Having intelligence about your direct competition is an essential part of doing business online and is surprisingly simple when you have access to the most powerful web strategy weapons available. Whether it be traffic metrics, advertising spy services or in-depth keyword analysis tools, there are now more options than ever to effortlessly penetrate what your competition is doing and discover how they got from Point A to Point B.

As you peruse through the various tools, make sure to always examine your own projects through the same comprehensive scrutiny. This helps you gauge the accuracy of given metrics and offers intuition into what your competition may know about you. Because, if they’re smart, they are just as busy digging into as many of your secrets and strategies as they can get their hands on!

If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.

– Sun Tzu

Web Ranking Tools:

Gaining a general understanding of how a website is doing traffic-wise is an excellent first step in knowing which of your enemies should be taken seriously and where everyone stands on the proverbial totem pole.

  • Alexa: As the most popular website ranking service available, Alexa will provide a general ranking of popularity for every website that’s been around long enough to be in their index. While not always perfect, Alexa is often the go-to for figuring out where everyone stands.
  • SimilarWeb: After deeming your competition worthy through Alexa, you can then dig deeper into their traffic patterns and competing sites using SimilarWeb.com’s analytics toolset.

Website Deconstruction Tools:

Once you’ve identified your most dangerous rivals, it’s important to understand where their site(s) have been and to start deconstructing what technologies they are currently powered by.

  • Archive.org: Known as the “Wayback Machine,” Archive.org has a stunningly accurate archive of how the internet has looked over the last long while. Plug a website domain in and you can instantly see working snapshots of how it looked in the past. Use this to see how a website looked in the past, when it really first started and what changes they’ve made over time.
  • BuiltWith.com: This is one of the coolest spy tools you’ll find. BuiltWith.com examines and displays everything from what e-mail server your competition uses, to their hosting, framework, advertising networks, analytic tracking, javascript libraries, widgets / plugins, server information and much, much more.
  • WhatWPThemeIsThat.com: If you’re looking at a WordPress site and want to see if you can detect what commercial theme they are using, this is a great little tool.
  • WhoIsHostingThis.com: If you are curious where a website is hosted, this simple tool will give you the answer.



SEO & Keyword Monitoring Tools:

Organic website traffic can be worth its weight in gold. And if you know how to siphon off the most valuable keywords and rankings that are the life lines of your competition, their golden reservoirs can soon become yours. Use the below tools and strike them intelligently.

Side note: I’ve listed multiple services which often overlap in what they offer. This is on purpose. Use them all to get the most information possible.

  • SEMRush: This is currently my favorite of the keyword analysis tools because it looks at it from a competitive perspective and ranks sites based on their nearest obvious competition. 
  • KeywordSpy: This tool gives you a combination of insight into a competing website’s organic keyword traffic and their paid Ad Words campaign (when applicable).
  • SpyFu: Similar to SEMRush, SpyFu leans towards competitive analysis and will provide even more data to go off of from a varying perspective.
  • iSpionage: iSpionage also lets you put in your target keywords to get a list of the primary competitors. Another awesome feature is their estimation of the monthly Ad Words spend of your competition.
  • KeywordCompetitor: Similar to KeywordSpy, KeywordCompetitor offers a second opinion on the same organic keyword traffic and paid Ad Words campaigns.
  • The Search Monitor: TSM is a paid service only, but additionally offers tools unique to the Affiliate Management space that can help you track who is doing what – especially your own affiliates that are on your payroll!

Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will.

– Sun Tzu

Link Popularity and Backlink Tools:

An important component of any proper SEO strategy is to keep up to date on how many back links both you and your competition are getting. More importantly, who is linking to who and how can you get in the action to steal some of their thunder?

  • Majestic SEO: As one of the largest and most frequently updated indexes of backlinks, Majestic is a solid tool to check up on everyone.
  • Cognitive SEO: Offering a free 14 day trial, CognitiveSEO is an excellent tool for bloggers and small business owners who want to keep an eye on the links and keywords that funnel traffic to their sites and competitors alike. 
  • Link Prospector: This isn’t as much for your competition, but I’ll toss it in here because it’s pretty useful. When you’re trying to build quality back links and improve your site’s authority, it helps to have a cheat sheet on your best prospects. Link Prospector identifies a variety of possible opportunities for your site, ranging from guest columns to contests and you name it.

Advertising & Marketing Spy Tools:

You always want to go to war with the most advanced technology possible, and spying on your enemy’s marketing is the equivalent of a B2 Stealth Bomber. Use the below tools to see where they are advertising, their exact ads (with links), ad spending and literally download an entire folder of any display banners that they’ve ever run online to leverage your current and future campaigns against.

  • WhatRunsWhere: Discover your competitor’s most successful ad campaigns, copy and everything in between using WRW’s comprehensive toolset and reporting. WRW also offers access to an archive of every display and Ad Words ad that a competing website has run on paid ad networks.
  • Moat: Provide another great display ad archive that lets you search by brand name. Bonus? You can just go to Moat’s site and search without signing up for anything.
  • SocialAdNinja: Provides a specific focus on PPC ads on major social media networks.
  • Fanpage Karma: Focusing specifically on monitoring your competitors Facebook business / fan page, Fanpage Karma provides insight into the most effective post strategies on Facebook audience engagement strategies.
  • AdGooRoo: Adding another level of competition analysis and an effective tool to identify competitors who are using your trademarks to purchase and compete against your own ads, AdGooRoo is worth checking out.
  • Adbeat: Spy on your competitor’s most successful ad campaigns, link copy and ad spend using AdBeat.com’s comprehensive toolset and reporting.

If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak.

– Sun Tzu

 Conversation Monitoring:

When you can keep your ear to the ground and know both the good and bad conversations being had about about your competition, you’ll have an easier time identifying opportunities and weaknesses in their social armor.

  • Google Alerts: It’s the simplest, easiest and cheapest (it’s free) tool available to get notices when pages are indexed that mention the keywords you want to keep track of. Simply sign in with your Google account and setup the words or phrases you want to track, get alerts about them. It’s that easy, breezy.
  • Mention: Adding another layer of monitoring who is talking about who, Mention.com focuses more on social mentions for the keywords, brands, phrases and business names you wish to track.
  • Talkwalker: As more of an enterprise level tool, TalkWalker is also one of the most powerful social monitoring options available. Hone in on demographics, who the key influencers are, where the most buzz is happening and more.
  • Topsy: Focusing onto the Twittersphere, Topsy.com lets you search Twitter mentions all the way back to the beginning of Twitter.
  • Social Mention: Another real time search tracker, Social Mention also gives you the opportunity to track sentiment and to see who is doing the mentioning.
  • Open Social Buzz: I’m a sucker for free things and OSB doesn’t disappoint. Search all major social networks for names, terms and brands to see who is saying what.