A well thought-out Search Engine Optimization Strategy can go a long way. But what happens when you've followed all the rules, optimized everything and you are still behind?
Being the honest SEO guy (or girl) that you are, you decide to take a look at what your competitors are doing. Not wanting to spend big money on a spying strategy, you decide to use free tools. But where does your search start?
Lucky for you, I've encountered the same situation. This article is here to shed some light on the 7 best SEO tools to use to spy on your competition.
If you've ever searched anything online remotely connected to SEO, you will have learned about Moz. One of their most popular tools is Open Site Explorer, giving you access to Inbound Links, Linking Domains and Top Pages.
You can also see a website's domain and page authority and the just discovered section helps you find link opportunities.
I usually start with OSE when I want to get a feel for a website's link power. I ask myself questions like:
- What's this website's authority?
- How many backlinks have been added recently – is the site currently building links in an aggressive manner?
- Does the website promote itself through guest posts?
By far the most impressive tab for me is the Linking Domains. Even in the free and limited version of Open Site Explorer, I was able to find 100 domains that linked backed to my competitor's website. Most were online newspaper websites and I found the actual articles that talked about and linked back to the competitor.
This gave me ideas on what to do next. Because sometimes you don't have to reinvent the wheel – just follow in the footsteps of others before you and you'll do fine. In this case, try to get quality backlinks from those online newspapers.
Pricing: Open Site Explorer is part of Moz Pro, which starts at $99/month. Find out more on their Pricing page.
Since SEO is only part of the marketing mix, WooRank does a great job at providing additional info in that direction. It has a great mobile rendering engine, showing you your competitor's website on mobile and tablet. Social media gets tested, giving you data about facebook shares, +1s and whether or not the website is optimized for local search.
On the SEO front, WooRank provides easy to understand reports, even if they're quite technical at times. For example, besides the usual title, description and headings check, you get to see the domain name expiration date, the keyword frequency, the text/HTML ratio and info on the usage of IP Canonicalization.
It's easy for an app to get caught into its own loop of adding features and forgetting about design. This is not the case with WooRank – everything is organized neatly, with red and green indicators for bad/good. Overall, you do get a website grade, but it only measures the overall internet marketing effectiveness of that website. I would've enjoyed seeing a separate grade for each section – Search Engine Optimization in particular.
Pricing: $49/month doesn't limit you in regards to how many websites you want to review/analyze/spy on. $149/month gives you white-label PDF reports and 5 advanced reviews.
This third tool does come with a warning: Don't click on any of the banners or popups. It's one of those websites that provides great value, but hasn't quite figured out how to monetize it. So instead, it pushes all sorts of ads in your face. Once you see the pattern, you use BackLinkWatch for what it is: a pretty basic and accurate backlink checker for your competitors' websites.
Also, as a sidenote: never ever buy SEO services when they're marketed as: PR6 Link – $39/month or 160.000 SEO Services – Just $1.00.
Pricing: Free, but additional features require an Ahrefs account.
Available for Windows, MAC and Linux, Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool & Crawler Software is a free SEO application that quickly crawls a website. It's meant to be used from an onsite perspective. The best part? You don't have to prove it's your website, so it's perfect to use it on your competitors.
Even though the interface isn't the most polished, it gets the job done, checking:
- Meta descriptions
- Anchor Text
- H1, H2 and H3 tags
- Images alt
- and many more technical elements
Pricing: Free, but you can only crawl a maximum of 500 URI. For about $180/year there's no crawl limit and you can search for anything in the source code of a website.
Sometimes a tool comes along and you start asking yourself: “How in the world is this free?”. Follow is that kind of tool – it provides an incredible amount of value. As opposed to previous entries, where free meant the account was limited, Follow takes a different (and more interesting approach).
You do get most of the data and there's not much of a limit in place. If you want to get access to more data and features, simply invite a friend to create a free account and you both get the bonuses.
Follow pulls in information from other services and you get to see:
- Monthly Visits estimates
- Traffic Sources
- Top Google Keywords
- Top Google Competitors
- Top Text and Display Ads
- Latest Web Mentions
- and much much more
Pricing: Starts from free with 50%-80% of the Overview Data. $19/month gives you 100% of that data and you can follow up to 20 websites for changes. The free plan was more than enough for me, but I can see why getting more information is useful and the affordable price makes Follow even more appealing.
It powers part of the Follow app, so I couldn't ignore Similar Web on this list. Monthly Visits, Traffic Sources, Engagement (data about time on site, bounce rate and page views), Subdomains, Geography of users, Keywords (both Organic and Paid), Social Traffic – it's all neatly arranged in sections.
Where Similar Web excels is its clean, minimalistic design, combined with the slew of useful SEO features. I also enjoy taking a look at the Referrals section – what websites drove traffic to that competitor and where did the visitors go after they left it.
Not to mention one unique benefit of using Similar Web – besides websites, it can also analyze mobile apps. Something that I haven't seen in any traditional, large-scale SEO packs, but that's one thing looking towards the future of content consumption.
Pricing: You can start using the basic reports for free, but you see limited data. $175/month and you receive all the information, if you select one full year. $307/month, with a year-long commitment, gets you both website and mobile app analysis.
One of the most mentioned SEO tools out there is also the one with probably the worst interfaces I've ever seen. If you manage to get past that, you'll get rather accurate information about referring domains, backlinks, anchor text and keywords. Being a dedicated backlink checker, Majestic SEO uses a proprietary crawler, allowing it to have more data available for you, the user.
The chart I'm most impressed by is the Backlink History Chart. Over the last period of time you can take a look at how many backlinks have been built. It gives you an overview of the Search Engine Optimization plan of your competitor's website. If he's building links like crazy, it's time to get moving in the same direction.
Pricing: The free plan is severely limited, so you might think about opting for the cheapest paid option, which is $79/month. Not the most affordable option on the list, but Majestic SEO is up there with Moz Open Site Explorer, when it comes to accuracy and reputation.
All in one tools are great, because you don't need to purchase or use anything else. You need to run a site audit? It's here. Rank tracking? Sure. Keyword analysis? Definitely.
SEOProfiler takes the place of the now semi-dead WebMeUp (just a backlink checker now, but it used to be an all-in-one SEO toolkit).
Most tools on this list are free to use, but some offer more features than others. You can create multiple accounts in order to get additional reports, for example. But if you're only using it for personal use, to spy on 3-5 websites, you should be fine.
Neatly organized into categories, with a black-white-grey flat look, SEOProfiler provides free data, where most other SEO tools would charge for. Nice to see a clean-looking interface, with useful features, with a price that doesn't break the bank.
Pricing: $32/month with the yearly plan means you can audit up to 20.000 pages, track 500 keywords across Google, Bing and Yahoo and analyze up to 10.000 backlinks per website.
What about you? Leave us a comment with your favorite free SEO tools below!