My sales approach as Lead Developer at Good Agency is very simple. I call clients, provide as many useful tips, insights, & suggestions as I can, then they benefit from this information and get excited about working with us!
One of the first things I do a few minutes before each conversation is spy on the website traffic of the client’s competitors. I think most of the time they are surprised by how easy this is to do and by how valuable this type of information can be. I’m writing this post as a resource to anyone who is interested in quickly and easily gaining digital marketing insights from their competition.
When & Why To Spy
“Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction.” – Sam Walton
From the quote above, it may seem like Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, might think little of following what his competitors were doing. However, he is in fact famous for constantly visiting competitor stores and interview any employee he could find! In his book Sam Walton: Made In America, Sam explains how he shamelessly and consistently borrowed best practices from all of his competition. If their competition gained any advantage, Walmart would immediately either replicate or improve it on that advantage. Now that’s a tough strategy to beat!
Whenever you are about to invest in digital marketing services, a new website, a new app, or anything else related to your online presence, you should never feel like you are making guesses. At Good Agency, we focus on protecting the ROI of our clients, and the best way to do that is by understanding exactly how their competition is capturing market share. Using this as the foundation, we are able act on a strategy based on data, rather than “gut feeling”.
There are many different ways to spy on your competition and tools for making it easy, but for the sake of simplicity I will focus on my favorite tool: SpyFu.com
This tool will instantly let you preview a traffic and SEO report for any website, and if you pay a monthly fee you can get full access to their reports. Good Agency is a SpyFu subscriber, and I share reports with clients and potential clients all the time. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like one!
Insights From Organic VS. Paid Traffic
When you pull a Spyfu report, the first thing you will see will be a “Monthly Domain Overview”. At first it may seem intimidating with all those numbers, but it’s actually very easy to understand once you know what the most important numbers are. Here is an example of what this screen looks like:
Here are the most important numbers on this screen:
Est Monthly SEO Clicks
This tells you how much organic traffic this website gets, which simply means how many people found them by looking for them. You will notice that this number is usually smaller than what you might see in a Google Analytics report, but it actually tends to be a fairly accurate estimation. Google Analytics and similar tools often include website visits from things like spamming bots, so much of the reported traffic isn’t from real people surfing the web. SpyFu however seems to do a fairly good job providing more conservative numbers that closer represent the real traffic.
Est Monthly SEO Click Value
The best part of organic traffic is that it’s free! However, not all traffic has equal value. When people search the web, they sometimes expect to pay a lot for a product they want to find, but often they just want information and don’t want to buy anything. Companies pay more money for valuable keywords, so the value of online traffic can be estimated by how much companies are willing to pay for the keywords involved. This number tells you how much the owner of the website would have had to pay in ads to get the same clicks that they got organically. Basically, it’s a measure of how much value they are getting from their SEO investments!
Est Monthly PPC Clicks
This is a measure of how many visitors the website gets from paid advertisements.
Est Monthly Adwords Budget
This is an estimation of roughly how much they spend on online ads each month.
What You Can Learn
When spying on your competition, you can really learn the most by comparing these numbers between several different competitors. Ask yourself these types of questions:
Who has the strongest traffic?
How are they getting it?
Why are they paying that much for ads?
Who has the least traffic & Why?
For instance, if all of your competition pays for their traffic, it could mean that it’s very difficult to get organic traffic and you should be investing in online ads as well. If you notice by looking at the graph that they all pay for ads longterm, then it’s a good sign that ads will be profitable for your business. If a competitor seems to pay for ads in spurts, it could mean that they use Adwords to adjust for seasonal demand, their online ads weren’t profitable, or perhaps they are struggling financially.
If all of your competition relies on organic traffic and rarely pays for traffic, it often means that they aren’t very tech savvy and you have a great opportunity to steal their organic traffic! However, online ads aren’t profitable for some industries, so you should still get expert help before diving in with a big digital marketing investment.
Insights From Keywords
I’m going to keep this section very minimal, since there is already so much information out there on keywords.
This is a snapshot of some of the information SpyFu provides on keywords:
What You Can Learn
Keywords are the words people use when trying to find you. Therefore, it’s always important to know what keywords apply to your type of business! These keywords should be used in your website, blog posts, social media, and all of your other online content.
By looking into what keywords are working well for your competition, you make sure that you aren’t leaving money on the table by forgetting to use a common search term in your content. You can also determine how strong the marketing skills of your competitor are by the quality of their keywords.
For instance, if you find that all of your competitors seem to focus on the same handful of keywords, make sure you do too, and see if there are any more they are missing which can help you stand out!
If all your competitors seem to be targeting very different keywords, that’s a good sign that they don’t really know which are working and which aren’t. Simply pick the best ones for yourself and steal their traffic out from under them!
Insights From Adwords History
SpyFu shows you the exact ads your competitors are paying for!
This is were you can really get inside the heads of both your market and your competition.
What You Can Learn
The two big things you want to get from this information is an understanding of what a successful ad in your niche looks like, and how strong your competition is.
Look at what ads get the most clicks, and how much each click costs, do those numbers look attractive for you? Which seem to be keywords with the highest volume and lowest costs?
If a competitor seems happy to consistently pay more for keywords than you do, it’s a good sign that they can convert a higher percentage of those clicks into paying customers than you can, which means you’ve fallen behind and need to optimize your website for sales!
Look at the top ads. What makes people click on them? How could you make them better?
These are some ways I judge the quality of an Ad:
- Is the first letter of each word capitalized? This is a proven technique Google promotes. If they aren’t capitalized, it’s a good sign the ads weren’t made by a professional.
- Are the titles and descriptions consistently long? You need to stuff an ad with good keywords, so a good ad usually pushes as close to the character limit as possible.
- Do the ads use any symbols or exclamation points? These help grab attention and are another sign of a good ad.
Insights From Backlinks
A backlink is an external website that has a link to the website you are analyzing. If a lot of other websites are sharing a link to your website, it’s a strong signal to Google that your website is useful and worth referring people to.
Looking at your competitor backlinks is like searching for buried treasure. This is a great way to find new sources for website traffic and leads. Getting the right website to refer visitors to you could literally be worth thousands of dollars in increased website traffic each month!
This is a screenshot of some of the information SpyFu provides on backlinks:
What You Can Learn
Typically, the more backlinks the competitor has and the better the quality, the more mature they are and the harder it will be to beat them in search engine results. However, the backlinks themselves each represent an opportunity. If they got a backlink from a particular website, why can’t you?
Are they getting a lot of quality links by sponsoring local events? Then you can too!
Are they getting a lot of quality links from bloggers or local press? Then contact those sources and see if you can be featured too!
If your competition seems to have very few backlinks overall, then that means you should be able to easily rank higher than them in search engine results with the right investments!
In the above screenshot, “Domain Strength” is a measure of how valuable a backlink is from that source. The closer the number is to 100, the better! I usually sort by backlinks with the best domain strength, and then review them one by one, paying special attention to those which have the most “Domain Monthly Organic Clicks”.
I sincerely hope you found this information useful. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or ideas. I love supporting businesses and would be happy to help you learn from your competition!
As mentioned before, this is a description of just one tool, but there many other ways to gain these same kinds of insights. Which tools and approaches do you use? Please leave a comment to let me know, I would love to see what has been working for you!