Thanks to Google alerts and social media updates, it’s easy to keep an eye on the competition: you know when they publish a new article, where they fall in search results, and how many times their latest post has been retweeted. But this information is just the end result for their digital marketing efforts. If you want to truly beat out the competition, you need to know how they got to this result.
“Investing a little time and the right tools will not only let you leverage what your top competitors are doing, it can act as a springboard to quickly catch up to them, and then allow you more time to focus on outperforming them.” Says Brian Sutter, Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode Technologies
You need to discover the ingredients to their secret digital marketing sauce. Welcome to the world of digital espionage. Don’t worry; I’m not suggesting you hack into a competitor’s system – which would not only be illegal but also unethical! You should, however, take advantage of free (or low-cost) tools that are completely legal (and your competition is likely already using). From uncovering the competition’s top-secret keywords to tapping into their networks and influencers, these tools are a must-have resource in today’s hyper-competitive digital marketplace.
As David Leonhardt of The Happy Guy Marketing puts it, “On the Information Highway, everybody leaves their windows open. So keeping up with the Joneses is just a matter of taking a stroll down their street.”
Expose secret search marketing formulas.
Which keywords are getting your competition listed at the top? Tap into the world’s largest database of search marketing data spanning 50 countries and 14 search engines with AdGooRoo. With AdGooRoo’s keyword intelligence, you’ll be able to better navigate the bidding landscape and find “missing” keywords (the ones your competition is using, but you aren’t) to further optimize your landing pages and ad copy. AdGooRoo’s SEM Insight is also the only source for mobile spend estimates, impressions, click-through rates and cost-per-click estimates.
If your budget won’t cover AdGooRoo’s SEM Insight package, SpyFu is an equally powerful option with slightly more affordable basic plans that still cover all the keyword and domain result data you need. SpyFu’s smart recommendations highlight opportunities for increasing traffic to your website and driving clicks with SEO and AdWords campaigns. You can also monitor your own paid keyword rankings on Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Founder of Digital Media Cube and digital marketing expert, Adrienne DeVita swears by SEMrush and SpyFu and has for over 10 years. “These two tools have helped ensure my clients’ success online. SpyFu offers actual organic click data no other tool provides, and SEM Rush has helped land countless clients. I’ve been able to tell clients in 60 seconds when their site was hit by Google and why. Then I use these tools, along with Screaming Frog, to begin assessing the damage on their website and the competition.
You MUST check out SEMrush’s new feature, “SEO Ideas”- which tells you changes to make on a particular landing page for your chosen keyword(s) and gives you sites you can reach out to and get backlinks!
Another great tool used for capturing business leads is My Site Auditor, which you can embed and offer a free site audit report. It shows potential business owners how many problems their site has, and you can capture their information and call or email for a free consultation.”
Discover your competitor’s social media influencers.
Ever wondered how your content performs on social media compared to the competition or which influencers share your content versus the competition? Now you can find out with BuzzSumo.com. Simply paste in your competitor’s website and you’ll get back a list of the top articles, videos, interviews, infographics and more that they’ve published via social media.
You’ll see how many shares each piece of content generates and, most importantly, you’ll be able to see who is sharing each piece of content. Compare these influencers with the ones on your list: which influencers are missing from your content? Follow and engage these influencers on social media. For example, if you publish a piece of content that’s a good fit with their area of expertise, tag them in a post to ask for their feedback – a natural way to boost engagement.
For a really quick snapshot on a specific piece of content, plug the URL into ShareTally to see exactly how the content is fairing over a wide range of social networks. You can quickly tell if an item caught fire on StumbleUpon or Reddit, and you can see how engagement happens on Facebook and Google Plus, as well as what is being saved for later in Buffer and Pocket.
“While LinkedIn tells you who you are connected to, or who someone you know is connected to, it doesn’t tell you the strength of that connection. Many people have connected with people on LinkedIn, but LinkedIn doesn’t know the strength of the connection. Conspire allows you to put in someone you want to know, or a company you want to connect with, and it not only shows you that you’ve emailed that person at some point, or who you know that has, but also how often, which shows the strength of a connection. Much more useful for outreach.”
“One of the best/easiest ways to monitor your competitors on social media is with Twitter lists. You can make lists for their employees, their corporate accounts, and their influencers. This is a great opportunity to see what they are sharing and watch for patterns. By watching their employees you’ll get a feel for their favorite marketing strategies and be able to stay one step ahead.” says, Mary Green Community Manager for Inbound.org.
Monitor your competitor’s Facebook profile performance.
To a certain extent, how your competitor performs on Facebook is already common knowledge, but who has time to individually track each post for likes and comments? FanPage Karma gets the job done for you. A free account will give you access to detailed analytics including the engagement matrix, time slot engagement (i.e., which times of day are best for posting information and generating engagement), strongest and weakest posts, and even which words are most frequently associated with high engagement. See how your competition stacks up against your own posts, and if yours are falling short, you’ll get immediate insights into how you can improve engagement, be that better posting times or different hashtags.
Small Business Marketing Strategist, Gail Gardner and founder of GrowMap.com chimes in recommending that we mine our competitor’s Facebook activities.
“While most use AgoraPulse for pushing content to Facebook easily and managing their own interactions, you can also use AgoraPulse for competitive analysis to benchmark competitor’s pages, fan counts, page posts, and engagement at an affordable price.”
Fire up your website.
Speed is a killer: decreasing your website’s load time can mean the difference between thousands in sales each month, according to this assessment by Kissmetrics. Since nearly half of web users expect a site to load in two seconds or less, surveys done by Akamai and Gomez.com (and reported by Kissmetrics) finds that the majority of web users will abandon a site that hasn’t loaded within three seconds. Chances are good you’ve already run your own site through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool – but what about your competitors’ sites? Find out how your stack up against the competition and where they’re lagging behind. Improve your load time by learning from their mistakes!
Simon Brisk from Click Intelligence, shares with us:
“As a lot of my time is spent researching linking opportunities from a PR and a SEO standpoint, I got to the stage where I thought, there must be a better way to do this. So James previously from Expedia and I built our own prospecting tool called Link Discovery. This tool gives the user the power to identify, commercial linking opportunities matched with other data. This tool has saved my company a huge amount of money and time. We will be launching a beta version to place in the public domain at Brighton SEO in Q1 2016 – so be on the lookout.”
And Mike Allton, founder of The Social Media Hat points out,
“Of course, half the problem is not knowing who the competition is to begin with, particularly when it comes to more granular content that you may be trying to rank well in search engines. For that, I highly recommend a tool called SBI! for WP which helps you to find and target keywords for your business and content, and then see what other sites are ranking for specific phrases.
In this case, while the “competition” may be businesses or articles that are ranking well and which we’d like to outrank, it’s also possible that these other articles might be great resources to link to, or businesses we might partner with. Discovering that is an essential part of ‘Digital Espionage.’
My Toolbox: Personally, when I’m conducting digital espionage, I like to use a combination of tools offered by Moz, which includes, MozBar, Open Site Explorer, Followerwonk, and Fresh Web Explorer. Also, you’ll find, SpyFu, tools from Internet Marketing Ninjas, ShareTally, Blog Social Analyzer, Majestic, Ahrefs, Compete, SimilarWeb, Keyword Extractor, SEMrush, BuiltWith, GTmetrix, WebPagetest, and Domain Age Tool.
Make like James Bond with these powerful tools that are your (digital) license to kill when it comes to beating the competition at keywords, influencers, and content marketing. Love a tool I didn’t mention here? Leave a comment below and let me know which tools are in your digital espionage war chest.