Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.
Key Features of SEO Spyglass
The core features of SEO Spyglass are:
White Label Reporting
Historical Link Tracking
As with most software tools there are features you can and cannot access, or limits you'll hit, depending on the version you choose. You can see the comparison here.
Perhaps the biggest feature is their newest feature. They recently launched their own link database, a couple of months early in beta, as the tool had been largely dependent on the now dead Yahoo! Site Explorer.
The launch of a third or fourth-ish link database (Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, A-Href's rounding out the others) is a win for link researchers. It still needs a bit of work, as we'll discuss below, but hopefully they plan on taking the some of the better features of the other tools and incorporating them into their tool.
One of my pet peeves with software is feature bloat which in turn creates a rough user experience. Link-Assistant's tools are incredibly easy to use in my experience.
Once you fire up SEO Spyglass you can choose to research links from a competing website or links based off of a keyword.
Most of the time I use the competitor's URL when doing link research but SEO Spyglass doubles as a link prospecting tool as well, so here I'll pick a keyword I might want to target "Seo Training".
The next screen is where you'll choose the search engine that is most relevant to where you want to compete. They have support for a bunch of different countries and search engines and you can see the break down on their site.
So if you are competing in the US you can pull data the top ranking site off of the following engines (only one at a time):
Google Blog Search
Yahoo! (similar to Bing of course)
And some other smaller web properties
I'll select Google and the next screen is where you select the sources you want Spyglass to use for grabbing the links of the competing site it will find off of the preceding screen:
So SEO Spyglass will grab the top competitor from your chosen SERP will run multiple link sources off of that site (would love to see some API integration with Majestic and Open Site Explorer here).
This is where you'll see their own Backlink Explorer for the first time.
Next you can choose unlimited backlinks (Enterprise Edition only) or you can limit it by
Project or Search Engine. For the sake of speed I'm going to limit it to 100 links per search engine (that we selected in a previous screen) and exclude duplicates (links found in one engine and another) just to get the most accurate, usable data possible:
When you start pinging engines, specifically Google in this example, you routinely will get captcha's like this:
On this small project I entered about 8 of them and the project found 442 backlinks (here is what you'll see after the project is completed):
One way around captchas is to either pay someone to run this tool for you and manually do it, but for large projects that is not ideal as captcha's will pile up and you could get the IP temporarily banned.
Link-Assistant offers an Anti-Captcha plan to combat this issue, you can see the pricing here.
Given the size of the results pane it is hard to see everything but you are initially returned with:
an icon of what search engine the link was found in
the backlinking page
the backlinking domain
Spyglass will then ask you if you want to update the factors associated with these links.
Your options by default are:
Yahoo! Directory Listing
On-page info (title, meta description, meta keywords)
Total links to the page
External links to other sites from the page
Page rank of the page itself
You can add more factors by clicking the Add More button. You're taken to the Spyglass Preferences pane where you can add more factors:
You can add a ton of social media stuff here including popularity on Facebook, Google +, Page-level Twitter mentions and so on.
You can also pick up bookmarking data and various cache dates. Keep in mind that the more you select, especially with stuff like cache date, you are likely to run into captcha's.
SEO Spyglass also offers Search Safety Settings (inside of the preferences pane, middle of the left column in the above screenshot) where you can update human emulation settings and proxies to both speed up the application and to help avoid search engine bans.
I've used Trusted Proxies with Link-Assistant and they have worked quite well.
You can't control the factors globally, you have to do it for each project but you can update Spyglass to only offer you specific backlink sources.
I'm going to deselect PageRank here to speed up the project (you can always update later or use other tools for PageRank scrapes).
Working With the Results
When the data comes back you can do number of things with it. You can:
Build a custom report
Rebuild it if you want to add link sources or backlink factors
Update the saved project later on
Analyze the links within the application
Update and add custom workspaces
These options are all available within the results screen (again, this application is incredibly easy to use):
I've blurred out the site information as I see little reason to highlight the site here. But you can see where the data has populated for the factors I selected.
In the upper left hand corner of the applications is where you can build the report, analyze the data from within the application, update the project, or rebuild it with new factors:
All the way to the right is where you can filter the data inside the application and create a
Your filtering options are seen to the left of the workspaces here. It's not full blown filtering and sorting but if you are looking for some quick information on specific link queries, it can be helpful.
Each item listed there is a Workspace. You can create your own or edit one of the existing ones. Whatever factors you include in the Workspace is what will show in the results pane as factors
So think of Workspaces as your filtering options. Your available metrics/columns are
Search Engine (where the link was found)
Last Found Date (for updates)
Status of Backlink (active, inactive, etc)
Links Back (does the link found by the search engine actually link to the site? This is a good way of identifying short term, spammy link bursts)
Link Value (essentially based on the original PageRank formula)
Notes (notes you've left on the particular link). This is very limited and is essentially a single Excel-type row
Yahoo! Directory Listing
Total Links to page/domain
Most of the data is useful. I think the link value is overvalued a bit based on my experience finding links that often had 0 link value in the tool but clearly benefited the site it ended up linking to.
PageRank queries in bulk will cause lots of captcha's and given how out of date PR can be it isn't a metric I typically include on large reports.
Analyzing the Data
When you click on the Analyze tab in the upper left you can analyze in multiple ways:
All backlinks found for the project
Only backlinks you highlight inside the application
Only backlinks in the selected Workspace
The Analyze tab is a separate window overlaying the report:
You can't export from this window but if you just do a control/command-a you can copy and paste to a spreadsheet.
Your options here:
Keywords - keywords and ratios of specific keywords in the title and anchor text of backlinks
Anchor Text - anchor text distribution of links
Anchor URL - pages being linked to on the site and the percentages of link distribution (good for evaluating deep link distribution and pages targeted by the competing site as well as popular pages on the site...content ideas :) )
Domains linking to the competing site and the percentage
TLD - percentage of links coming from .com, net, org, info, uk, and so on
IP address - links coming from IP's and the percentages
Dmoz- backlinks that are in Dmoz and ones that are not
Yahoo! - same as Dmoz
Links Back - percentages of links found that actually link to the site in question
Updating and Rebuilding
Updating is pretty self-explanatory. Click the Update tab and select whether or not to update all the links, the selected links, or the Workspace specific links:
(It's the same dialog box as when you actually set up the project)
Rebuilding the report is similar to updating except updating doesn't allow you to change the specified search engine.
When you Rebuild the report you can select a new search engine. This is helpful when comparing what is ranking in Google versus Bing.
Click Rebuild and update the search engine plus add/remove backlink factors.
There are 2 ways to get to the reporting data inside of Spyglass
There is a quick SEO Report Tab and the Custom Report Builder:
Much like the Workspaces in the prior example, there are reporting template options on the right side of the navigation:
It functions the same way as Workspaces do in terms of being able to completely customize the report and data. You can access your Company Profile (your company's information and logo), Publishing Profiles (delivery methods like email, FTP, and so on), as well as Report Templates in the settings option:
You can't edit the ones that are there now except for playing around with the code used to generate the report. It's kind of an arcane way to do reporting as you can really hose up the code (below the variables in red is all the HTML):
You can create your own template with the following reporting options:
All the stats described earlier on this report as available backlink factors
Top 30 anchor URLs
Top 30 anchor texts
Top 30 links by "link value"
Top 30 domains by "link value"
Conclusion (where you can add your own text and images)
Overall the reporting options are solid and offer lots of data. It's a little more work to customize the reports but you do have lots of granular customization options and once they are set up you can save them as global preferences.
As with other software tools you can set up scheduled checks and report generation.
Researching a URL
The process for researching a URL is the same as described above, except you already know the URL rather than having SEO Spyglass find the top competing site for it.
You have the same deep reporting and data options as you do with a keyword search. It will be interesting to watch how their database grows because, for now, you can (with the Enterprise version) research an unlimited number of backlinks.
SEO Spyglass in Practice
Overall, I would recommend trying this tool out. If nothing else, it is another source of backlinks which pulls from other search engines as well (Google, Blekko, Bing, etc).
The reporting is good and you have a lot of options with respect to customizing specific link data parameters for your reports.
