Question: How do I track the progress of competing sites over time? How do I know what keywords my competitors are ranking for, and which ones they are improving on?
Answer: There are a way variety of means to track competing sites.
Online Ranking Checkers
Online tools such as Digital Point's keyword ranking tool, the ShoeMoney SERP tool, the our rank checker, or the new tool at ZoomRank show where keywords rank. The Digital Point tool also shows you where a keyword ranks over time, but the problems are who wants to check a lot of these keywords one at a time, and where do you get the opening list of keywords?
Competitive Research Tools
There are numerous organic search competitive research tools on the market. SpyFu is a paid tool which offers limited free data, and SEODigger and URLTrends are free tools which shows you keywords that a site ranks for. AdGooroo also takes a look at similar data, with more focus on paid search. If you can afford to spend $10,000+ you may also want to consider trying HitWise.
Keyword Research Tools
After the competitive keyword research tools you may also want to look at the keyword tools promoted by the search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) and companies like Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery. The Google Traffic Estimator will tell you what terms Google thinks are most valuable, and you can also check keywords in bulk and track them over time by buying software like Agent Web Ranking.
Don't forget to also consider macroeconomic factors and seasonal traffic trends.
Look at the Competitor's Website
Looking for a few more keywords that the competitor may have found but the market missed? Beyond those competitive research tools the easiest spots to look for keywords on competing sites are
- the internal navigation of competing sites (especially look for pages that are bizarrely over-represented in their navigation)
- a competitor's homepage page title and headings (you can see the page titles with Xenu and the last two data points with OptiSpider)
- abnormal patterns in their inbound anchor text (use a tool like Backlink Analyzer)
- if they participate in AdSense and allow site targeting, buy AdSense ads targeting their site to dig into their traffic stats
Look at Their Reach
As far as general traffic trends for a site go, Compete.com, Quantcast, and Alexa all give snapshots of site traffic trends. That data tends to be rough though...especially for small sites. The two big ways to track site growth from a market penatration and search representation standpoint are to look for changes in the rate of citation by using the following data points and tools
- Yahoo Site Explorer for link count (pay attention to the quality of the top links, also use SEO for Firefox to dig in for more general linkage data)
- Technorati and Google Blogsearch links for links from blogs (pay attention to rate of growth, and the what percent of the links are of decent authority)
- Google News mentions
and look for the rate of the growth of the site's content, reach, and trust using the following metrics
- number of RSS subscribers (use Bloglines subscribers as a sample estimate if they don't have any other numbers public) and/or number of comments on blog posts for sites with feeds
- how often you see well read channels mentioning the competitor
- how often you see (search, contextual, or affiliate) ads for the competitor
- number of pages on the site indexed in Google
- the ratio of the pages that are in the regular index vs Google's supplemental index (having most of your pages in the primary index is a good thing)
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