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BACK TO BASICS: SEO Competitive Research, Part 4: Tools and Techniques

BACK TO BASICS: SEO Competitive Research, Part 4: Tools and Techniques

by: Bradley Leese, April 2006

The most accurate results from competitive research are accumulated through time-intensive research and analysis. Consistent methodology is the key to reliable results for each interval. There are many free and paid tools available on the Internet that help reduce the time and increase methodology accuracy. This article seeks to categorize the best Competitive Research Tools available with insight on how they can get you better results in much less time.

Research Preparation

The first step of your competitive analysis campaign is to verify the stability of the SERP results. For this reason, tracking the movements of various data centers will alert you to any major flux in SERP results that could occur if the engines you are monitoring are in the middle of an update.


With Google, monitoring data centers is considerably easier because many tools are publicly available and are designed to track any changes made to Google's numerous datacenters. The tool most often referenced and given a nod by Matt Cutts is the Datacenter Quick Check ( This tool keeps a close watch on ranking fluctuations across all datacenters. Changes often occur when Google is in the middle of an update. Experience has shown that is it wise to hold off on conducting large scale competitive research during these changes to avoid inaccurate information.

Yahoo & MSN

At the time of this article's publication, there are no known free tools that monitor Yahoo's or MSN's datacenters. The free alternative to evaluating Yahoo and MSN's datacenters is to manually enter your keywords into each search engine to verify there are no major changes to the SERPs. However,the most accurate and safest method is to run a Search Engine Ranking Monitor (part of the SEOToolSet®) to verify there are no major fluctuations to your keyword rankings in Yahoo and MSN. For the best results, combine these two processes to verify that all factors are taken into consideration.

Research Prioritized

After you have analyzed the stability of your search rankings, it is safe to begin the second step: identifying your competitor's sites. The best tools on the Internet to do this are found within the SEOToolSet®. No other tool offers the kind of rich data, or are as consistent, as the Bruce Clay, Inc. tools. Begin by logging into the SEOToolSet® and clicking on 'Client Reports'. Then, select the 'Competition Ranking Report'. Within this tool, select the keyword from the drop down list and hit submit. This tool presents the high ranking websites across all the major search engines.

Research All Engines Tool Graphic

The Tools

While there are multitudes of free and paid tools available to make this process faster, it is best to choose programs that gather the maximum relevant data rather than running tens of programs for each research need. Below are the best tools on the market for quickly identifying the most critical data sources. In most cases, each tool overlaps in its functionality and there are many hidden uses to each that can provide a glimpse of pesky competitor strategies.


Xenu is a great Windows application intended to help webmasters improve the quality of their site. It identifies factors like broken links and page sizes, while also gathering information - such as a complete sitemap - to help give insight into a site's architecture and link structure. There are a number of additional gems that can be gleaned with repetitive use and it's free and it is only 532 KB.

Market Leap

Market Leap is a company that offers high-end competition analysis and a suite of free online tools. The three tools are Link Popularity Check, Search Engine Saturation and Keyword Verification. Each tool provides comprehensive charts and trend reports.

Visual Page Rank

Visual Page Rank is a new tool that recently popped up on the radar. It gives webmasters a unique insight into the relationship of Link Structure and Link Popularity. After typing in your site domain, the tool will show your page with a corresponding PR next to each link.


LinkMaps™, another Bruce Clay, Inc. tool, helps boost Page Rank by compiling a list of all the sites linking to you Internet-wide to make it easier for the search engines to index them. In addition to these rendered pages, there are two tools incorporated into the LinkMaps™ toolset that have had very little exposure until now: The LinkMaps™ Report and Characteristics Report.

The LinkMaps™ Report identifies all the sites linking to you and breaks down the anchor text or link text used to point to your site. The Characteristics Report goes a step further by presenting the Whois information to show the relationship of the different sites that link to you. The Characteristics Report unveils possible incestuous linking, as well as multiple links coming from a single domain - an artificial method of inflating your link popularity and a known penalty in Google.

SEOToolSet® / Keyword Density Analyzer

The Keyword Density Analyzer is a component of the SEOToolSet® that analyzes the keyword density, frequency and distribution of keywords on the page. In addition, it returns a report that shows a detailed outline of the key elements used in the page and gives clear insight into how much optimization a site has implemented.


CopyScape is a web-based application intended to identify plagiarism for high school and college papers. It is also an excellent tool to identify duplicate content on your site. After entering your URL, the report displays the percentage of the site that are duplicated and highlights the sections in a compare-and-contrast format.


Next: Part Five, Data Collection

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Learn how to consistently keep track of changes on your site to ensure that each change can be analyzed a month or a year later.

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright 2006 Bruce Clay, Inc.