I would like to see more exclusionary options when researching a domain. Like the ability to filter redirects and sub-domain links. It doesn't do much good if we want a quick, competitive report but a quarter or more of the report is from something like a subdomain of the site you are researching.
SEO Spyglass's pricing is as follows:
Purchase a professional option or an enterprise option (comparison)
In running a couple of comparisons against Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO it was clear that Spyglass has a decent database but needs more filtering options (sub-domains mainly). It's not as robust as OSE or Majestic yet, but it's to be expected. I still found a variety of unique links from its database that I did not see on other tools across the board.
You can get a pretty big discount if you purchase their suite of tools as a bundle rather than individually
SEM Rush has long been one of my favorite SEO tools. We wrote a review of SEM Rush years ago. They were best of breed back then & they have only added more features since, including competitive research data for Bing and for many local versions of Google outside of the core US results: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom.
Recently they let me know that they started offering a free 2-week trial to new users.
For full disclosure, SEM Rush has been an SEO Book partner for years, as we have licensed their API to use in our competitive research tool. They also have an affiliate program & we are paid if you become a paying customer, however we do not get paid for recommending their free trial & their free trial doesn't even require giving them a credit card, so it literally is a no-risk free trial. In fact, here is a search box you can use to instantly view a sampling of their data
Competitive research tools can help you find a baseline for what to do & where to enter a market. Before spending a dime on SEO (or even buying a domain name for a project), it is always worth putting in the time to get a quick lay of the land & learn from your existing competitors.
Seeing which keywords are most valuable can help you figure out which areas to invest the most in.
Seeing where existing competitors are strong can help you find strategies worth emulating. While researching their performance, it may help you find new pockets of opportunities & keyword themes which didn't show up in your initial keyword research.
Seeing where competitors are weak can help you build a strategy to differentiate your approach.
Enter a competing URL in the above search box & you will quickly see where your competitors are succeeding, where they are failing & get insights on how to beat them. SEMrush offers:
granular data across the global Bing & Google databases, along with over 2-dozen regional localized country-specific Google databases (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States)
search volume & ad bid price estimates by keyword (which, when combined, function as an estimate of keyword value) for over 120,000,000 words
keyword data by site or by page across 74,000,000 domain names
the ability to look up related keywords
the ability to directly compare domains against one another to see relative strength
the ability to compare organic search results versus paid search ads to leverage data from one source into the other channel
the ability to look up sites which have a similar ranking footprint as an existing competitor to uncover new areas & opportunities
historical performance data, which can be helpful in determining if the site has had manual penalties or algorithmic ranking filters applied against it
a broad array of new features like tracking video ads, display ads, PLAs, backlinks, etc.
Longer, In-Depth Review
What is SEM Rush?
SEM Rush is a competitive research tool which helps you spy on how competing sites are performing in search. The big value add that SEM Rush has over a tool like Compete.com is that SEM Rush offers CPC estimates (from Google's Traffic Estimator tool) & estimated traffic volumes (from the Google AdWords keyword tool) near each keyword. Thus, rather than showing the traffic distribution to each site, this tool can list keyword value distribution for the sites (keyword value * estimated traffic).
As Google has started blocking showing some referral data the value of using these 3rd party tools has increased.
Using these estimates generally does not provide overall traffic totals that are as accurate as Compete.com's data licensing strategy, but if you own a site and know what it earns, you can set up a ratio to normalize the differences (at least to some extent, within the same vertical, for sites of similar size, using a similar business model).
One of our sites that earns about $5,000 a month shows a Google traffic value of close to $20,000 a month.
5,000/20,000 = 1/4 = 0.25
A similar site in the same vertical shows $10,000
$10,000 * 0.25 = $2,500
A couple big advantages over Compete.com and services like QuantCast for SEM Rush are that:
they focus exclusively on estimating search traffic
you get click volume estimates and click value estimates right next to each other
they help you spot valuable up-and-coming keywords where you might not yet get much traffic because you rank on page 2 or 3
Disclaimers With Normalizing Data
It is hard to monetize traffic as well as Google does, so in virtually every competitive market your profit per visitor (after expenses) will generally be less than Google. Some reason why..
In some markets people are losing money to buy marketshare, while in other markets people may overbid just to block out competition.
Some merchants simply have fatter profit margins and can afford to outbid affiliates.
It is hard to integrate advertising in your site anywhere near as aggressively as Google does while still creating a site that will be able to gather enough links (and other signals of quality) to take a #1 organic ranking in competitive markets...so by default there will typically be some amount of slippage.
A site that offers editorial content wrapped in light ads will not convert eyeballs into cash anywhere near as well as a lead generation oriented affiliate site would.
SEM Rush Features
Keyword Values & Volumes
As mentioned above, this data is scraped from the Google Traffic Estimator and the Google Keyword Tool. More recently Google combined their search-based keyword tool features into their regular keyword tool & this data has become much harder to scrape (unless you are already sitting on a lot of it like SEM Rush is).
Top Search Traffic Domains
A list of the top 100 domain names that are estimated to be the highest value downstream traffic sources from Google.
You could get a similar list from Compete.com's Referral Analytics by running a downstream report on Google.com, although I think that might also include traffic from some of Google's non-search properties like Reader. Since SEM Rush looks at both traffic volume and traffic value it gives you a better idea of the potential profits in any market than looking at raw traffic stats alone would.
Here is a list of sites that rank for many of the same keywords that SEO Book ranks for
Most competitors are quite obvious, however sometimes they will highlight competitors that you didn't realize, and in some cases those competitors are also working in other fertile keyword themes that you may have missed.
Here is a list of a few words where Seo Book and SEOmoz compete in the rankings
These sorts of charts are great for trying to show clients how site x performs against site y in order to help allocate more resources.
Compare AdWords to Organic Search
These are sites that rank for keywords that SEO Book is buying through AdWords
And these are sites that buy AdWords ads for keywords that this site ranks for
Before SEM Rush came out there were not many (or perhaps any?) tools that made it easy to compare AdWords against organic search.
Start Your Free Trial Today
SEM Rush Pro costs $79 per month (or $69 if you sign up recurring), so this free trial is worth about $35 to $40.
Take advantage of SEMRush's free 2-week trial today.
If you have any questions about getting the most out of SEM Rush feel free to ask in the comments below. We have used their service for years & can answer just about any question you may have & offer a wide variety of tips to help you get the most out of this powerful tool.
Link Assistant offers SEO's a suite of tools, under an umbrella aptly named SEO Power Suite, which covers many aspects of an SEO campaign.
Link Assistant provides the following tools inside of their Power Suite:
Rank Tracker - rank tracking software
WebSite Auditor - on-page optimization tool
SEO Spy Glass - competitive link research tool
Link Assistant - their flagship link prospecting, management, and tracking tool
We'll be reviewing their popular Rank Tracking tool in this post. I've used their tools for awhile now and have no issue in recommending them. They also claim to have the following companies as clients:
Rank Tracker is one of the more robust, fast, and reliable rank checking tools out there.
Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.
Is Rank Tracker a Worthy Investment?
Rank Tracker offers a few different pricing options:
All of the editions have the following features:
Customizable reports (you can only save and print with Enterprise level however, kind of a drawback in my opinion. Pro accounts should have this functionality)
Human search emulation built in
User agent rotation
Google analytics integration
Multiple language support (English, German, Russian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Slovak)
Runs on Windows, Mac, Linux
All editions offer access to their keyword research features, with all the features included, the only difference here is the free edition doesn't allow KEI updates.
Rank Tracker Feature Set
Rank Tracker offers a keyword research tool and a rank checking component within the application. A more thorough breakdown of the feature set is as follows:
I prefer to do my keyword research outside of tools like this. Generally specific tools seem to excel at their chosen discipline, in this case rank checking, but fall kind of short in areas they try to add-on. I like to use a variety of tools when doing keyword research and it's easier for me, personally, to create and merge various spreadsheets and various data points rather than doing research inside of an application.
However, Rank Tracker does offer a one-stop shop for cumbersome research options like various search suggest methods and unique offerings like estimated traffic based on ranking #1 for that specified term.
Overall, a nice set of keyword research features if you want to add on to the research you've already done.
