Use these nine tools to find out where your competitors get their traffic, what keywords they’re targeting, when they send their marketing emails, and much more.
Have you ever wondered what channels your competitors use to drive traffic, what keywords they target with their content, or when they send their marketing emails? If so, you may want to invest some of your marketing budget into these tools that help you spy on your competitors.
Using the right tool to spy on your competitors provides valuable insights that can help you develop, refine, and optimise your own marketing strategies. These tools give you the data you need to take advantage of what’s working for competitors, target channels and keywords they’re ignoring, and/or stand out from the crowd by surprising your audience with something original.
Use Ahrefs to spy on competitors’ keywords and backlinks.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool that gives you the resources you need not only to form your own SEO strategy, but also to spy on the SEO efforts of your competitors. Just type a competitor’s website address into Aherfs’ Site Explorer tool to get several key pieces of information:
- Backlink Profile: Get a list of domains that link to your competitors’ websites.
- Keywords: See which keywords drive the most organic traffic to competitors’ sites.
- Top Pages: Find out which pages of your competitors’ site drive the most organic traffic.
- Top Ads: View competitors’ top-performing AdWords ads and see traffic volume.
- Top Paid Keywords: See which keywords your competitors are targeting with paid ads.
Then, you can drill down into each of these categories for much more detail. For example, exploring your competitors’ backlink profiles gives you key pieces of data like the domain rank of referring domains, estimated monthly search traffic from the referring domain, and whether each link is dofollow or nofollow.
Or open the full organic search report to see all of your competitors’ top-ranked pages, the top-ranking keyword for each page, estimated monthly organic traffic volume for that keyword, and the organic search position for the page’s top keyword.
Another helpful feature in Ahrefs is its Content Explorer. Just enter a competitor’s homepage URL to get a list of its most-shared content: it tracks shares on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
If you can only afford to invest in one tool for spying on your competitors, Ahrefs’ many features make it a great option to consider.
Ahrefs Price: $7 USD for a seven-day trial, then from $99 USD per month.
Use SimilarWeb to spy on competitors’ traffic sources.
SimilarWeb provides you with a comprehensive overview of your competitors’ traffic sources. Simply enter a competitor’s homepage URL to see what percentage of their traffic comes from direct visits, referrals, organic search, social media, email, and display advertising.
Drill down into any of those categories to get more details. For example, drilling down into referring sites data shows you which referring domains send the most traffic to the site. Drilling down into social media data shows you which social media channels—including Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and WhatsApp—send the most traffic to your competitors.
SimilarWeb also provides data that’s helpful in competitive research, such as which countries most of a competitor’s traffic comes from, what the most popular interests are for your competitors’ audiences, and what other websites your competitors’ audiences visit most often.
SimilarWeb Price: Free for up to five results per metric; call for premium pricing.
Use BuzzSumo to spy on competitors’ social media campaigns.
BuzzSumo provides many features that help you track competitors’ performance on social media. First, enter the URL of a competitor’s homepage into BuzzSumo’s Content Analyzer tool, and it produces a long list of all of that competitor’s most-shared content, including counts for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit.
Next, find out which influencers have shared your competitors’ content using BuzzSumo’s Influencers tool. Again, just enter a URL for any of your competitor’s landing pages or blog posts, and get a list of people who shared that URL, along with metrics like domain authority, number of followers, and retweet and reply ratios.
Finally, you can also set up competitor content alerts in BuzzSumo to get notifications for competitor brand mentions or new and breakout content. Or if you’re curious to know how your own content performs on social compared to your competitors, use BuzzSumo’s domain comparison reports to see how you stack up against your competition.
BuzzSumo Price: Free seven-day trial, then from $79 USD per month.
Use Feedly to spy on your competitors’ blogs.
Want to stay on top of what your competitors are publishing on their blogs? Feedly has just what you need. It’s an RSS reader that catalogues all new content published on any blogs you follow. Just enter in the blog URLs of all of your competitors to follow them in Feedly, and you’ll get a real-time, chronological list of all of the new posts your competitors have published.
Feedly Price: Free for following up to 100 sources; from $5.41 USD per month for following unlimited sources.
Use Brand24 to spy on your competitors’ web mentions.
Brand24 is designed to make it easy for businesses to track mentions of their company names, products, and services published anywhere on the web. Just type in keywords for your brand name, company executive names, and/or products, and Brand24 populates a list of all online resources where those keywords have been mentioned recently.
