11 Services You Need In Order to Spy On the Competition

top secretI’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

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

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.

Moat

Keyword Spy

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.

Keyword Spy

SEMRush

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

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.

SpyFu

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.

open site explorer

 

Compete

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.

Compete

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

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

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.

Social Mention

Fanpage Karma

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

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.

Seven Secrets Twitter Gurus Already Know

twitter

While I know I should be much more involved with Twitter, given the fact that I spend so much time writing about SEO and Internet Marketing. However, I admit that I don’t really know nearly as much as I ought to know about how to make it work for me. That’s why I decided to start doing some research on what it would take to become of the Twitter power users we all read so much about.

I looked through several different articles on what makes for a Twitter Guru and have tried to distill the knowledge I’ve learned here. Whether it works or not – well ask me in a few months and we’ll see where I’m at in my Twitter experiment by then.

Remember – You Are Having A Conversation

Twitter, more so than most other social networks is all about having a conversation, almost in real time with people all over the world. I think that may well be why they limit it to 140 characters – the idea is to keep your answers short and snappy, almost as if you were chatting in an online chat room with people from all over the world.

If you think of Twitter in this way then you begin to understand exactly what it takes to be a success on Twitter – people are looking to have a real conversation and not simply to put some thought out there to have it live or die based on the herd. So instead of spending hours crafting a pithy tweet, just dive in and find people you find interesting. Then respond to the people you’ve found and try to engage them in conversation.

Remember -- Twitter is basically a conversation

Remember — Twitter is basically a conversation

Is it hard? Sure it is. Then again, it’s no different from working a room at a party where you want to get to know some new people. You strike up conversations with people you find there and try to see if you have something in common. The advantage of course is that here, you already know what their most recent thoughts actually are about.

Be a Content Creator

The other side of all of this is of course that if you are always commenting on what other people have to say, you’re unlikely to actually attract lots of followers. You do want to create plenty of original content but again, you want to keep it timely. Remember – Twitter is basically like a gigantic chat room filled with people from all over the world so you want to chat about things happening now, not what happened ten years ago.

You can do this by keeping an eye on various news feeds and seeing what’s happening in your particular area of interest. When you see a news item which you think would appeal to those whom you want to reach out, tweet about it. Don’t spend too long thinking about it. Again, think of Twitter as being kind of like a chat room instead of a place to share well thought out and crafted blog posts. It should be spontaneous and free.

Use a Tracking Service

There are any number of different Twitter tracking services available which will allow you to keep track of particular hash tags and or of trending topics. These things can give you up to the second information on what the Twitterverse is discussing right now so that you can comment on whatever is hot.

Of course, you also want to try to initiate conversations (which is why I said above that you want to initiate content) but you can definitely focus on what’s going on now in order to push out some tweets and get into interesting conversations.

Speaking of Outside Services…

When discussing such outside services by the way, it’s useful to remember that there are a great many of them that will allow you to schedule tweets to be sent out. While I don’t recommend that these kinds of tweets be your only original content on Twitter, they do have their place, especially if you are tweeting for your business.

In essence, you want to put together a series of tweets which have some useful content to them and which will appeal to the readers of your feed. This is the one and only time by the way when it does pay to take your time and think carefully about crafting the perfect pithy tweet and making sure that what you write will resonate with the Twitterverse.

Speaking of Thinking Carefully…

Okay, now that we’re on the subject of thinking carefully, while it does seem that Twitter is the sort of place where you want to get your thoughts out quickly and avoid the whole overthinking thing, a bit of thought can go a long way. There have been any number of different Twittergate scandals of late where someone famous tweeted something really stupid and then had to backtrack on what they said.

Dr. Phil Twitter Faux Pas

Found this one on Starpulse.com. If it’s real (I have my doubts), all I can say is wow — big fail Dr. Phil.

If you are about to say something that you know is likely to come across as controversial, maybe it’s time to take a step back and remember that nothing really disappears on the Internet. Ultimately, once you put it out there, even if you delete the tweet, it is likely that you will find it coming back to haunt you if you had an intemperate moment at some point. So don’t think too much but do put a bit of thought into what you’re writing before you say something you’ll regret later.

Be a Person

I’ve mentioned this more times than I care to count but it still bears repeating because people always seem to forget about it when they’re trying to create their online personalities, especially for a business. You need to be a person in any kind of social media, not a corporation. With all due respect to Mitt Romney, corporations are not people too and they shouldn’t be thought of as such.

This means that when responding to people, especially on Twitter (which as I said is kind of like a giant chat room) you should try to sound like you are responding as a real human being and not as a corporate giant trying to play at getting into the interwebs. In essence, this means that you make connections with individuals and actually pay attention to what they’re saying.

Or to put it another way, as I told an ex of mine who insisted on discussing anything but what I was talking about, talk to me, not at me.