Rank Tracker also gives you the option to factor in data from Google Trends as well as through Google Analytics (see current ranking for each keyword and actual traffic).
As this is the core piece tool it's really no surprise that this part of Rank Tracker shines. Some of the interesting options here are in the ability to track multiple Google search areas like images, videos, and places.
In addition to the interesting features I mentioned above, Rank Tracker also includes a wide array of charting and design options to help you work with your data more directly and in a clearer way:
Usability is Top Notch
While the interfaces aren't the prettiest, this is one of one most user-friendly rank tracking tools that I've come across.
First you simply enter the URL you wish to track. Rank Tracker will automatically find the page AND sub-domain on the domain ranking for the keywords chosen, so you don't have to enter these separately.
You enter the site you want to check (remember, subpages and subdomains are automatically included)
Choose from a whole host of engines and select universal search if you wish to factor in places taken up by Google insertions into the SERPS:
Enter your keywords:
Let Rank Tracker go to work: (you can choose to display the running tasks as line views or tree views, a minor visual preference)
That's all there is to it. It is extremely easy to get a project up and running inside of this tool.
Working with Rank Tracker
Inside of Rank Tracker the data is displayed clearly, in an easy to understand format:
In the top part you'll get to see:
the keywords you selected
current rank compared to last rank
overall visibility (top rankings) in each search engine selected
custom tags you might decide to choose to tag your keywords with for tracking purposes or something
On the bottom chart you'll see three options for the selected search engine (bottom) and keyword (top):
ranking information for each search engine for the selected keyword
historical records (last check date and position)
progress graph (visual representation of rankings, customizable with sliders as shown in the picture)
The ranking chart shows the chart for the chosen keyword and search engine:
Within the ranking results page, you can select from these options to get a broader view of how your site is performing on the whole:
Customizing Rank Tracker
Inside of Rank Tracker's preferences you'll see the following options, most of which are self-explanatory:
This is where you can take advantage of some of their cooler features like:
adding competitors to track
adding in your Google Analytics account
customizing your reporting templates
changing up human emulation settings
adding in a captcha service
adding in multiple proxies to help with the speed of the tool as well as to prevent blocks
You can track up to 5 competitors per Rank Tracker profile (meaning, 5 competitors per one of your sites).
Key Configuration Options
Rank Tracker has a ton of options as you can see from the screenshot above. Some of the more important ones you'll want to pay attention to begin with their reporting options.
You'll want to set up your company information as shown here: (this is what will show on your reports)
On a per profile basis you can customize client-specific details likeso:
You can create new and modify existing templates for multiple report types here as well:
Emulation settings are important, you want to make sure you are set up so your requests look as normal and human as possible. It makes sense to check off the "visit search engine home page" option to help it appear more natural in addition to having delays between queries (again, to promote a natural approach to checking rankings/searching).
One thing that irks me about Rank Tracker is that they have emulation turned off by default. If you don't adjust your settings and you try and run a moderately sized report you'll get a Google automated ban in short order, so be careful!
In addition to emulation, search approach is also worthy of a bit of tinkering as well. Given how often Google inserts things like images, products, and videos into search results you might want to consider using universal search when checking rankings.
Also, the result depth is important. Going deep here can help identifying sites that have been torched rather than sites that simply fell outside the top 20 or 50. 100 is a good baseline as a default.
Successive search gives you a more accurate view as it manually goes page by page rather than grabbing 100 results at a time (double listings, as an example, can throw off the count when not using successive search)
Finally, another important option is scheduling. You can schedule emails, FTP uploads, and so on (as well as rank checks) from this options panel. Your machine does have to be on for this to work (not in sleep mode for instance). In my experience Rank Tracker has been pretty solid on this front, with respect to executing the tasks you tell it to execute (consistently).
Software versus Cloud
There are some strong, cloud based competitors to Rank Tracker. Our Rank Checker is a great solution for quick checks and for ongoing tracking if you do not need graphical charts and such (though, you can easily make those in excel if you need to).
Competitors and Options
Raven offers rank tracking as a part of their package and there are other cloud based services like Authority Labs (who actually power Raven's tools) you can look into if you want to avoid using software tools for rank checking.
There are some drawbacks to cloud-based rank tracking though. Some of them do not have granular date-based comparisons as they typically run on the provider's schedule rather than yours.
Also, most cloud rank checking solutions offer limits on how many keywords you can track. So if you are doing enterprise level rank checking it makes sense to use a software tool + a proxy service like Trusted Proxies
Pricing and Final Thoughts
Rank Tracker offers a generous discount if you grab all their tools in one bundle. If you want to customize, schedule, and print reports you'll need the enterprise edition.
I think requiring the purchase of your top tier for the basic functionality of printing reports is a mistake. I can see having that limitation on the free edition, but if you pay you should get access to reports.
You can find their bundle prices here and Rank Tracker's specific pricing here. Also, similar to competitors, they have an ongoing service plan which is required if you plan to continue to receive updates after the initial 6 months.
Despite my pricing concern regarding the reporting options, I think this is one of the top rank checkers out there. It has a ton of features and is very simple to use. I would recommend that you give this tool a shot if you are in the market for a robust rank checking solution. Oh I almost forgot, rank checking is still useful :)
One More Note of Caution
Be sure to read the below complaints about how unclear & sneaky the maintenance plan pricing is. This is something they should fix ASAP.
With SEO the most important thing to track is performance. Of course the bank account (& its growth rate) is a high level tracking mechanism, but it is the result of the combination of many ideas & efforts, the combination of multiple marketing strategies & traffic streams. To dig in further on what's working web analytics are your bread and butter. They don't give you aggregate data or could be data, but precisely and exactly what is happening on your sites: separating out what is working from what is not.
Without analytics you are flying blind.
Which is, of course, dangerous!
Redundancy for the Win
Most web analytics tools are either good for realtime tracking or offering granular historical data. Few tools are available at a reasonable cost and great at both. For that reason, I prefer to always use at least 2 web analytics tools.
If you love Google's feature set but want to host your own data they still sell the Urchin software for $10,000. It offers additional features like logfile analysis, robot & spider reports, individual visitor drilldown, server errors, works on intranets, and so on.
There are many other high end providers like Omniture, but I haven't really played much with them as most of our sites tend to be affiliate sites. If you do have a complete customer loop on your site & a sign-up process then services like KISSmetrics & ClickTale further allow you to dive in on how individual users use your website.
Back-up Web Analytics
My general goals & preference with a back-up analytics tool are:
light weight (doesn't use significant server resources)
provide a general overview baseline to compare primary analytics against
offers realtime data (as some of the primary analytics tools have a delay to them & having realtime data allows you to see how, where & why your content is spreading, which can help you further engage in conversation and help to spread it further)
As for the back-up web analytics tool, I typically go with Mint because it is quick and easy & only costs a one-time fee of $30 per site. Installation takes about 5 minutes, you upload it & then it just sits there and does its job.
I have also tried Piwik & Open Web Analytics. Of those 2 I prefer OWA because it is more lightweight (Piwik may have more features, but has a lot of files). OWA also has a cool screen recording option baked into it. Be aware that if you have a high traffic website & use OWA that you may create too many MySQL connections and cause the server to be less responsive.
If you are fine with tying some of your websites together but do not want to have them tied together in Google Analytics then you can have one install of OWA or Piwik on a dedicated server & set up multiple profiles for different websites. Be aware that if you have things like screen recording turned on then you are going to be eating significant server resources!
Not many spy tools out there do what MixRank does. MixRank is a tool that gives you the ability to peek into the contextual and display ad campaigns of sites advertising with Google AdSense.
Uncovering successful advertising on the AdSense network can give you all sorts of ideas on how to increase your site's profitability.
Not only can you uncover profitable AdSense ad campaigns but you can pick off AdSense publisher sites and leverage competitive research data off of those domains to help with your SEO campaign.
With MixRank own your competitors in the following ways:
Obtain the domains your competitor's ads are served on
Swipe your competitor's ad copy
Watch ad trends to target your competition's most profitable campaigns and combinations of ads
Another great thing about MixRank is how easy to use it is. Let's go step by step and see how powerful MixRank really is!
