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BACK TO BASICS: SEO Competitive Research, Part 5: Data Collection

BACK TO BASICS: SEO Competitive Research, Part 5: Data Collection

by: Bradley Leese, May 2006


Well conceived, constantly maintained websites receive rankings that dominate competitors. Before this is possible, you have to do battle against top competitors that have spent time and money for high rankings. In this early stage, many are tempted to conclude that competitors' sites do not deserve high rankings. Data collection can make the difference between knowing why competitors are ranking and making brash incorrect conclusions. Easy reference to relevant information for your site and the sites of your top competitors takes away the need to make assumptions.


To begin data collection, prioritize and then organize the most critical information sources. Compose a table that documents each major element until you have a very thorough list of items. Begin with a table created in Microsoft Word or any other word processing program. Allow enough room to document the maximum amount of data possible to eliminate any need to reformat your table. After you have fully documented all the elements, organize the data into the most appropriate categories. Then organize the categories from the highest importance to least importance elements.

# Categories Data
1) Site Architecture Directory Structure:
2) Link Structure / Link Popularity Inbound:
3) Search Engine Optimization Title: Description: Keywords: Robots: Heading Tags: Page Density:

It is advisable to keep all ranking reports separate from specific competition reports. There is a number of quality ranking evaluation tools on the market and leading the pack is the SEOToolSet for its ranking monitor and client reports. With the SEOToolSet you can access the entire history of rankings from any report since the first ranking monitor run. We will go into more detail into report analysis in Part 6: Data Analysis.

Data Extraction Tools

In Part 4: Tools and Techniques, we discussed several different tools that you can use to maximize efficiency and garner competition data. The four types of information gathering tools that will have the greatest impact on this ongoing process are page evaluation tools, content evaluation tools, expert relevancy tools and web server evaluation tools.

Page evaluation tools allow the user to analyze how the spider sees the page and determine which pages are better organized for search engines' indexes. Examples of tools that perform these functions are: The Keyword Density Analyzer (KDA) and the Multiple Page KDA, both available in the SEO Toolset. The KDA and Multiple Page KDA analyze page integrity as well as keyword density, keyword frequency and keyword distribution. In addition the tools help to identify possible instances of spam. The Multiple Page KDA performs the same processes as the KDA for multiple pages.

Content evaluation tools allow the user to both evaluate the quantity and quality of content and determine content originality. Examples of tools that perform these functions are: Xenu, KDA and Multiple Page KDA, and CopyScape. Xenu assists by offering a full site map and helping to locate pages that the search engines might not have found. The KDA and Multiple Page KDA also have a built in Kincaid Grade Level Report that evaluates the quality of the content. CopyScape simplifies the search for pages that contain duplicate content.

The primary purpose of expert relevancy tools, associated with link popularity, is to determine how many people may consider a source to be relevant and useful. To date search engines have placed their trust in links to determine users' consensus on the relevancy of a site. Links are the single largest institution for abuse in attempting to skew a site's keyword rankings. LinkMaps™ can help to more accurately evaluate link popularity. LinkMaps™ built-in tools will reveal detailed analysis of exactly where links are coming from, methods of link superiority and evidence of abuse.

Web server evaluation tools evaluate the nature of the server configuration to determine search engines' effectiveness in indexing and ranking a website's pages. Going straight to search engine data is the best solution for determining the number of pages that are indexed for each search engine. Numerous tools are on the market that try and make this more efficient. Three tools we recommend are The SEOToolSet's Web Server Check, Market Leap's free tools and's free internet tools. The SEOToolSet web server check evaluates the most common server problems. The DNS Stuff tools provide free access to a large variety of tools to diagnose server related issues. MarketLeap's tools evaluate the search engines' indexes and build trend reports that can help evaluate progress of page indexing over time.

# Categories Data
1) Site Architecture Directory Structure: Flat
2) Link Structure / Link Popularity Inbound: 14,018
3) Search Engine Optimization Title: Peanuts in the Shell Taste Great - PeanutVille Description: Buy the best shelled peanuts on the internet. Keywords: Peanuts in the Shell, Peanuts, Nuts Robots: ALL Heading Tags: Peanuts are Great Page Density: 4%
4) Content Evaluation Google: 1008 Yahoo: 5000 MSN: 14

Compare and Contrast

Compare all the data that has been collected and evaluate each competitor to determine the most critical elements for high rankings within your competition. For the purpose of maximum efficiency, focus your table on the most critical elements and eliminate irrelevant data. Streamlining this process by identifying only the most critical data will help data collection stay consistent month after month. The key to determining the most accurate competitor ranking trends is by being as uniform as possible.


Transfer your new streamlined table into an excel file or other spreadsheet program. Utilize the tab functionality to separate out each competitor in their separate tab and keep each new report in columns to the right of the first report. Keeping this spreadsheet as clean and organized as possible will better ensure that this data will easily be able to be referenced.

Next: Part Six, Data Analysis

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The creation of parameter-specific reports and keeping tabs on your competitors will be critical to determine the success or failure of your search engine optimization campaign.

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