Additionally, Brand24 provides a sentiment filter that lets you see mentions with either positive or negative sentiment, and offers an influencer filter that lets you see posts by people with specific influence scores. You can review mentions in its web app, download them in various formats, or get an email digest at a specified frequency.
And while all of these tools are designed to help companies manage their own brand reputations online, they can be used in all of the same ways to spy on your competitors. Simply create an alert to follow mentions of key competitor terms to see what sites and social media users are mentioning your competitors—as well as the sentiment behind those mentions.
Brand24 Price: Free for 14 days, then from $49 USD per month.
Use Facebook’s Info and Ads feature to spy on competitors’ Facebook campaigns.
Want to see what type of ads your competitors are currently running on Facebook? Look no further than Facebook itself. In mid-2018, the company added a new feature designed to bring more transparency to advertising on the platform: Info and Ads.
To see what ads your competitors are currently running on Facebook, you just need to visit their Facebook pages, click the ellipsis dropdown in the page’s menu bar, and select “Info and Ads.”
Facebook then opens a new page that displays all of the ads the company is currently running. Change the location to see ads running in different countries, or view data points like when the page was first created, if the name of the page has ever changed, and the primary locations of the people who manage the page.
The feature doesn’t show all of the ads a company has ever run, but if you just want to see what Facebook ads your competitors are running right now—or to collect ad data over time—it’s a great, free option.
Facebook Info and Ads Price: Free
Use AdBeat to spy on competitors’ ads.
If you want to know anything about your competitors’ advertising campaigns, you can find the information you’re looking for with AdBeat. Just type in the URL of a competitor’s homepage, and AdBeat returns a wealth of information on that company’s online advertising, including:
- What percentage of the ads they run are direct, native, or programmatic.
- What size creatives they use most/least often.
- What categories of publishers (news, technology, etc.) they run ads through.
- A list of the most recent publishers they’ve run ads with.
AdBeat collects screenshots of ads run by the company, so you can see examples of the exact ads your competitors are running now—or have run in the past. You can also view screenshots of the landing pages that your competitors’ ads are pointing to directly within AdBeat.
AdBeat Price: From $249 USD per month.
Use BuiltWith to spy on competitors’ websites.
Need to know what technologies your competitors are using on their websites? BuiltWith provides all of the data you need. Just type in a competitor’s homepage URL, and you’ll get a long list of each technology their site uses, including analytics platforms, CMSs, widgets and plugins, advertising platforms, email hosting providers, payment processors, and more.
This data can be really helpful if you like an aspect of a competitor’s website—say a chatbot, customer service tool, or WordPress plugin—and want to use the same technology on your site.
BuiltWith Price: Free for individual site lookups.
Use MailCharts to spy on competitors’ email marketing campaigns.
You could subscribe to your competitors’ newsletters, wait for them to arrive, and then review them for actionable insights. But MailCharts simplifies the process of getting that information.
Find your competitors in MailCharts’ list of companies (or request for your competitors to be added if they’re not there already). Then, click into your competitors’ profiles to see valuable information like copies of their latest marketing emails, when they’re most likely to send their emails, the average character count for their email subject lines, and more.
MailCharts also provides tools and examples that are helpful for building your own email campaigns. Explore its “Lists” section to see curated lists of examples for things like account confirmation emails, birthday emails, cart abandonment emails, and onboarding drips.
MailCharts Price: Free for tracking three companies and two weeks of data; from $99 USD per month for tracking up to 10 companies and unlimited historical data.
How to Choose the Right Tool for Spying on Your Competitors
Few marketing departments have the budget to invest in all of these tools, so how do you choose the right one for your needs?
If you need an all-purpose solution, invest in a tool like Ahrefs, SEMrush, or SimilarWeb. These three tools all have tons of features that will provide you with more insights than you could act on in a year. Ahrefs, for example, helps you gather data on competitors’ traffic sources, backlinks, targeted keywords, AdWords ads, and most-shared content.
Otherwise, choose the tool that covers the channel that’s your highest priority for the year. For example, if you plan to focus most on email marketing this year, look into MailCharts, Owletter, or Email Insights. If you’re primarily focused on social media, elect to invest in BuzzSumo, Sprout Social, Quintly, or HootSuite.
One final option is to subscribe to each tool for a month or two at a time, schedule time to conduct the necessary research during that period, then cancel at the end and subscribe to a different tool. While this method is more labour-intensive and time-consuming, it gives you a way to gather the greatest number of insights for the least amount of expended budget.