Step 1: Pick a Competitor to Research
MixRank makes is super easy to get started. Just start typing in a domain name and you'll see a suggested list of names along with the amount of ads available:
Here we are going to take a look at Groupon as we consider building a niche deals site. Keep in mind that MixRank is currently accepted free accounts while in beta so over time we can expect their portfolio to grow and grow.
MixRank breaks their tool down into 2 core parts:
Ads (text and display)
We'll cover all the options for both parts of the MixRank tool in the following sections.
Step 2: Working with Ad Data (Text and Display)
Let's start with text ad options. So with text ads you have 3 areas to look at:
Here's a look at the interface:
As you can see, it is really simple to switch between different ad research options. Also, you can export all the results at any time.
The image above is for "Active Ads". In the active ads tab you'll get the following data points (all sortable):
Publishers - maximum number of AdSense publishers running that particular ad
Last Seen - last known date the ad was seen by MixRank
Frequency - amount of publisher sites on which the ad appeared
Avg. Position - average position of the ad inside AdSense blocks
Here you can export the data to manipulate in excel or do some sorting inside of MixRank to find the ads earning the lion's share of the traffic.
The Ad Reach tab shows up to 4 ads at a time and compares the publisher trends for those ads. To spread the love around let's look at a couple ads from LivingSocial.Com:
Here you can see that one ad crashed and fell more in line with an existing ad. You can compare up to 4 ads at once to get an idea of what kind of ad copy is or might be working best for this advertiser.
The Best Performers section compares, again, up to 4 ads at a time (use the arrows to move on to the next set) which have recently taken off across the network.
Needless to say, this report can give you ideas for new ad approaches and maybe even new products/markets to consider advertising on.
If the advertiser is running Banner Ads you can see those as well:
With Banner Ads, MixRank groups them by size and you can see all of them by clicking on the appropriate size link.
When you click on a banner ad you'll see this:
This is a good way to get ideas on which banner ads are sticking for your competitors. Also, it's a great way to get ideas of how to design your ads too. A little inspiration goes a long way :)
So that's how you work with the Ads option inside of MixRank. One thing I dig about MixRank is that it's so easy to use, the data is easy to understand and work with, and it does its intended job very well (ok, ok so 3 things!)
Step 3: Traffic Sources
Now that you have an idea of what type of text ads and banner ads are effective for your competition, it's time to move into what sites are likely the most profitable to advertise on.
MixRank gives you the following options with traffic sources:
Traffic Sources - domains being advertised on, last date when the ad was seen, average ad position and number of days seen over the last month
Reach - total number of publishers the advertiser is running ads on
The traffic sources tab shows:
Uniques - estimated number of unique visitors based on search traffic estimates
Last Seen - last date MixRank saw the ad
Days Seen - number of days over the last month MixRank saw the ad
Average Position - average position in the AdSense Block
A winning combination here would be recent last seen dates and a high number under the Days Seen category. This would be the advertiser has been and is running ads on the domain, indicating that it may be a profitable spot for them to be in.
Another tip here would be to target these domains as possible link acquisition targets for your link building campaign.
The Reach option is pretty self-explanatory; it shows the total number of publishers the advertiser is showing up on:
Another good way to evaluate traffic sources is to view the average position (remember, all the metrics are sortable). A high average position will confirm that the ads are pretty well targeted to the content of that particular domain.
Combine the high average position with Days Seen/Last Seen and you've got some well-targeted publishers. You can export all the data to excel and do multiple filters to bring the cream of crop to the top of your ad campaign planning.
MixRank is Looking Good
It's early on for MixRank but so far I like what I see. The tool can do so many things for your content network advertising, media buy planning, link building campaigns, and SEO campaigns that I feel it's an absolute no-brainer to sign up for right now.
I might opt for the Fresh Index initially, because Majestic tends to have dead links in the historic index (thanks to the significant churn on the web) but if you can't find enough decent prospects in the Fresh Index, using the Historic one isn't a bad option.
There is a lot I like about this tool and a few things I'd like to see them add to or improve on.
Step 1: Setting Up a Campaign
I'm a fan of clean, easy to use interfaces and Wordtracker definitely scores well here. Here is the first screen you are presented with when starting up a fresh campaign:
Researching competing link profiles is not enough with respect to link prospecting, in my opinion. I really like the option to not only research multiple URL's at once but also to research keyword-specific prospects.
You can research lots of countries as well. Below is a snapshot of the countries available to you in Link Builder:
Step 2: Prospecting With Competitor URL's
I am craving some chocolate at the moment, as you can tell from my selected URL's :)
Here's a good example of my decision making process when it comes to using the Historic Index and the Fresh Index. My thought process usually involves the following information:
The bigger/older the link profiles of the URL's the more likely I am to use the Fresh Index to avoid lots of dead links
If the site is a well known brand I will be more likely to use the Fresh Index given the likelihood that the link profile is quite large
Smaller link profiles, newer link profiles will probably benefit from using the Historic Index more
In this example the sites I'm researching have big link profiles and have been around for quite awhile in addition to being large brands, so I will use the Fresh Index to cut down on potential dead-ends.
I selected the "Edit Sources" box because I want to make sure I pick the URL with the most links (or you can just go with both) but I wanted to show you the options:
I'll leave all selected just to maximize the opportunities. Sometimes you'll find pages ranking for specific keywords you might be targeting, rather than just the homepage ranking, so you can use both or one or the other if that's the case.
In this scenario I'm looking at the URLs ranking for "chocolate", and they all happened to be homepage's anyway.
Wordtracker is pretty quick with getting the data in, but while you're waiting you'll see the following screen:
Step 3: Working with the Analysis Tab
In order to keep the results as targeted as possible, Wordtracker automatically removes the following links from the results:
One thing I'd like to see them do is let no-follows through because even though they might not pass any juice they certainly can be decent traffic sources and link building isn't just about passing juice, it's also about brand building and traffic generation.
I'd even say let image links through. I understand they don't want to be a pure link research tool but image links can be valuable for some of what I just mentioned as well. I would say, give us the data and the ability to filter it rather than just taking it away completely.
Here is a snippet of the result page and a description on what it represents:
On the left are pre-designed buckets that Link Builder groups your links into. This is helpful but I'd like to see more flexibility here.
They also offer a tagging feature to help you group links in another way. The tagging can be helpful for things like assigning links to specific people within your group or really any other custom setup you have going on (maybe stuff like grouping keywords into priority buckets or whatever.)
The prospect tab gives you the domain (chow.com in the below example) the link sits on, the page it links to on a competing site or sites, and the page the link is actually on from the linking site:
All you have to do is click that "links to" button to see where the link is pointing to (in this case chow.com is only linking to 1 of the sites I inputted).
The column to the right shows the page on the domain where the link is originating from and the number in the middle is a measure of how important that particular prospect might be.
The furthest most right column shows columns that tell you whether the domain is also linking to you and how many other sites, out of the sites you inputted, that domain is linking to. The idea being that the domain might be more likely to link to you if they are linking out to multiple competing sites as well:
The grayed out button to the right of the co-link count is the "target" button. This is the button you'd click to let the tool know that this is a prospect you'd like to target.
You have the following toolbar available to you in the Analysis tab:
These are generally self-explanatory:
Delete - removes selected prospects from the campaign
Export - export your results to a CSV file
Copy to - copies prospects to another campaign within your account
Tag - allows you to tag selected prospects to help create custom grouping fields
Filter - filters Top Link by "contains" or "does not contain". An example might be if you wanted to target a link prospect or prospects which contained the word "chocolate" somewhere in the URL
You can also click on any of the groupings on the left to view those specific groups only. I find that the groupings are fairly accurate but I personally prefer the ability to customize fields like that rather than being boxed in.
I created a sample tag titled "for eric" that contains 2 links I want a team member named Eric to work on:
Step 4: Working with the Contact Tab
The Contact tab has most of the same toolbar options as the Analysis tab with one exception:
Find Contact and About Links - click on the links you want to find contact information on and/or find the about page on
Link Builder works in the background to find this information and you can continue working in the application. There is a notes option as well. There's no specific way to leave multiple, time-stamped notes (for team environments) but the input box is expandable so you can leave an ongoing contact history.