Don’t Be Afraid to Follow People Back

I know that there is this thing on Twitter where you are only truly a “guru” if you have many more followers than people you are following. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to refrain from following people back who are interesting. Don’t feel you need to do it as a courtesy to anyone who happens to follow you – especially since there are still a great many bots on Twitter. However, do follow back real people who are trying to engage in a conversation with you.

Bottom Line

Act like you want other people to act towards you on Twitter and think of it as a giant, global conversation and you’ll find that before long you too can claim the mantle of being a Twitter Guru.

Do You Know the 10 Secrets of High Converting Headlines?

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If you were to look for a way to increase the conversion rates that you get from your website without putting in a lot of extra time to do it, one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck would be to improve your headlines.

I’ve written about this in passing in the past but it’s time to do a post exclusively about making headlines that pop because this is one of the most important skills you can master for online marketing and yes, SEO. The fact is that writing good headlines is an art form. The headlines need to be short enough to be read in a second or two but descriptive enough to grab people’s attention when they see it.

A good example of this was when I was interviewed for a job a few years back and I mentioned that as a professional writer; I estimated (at the time) that I’d written something close to a million words in my career. By now, it’s probably closer to a million and a half since I charge much more for my work now than I first did so that I don’t need to write the equivalent of a full length novel each month to make a living.

Anyway, I was asked on the spot to come up with a headline that would capture this idea. I thought for just a few moments and said, “A Million Words.” No, that doesn’t describe what my article would be about. However, it captures the imagination, makes people curious – what about a million words? Why is this important? In other words, headlines are not meant to convey an entire idea. They’re meant to entice someone to read the rest of your copy.

Here are ten ways to make your headlines pop and to get people excited about reading the rest of what you have to say.

A Headline about More Headlines

This is a play on words. This article is indeed about headlines and so the headline above is about, well, headlines. However, by the above subheading, I refer to lists. For whatever reason, people love lists and they seem to resonate very well with an online audience. Perhaps it’s because lists allow your customers to quickly glance through, see your subheadings and then only look at what they like.

Either way, making a headline which promises a list of subheadlines is a good way to grab people’s attention (hey, it must have worked – you’re reading this article, right?). Of course, there are lists and there are lists. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the lists that just have one line explaining them. I like to be able to see additional content to sink my teeth into if I find an idea interesting.

Also, I’ve found that certain numbers work best for lists. For some reason, odd numbers seem to be popular – 3 ways to do this, 5 ways to do this, etc. However, the other thing that’s popular is 10 or multiples of 10, especially when you get past the number 9. I don’t really know why this is but it’s true. Oddly though, I do find that the 25 multiple is also popular.

However, for some reason, people don’t like 100 as a number for a list. Lists seem to be more popular when they go to 101. I guess it’s because 100 feels like a “full” number to us and when we say 101, we’re going beyond the full measure so to speak. Either way, this is powerful stuff and ideally should be used for building your list based articles.

Speaking of Subheadings…

Regardless of whether or not you use the list technique when creating your initial headline, subheadings are a vitally important part of building your article and getting your customer’s attention to be focused on whatever it is that you have for sale. The reason is simple: we live in the age of sound bites and Twitter.

People today by and large are not great readers. This means that I know that the vast majority of you out there will never read all 2,000+ words of this article. I know – it’s a really long article which is intended to convey a great deal of information. However, I do know that you are likely at least skimming the article and picking out a few good and useful nuggets of information from it here and there.

You can do this because I’ve included subheadings throughout this article and indeed, I do this with every article I write. It simply makes sense because most people reading online tend to skim rather than reading a long form article (personally, I think it’s a shame that the art of reading seems to be dying but that’s a rant for another day). Do yourself a favor then and never, ever ignore your subheadings.

Be Useful

I’ve said this time and time again and it’s still true today. Nobody cares even a little bit about how wonderful you think you are. It doesn’t matter to them. All they care about is how much you can help them with a problem. As an online marketer, you my friend are in the solution selling business. This means that your headlines need to purport to sell a solution to your customers.

Think about it – I could write an article with the headline: Sophisticated Word Processor with Lots of Functions and it would probably get a few looks, mostly from people like me, who are tech geeks and who like to see such things. However, the average person is going to give it a pass because you haven’t solved a problem for them.

Consider the very same article but now I’ve titled it, “Get More Done in Less Time with Sophisticated New Word Processor.” I’ve told you the same thing basically – it’s a sophisticated new word processor which can potentially help you with lots of cool features. However, I’ve now solved a problem for you. Your problem is how to do more in less time (isn’t that everyone’s problem after all? Unless of course you are a member of Congress, in which case it seems your job is to do as little as possible while wasting as much time as possible).

Here's a great example of a "be useful" headline. it combines a list with useful ideas.

Here’s a great example of a “be useful” headline. it combines a list with useful ideas which everyone is likely to appreciate.

You could even combine this with the list idea above to make your headline into: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time with New Word Processor. Same ideas but now I’m enticing you both with a solution and with a list.

