Competitive Intelligence – Tools and Tactics

November 10, 2011
By Michelle Lowery in Internet Marketing Conferences

If you’ve been following the blog this week, you’ve seen me make a couple of comments about how SEO and Internet marketing are similar to intelligence collection. And now here we are in the competitive intelligence session! Competitive analysis has existed since business began. Companies always want to know what their competitors are doing so they can do the same thing faster, better, and first. Internet business is no exception. Jane Copland, Matt Siltala, and Michael Streko are going to give us some ideas on how to do this.

[NOTE: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the speakers we’re covering, and not of Outspoken Media.]

Moderator Corey Creed introduces Michael Streko of Knowem. Michael warns that he speaks really quickly. Let’s do this. [;-)]

He’s on the Internet to make money, plain and simple, so he’s going to do what he feels is necessary to support his family, and part of that means gathering competitive intelligence.

What To Gain From Competitive Intelligence

  • Competitors’ next move
  • Who competitor is working with?
  • What are competitors’ flaws?
  • How much money are they making?
  • How much are they spending to make money?

Ways to Find “The Next Move”

  • Search their code
  • Get all up in their robots.txt – he could see they were coming out with a mailing list, forum, and he was even able to see they were taking the family to Hawaii

How to Avoid This Happening to You

Have something to hide? NEVER USE ROBOTS.TXT! Use .htaccess with a password. To find out how, check out this post from Matt Cutts.

Who Are Possible Partners?

  • Monitor their Twitter and see who they talk to, follow and who follows them – Use this site to get that information:
  • Follow their company on – if you look at a company’s status, you can see every new person that follows that company, who is employed there, and who just left; create a sock puppet account to do this; yeah, it’s shady, but he has no issue with doing that
  • Fan their Facebook page; again, don’t use your own account; create a new one-person

Know Who Links to Them

Read their content don’t be afraid to email a site linking to a page that might have outdated content. Use incompetence to your advantage. This is shady too: Set up a sock puppet site that would be a good linking partner; create a WordPress blog, then contact the competitor to get a link.

What is Their Traffic Like?

  • Take out advertising on their site. If they’re using AdWords or another platform, buy ads. That gives you a view of their traffic
  • Use and – you can see links, traffic, and what’s going on with PPC

What Domains Do They Own?

Order a domain report from, or do it the ghetto way: “Michael Streko” owns about, and put your competitor’s name inside the quotes. It will show you what domains your competitor owns.

Become an Affiliate of Your Competitor

Some affiliate networks will show EPC (Earnings Per Click) of how the program is doing. See what they’re willing to pay affiliates – can you pay more? Ask if you can speak to some of their top affiliates for “recommendations” of how to push traffic or tactics they’re using. Then you can see how much they’re making, and possibly steal that affiliate.

Non-Internet Bonus Tactic

Call them on the phone. Find out what they’re doing. Ask, “Do you have any BETA stuff I can use? I’m interested in what you’re doing.”

Finally, he recommends his own site because you can see where your competitors have social profiles registered. The tool also searches the USPTO database, so you can also see if terms are trademarked.

Now Matt Siltala takes the stage with a presentation called Never Stop Spying. This oughta be good!

Who are your online competitors?
Are you doing competitive analysis?
What are you doing? If you’re not doing competitive analysis, you’re not doing everything you could to get ahead of the game.

Twelve Things You Should Be Looking For

  1. Page authority and domain authority – They go together; use Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO Tools
  2. Total Links – The same tools can be used to find these numbers
  3. Social media activity – Follow people on Twitter, Facebook, etc.; get Google alerts on them; use trackur, netbase and Amplicate monitoring tools, too
  4. LinkedIn Connections – Michael kind of covered this, so he’s not going to go into detail
  5. Are they blogging? – Are a lot of people commenting and sharing? Are they doing infographics? Viral content? Social media for Firefox or Chrome, run an anaylysis on any URL to find out how popular the content was
  6. Use other spider tools – Screaming Frog makes an SEO’s life easier; you can identify promotional pages, widgets, etc.
  7. Affiliate programs – see what they’re doing, and figure out how you can do it better
  8. Shopping cart spying – Go through the competitor’s shopping cart, and you can find what kind of conversion tracking they have on it; sometimes they label what the company is, so it’s easy to identify; you can also see how it functions, and maybe do it better
  9. SpyFu – Necessary for intelligence
  10. – more intelligence
  11. OutWit – Firefox add-on; first, turn off Google Instant; it scrapes the SERPs, and gives you a ton of data as a result
  12. SEOmoz Pro – If you’re not using these tools, you’re missing out. Also use Raven Tools’ competitor analysis checklists

All of these things will tell you who your competitors are online. Now you know what they’re doing; you just have to be better than them.

Finally, we have Jane Copland.

The first rule: Don’t try to copy anyone. It’s about finding something to compete on.

What to Pay Attention To

Market overview

  • Estimated traffic based on: number of occurrences in top 30 for around 200 keywords
  • Google’s volume estimates
  • Estimated click-through rate for those keywords

Search a keyword on Google, and you can see who’s linking to it. Check at least once a week, and you can see who’s moving up, who’s falling. You never know when you’ll get a client in the same niche, and you’ll already have all that data compiled. Keep an eye on sites moving quickly up to jump into their recently-acquired backlinks.

The Numbers to Collect

  • CIPs – this is the most important statistic to monitor
  • Links
  • URLs
  • Domains
  • Etc.

Knowing their newspaper links

How did your competitor get those links? It’s great to have a link on a newspaper site, and it has much more value than a link from a blog. Don’t think you’ll have to spend a lot to beat a competitor just because they have newspaper links.

Relationship Links

You can never replicate those, so don’t even try.

Good Paid Links

They’re not worth complaining about. It’s a waste of your own time to fill out spam reports because you found a couple of paid links. It’s up to you if you want to take on the risk of buying links yourself.

Detecting and Beating their Link Networks

It’s vital to know a link network when you’re faced with one so you don’t waste time approaching it for links. Few people are imaginative enough to create a truly great link network. Networks add to that infamous churn rate. Oftentimes, a network’s sites won’t stay online for very long.

When you find a link network, you need to know its scope. A “good” link network doesn’t just link to the client/hub site. It links to a range of sites, but each site in the network will link to the hub. Most network sites are not diverse in their subject matter.

Don’t just look a C class IPs; people know about disguising their C classes, but are far less scrupulous with their B classes. Remember, just because network domains don’t show up in OSE dosn’t mean they don’t exist. Some may not have been crawled yet.

She shows a screenshot from Majestic that shows a huge spike in backlinks in a one-month period. It doesn’t look natural at all. Go look at what was going on there at that time to find out why the site has so many links.

You don’t need expensive tools to do this. There are plenty of backlink discovery tools out there. If you do want to pay, try There’s also the Flagfox plugin for Firefox, which she likes.

It may be tempting to build a link network, but don’t do it. Google has improved a lot since link networks first started.

She reiterates it’s not about copying; it’s about knowing what you’re up against.

And that’s it for me here at PubCon Vegas! Lisa will be wrapping up coverage for the day. Thank you to the PubCon team for everything! And thank you to all of you for reading, retweeting, and sharing our coverage. See you guys next time!

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