You have the same contact flag on the right and to the left of that is an email icon that turns yellow if you click it and is designed to let you know contact is in progress or has been initiated.
When the contact request comes back (just refresh the contact tab) you'll see the following, new fields within the Contact tab that denote the contact/about pages for the prospect:
Step 5: Reporting
The Reporting piece of Link Builder has the following reports:
History - options for the Fresh/Historic Index of Majestic SEO via cumulative and non-cumulative views for the chosen domains
Spider Profile - the link category breakdown (the aforementioned pre-defined link sources Wordtracker assigns your prospects to) of each domain
Target Summary - number of targets, number/% of targets contacted, number/% of targets not contacted, number/% of targets linking to you
This gives you a quick overview of the growth of competing link profiles, current link building rate, types of links they have, and your own Prospect metrics. All the reports are exportable to PDF.
Here's the History report:
Here's the Spider Report:
Here's the Target Summary:
Additional Campaign Options
As we discussed earlier, you can either input a list of domains to search on a specific keyword.
If you search on a specific keyword to start you are able to select URL's to include in your prospecting search. Everything else, in terms of options after the URL selection is the same as if you were to have started with domains.
Having a keyword search to start a campaign is helpful in case you are looking to go beyond competitors you already know of and get a real deep look into link prospects across that keyword's market as a whole.
Also, right next to your campaign name you can sign up to be automatically notified of new links and prospects for your campaign:
Link Builder also has a Firefox extension that allows you to grab all the external links from a page and save them in your Link Builder account.
I find this is helpful on directory sites (for gathering a list of topic-specific URLs), as an example. The extension is really easy to use. You can install it here. Once you arrive at a page you want to use it on you just click on the LB logo in your toolbar:
Then once you click on the option to gather the links, you get the following interface:
You can save the chosen links right into your Link Builder account.
What I Like
The features that I like in Wordtracker's Link Builder tool are:
Ability to prospect by multiple URLs or by choosing a specific keyword
Option to use Fresh or Historic Index via Majestic SEO
Simple ways to keep notes and contact information
Ability to search for contact and about information on selected prospects
Robust selection of countries
Initial, intelligent link grouping
Fast results and a really clean, easy to use interface
What Could Be Improved On
I think Wordtracker could do some things to make this tool even more functional and useful:
More flexibility with the naming and assigning of link types
Have profile-wide settings to include all links (no-follow, image, etc) or exclude some rather than excluding without a choice to include
More filtering options around the data points they offer and whether a prospect has been targeted or not
More robust link tracking (if the status of links change send me an alert). Though I realize that is getting into link tracking versus link building, it's still a nice option
A bit more flexibility with notes and timestamps for a more defined contact history (especially if teams use this)
A Solid Link Building Product
Overall I think this tool does a good job with its intended use, link building. I think some users would like to see more done to make it more team friendly but I think you can accomplish a lot with their tagging feature.
As stated above, I'd like to see some more done with notes and such but as a link prospecting and building tool Wordtracker's Link Builder is worth your time to try out.
I am not sure how many people were holding off on updating to Firefox 5 because of our SEO extensions, however we made versions for Firefox 5 quite a while ago for Seo for Firefox, Rank Checker & the SEO Toolbar. When you first go to update it there might be a message that the extensions are not compliant. If that is the case, upgrade to Firefox 5 & then after you get Firefox 5 installed it has a check for updated versions of extensions.
Our newest extensions no longer support Firefox 3 (we get some complaints from people using 3.6) and some early versions of Firefox 4 (like 4.0.1) may not be supported either. If you have an older browser & try to install our extensions you will get an incompatibility message, likeso:
If you like the extensions as they are then there is no need to upgrade, however if you are having any issues with them (not being able to install them, not being able to pull Bing rankings, blank CSV export, etc.) then an upgrade should fix the problem.
Firefox stated that the version 5 update is a security one, so I did it right away. If your Firefox version is high enough you should see an "allow" message box, likeso:
Shout out to Brad McMillen, who had a support request & donated $20 to charity: water to receive a response. He was the first person to do so after months of us making the suggestion on the help desk area, even with 10 daily freetards (who are too lazy to read installation instructions) send us support tickets every day, flaming us because they "paid" for Firefox years ago & such. ;)
I have been losing weight recently and working out a decent amount every single day & working a bit less. I even had time to go see my mom, see my sister, and visit my favorite childhood park.
As an added bonus we dusted off the Nintendo & found a store selling vintage games that had my favorite pinball machine ever - Medieval Madness. I felt like a genuine escentric when trying to explain to my wife how buying a pinball machine for the house was reasonable. Even more eccentric, she didn't counter the idea. Who knows where that will lead...but it could add extra incentive to buy vs rent, if only California real estate didn't start at 7 figures on up. :D
Extra time for reading, exercising & playing has led to a higher level of personal happiness, even as my fear of crushing state debts & banker fraud leading to a new wave of fascism the world over grow daily.
Probably the single best business move I made over the past couple years was deciding that freetards were worth less than nothing and just deleting them. Part of what helped me do that was I actually had an employee answer tickets & after less than a week of doing it he was miserable & had a health issue. Since discarding freetards entirely I have seen 0 business impact and a huge lift in quality of life. If you are trying to please too many people and are showing signs of an unbalanced life for it (things like lacking sleep, high stress level, gaining weight, etc.) then a change is in order. I am still pretty chubby, but have already lost about 30 pounds.
Sometimes I think it makes sense to lean into living a somewhat unbalanced lifestyle to build leverage, but after you are doing well for a while at some point it makes sense to live a bit more balanced life & enjoy it a bit more (or else the hidden health issues will become unhidden in short order). :D
I think sometimes if you just read the blog posts things can be perceived to be more cynical and negative than they actually are. One of the bigger things I struggle with is having inspiration to keep making new posts after having published thousands of them. As I read more about the history of communications & how monopolies come to control information it is easy for me to write about some of the parallels between that and the current market. It is much harder to have something new to write about marketing though, as so much of it is just a repeat of history.
Sure we can say everything is changing and hype everything new to try to pick up some links from people who want to cite quasi-research, but beyond understanding broad stroke philosophical stuff, a lot of what is new is either just hyping what is new for the sake of it or a regurgitation of what was old.
The Google <3's brands theme is something that has been playing out for about a half-decade now. And if you look at every other major established ad driven media model, brand is there as well. Other big components of the ad ecosystem?
Classifieds = local/mobile/deals
retail = ecommerce/deals/payment processing
channel segmentation = ad personalization & social media platforms that you reveal your tastes & interests on
What areas are Google pushing into? Those exact same areas. Just look at this 2007 slide from Hal Varian...
I think about our products in three separate categories
First, there is search and our ads products, the core driver of revenue for the company. Nikesh and Susan are going to talk more about ads later in the call
Next, we have products that are enjoying high consumer success--YouTube, Android and Chrome. We are investing in these in order to optimize their long-term success
Then we have our new products--Google+ and Commerce and Local. We are are investing in them to drive innovation and adoption
The other hard bit with blogging is that of course sometimes there are some really delicious bits to SEO that most the market is unaware of. If you blog them there is a good chance the idea dies. Sometimes valuable tips are shared though, like in Rae's latest link building group interview.
The SEO tool space is a pretty crowded one (and growing one!). Tools are helpful, there is no doubt about that. However, tools are generally only as good as the person using them. We'd love to know what tools you use and why, so please let us know in the comments after the post :)
I am not "house" handy by any means, I can barely hang a picture frame straight. So if you gave me the best construction tools in the world I'd still make extra holes and screw something up.
Even if I managed to get the picture hung correctly, it certainly would not look professional.
You can buy as many guides, tools, and accessories as you like but in the end it is your skill that determines the success or failure of a project (building a deck or building a website). Skills can be harnessed, but tools do not overcome a lack of skill.
SEO Tool Fatigue
SEO tool fatigue is a real issue for some folks. Some people spend a good chunk of their productivity on testing or trying out new tools, or even using so many tools that their implementation and interpretation of data suffers a great deal. One tool says this, another says that, and yet another says 1 or the other or both or neither :) .