Give Your Customers an Out

I’ve written in the past about how important it is to have a money back guarantee included with your products. The vast majority of your customers will never bother to use it but they like to know it’s there. It’s a psychological thing which is basically intended to ensure that you never have to worry about being taken for a sucker, even though you are unlikely to use it.

However, even better than offering your customers an out somewhere in your copy is offering them an out somewhere in your headline. Again, your job with a headline is to entice your customers to read more, not to answer all their questions.

Don’t Be a Jerk

Back in the early days of the Internet, SEO was still in its infancy and really didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about the sophisticated techniques we have to use today in order to get ranked. Instead, people would just base their ability to get ranked on the keywords they’d stuff into their meta tags. Today, the keyword meta tag is largely ignored.

The reason the keyword tag fell into disuse is that unscrupulous people, especially porn site operators, were trying to use these things to build an audience for their stuff even though the people visiting did so under false pretenses. In essence, they’d stuff their keyword tags with common search terms such as office supplies in the hope of enticing a few people to drop in and look at the porn even though they hadn’t been searching for it.

Today, those techniques don’t work very well. However, it is still possible to be somewhat sophisticated about getting customers to look at your content even if what you wrote about isn’t really what you claimed. You can do this with a misleading headline. The catch is of course that while your headline may grab some additional eyeballs, it will hurt you in the long run because people are that much less likely to trust what you have to say when they see you deceived them.

Compare Yourself to the Competition

Ever notice how various paper towel companies often compare themselves to the “leading brand” of paper towels and show you how their stuff is capable of picking up 50% more liquid than the competition? There’s a reason for their doing this – competition sells products. People may already know the brand that’s well known and so by creating a comparison with that brand, you can then set yourself apart.

comparison headline

For example, you might create a headline which says something like, 5 Reasons You’ll Get More Done with Our Word Processor as Opposed to MS Word. This uses several different headline techniques including the list technique, solving a problem and creating a comparison with something most people already know about. Of course, you do need to justify your comparison or you’ll run the risk of hurting sales instead of helping them.

“The Best SEO Service I’ve Ever Tried, Bar None”

The above could easily be a headline for our very own services here at Quantum SEO Labs. It’s basically just an example of a testimonial one of our customers may have given us (to be honest, I don’t know for sure since I don’t handle that side of things here but I would assume Yasir has gotten a few such kind e-mails in the past).

testimonial headline

The reason it works as a headline is because it’s a testimonial and it’s something that makes the point without the customer feeling as if he or she is simply being asked to believe you without getting an proof of it.

After all, it’s a testimonial and presumably, you can quote a customer of yours who has said this as the first line of your copy. For that matter, you can even make the name of the person who gave the testimonial part of your headline by putting their name right below it in smaller letters.

Create a Series of Headlines

No, this is not another way of saying that you should have subheadings in your articles. Instead, this is basically a way to create a series of articles which are linked to each other rather than simply being stand-alone articles. In essence, the idea here is to use the other ideas I mentioned above and use them for a series of related articles. This allows you to keep your customers on your site longer, thereby helping you to gain additional sales.

The way this works is to create an initial headline which functions to grab people’s attention and then to have another headline which comes at the end saying, “Next…” It’s kind of like where your blog has (or at least should have) a related posts plugin but done where it’s not just related but the articles actually are meant to be read in sequence.

Challenge Your Customers

This one is really tricky to pull off but it actually works really well if you use it correctly. In essence, the idea is to play on people’s curiosity about something, thereby getting them to want to read further. The headline I used above is an example of this, where I tell you about the 10 secrets of high converting headlines.

By the way, if you phrase this is as a question instead of simply stating what it will be, you may well grab additional readers. Which is why my headline reads, “Do You Know the 10 Secrets of High Converting Headlines?” This should theoretically grab additional eyeballs for this article because it challenges your customers to see if they do indeed know what these things are.

Size Matters

Finally, when crafting headlines, keep them short and snappy. I know that some people think they need to convey a whole lot of information in their headlines but frankly, less really is more when creating a headline. You want to make your headline something that literally takes no more than a second or two to read and understand. If it takes too long to read or understand, you’ve just lost a significant portion of your audience, who have since moved on to read something else.

You aren't writing a New York Times headline so you don't need to be super descriptive.

You aren’t writing a New York Times headline so you don’t need to be super descriptive when you write it. Keep it short and simple.

Also, as I’ve pointed out in the past, 70 characters including spaces should be the absolute limit for your headlines because that’s how much space Google will give you to get your point across in its search results. Anything more and you end up with ellipses, which is pretty much never a good thing in a headline.

The one exception to that rule is when you are putting up a quote, especially a famous quote as your headline. In those cases, you can use an ellipses as part of the headline but don’t do it too often because it can be a bit trite (after all, there are only so many times that you’d respond to a headline which says “All good things…”).