learn from our competitors!

  2. Soji Fagade on 2017-07-24 at 5:49 am

    Superb post. Very informative and valuable

  3. Andrea Felder on 2017-07-24 at 5:45 pm

    This was a great post Lilach! There’s so much value built into this one piece. There’s so much information and knowledge you can gather by simply looking at what your competitors are doing. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Lilach Bullock on 2017-07-25 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Andrea 🙂 Absolutely, it should be an ongoing activity that all businesses do 🙂

  4. Whitney Vick on 2017-08-23 at 11:53 pm

    Don’t you feel that some of these sites and tools for sping lead to cheating done by those who seek more clientele? Now, I ask, who (what professional) would EVER want to hire a cheater that sits around stealing ideas of competitors through apps?? The results will not be the aame, as in spying the intention of the business man is not honest, nor the motive free of guilt.

    • Lilach Bullock on 2017-08-29 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Whitney, many thanks for your comment.
      I think that spying on your competitors is not cheating; rather, it’s an effort to stay on top of their marketing efforts and always knowing what they’re up to. As the saying goes, ‘knowledge is power’ and this definitely applies to businesses and competitors. It’s not about spying on them and copying what they’re doing, but of being aware of the moves they make, new developments and so on.

  5. paras dhankecha on 2018-03-09 at 9:26 am

    You have written such a detailed article. And i like this type of long form content. Another thing is i also like the strategy and tools you suggest. Thank you for this and keep going.

    • Lilach Bullock on 2018-03-10 at 10:43 am

      Thanks so much Paras, delighted you found it helpful 🙂

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