The first thing to realize is that most of the data from tools (excluding analytics and such) are basically estimates of estimated data, or are directly from Google's various estimation-type tools (Keyword Tool, Trends, Insights, and so on), or driven off what the tool builder thinks are important or reliable metrics to build your research off of (there tends to be some swings and misses with that type of approach).
You are not going to fail miserably if you decide not to do days and days and days of keyword research with multiple tools and then spending more days comparing different datasets. Research is important, but there is a limit.
Picking a Core Set of Tools
From a cost and time standpoint I've found it really helpful to pick a core set of tools and stick with them rather than bouncing around to get an extra feature or two.
It's good to peek around from time to time but using mostly similar tools can lead to a "needle in the haystack" approach; where you spend most of your time digging a time-suck hole rather than building websites and adjusting strategies based on analytics and/or AdWords data.
Again, research is important but there is a sweet spot and it's a good idea to get some kind of system down so you can focus on doing "enough" research without doing harm to the time it takes you to get sites up and running.
I'm going to highlight some of the tools I've used below, most of which are considered to be market leaders. I'll point out why I use certain tools, why I don't use others (yet) and I encourage anyone who's dealing with tool overload to do the same for the tools you use.
The areas I'll be focusing on are:
On Page Criteria
Competitive Link Research Tools
There are many keyword research tools that pull data from the sources listed below (like our free keyword research tool, which pulls from Wordtracker).
These tools use their own databases (although in Wordtracker you can ping Google's tool as well).
I use all the Google tools as well as Ad Intelligence and Wordtracker as well as the SeoBook Keyword Tool. Sometimes I use Wordtracker just via our keyword research tool and sometimes I use Wordtracker's web interface (I like being able to store stuff in there).
Our keyword tool also links in to most of the sources listed above. A big reason why I like our keyword research tool is that it's super easy to hit the major data points I want to hit on a particular keyword from one location.
Ad Intelligence is solid as (Microsoft claims) they incorporate actual search data into their results, rather than estimating like Google does.
I should also note that I mainly use Trends and Insights for comparing similar keywords and looking at locality (in addition to the history of keywords). Sometimes you run across really similar keywords (car, auto) and it can help to know which one is most relevant to your campaign.
For the on page stuff I'm mainly concerned with large scale, high level overviews.
I use our toolbar for specific on-page stuff but when I'm looking to diagnose internal linking problems (not maximizing internal link flow, broken links, http status codes, and so on) or issues with title tags and meta descriptions either missing, being too short, or too long, or duplication then I use a couple different tools.
Since I'm on a Mac and I don't care to run Windows for anything other than testing, I use the three listed which work on Mac (though I don't use them in every situation).
I use Screaming Frog's SEO Spider pretty frequently as well as Peacock's Integrity. Integrity is a broken link checker while SEO Spider incorporates other SEO related features (title tags, H1/H2's, anchor text, and a ton of other important elements).
WebSite Auditor offers most, if not all, of what SEO Spider does but also incorporates white-label reporting, Google Page Rank, Yahoo! & Google Link popularity, cache dates, and so on.
For some of those features in Website Auditor you might want to either outsource the Captcha inputting or use their Anti-Captcha service so you don't have to sit there for hours entering in captcha's.
In my regular workflow, SEO Spider and Integrity get used a lot and Website Auditor comes in to play for some of those other metrics and for white label reporting.
Here's a crowded space! So I think the right choice here really depends on your needs. Are you a solo SEO who runs multiple sites, or maybe you run your own sites and client sites, or maybe you are a client-only shop.
Even if you have reporting needs, you can still do a lot for free with our free rank checking tool (scheduled reports, stored reports, multiple search engines, and so on) and Excel or another spreadsheet program like OpenOffice.Org or Google Docs. Some good tips on creating ranking charts with Excel can be found here.
There are a couple differences with the software players, Advanced Web Ranking and Link Assistant's Rank Tracker (both have multiple levels so it's wise to check the features of both to see if you need the higher end version or if the lower priced versions will work for you). Some of the key differences are:
Rank Tracker integrates with Google Analytics
Advanced Web Ranking has a variety of ways to track local rankings, including maps and a local preview engine
Advanced Web Ranking has more, easier to customize reporting options
I find that the interface with Rank Tracker is much easier to work with
If all you are looking for is rank checking, then Link Assistant is a bit cheaper overall (comparing enterprise versions of both). While noting, AWR has more local options at their higher price point. You can see AWR's pricing here and Link Assistant's here. Note, it's worthwhile to check out maintenance pricing as well (Link Assistant and AWR)
AWR let's you assign a proxy per project, which can be really helpful if you have clients all over the map.
AWR automatically pulls in the top ten sites for a keyword, and their last position compared to current, and let's you add that site to your tracking (at any point) with all the historical data saved and updated within your account.
One tip with software tools is to run them on a different machine, perhaps even behind an IP off of a private VPN service like WiTopia, and think about utilizing multiple proxies from a service like Trusted Proxies and/or using an anti-captcha service with Link Assistant's tools.
The idea is to not get your IP banned and to let you continue to work as normal on your main machine while another machine is handling the automated queries. If you don't want to fuss with that, you might want to try a cloud app.
The Cloud and Scalability
The 3 main services, that I've used anyway, come from Raven, SeoMoz, and Authority Labs. Authority Labs now powers Raven's SERP tracker too. My biggest concern with cloud-based rank checkers is that the keyword volume can be (understandably) limited. Now, Authority Labs has unlimited checking at 450/month but the other two have limits.
Let's just look at the highest plans for a second, Moz allows 30 campaigns and a total of 3,500 keywords. Raven's highest plan allows for unlimited domains and 2,500 keywords total (and 200 competitors).
If scalability is a concern for you then you might be better off with software solutions. Once you start running multiple sites or are responsible for reporting on multiple sites (and you are working the long tail and your analytics) then you can see how restrictive this could become.
Of course, comparing just the rank checking options of a tool set like Raven and Moz (which both have other useful tools, Raven more so for full on campaign management) doesn't do the pricing justice. So what you could do is still use the many other tools available from each company and use a software solution once your rank checking scales beyond what they offer.
Both Moz and Raven integrate with Google Analytics, and Raven's campaign integration with GA is quite nice too (beyond just rankings).
A good chunk of software-based solutions pull link data from search engines but if you want a more, way more, comprehensive view of a competing site's link profile (and link history) you do have a few options.
Majestic was originally known for having a much deeper database, with the caveat that they keep a lot of decayed links, and their UI wasn't overly impressive. Well, as noted in a recent blog post (which includes 20% off coupons) on Majestic's new tools, most of that isn't the case anymore. Though, I still feel Open Site Explorer has a better and smoother UI.
Advanced Link Manager's strength lies in their ongoing link management and reporting but they also have some decent link research tools built in and they can connect to SeoMoz's API to gather link data, so that kind of sets them apart from those other software-based solutions.
Again, Moz offers other tools as well so it's hard to really compare price points. What I like about OSE is that you can get a really solid, quick overview of the anchor text profile of a competing site. Also, you get unlimited look ups and up to 10k links per query on their pro plan (in addition to other Moz tools). You can get a 30 day free trial of all the Moz tools as of this writing.
Majestic's New Tools
Majestic, now with their new site explorer and fresh index, rival OSE's UI and freshness a bit but there still are limits on usage. You can check out Majestic's pricing here and don't forget about the 20% off coupon mentioned here.
Typically I like to use both Majestic and OSE. I like the new tools Majestic has come out with and their historical data is solid. OSE, for me, is great for getting some of a site's top metrics quickly (anchor text, top pages, etc).
If I had to pick one, I'd go with Majestic mostly because Moz gives a decent amount of data away for free (being a registered user) and because Majestic has really good historical + deeper data.
Building links, especially if you have a team, can be a cumbersome process unless you have collaborative tools to work with. Even if you operate mostly on your own, you might want to track links you've earned or built directly.
Every once and awhile i like to download a report from Majestic SEO and add any links that are not yet in my tracking program into the program. Some people like to just track paid or exchanged links and let the natural ones sort of come and go naturally.
There are a couple of tools out there that I've used, and one I haven't but I've heard good things about it from reputable sources so I'll include it here.
