5 Ways to Spy on Your Competition

secret-agent1In my last post, How to Create a Huge Keyword List, I suggested to spy on your competition for keyword ideas. Well, today I want to delve a little further into that topic, and give you some techniques and tools for doing just that.

Learning from your competition is one of the best ways to get keyword suggestions. One of the great things about marketing online, is your competition is right in front of you, and can’t hide everything they’re doing. Here are a few ways to get keyword ideas from your competition:

1- Inspect Meta Tags
This technique doesn’t always work because enough sites have learned that meta keywords are not as important as they used to be. If your competition is still using meta keywords, it is a very easy way to get an idea of what keywords they’re targeting.

You can use SEOBook.com’s SEO XRay (part of SEO for Firefox) and easily see this information. Just do a right click and choose “SEO For Firefox”, then SEO XRay. Or you can always just look at the source code and find it there.


2- BacklinkWatch.com
I find this tool is hit and miss, but sometimes you can get some really good information from it. Just go to BacklinkWatch.com and type in the URL you want to check. It can take a while to load everything, but this tool will provide a list of pages that are linking to the site and the anchor text of some of the links. The anchor text is what you should be looking at for ideas.

3- Google AdWords Keyword Tool
You can use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to get suggestions for keywords based on the URL. Just choose the option “Website content,” type in your competitors URL, and see what suggestions it gives you. This can be a great way to brainstorm other keyword ideas as well.


4- Yahoo! Site Explorer and SEO Link Analysis
This is one of my favorite techniques to see what keywords your competition is using in their anchor links from other sites. First, you’ll need to download and install the Firefox plugin SEO Link Analysis by Joost de Valk. Then, go to Yahoo! and type “site:www.whateversite.com” into the search bar. This will take you to the Yahoo! Site Explorer.

Once the site explorer comes up, click on the button that says “Inlinks.” Once the next page loads, change the first dropdown menu to say “Except from this domain.” Here’s a shot of what the results look like with the SEO Link Analysis plugin working:


This plugin shows you what the PR and anchor of the links are. As you go through the list of links, you’ll be able to see what keyword phrases they are using as anchors from other sites. Chances are you’ll find a lot of your competition’s main keyword phrases this way.

5- Other Tools
There are a bunch of websites that offer to provide your competitors AdWords lists and other information. I don’t really believe them; but I figure you can use some of them for ideas. So, before you go spending a lot of money on a software program that claims to steal your competitor’s keyword list, understand that it’s a marketing ploy. Get some ideas from their free tools, if they have any, then leave them alone and don’t waste your money.

Here are some more credible sites that provide useful information:


Of course, there are other ways of spying on your competition that I haven’t covered in this post. If you have tools or techniques that you have found helpful, please share them in the comments below!

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  1. Shawn says

    Brilliant article on the free tools that can be used in SEO and totally agree with the free tools being the best place to start on the keywords. SEO is not a skill that just comes in a text box for you too read, the tips and tricks all come from hard working individuals that keep bouncing ideas at search engines and figuring out what works and what doesnt. I remember when I first started in SEO, after spending 6 months on SEO and nothing else I soon figured what google was doing and how they would decide where to position you. But this keeps changing which means you gotta keep chasing and learning what works and what does not.

  2. Dan Patterson says


    It really does change a lot and you have to keep up. It always surprises me when I hear people talking about techniques that stopped working years ago like they are the new thing.

  3. Matt Siltala says

    I like the list Dan, great job! I have been using YSE for years now, and have learned so much about the competition because of it. Its amazing how much a person could learn about SEO/Internet marketing just by “spying” or (a better word) researching what the competition does.

  4. John Wells says

    Great list of way to find out what you competition is doing. I use some of those tools almost daily when doing SEO or teaching SEO great work Dan

  5. Thad says

    I visit your blog frequently and its very good , I am not a expert webmaster but i like your blog as its very simple and understandable.. please keep it up , 10/10 marks…

  6. Tom says

    Great article Dan, all 5 pointers refer to great resources, although I tend to steer clear of Backlink Watch as I’ve found a few other resources which offer a better service. The Yahoo Site Explorer with the plugin enabled is genius!

  7. Ryan says

    Great article buddy. I always use Yahoo Site Explorer, but had not heard of the SEO Link Analysis addon until reading this post. So thanks for that, I will go and have a look at that now.:D

  8. Ben says

    I am a bit confused here. The email I received lead line says; Quote: “Search engines no longer look at the keywords meta tag-only competitors do!”
    Learn more about a call to action.
    The link you provided shows how to build key words.
    Related links and posts are also all about Keywords.
    Am I missing something?
    Your blog offers good information, but I find the email contradicting to the content
    (sorry) a bit confused.

  9. Greg stranahan says

    You gave me some great insights in this article. I am new to website building and trying to drive traffic to my site has been a learning experience. Thank you for your great tips.

  10. Natalie says

    In response to the Meta Keyword tag, the article in your email suggests it is only used by competitors to see what keywords are being targeted. If the search engines ignore the tag, then those keywords are of no use at all. One would have to analyze the web pages and links to see what keywords are actually being targeted by examining the content and anchor text. From my experience, the keyword tag is still used by some secondary search engines and third party software, I still believe the Title, Meta Description, anchor text in links and of course, focused content, are still the key factors that can affect search engine rankings.

  11. Karen Falgore says

    Thank you for the information. While I’ve been trying to do some SEO on my own, I’ve quickly realized that I need some professional help. While we are operating with a shoe string budget, we understand the need for quality SEO. If you guys would be interested in helping us, please take a look at our site and contact us so we can discuss how best we could use your help based on our budget.

  12. Karen Falgore says

    Hi ! 
    thank you for this help !
    I will try out your firefox plugin.
    Do you know if tools like semrush are useful?


  13. Barbelala says

    I highly recommend Keyword Competing. It is a great keyword generator, which can extract keywords from Meta Tag, Related Keywords, Suggestion Keywords and generate much more with the feature of ” Smart  Keyword Generator” and “Depth”, helping you obtain large numbers of top searched and most related keywords with rounds of searches in Google, Yahoo and Bing. It is really helpful.

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