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Project Brief:

When I started doing search engine optimization and Google Ads for other businesses in 2010, one of the things that business owners were really interested in then, and I think they are still interested in now, is spying on their competitors. Most business owners really want to know what their competitors are doing to get a competitive advantage. They also want to see how their website and online presence compares to their competitors.  If you’re a business owner and you want to do some spying on your competitors, here are some great resources that professional SEO companies use on a daily basis.The first metric to look at is the backlink profile of your website and compare it to your competitors.  The search engines use backlinks and one metric to measure because it’s an indicator of a website’s popularity and relevance. It makes sense to think the more websites link to a particular site, the more important that site must be.  While Google is the biggest search engine there are other tools that crawl the web, find links provide it in a usable format. On example of a crawler is called Ahrefs.  They provide the data in graphical form so you can see your “link velocity”, or the rate at which you are gaining and losing links to your website. You may always be building links to your site, but did you know you are also losing links, too?  With this tool, you can see how many backlinks you are gaining and losing over a chosen period of time. Google also knows how fast links are built to any website and the best strategy is to build them slow and steady over time.  Here is an example of a backlink profile.
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The data is further broken down into the number of referring domains and referring pages. If a site has a lot of referring pages but very few referring domains, that can mean some sites link to the target site many times. More than one link from any single domain does not necessarily improve the backlink profile. You may want to see the countries links to your site come from. For a company is based in the United States, it would be natural for most backlinks to also be from the US. However, if you spot a large number of links from another country, that could be a red flag that warrants further investigation.
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Google used to have a rating for website pages called Page Rank, which was actually named after Larry Page, one of the founders of Google. Since they’ve discontinued Page Rank, some tools have tried to develop a replacement. For example, Moz has “Page Authority” where they try to determine how “authoritative” a page is based on several metrics, including how many backlinks the page has, content and other elements. With their tool, you can see the top pages of your or your competitor’s website as ranked by “Page Authority”.
With this tool, you can get an idea of which pages the search engines consider to be the most important. Typically, the home page is the most important, but secondary pages can be even more important because the secondary pages may have more relevant content for the visitor. For example, a website may be about golf clubs, but if someone is looking for a particular club, such as a driver, the page about drivers is more relevant to them. In this case, getting the page about drivers to rank in the search engines can bring visitors directly to the most relevant page which will have a positive impact on your business.The factors that had been considered in Page Rank are still important to get ranked on page one, even if Page Rank is no longer available from Google. Those factors include the quantity and quality of content on a page, links from other pages within the website and links to the page from other websites, title tag, meta description, images, image alt tags, bounce rate, dwell time, header tags, and other factors. If you find a competitor’s page ranking higher than yours in the search results, take a look at the content (quantity and quality), the on-page SEO and the backlink profile for their page. When you compare the data you may see some very big differences. While different tools will provide data that is far from identical, even when measuring the same metric, what is more important is how you compare to your direct competitors.
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Remember to check the Domain Authority (DA) of the backlinks since links from high DA sites are more valuable than links from low DA sites, but every website will have a mix of high, medium and low DA backlinks. If your site only has links from sites with DA<20, you may want to put some effort into obtaining some better quality links to your site, especially to your most important pages. Getting links from popular websites with lots of traffic is a good idea, especially if the site is relevant to your business.SEO data is extremely important, but we can also find some very interesting insights into competitors that have a significant spend in paid ads, like Google Ads. If you constantly see your competitor’s ads at the top of the search results, getting some insight into the keywords they bid on and which ones get the most clicks can be very helpful in thinking about which keywords you want to target.
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Seeing the keywords that get the most clicks and have the highest click-through rates is excellent data for choosing keywords to optimize for on your website. If you want to rank for more keywords by adding pages to your website, keyword tools can take some of the guesswork out of the process.
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Here you can see the ad copy and which ads have the best Click-Through-Rates (CTR).  The ads with the best CTR can provide inspiration in crafting meta descriptions for your website. Better meta descriptions can help improve the CTR to your site once searchers find you in on the search results page. Have you ever had writer’s block when writing your meta descriptions or simply aren’t getting the clicks to your website even when you rank at the top of the first page of the search results?  Try taking a look at the paid ads.  When businesses spend money on ads, they will often quickly find which work best and which are duds.  Using successful ads as a guide for crafting title tags and meta descriptions may improve your CTR, which is another metric the search engines use to determine your rank in the search results.

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