Raven's Link Manager is probably their flagship tool. It has received really high praise from experienced SEO's and is easy to use. You can easily add links, assign them to employees, and let Raven worry about the automatic checking and reporting in case something changes with a link.
Advanced Link Manager has many features built in but you can use it just for tracking links you want to track by uploading the links into the program. It's software based and you can set it to run whenever you'd like, automatically.
I personally haven't used Buzzstream, but reputable people have told me it is a solid program, and they have a free 14 day trial here. It's a dedicated link building and management tool (and also has a PR and social media tool) so chances are if you are looking for a specific tool to fill that need, this one might be worth a shot.
If you don't have a ton of links to manage or a team to manage, you might be just fine with an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Doc. To me, it's just one more thing to think about and Raven and Buzzstream have low priced plans if you don't need enterprise-level storage.
What's in Your Toolbox?
So there's an overview of what I feel are the best SEO tools out there and one's that I use frequently (or infrequently).
I'd love to know what you are using and why (or why not?) :)
We love free stuff, especially when it comes to SEO tools and SEO data. Recently, we published a post on how to do a good bit of competitive research with free tools and now we are going to do that for competitive research on domains.
There are a number of tools we can use here. We are going to focus on using these tools to help evaluate a domain from a competitive research point of view:
AdWords Keyword Tool
Open SIte Explorer
Google Ad Planner
It is worth noting that we reviewed the paid elements of most of the prominent spy tools about a year ago.
Getting Started with a Domain
Researching a competitive domain can have many benefits. Beyond evaluating the strength of a domain with respect to age, links, and engagement statistics you can find things like:
High traffic keywords
Low hanging keyword fruit (keywords they are ranking for mostly off domain/brand authority)
Competing domains and overlapping keywords
Keywords being purchased for PPC
So you can do a few different things with domains. You might want to evaluate the strength of the domain as a whole if you are beyond the keyword research phase or perhaps you want to do that in addition to checking out potential keywords you can add to your campaign.
There are a few different tools you can use for this and I like to start with the SeoBook Toolbar because it's quick, easy, and incorporates the tools I want to use in one spot.
Using the SeoBook Toolbar
The toolbar links through to a ton of external tools and most of the tools listed above. It also provides a way to quickly review a bunch of the most relevant data with a simple click. Turn the toolbar on, visit the domain you want to research, and click the blue "I" icon shown below, next to the SeoBook icon:
Once you click on the blue info ball you get all this nice data immediately:
So in what really amounts to a quick, 3 step process you are able to instantly see helpful information about:
High level site data about age, Pagerank, indexed pages, and recent cache date
Link data from Yahoo! Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer, and Majestic SEO
Rough traffic estimates from sources like Compete.Com, Alexa, and SEM Rush
Important directory links
It will be somewhat clear just by looking at the chart how strong the domain is. In this case, the domain is one of the stronger ones on the web.
You can link through to each tool/statistic from this chart and also from the icons on the toolbar itself.
As you continue down the toolbar you can see the link-thru icons Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and Blekko. The "Dir" dropdown will show you the appearance of the site in the more important directories on the web.
Then you also can link thru to the Archive, Compete.Com, SEM Rush, the free SeoBook Rank Checker (to quickly check rankings of a keyword on a particular domain you might be researching), and the X-Ray Tool.
The "Competition" drop down will show you the following:
So here you can link through to a variety of sites to check out all sorts of data points about a domain including, but no limited to, domain registration, demographic data, and keyword data.
If that weren't enough, the toolbar also offers more tools:
The first link gives you the following drop down, which links through to a bunch of keyword tools based on the keyword you enter in the form field to the left of the book:
The highlighter highlights the typed in keyword on the current page and then you've got a link to SeoBook archives, recommended RSS feeds, no-follow highlighting, and a button which allows you to compare up to 5 domains at once.
Typically, I use the SeoBook toolbar as my research assistant of sorts when researching different aspects of a domain. It links through to the relevant tools I need to properly evaluate and research a particular domain.
An appropriate disclaimer would be that data can be limited on these free accounts but they can help establish a rough baseline to start off of. From the SeoBook toolbar you can easily link through to an SemRush report which gives you limited data on:
Organic keywords a site is ranking for
Keywords a site is buying in AdWords
Domain competition in organic SERPS
Domain competition in AdWords
Actual AdWords ad copy
Potential traffic/ad buyers/sellers based on the AdWords and Organic competitive data
A comprehensive review on SemRush can be found here.
Focusing on the organic keywords, you can get the top ten keywords driving traffic to a site (disclaimer: Spy tools should be taken as rough data points rather than data that is 100% accurate. In order to achieve 100% accuracy you'd need access to a site's analytics :D )
This can be helpful if you are trying to research whether traffic is heavily branded traffic or if it's more keyword centric traffic as well as the overall rankings of a site across a wide spectrum of keywords.
In the above example you can see that many of the top keywords are brands but they also rank highly for really competitive, core keywords. This conicides with our initial findings, via the SeoBook Toolbar, that this site is a very strong site.
If you wanted to dig deeper you can subscribe to one of SemRush's paid accounts. We also offer up to 1,000 results per query (organic data) with our Competitive Research Tool (which pulls data from SemRush) in both our membership options We also have our own custom data calculations inside the Competitive Research Tool which are pretty sweet :)
Compete is a more expensive competitive research tool but they do give you a fair amount of data for free on a domain.
So here is an example of the free data they give on a "Site Profile" report:
Some of the key points missing on a free account are (besides full access to the teaser data) are demographics and some deeper engagement metrics.
We can get some semblance of demographic data from Google Ad Planner and Quantcast for free.
This report can give you some, albeit small, keyword data outside of a Google tool in addition to traffic history (searching for victims of Panda as an example) and some high level signals about how many sites the domain is getting traffic from.
I would use a free Compete site profile to get a really high level overview of traffic size, top keywords outside of a Google tool, and traffic/visitor trends and history.
This report certainly lines up with the site being an extremely competitive one, a large brand with lots of traffic sources, and a site unaffected by the latest Google update.
AdWords Keyword Tool
So once you move away from looking at some keyword and traffic sampling numbers, as well as the solid high level overview provided by the SeoBook Toolbar, you might want to consider site structure and keyword structure.
A neat feature in the AdWords Keyword Tool is you can enter a domain and Google will list the keywords and the page assigned to that particular keyword (in their eyes):
*Other columns were removed to show this feature specifically:
This can be helpful in terms of breaking down the site structure of a competing site, finding profitable keywords they are ranking for but not necessarily targeting, and helping you plan your site structure.
Open Site Explorer
Since this post is on free tools, I would go with Open Site Explorer here (you could also use Yahoo! Site Explorer and Blekko for more data points but OSE offers a really quick, easy to use interface and has tons of link data).
Using this tool you can find things like the anchor text distribution of a site (see if they are targeting keywords that you might be considering or if lots of their anchor text is brand related)
Inside of OSE you can find other key data points like:
Top linked to pages on the site
List of linking domains
External linking pages
% of no-follow to followed links
% of internal versus external links
301 redirected domains/links
I do like using Yahoo and Blekko as well but I find that when looking at the free data options, OSE provides the deepest data out of the three and it's very easy/quick to use. On the paid side it competes with Majestic SEO which is a solid paid option as well.
I think Alexa can be somewhat useful when doing quick and free competitive research, but it's also a tool that gets a bad rap due to internet hype marketers promoting it as the BEST THING EVER!.
We did an in-depth review of Alexa here and a review of their paid tool here. Alexa gives out a few different data points:
Within those sections Alexa offers a lot of data points (based mainly on their toolbar data). Here we have data similar to Compete's:
You can also see things like global traffic ranks (where the site ranks in Alexa's Top Sites in each country)
Helpful information on where folks are navigating on the site (if you are in the same market are there site features you could be missing out on?)
