Competitive Intelligence

[Coverage Note: Susan and I will NOT be covering the last session of the day for a very important reason. If we do, we’ll miss our flight back to California and will be forced to spend the night camped out in the Las Vegas airport, where we would very likely end up gambling away our huge Bruce Clay salaries and make poor life decisions. You don’t want that for us, do you?

It’s possible that I am very, very tired.]

We’re almost done folks. It’s time for the Competitive Intelligence panel with speakers Jake Baillie, Andy Beal and Larry Mersman. Jake will also be acting as moderator. He must have mad skillz.

Jake asked for cookies and people in the audience randomly got up to give him some. Does that really work? I want a puppy. And over the knee socks.

Up first is Andy Beal to go through some tools for spying on your competitors. Fun!

  1. Collects a bunch of information about a Web site, like is it listed in Yahoo directory, registration details, etc. It also tells you other sites that are on the same IP. Some SEO companies put their clients on the same IP.
  2. Check out keyword densities for your competitors. Breaks it up into 2 word, 3 word and 4 word combinations
  3. Check backlinks for your competition. Yahoo puts the most important backlinks first.
  4. Page Strength Tool – You can see how many times they’ve been put on Digg/Delicious/etc
  5. Allows you to see how many pages are being indexed by Google over the past year, 6 months, or 2 weeks for a site. You can see how strong the site is.
  6. Track site changes.
  7. Find out who’s talking about your competition.
  8. Use Google News to monitor references.
  9. You type in the domain name and Compete will give you an approximation as to what key phrases are bringing traffic to your competitors Web site.
  10. Helps you find your competitors’ hubs. Visually shows you where their links are coming from.
  11. Keep tracking of public companies’ FCC filings.
  12. Scan through transcripts.
  13. Keep track of patents of your competitors.
  14. Keep an eye out on whether or not your competitors are hiring and where.

Keep an eye on your competitors employees. Watch their blogs. They may reveal a lot of information about what’s going on internally.

Larry Mersman is next.

The definition of competitive intelligence can mean many things depending on the channel we are dealing with. For the most part, it is the gathering of information from several sources relative to the target competitor.

Sources of information can be newspaper articles, blogs and online articles.

Information can be collected several ways and from many sources. The most typical data pools are Internet Service Providers, user panels and Web site Search history.

Do your legwork. Find your online competition using services like HitWise or comScore. Or, you can do your own research using the search engines.

Now that you know who your competition is in your space, find out how they got there and where their traffic is coming from. Look at referring domains/backlinks. Who is sending them traffic? Look at the keyword data. What keywords are actually being clicked on to get the user to your competition? Traffic can be coming from search engines, banner ads, blogs, etc.

Knowing what keywords your competitor is targeting is important, but knowing which keywords are getting clicked on by the user to get to their site is key. Knowing a keywords performance, both paid and organic, will help you optimize your site around proven data, possibly streamline your spending and increase your ROI.

Many companies will optimize their Web site around the keyword they think they will bring users or that customers will type into their search box to find a link to their site. In the end, it’s users that make the choices that drive the traffic and the money to your site.

Maybe Larry has a plane to catch too because he went through that presentation awfully fast!

Jake is up last.

The best webmasters already investigate their competition. Search engine optimization is a game. Know more than your competition and you win. Most novice webmasters have no idea. Use this to your advantage.

WHOiS my competition?

Designed in the 80s (me too!), WHOIS was originally intended to be contact point for technical issues. Evolved to be the "legal documentation" of who owns a domain. Can be forged with very little technical knowledge or even anonymized.

Novice webmasters enter in their real contact information, which makes it easy to find out who they are. Intermediate webmasters will use an anonymizing service. Advanced webmasters will forge the information. Good WHOIS information:

Regional IP Databases

First step to social engineering. Use nslookup to find the IP address of the Web site. Plug in the IP address to and find out who the ISP is.

Social Engineering:

Social engineering is getting someone to tell you something they’re not supposed to. You would be stunned at how often it works. It’s okay to lie (cover your ears, kids), especially with someone who won’t bother to investigate.

There are lots of people to talk to about your competitor’s site, including:

Company Marketing Department
Upstream Providers
Significant Others
Estranged friends/coworkers

[Jake is coming off kind of scary right now. I don’t know him personally but now I’m scared.]

Jake presents a script for getting information out of people. (OMG this is so creepy! I don’t even want to write it! Here goes…)

The Script:

  1. Introduce yourself as someone you’re not.
  2. Be friendly. People love friendly people. Never become confrontational
  3. Learn from the travel industry. If you don’t get what you want the first time, hang up and call back to talk to someone else.

Allinanchor returns all Web pages linked to with that target term. It’s good for discovering networks. Take five keywords from one site and run them all through allinanchor. Find the similar sites that appear. Chances are you’ll be able to find site that have the same "look and feel".

Google them! Find out where all their links are coming from. You can pretty much tell an SEO’d site these days by a visual link inspection.

Search the damn Internet. It’s all there.

Find out if a competitor is coming to your site. If someone comes to your site after an "allinanchor" query, they’re probably not a legit user. People who type "link" in Google are not your target visitors. People who come through the SE cache are also not your target visitors, not are those who visit your site 20 times in 2 minutes. People who come in from are competitors.

If you find out your competitors are continually visiting your site, serve them a 403 access forbidden. Or better yet, porn!

Instruct your employees that they are to talk to no one about your site. Find a trustworthy ISP – most intelligence is gathered at this point. Tell your significant other not to take any business calls at home.

Anyone else feel like they need a shower after all that?

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
Filed under: SEO
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!

One Reply to “Competitive Intelligence”

Lisa, I am so impressed by your work! These posts have been supremely helpful. Thank you.


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