How to Spy on Your Competitors to Outrank Them on Google
Want to hear something crazy? In 30 minutes, I can look at your competitor’s website along with your website and deploy a strategy for you to achieve a better search engine ranking than them on Google. No joke!
I’ve learned how to spy on competitors to better understand the strategy they are using to attain a high ranking on Google. Taking their approach into account, I’m able to organize a way to begin outranking them.
Today, I’m going to share this technique with fellow entrepreneurs. The beauty of this spying tactic is that I don’t have a secret formula to get this information. It is at the disposal of any business owner, marketer or entrepreneur to use.
It’s time to get out the binoculars along with the night vision camera and let the spying games begin!
Step 1: Open Site Explorer
Moz builds tools that make SEO, inbound marketing, link building and content marketing easy. One of these amazing tools is called Open Site Explorer, which identifies top pages and researches backlinks.
To put this in layman’s terms, backlinks are the foundation of Google’s algorithm. If you have some extra time on your hands, read up on the PageRank algorithm. Basically, you want to make sure you get high quality backlinks pointing back to your site, as this will help improve your SEO rankings.
If you bring up Open Site Explorer within Moz, you can type your website -- or any website for that matter -- into the search bar. Once the data populates, it will bring up a metric called “domain authority.” If you are unfamiliar with domain authority, it is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines, all predicated based off of backlinks. This domain authority score will be a huge indicator to how well your site ranks on Google.
Step 2: Competitor analysis with Open Site Explorer
If you have the paid version of Moz, you can compare link metrics for up to four competitors at once. If you have the free version, just copy and paste your top competitors into Open Site Explorer and take note of their respective domain authorities.
After you jot down the domain authority of your top competitors, it is time to do a Google search. Make sure you use the Google incognito window (a setting that prevents internet history from being stored) so the search results aren’t skewed. If you are an orthodontist in Tempe, for example, make sure you are searching for keywords that will pertain to your business, such as, “orthodontist in Tempe, Arizona” or “braces in Tempe.”
What you’ll find fascinating is that if your competitor has a higher domain authority than you, there is a very, very strong probability it will rank ahead of you on Google. I say “very, very strong” because there are a lot of other factors that can go into ranking well on Google, so this is not the be all and end all. If you have a much higher domain authority than a competitor and are nowhere to be found on Google, reach out to a digital marketing agency for help in conducting a deeper dive into other areas that could be holding you back on Google.
Your domain authority, however, is the key metric that within a minute, will let you know whether or not your competitor is doing better at SEO than you.
Related: 7 SEO Mysteries Solved
Step 3: Backlink profile
Like I mentioned earlier, backlinks are the foundation of Google’s algorithm. This is where the domain authority score is derived from. Yet, so many businesses don’t have any sort of link building strategy in place.
There is a negative connotation with link building. Back in 2008, business owners would pay $99 and offshore their link building efforts to someone in India. Google got smart. It figured out this pattern of link profiles where these low-quality and spammy links were coming from and penalized sites who took part in this.
When I refer to link building, I’m talking more about digital public relations. You need to get high quality links pointing back to your site.
To give you an example, we have a client who is a dermatologist who owns an ecommerce store. We’ve used PR tactics to get him quoted in Reader's Digest, Glamour and the Today Show, to name a few. All of the quotes are dermatology and skin care related and they are on trusted websites, all of which have high domain authorities themselves. Each time one of these articles is published online, it will link back to the homepage of the dermatologist’s ecommerce site and in some instances, it will link back to the individual product pages if he is providing product recommendations.
Within the Open Site Explorer tool, for your competitor, you can click on “Recently Discovered Links.” This will allow you to see all of the recent links pointing back to your competitors’ sites. This will show you everywhere that your competitor has been mentioned and also give you some good ideas about places you could potentially get mentioned as well.
If the orthodontist in Tempe discovers his competitor’s domain authority is higher than his and he sees that the competitor is getting quoted in Dentistry IQ and the New Dentist Blog, this will reveal that his competitor has a better digital PR strategy. This, in turn, is boosting his or her domain authority and helping the competitor outrank him on Google. And now that orthodontist in Tempe knows what he needs to do in order to start building his own domain authority to the level of his competitor’s.
Step 4: Competitive research
I just did some of my own research on Moz’s Open Site Explorer and it turns out that the top-ranking orthodontist in Tempe has a domain authority of 20. For a local business in a hyperlocal market (such as Tempe), a good benchmark to ranking on the first page of Google is a 20. The top-ranking orthodontist in New York City, on the other hand, has a domain authority of 30. So, the score you need to get on the first page in Google will fluctuate based on your market. New York City is clearly more competitive than Tempe, which makes sense. If you are an ecommerce site and want to rank nationally, like the dermatologist, a domain authority of 40 would be a great benchmark to hit.
Make sure you do research on where your site stands with its domain authority and where the competition sits as well. This will give you a great idea of how far you need to go in order to get on the first page and then also to outrank your competitor. If your website has a domain authority above a 40, you are doing something very right with your SEO and back linking strategy. Give yourself a pat on the back!
Some larger brands could naturally get a high domain authority if they are frequently mentioned in the news and other websites that link back to their site. This isn’t the norm though, as most businesses have to put in a lot of work and have a solid SEO strategy in place in order to increase their domain authority.
Don’t be discouraged if your site has a domain authority of a 12. With the right strategy, this can be increased, and so can your search engine ranking positions. Like I said, however, it takes work and it takes time.
Another important thing to note is that Moz’s domain authority can fluctuate, so don’t freak out if you go from a 26 to a 22. Your score will move up and down a bit.
If you are consistently getting high quality links on sites with a domain authority over a 30 or so, you are in great shape. Remember, the higher the domain authority on the sites that are linking back to your site, the better it is for you. Going back to the dermatologist, if the ecommerce site received backlinks on Reader's Digest (domain authority = 81), Glamour (domain authority = 85) and the Today Show (domain authority = 93), that would be fantastic.
Don’t forget about local links as well if you are a local business. If the orthodontist wanted to rank in Tempe, it would be a great idea to sponsor a kids’ baseball team. Not only could the orthodontist introduce himself to new prospective patients (the parents of teenagers) but he could get a backlink on the sponsor page, which would be extremely hyperlocal. This would be a great complement to his Dentistry IQ article.
Step 5: Strategy implementation
You should now have a better understanding of how to use domain authority (both yours and your competitor’s) to increase your SEO. Keep in mind, resources are needed to deploy a successful SEO strategy.
You will need to conduct outreach, which anyone can do. This consists of formulating a list of websites (both nationally and locally) that you want to reach out to to either contribute content or provide quotes. When you have an authoritative figure who is proficient in their field (like the dermatologist or dentist), this will give you a stronger likelihood to contribute content, since you are providing more value to any publication looking for quotes.
Additionally, you need someone who can create content. We like to interview the authoritative figure, like the dentist, over the phone for five minutes, which typically gives us enough content to write an article. We then send it to the client to proof and then it gets sent to the editor to get it published.
Finally, you also need someone to manage the process. There is a lot of back and forth communication between forging new relationships, writing content and feeding the content to the editor. Consistency is key. You need to be extremely consistent in your digital PR and link building efforts so you can constantly be getting media mentions and articles published.
Let’s climb the mountain!
Most business owners are extremely savvy individuals. If you have extra time during the evening or on the weekend, you can deploy this strategy yourself.
Remember, check your domain authority versus your competitor’s, analyze your backlinks and get moving on forging new relationships.
This is a long hike to the top of the mountain. You won’t see results overnight. If you are patient with this strategy, however, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
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May 8, 2017 at 10:21AM