Similar to SemRush stats but based on a smaller sample:
Trailing data on traffic being received from search engines:
Keywords that they are growing and keywords where they are slipping:
Potentially profitable keywords they are ranking for (factoring in advertising competition)
They also offer some demographic data compared to a relative baseline figure for each demo section:
Find out what sites people are coming to the site from (possible ad partners or related domains you can target in the same way you are targeting the current one from a competitive research perspective):
Where people are going when they leave:
Again, Alexa's data (like most spy tools) should be taken as rough figures rather than exact data. It's helpful to compare data from multiple sources as you can start to see patterns emerge or you can prove or disprove theories you may have about the site and your proposed method of attack.
Most sites I run across are not "quantified" so the data is a rough estimate (again).
So with Quantcast you can get more of that same traffic data along with some deeper demographic data:
This is on the overview page, there are separate sections for traffic and demographic data which break the information down a bit further:
You can also see data about what other sites are used/liked by visitors of the site you are doing research on:
This is on the demographics page and can give you an idea of what type of customer you'll be encountering which can help in determining how to present your offer and what to offer:
I like to use Quantcast mostly for demographc research on competiting or similar website (similar to products or services I am offering to help shape those offers and the presentation of my site).
Google Ad Planner
Ad Planner offers similar demographic data to Quantcast and similar traffic data to Alexa and Compete.
The big difference is the data is obtained from various Google products so it's probably somewhat safer to assume that the data might be a bit more relevant or accurate since Google has lots more data than any of the tools mentioned above (at least in terms of traffic data).
Ad Planner will show you "Google-ized" data for traffic patterns:
Unique visitor data in addition to Google Analytics data (for those who like to share)
You can also see top search queries:
As well as demographic data and audience interest data:
When to Go Paid
As you can see, free tools can give you lots of data but at some point you might have to scale up to use some paid tools. Paid tools certainly give you more data to work with but you can accomplish a lot of competitive research and background research on a domain with free tools.
Before Google's Panda update an effective SEO strategy was to "make a page for everything." If you are Wikipedia that strategy may still work, but for most websites that approach is a high risk & low return approach. Clustering like keywords together and using that to help set up your site's information architecture is a lower risk and higher return strategy.
Given Google's new approach to search (where dead weight can harm your good pages) organization is more important than ever.
Let's say you have a big list of keywords which is not well organized & you want a quick and dirty way to organize it. Here are a dozen different tips and tools to help you organize your keywords.
Ad Group Filter
We created an ad group organizer tool which aims to create a footprint for keywords by putting muti-word keywords in alphabetical order & stemming the keywords. The output is TSV, so you can copy it and paste it into a spreadsheet for further analysis. It also allows you to use stop words to filter the list. This can not only be used for organizing keywords for paid search, but also to help organize them for your SEO efforts down to a per-page level.
RKG Duck is a Perl clipboard extension which was the inspiration for our above tool. This tool works well in spreadsheets, but it takes some level of programming sophistication to get working.
Spyfu's Keyword Groupie allows you to look up a competing site's keywords & see them organized by root word. In addition to listing keywords by root word, they also give you the option of viewing the top 100, 500, or 1000 keywords for a site.
The big benefit with SpyFu is that you can view data on a competing site & use their performance as a bit of a filter for you, but the downside is that at times it can be a bit slower than the above tools. That is to be expected though, because it is searching through a database of records related to sites, rather than just applying a filter or returning results.
They allow you to browse keywords to drill down in areas of interest. Another nice feature is that they show you keywords they feel you are missing out on by putting them in bold, so this tool is great both for looking up competing sites & for looking up your own site to see what you missed.
Google AdWords Desktop
There are a couple different ways to use the Google AdWords editor to group keywords. Here is a semi-automated way (where you still have a bit of human editorial in the process to manually filter to find themes & create groups)
You could do similar to the above with Microsoft Excel's table filters. And if you are combining multiple data sources / tables in Excel this AbleBits merge tool is handy.
Google also offers an automated option inside Google AdWords editor to help organize keywords into fairly tight groups.
First create a new ad campaign (and its settings can be a bit arbitrary off the start as you are mainly using this to help automate data sorting). You only need to create 1 ad group in that ad campaign and then bulk upload a group of keywords into it.
Next use the keyword grouper tool, as shown here.
In the keyword grouper you can use the "generate common terms" option to automatically create keyword groupings. Note that in the right box you can add stop words & other words that you don't want them to cluster keyword groupings around.
Google then spits out a result set you can use, with the keywords clustered into tight groups. Note that sometimes they footprint geo-local keywords similarly even if they are for multiple different areas, but outside of that it is a pretty nice tool considering the amount of work it does in what amounts to a 2-minute process.
Put your site in rank checker and see how you rank for your target keyword list. If your site is nowhere to be found for a keyword then that may indicate a need to create more content pages around those new topics. If your pages already rank well then see how well they are optimized. A small amount of link building & on-page SEO can go a long way if you were already ranking for a keyword that you were not intentionally targeting.
If your site is brand new & has no authority (or you are researching a new market) you can search for the rankings of a popular website in your niche and see where they rank. Export the ranking data and you can sort the Excel spreadsheet by URL, which should help you cluster your keywords around a similar strategy that top ranked websites are using.
You can pull data on competing sites from competitive research tools like SEM Rush, Compete.com, Keyword Spy, SpyFu, and Alexa to help get an overview of some of the top keywords competing sites are ranking for.
Crawl Their Site
Do you have a well optimized competitor? You can crawl their site using tools like Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog & then export the data to a spreadsheet, using that as a baseline to start your information architecture strategy from. Xenu is free & Screaming Frog's SEO Spider is free for up to a 500 URL site.
Keyword List Cleaner
If you have a big and dirty keyword list where some of the words have multiple meanings you can try to filter the list down by using negative keywords on a keyword list cleaner.
Google Related Searches
Whenever you search on Google not only does their search box recommend tightly related keywords (which are good for late state optimization of on-page content), but in the left column they have a link to "related searches" which organizes related keywords. Within these lists of keywords you can click further into to drill down deeper.
Some folks scrape that data in bulk as well, but if you do that then you are back to having to organize it again. ;)
Google AdWords Keyword Tool
Many paid keyword tools like Wordtracker have advanced filtering & organization options, but I mainly wanted to show free options in the post. Google AdWords keyword tool has multiple helpful ways to organize data.
I tried to highlight key areas & options in the above image, but it sorta feels like I highlighted everything, as there are so many amazing options baked into it. You can get keyword data based on selecting a category, a site, or entering a root keyword. They allow further filtering by match type, tight or loose keyword groupings, location, and so on. Sometimes the data can be a bit inaccurate, but nonetheless it is a great starting point as it really is an amazing feature-rich tool.
Microsoft adCenter Plug-in for Excel
Earlier I mentioned how Excel tables have a bunch of handy filters in them. Taking that to the next level, try the adCenter Excel plug in (review here), offering you quick access to Microsoft's keyword data by root keyword, general topical category, ad campaign association, and so on.
Your Web Analytics
There are at least 4 amazing benefits to using your site's keyword data
This is the stuff that actually applies directly to your site. Rather than being some sort of academic exercise or a bunch of "what if" sort of stuff where there is a big margin for error, you have the data related to the actual business impact of these keywords.
Since your site is already ranking for these keywords you already have momentum behind them. Pushing a #5 to #2 is typically far easier than going from nowhere to #5. And it is not only easier, but it is also more profitable.
This data is organized by page already, and (since you know your site) you should be able to quickly tell if pages that are ranking should be further optimized for a keyword or if the user intent for that keyword is different and it deserves a different page.
If you have been tracking your site for an extended period of time you should know not only what pages are ranking, but also why. Sure Google aims to make this a bit more complex, but that is precisely why looking at data on your own site is so helpful: you already know so much about it.
The same types of benefits can be had by using a (phrase matched, broad matched, or modified broad match / with negative keywords) AdWords ad campaign to do keyword research. You are not only testing the search volume of the keywords, but also how your site performs for them.
WordTracker's Strategizer (review here) is a premium SEO-oriented extension of web analytics data, which helps make the data relationships easier to visualize. Concentrate is another paid application built on data wrangling & visualization front.
Free keyword cloud tools like Wordle & tools like Many Eyes can also be valuable for helping you see word relationships for a page and convey concepts to management. You can probably guess which page the following analytics-driven word cloud is for without even visiting it. ;)