Free Competitive Research on Domains

May 31st

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:

  • SeoBook Toolbar
  • SemRush
  • Compete
  • AdWords Keyword Tool
  • Open SIte Explorer
  • Alexa
  • Quantcast
  • 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
  • Profitable keywords
  • Low hanging keyword fruit (keywords they are ranking for mostly off domain/brand authority)
  • Site structure
  • 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
  • Social stats
  • 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.

SemRush

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

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.

Alexa

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:

  • Traffic Stats
  • Search Analytics
  • Audience Profile
  • Clickstream

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.

Quantcast

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.

Published: May 31, 2011

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