This blog post will look at ways that you can reverse engineer the work of a competing website and use that information to your advantage. It will look at how we can deconstruct what your competitors have been doing and feed that information into your SEO and PPC campaign.
There are also a few tips contained within this post that could prove useful for eCommerce business owners, affiliates, content marketers and social media marketers.
I have been using the following techniques successfully to back engineer the work of my client’s competitors for some time now and most of these techniques are simple and can be applied to businesses of any size.
Let’s start by stealing & quickly sorting backlinks
Everyone who has been involved in SEO for any length of time knows how to back-engineer a competitors backlinks, but for those who don’t know, I thought it would be worth mentioning and there may be a few extra techniques here to help even experienced SEOs.
To analyse our competitor’s backlinks I will be using Ahrefs, however this job can also be done using Majestic SEO or Moz’s Open Site Explorer. There are also a couple of free alternatives to check backlinks such as OpenLinkProfiler(beta) and Bing Link Explorer. I have chosen a sports shoes site at random for demonstration purposes.
Ahrefs & SeoTools for Excel
Once we have entered the target website’s address into Ahrefs we can manually look through information for each backlink, this can be a slow process so I like to export it into Excel and use another tool called SeoTools for Excel to help me determine which links to go after. SeoTools for Excel is a free tool and is excellent for a range of SEO tasks, this tool has saved me hundreds of hours of manual work and is something that every SEO should have in their arsenal.
What we will do next is open the spreadsheet in Excel and use SeoTools for Excel to determine the PageRank for each link. PageRank will give you an indication of which backlinks are on high authority domains but you must also take into consideration other things such as relevancy, whether or not that website looks spammy, the type of inbound links pointing to that domain and the type of sites that particular domain links too.
What I like to do is pull all the links into a table, sort them by PageRank and go after links that have a high PageRank and high Ahrefs Domain Rank.
Much like PageRank, Ahrefs Domain Rank can be used to give you an indication of the value of any particular link and is contained in the spreadsheet that you export from Ahrefs. If both PageRank and Ahref Domain Rank are high, then it can be a good indication that a particular website has not received any manual action that has resulted in a penalty.
A mix of the above information and intuition gained from experience will help you determine which sites you should and shouldn’t be getting links from. If you are unsure, want to save time or cross reference your data then you can use a backlink risk analysis tool such as LinkRisk to help you quickly separate good and bad quality backlinks.
Stay away from any link that seems extremely easy to obtain, things like comment links, spammy guest posts and directories should be a red flag if you wish to build links that are less likely to land you in trouble.
If you want to further filter your backlinks to increase the chances that only live links are included, take a look at this helpful Screaming Frog guide.
Content Ideas or Finding Popular Products
This is a technique that was shown to me by a friend some time ago. I can’t remember where he first heard about it but it may have been at a MozCon or an SMX Conference.
To demonstrate this I will start by crawling my own website using Screaming Frog, we will then export the crawled URLs and load them into Excel. Screaming Frog offer a free trial and it really is a must-have tool for any SEO. However, there is an alternative called Xenu Link Sleuth which is free.
After we have gathered the data and exported it to Excel, we will use that handy little free tool again – SeoTools for Excel – but this time we will use it to determine which webpages get the most Facebook Like count, Twitter Tweet count and Google Plus count. Guides on how to do this can be found here.
How is this useful you might ask? Well, it is a useful way to determine which products on your competitor’s website attract the most social interest and it can also be a quick way to discover the popularity of a product or a piece of content. You can then feed this information into your content strategy.
Backengineer Competitors Keywords
Keyword research should be done near the beginning of any SEO campaign, but it is also an important ongoing process as new products enter the market and that way in which your target market searches evolves. Let’s have a look at a couple of easy ways that you can back engineer keywords, or keyword groups that your competitors are targeting.
This method is made so incredibly simple because the tool I’m using is absolutely amazing. The tool is called SEMrush. SEMrush was originally recommended to me by veteran SEO Rishi Lakhani and I now use it constantly.
SEMrush – The Star of The Show
SEMrush has a range of features and this post will only show you the tip of the iceberg, but let’s quickly look at how we can use it to determine which keywords your competitors are ranking for on the search engine result pages and which keywords they find valuable enough to bid on via Google Adwords.
All you need to do is enter the URL into the search box which then generates a number of insightful reports. You can look at which keywords a competitor is ranking for organically, search volume for those keywords and which keywords competitors they are bidding on via Adwords which offers you an excellent insight into which keywords your competitor’s value.
Enter your competitors website address below to try SEMrush for free…
Make sure you change the location option if you are based outside the UK…
Paid Search Presence – An Indication of Value
A good indication into how valuable a business finds a keyword is to look for keywords that they have a paid search presence for. Again let’s look at www.sportsshoes.com and take a look at which keywords they find valuable enough to bid on via Adwords.
The above report gives us incredibly valuable information as it allows us to get a list of keywords that your competitors care enough to bid on. This information can be fed into your own PPC or organic SEO campaigns and can even help if you are a buyer for a company as it will allow you too see which product specific keywords competitors are bidding on.
As well as the above, there is also host of other features such a basic backlink tool, keyword research tool, the ability to compare domains in terms of organic and paid traffic and the ability to track selected keyword rankings. This really is one of my favourite SEO tools and I use it every day.
Branded Keyword Search Volume Made Easy
I thought I would also include also include this, its a very basic but effective way to get search volume for branded keywords. As well as helping marketers working on an eCommerce site, this is another technique that may also prove useful if you are a buyer for a company looking for new products to sell or even an affiliate marketer looking for branded products to promote.
If we hover over the brand menu over at www.sportsshoes.com you will see a list of brands. Copy and paste these brands into Excel and append the word ‘shoes’, or another relevant modifier on to the brand name. Use a formula such as =A1&” shoes” to add the word shoes onto the end of each keyword.
If the data isn’t presented in such a way that it is so easy to scrape, you can also search for the brand page on Google and view the cached, text only version of the page. There are also tools such as this free Chrome plugin that you can use to scrape data from pages.
After you have the data, you can then copy it into Google Keyword Planner and get the search volume for each branded search query. This is a quick way to get an understanding of the demand for a particular brand and something I have used on several occasions to save time when carrying out keyword research for branded keywords.
This is a ridiculously simple way to get branded search volume but I thought it was an easy, but actionable tip, that was worth including.
Disclaimer: There is not a tool out there that will tell you exactly what to do to make your online marketing campaign a success. Back-engineering a competing website’s work is not without risk as they could be doing everything wrong, especially when it comes to PPC, keyword targeting and link building.
However, with a little bit of work and creative thinking you could save hours of time and really benefit from the work that your competitors have done in the past.
SEO & PPC Tools
Free Trial Tools
Screaming Frog(Free up to 500 URLs)
Google Keyword Planner(Requires and Adwords Account)
Premium Paid Tools
Must Have Tools