Spying is such a negative word. So let’s call it intelligence analysis instead. Whatever you call it, you need good tools to help you understand what your competition is doing online. Here are some basic, free tools to help you understand and negotiate the competitive online landscape.
Actionable Intelligence: Discover who owns and manages a domain name.
WHOIS is a basic internet lookup tool that most people outside the industry don’t know anything about. Every domain has a WHOIS record that lists basic facts about a domain name: when it was registered, by whom, address and contact information, when it expires, who manages and hosts the domain, and more. Just enter any domain name using a WHOIS service to begin your research. Visit https://whois.icann.org/ for instance and enter any domain name you like.
Counterintelligence Tip: There’s more than one reason you might want to keep your WHOIS information private. Private or delegated registration will reduce spam and domain renewal scams and keep details about your domain away from prying eyes.
2. Google Autocomplete
Actionable Intelligence: Get a quick list of keywords sorted by popularity.
What are the most popular keywords for a given search? There are all sorts of sophisticated tools to gain detailed keyword intelligence (SEMRush and Moz are two of our favorites.) But for a quick glance of what people are search for most often, simply start typing in the Google search bar. The autocomplete function will automatically suggest terms based on the most popular searches. It won’t give you actual search volumes, but it will provide you with relative volume ranking and ideas you might not have considered.
Actionable Intelligence: Get a quick snapshot of a competitor’s organic and paid search, competitors, and more.
This handy little tool is like getting a complete dossier from your agent in the field. Is your competitor getting most of their traffic from organic search or are they paying to play? How much organic traffic are they getting? How many organic keywords do they rank for? What’s the history of their domain? Who links to their website? Both Moz and SEMRush provide similar tools, of course. But this snapshot from SpyFu is worth checking out: https://www.spyfu.com/
3. Moz Local
Actionable Intelligence: Get a snapshot of competitors’ business listings across the web.
Moz provides a variety of SEO resources, but one of their most useful (and free services) is Moz Local, which lets you look up a business and get information about its directory listings. This is useful for checking out what the directory listings look like for your business and your competitors. Well established and consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone) information is an important search rank factor.
Counterintelligence Tip: Several services provide automated listing management. In our experience, the 80/20 rule applies. Be sure your business information is accurate and up-to-date on Google Business, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn and the like. There are lots of directories you haven’t heard of, and they typically don’t add a lot of additional traffic or SEO value to your site.
4. Google Alerts
Actionable Intelligence: Get instant notification of news and web pages mentioning you or your competitors.
You don’t have time to sift the entire internet constantly to find the word on the street. Fortunately, Google provides a handy little tool called Alerts that notifies you whenever a keyword appears in the news or on a web page. Use it to be the first to find out when someone has linked to your site, mentioned a competitor, or talked about you on a website. This super handy tool lets Google do the work for you. All you do is sit back and wait for the report. Visit https://www.google.com/alerts.
5. Instant SEO Audit
Here’s a handy tool we’ve provided in association with SEMRush. Just enter a domain name and get an instant audit of your website’s search optimization for some of the most important on-page factors that affect your search rank. You can use this information along with your web developer to tune up your site and perform more effectively in search:
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