I’ve always been a fan of shows that involve lots of intrigue and espionage. I love Scandal, The Blacklist and Intelligence. I’m also a huge fan of James Bond (well, James Bond before they decided to change the series and do the whole reboot thing). However, in this case, I’m not advocating that you get yourself down to Q branch or hire Olivia Pope to do something down and dirty for you.
No, these services are all perfectly legal and they do what they say they’ll do – let you see what your online competition is up to so that you can steal their best ideas (remember that while you cannot copy content from someone else legally, ideas cannot be copyrighted, only patented and the only if they offer something unique, which is why a good idea for advertising can usually be mimicked legally).
Here are eleven tools that you need to know about:
AdBeat – Okay, first the bad news, AdBeat is pretty pricey. The introductory version of the service costs $99 a month and it only monitors Google ads. The more robust professional version is $199 but it lets you monitor all kinds of ads that your competitors are using. You’ll get reports which tell you which ads are getting the most clicks for them and which ones are duds (thus you can then tailor your own advertising to match your competition).
There is a thirty day money back guarantee available from AdBeat so you can give it a shot and see what you think before you commit to plunking down a hefty chunk of money but to my mind, if you have the budget available, this is a really incredible service. By the way, once you try it, if you’re sure you like the service, you can get a nice discount by prepaying for a year of service.
Moat – This one won’t give you the kind of detailed, granular information that you can get from AdBeat which is why I put it second. However, if you are on a small budget, Moat is a free service that can provide at least some of the same benefits. In essence, you enter a brand name and it can then show you the most recent ads for that particular brand name.
The good news as I said is that it’s free and it can give you some basic knowledge of what your competitors are doing to advertise their services (see below where I tried a search for Microsoft). The bad news is that you won’t get detailed information on clicks, which ad networks they’re using or any of that other good stuff.
Keyword Spy – This is another paid service which is somewhat pricey. The basic service is $89 per month and the more advanced version is $139 per month. However, for that money you can get a wealth of information on your competition. Basically, Keyword Spy will tell you how much the competition is spending on their advertising, where they’re spending it and which keywords are getting them the most clicks.
The service will let you do a try out on a domain of your choosing (see below where I tried Amazon.com). You can also put in keywords and see some general information on what particular keywords are costing your competition as well as suggestions for additional keywords however the details are not available unless you sign up for the service. Still, it’s a great idea to check this service even if you don’t pay for it just to get a general idea of what your competition is doing.
SEMRush – This is an old but good one that I’ve written about in the past. The good news is that the basic service is free and functional. I’ve used it myself to uncover details about keywords that competitors might be using. However, if you want to add even more keyword search goodness, they do offer a paid version which starts at $69.95 per month.
The big difference is in the amount of information you can lay your hands on. The basic service (which by the way you won’t find mentioned anywhere on their site – they seem to be trying to push the paid options. However, it is definitely still available) gives you 3,000 queries a day and 10,000 results per query. By comparison, the basic, free version gives you 10 queries per day and 10 results. In other words, you can make use of it with the free option but the paid option is the one that a pro really needs.
SpyFu – These guys offer you an interesting data set. In essence, they promise to tell you which keywords your competitors ranked for organically as well as which ones they were using for AdWords and other kinds of advertising campaigns. They also provide this insight six years into the past for each of the various competitors you ask about.
Like most of the services in this roundup, they’re not free. The service is $79 per month. There is a more limited free option available but it seems to be more of a free trial than a long term option that you can use on a limited basis.
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer – This is another one that I’ve written about indeed used quite a bit over the past few years. Ever since Yahoo shut down their own service, this is the most popular option for checking on backlinks. You can see where your own site is linked from as well as where your competition gets their links from.
Open Site Explorer also provides you with some additional information in the form of their own Moz rankings, which are a rough approximation of what the PageRank for particular pages and domains would be though it tends to be a bit more granular. The basic service is offered for free with a limited number of searches each day. If you need more or you want additional information, it does cost $99 per month.
Compete – In essence, Compete tells you where you or your competitors are in the online world. The service can offer you comprehensive analytics similar to what you might see on Google Analytics but you get the information for other domains, not just your own. The service seems like it has potential to be very useful in comparing yourself to the competition to see how difficult it might be to rank against them.
I tried their free service to see what I could get on Facebook and you can see the results of my search below. The more advanced pro service offers a lot more information and lets you export the information that you get from them. They are expensive though. The basic paid plan is $199 per month and their enterprise level plan runs $649 per month.
Google Alerts – I know, you have probably heard of this service but I’m mentioning it anyway for two reasons. First and foremost, the service is completely free unlike most of the other services that I’ve profiled for this roundup. I thought I should offer at least one useful tool which doesn’t have a paid “pro” option.
Second and more importantly, most of us use Google Alerts to search for articles about specific keywords. However, you can just as easily use the service to search for information about your competitors by putting their names into the service, thus allowing you to keep close tabs on what they’re doing without the need to constantly visit their websites.
Social Mention – Okay, so I’m actually including two different free services, this one you may not have heard of. In essence, Social mention will find any mention of your brand name on social media. This is incredibly useful, especially if one of your customers is trying to reach out and discuss a problem or merely mentioning that they liked your service.
Social Mention also provides you with some analytics, including telling you how often a mention is made for your company (or for that matter for the competition) and what kind of “reach” they have. It doesn’t really explain how they calculate this. I can see it being useful in the sense of spying on the competition by using it to find others who talk about your competition so you can contact them and offer a free review copy of whatever product you have for sale as well.
Fanpage Karma is a pretty awesome service which allows you to see how your competition’s Facebook pages are doing. It can actually provide you with insights into how many people are visiting the competition’s Facebook page as well as how much growth they’re seeing and how often they get people posting on the pages.
The service does cost 49 euros for the basic service but there is a free 14 day trial available. There is also a “pro” option which will let you spy on not just your competitor’s Facebook pages but also on their Twitter account so that you can get complete analytics. That option is 99 euros a month.
Built With – Last but certainly not least is Built With. This service is great for people who develop and manage major websites. The service will let you see what other people are using to build their own websites, including the various pieces of technology behind them.
There are a number of cheaper options I’ve seen over the years, however, those mostly let you see which WordPress plugins are being used. BuiltWith does much more but it is pricey – the service is $299 per month so it’s mostly going to appeal to those running major sites or doing website development on a professional level. They do offer a free trial and according to their website, there is some kind of free option available as well but I can’t find any details on what the free option will do for you.