View Categories

How to Conduct SEO Espionage on Your Competition (And Why You Should)

A pair of binoculars overlooking a boat and a helicopter.
  • Sep 15, 2017
  • 0
  • by A2 Marketing Team

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex field. There are dozens of factors that determine your site’s ranking in search results, and making sure you do better than your competitors is essential. The question is: how can you beat your competitors without knowing what their tactics are?

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to gain insight into most sites’ SEO strategies. Using the right tools will enable you to find out what keywords they’re using. Then, you can use this information to devise a better strategy of your own, and eventually come out on top.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the upsides of studying your competitors’ SEO strategies and introduce you to three tools that will help you do it. Get your magnifying glasses ready!

Why You Should Conduct SEO Espionage on Your Competition

There are a few basic steps to good on-site SEO, such as proper keyword and meta tag usage. However, when we talk about SEO espionage, we’re referring to the process of figuring out what your competition does differently. Are they using long-tail keywords more efficiently, or do they have a better internal linking strategy? You don’t need this information to beat them, but it sure comes in handy.

The key to winning when it comes to SEO is to be methodical in your approach. Some websites might find success choosing keywords randomly and covering multiple niches, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. Let’s go over two of the reasons why it pays to be thorough and ‘spy’ on your competition:

  1. It enables you to compete for the same keywords. Once you know what keywords other sites in your niche are targeting, you can check out their content and work on making yours better.
  2. You can target low-competition keywords. You don’t always need to beat out your competitors to get to the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Sometimes, the smart move is to explore different content angles.

Studying your competition may be smart, but when it comes to SEO, you can’t just crouch around the corner with a camera – you need to use the right tools for the job.

3 Tools to Help You Analyze Your Competitor’s SEO Strategy

There are plenty of tools that can help you gain insight into the SEO strategies of your competition. However, we’re big fans of these three below, thanks to their ease of use and the sheer amount of data they provide.

1. Open Site Explorer

The Open Site Explorer homepage.

Open Site Explorer is part of the Moz Pro family of tools, which also enables you to do keyword research. This particular service enables you to analyze URLs to find which sites are linking to them and what those sites’ most popular pages are.

Inbound links are one of the most efficient ways to gain authority on your website. If you have reputable sites linking to your content, search engines will assume its quality is high, and your rankings should improve accordingly. Figuring out who’s linking to your competitors can enable you to target them for backlinking opportunities.

Key Features

  • Research who’s linking to any URL you want
  • Discover new link-building opportunities for your site
  • Check your website’s ‘spam rating’

How to Use Open Site Explorer

Using this tool is remarkably simple. All you have to do is type the URL of the page you want to look into, click on the Search button and start looking through the results:

Open Site Explorer in action.

Keep in mind that Open Link Explorer works best for domains that are well established. If you’re investigating newcomers to your field, chances are the tool won’t be able to find any useful information.


A monthly subscription to Moz Pro will cost you $99, and they offer a 30-day free trial for you to test out their tools. Plus, you can run up to three free searches per day without signing up.

2. SimilarWeb

The SimilarWeb homepage.

SimilarWeb enables you to get a bird’s eye view of your competitors’ performance. With this tool, you can analyze their global ranking and how much traffic they’re getting (as well as where it comes from).

As far as SEO goes, SimilarWeb lets you look into any site’s top keywords and which social media platforms give it the most traction. It also allows you to research other, similar sites. If you’re anything like us, you’ll spend hours upon hours researching other sites in your niche when you start using this service.

Key Features

  • Analyze your competitors’ global rankings and traffic sources
  • Look into the top performing keywords for any website
  • Research which social media sites are more receptive to your competitors’ content
  • Compile lists of other sites in your niche and their rankings

How to Use SimilarWeb

Just like our previous pick, SimilarWeb is relatively easy to use. Just go to the homepage and type the URL of the domain you want to research.

SimilarWeb in action.

Afterward, you’ll be able to access all the information we discussed earlier. All you have to do is keep scrolling down and take notes of the data that interests you.


SimilarWeb offers both free and premium versions of its platform. Using the free version will provide you with limited results, but in our experience, these results are more than enough to get the ball rolling.

3. SEMrush

The SEMrush homepage.

SEMrush is much like SimilarWeb, in the sense that it enables you to get an overview of your competitors’ popularity. Using this service, you can check out how much organic traffic any website is receiving, which keywords they’re using, and how many backlinks they have.

Plus, it even displays a Cost Per Click (CPC) estimate for the most popular keywords leading to any domain. This can come in handy if you’re looking to launch a paid campaign, but just knowing what these keywords are is a great first step.

Key Features

  • Analyze your competitors’ organic traffic and backlinks
  • Get a look at the top keywords for any URL
  • Receive an estimate of the CPC costs for your competitors’ top keywords
  • Analyze both websites and specific keywords separately

How to Use SEMrush

To use SEMrush, just go to the service’s homepage and type in the URL or keyword you want to research – just the same as the other tools we’ve covered so far. You’ll receive your results almost instantly:

SEMrush in action.

SEMrush’s best feature is its keyword analysis tool. Just click on any of your competitor’s top results, and you’ll get a treasure trove of information, including search volume and keyword alternatives.


An SEMrush subscription will set you back $99.95 monthly, but you can do a few searches for free each month.


SEO can be complicated, but things get much easier once you start working smarter than your competition. If you have an idea of what keywords they’re targeting and what kind of content they’re using, you’ll know everything you need to beat them.

Let’s recap three of the top SEO analysis tools that can help you get the job done:

  • Open Site ExplorerA powerful tool to keep track of inbound links.
  • SimilarWebLook into your competitor’s top keywords and find other players in your field.
  • SEMrushAnalyze your competitor’s keywords and backlinks.

Image credit: Pixabay.