Our natural drive is to innovate — to create something unique and original.
Yet, some of the greatest innovations in history came about as the result of emulating others. From technology to art, everything is a remix. As Picasso put it: "Good artists copy, great artists steal."
When it comes to the art and science of digital marketing, the same holds true. We need inspiration from others to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding. After that, things get interesting.
Rather than hope for creative genius to strike and guide your marketing strategy, look to your competitors as sources of knowledge and inspiration. An in-depth understanding of the key strategies being used by your top-performing competitors can provide you with the insight and knowledge you need to gain a competitive edge.
Spying on your competitors isn't about undermining their success. Rather, it's a way to gain insight and understand what's working, so that you can model their success.
What works for them may work for you. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, it's about modeling the leaders in your field so that you can emulate or even surpass their results.
In this post, I round up the top competitor analysis tools available to marketers today. Many of these tools have multiple functions, and they’re grouped based on their primary function and benefit to digital marketers.
The pricing for each competitive analysis tool is also included, showing the lowest pricing plan. The list includes free tools, freemium tools and paid enterprise tools. Many of them have free trials, and I recommend giving them a test before spending any money.
Whether you're a bootstrapped freelancer or corporate CMO, there's something here for everyone.
AD INTELLIGENCE TOOLS
Adbeat is an enterprise ad analytics tool that reveals the exact ads used by advertisers. There is also a split-test feature, letting you test your ads to find winning copy.
Adbeat works by taking data from 40+ data centers and hundreds of servers and turns that raw advertising data into competitive insights. By using up-to-date data from ad networks, publishers, and competing advertisers, you're able to get extremely granular with your media planning.
Adbeat was originally built for affiliate marketers but also works very well for advertisers, agencies, publishers, and ad networks. Any marketer looking to better understand which ads perform best in a given market (before spending money on media buys) will benefit from Adbeat's platform.
Owned by Oracle, Moat describes itself as brand intelligence and analytics for brands, publishers, and platforms. To deliver value to their customers, Moat claims to measure real-time Attention Analytics over 33 billion times per day.
Moat is divided into two core products:
- Moat Analytics: This SaaS is focused on tracking ad impressions and content views to help brands and publishers measure and drive attention across multiple platforms.
- Moat Pro: This is an enterprise marketing and ad intelligence platform for mobile, direct, and programmatic advertising.
In order to use Moat for competitor analysis, simply search for your competitor and the tool will show you their latest ad designs, as well as the publishers that display the ad. You can use this information to help you craft the creative and calls-to-action for your own ads, and also potentially find new sources of traffic.
Pathmatics is a marketing intelligence platform built for agencies, brands, and publishers that lets you see where your competitors' ads are served, their ad spend, impressions, and digital strategies.
Powered by Nielson’s digital ad intelligence and Kantar Media, the platform has digital advertising data for social, native, desktop display, mobile display, desktop video, and mobile video.
Many customers say this platform is user-friendly and easy to understand the competitive insights, even if you’re not a technical marketer.
WhatRunsWhere is a digital ad intelligence platform that lets you see where your competitors are advertising and what their ads look like. By seeing the top-performing creative in your niche, you can use this information to identify winning campaigns to guide your own ad strategy.
The platform also provides information on which traffic sources and networks your competitors are using, so that you know where to focus your efforts.
This ad intelligence software currently boasts access to data on 90k advertisers, 20k sites, 500 networks, and 60 million ads.
SEO COMPETITOR ANALYSIS TOOLS
While AgencyAnalytics is best known as a powerful all-in-one reporting platform, it also includes a full suite of SEO tools, one of which is built for competitive analysis.
This tool helps you understand how your clients stack up against the competition by identifying which keywords they’re ranking and how difficult they are to target. You can easily analyze SERPs and monitor rankings to find close competitors who appear in the top 10 positions for target keywords.
This tool also features more advanced insights such as Trust Flow & Citation Flow, both of which can be the deciding factor in whether your clients or their competition reach the top of search engines.
One of the main advantages of this tool is that after you’ve performed your competitor analysis, you can easily add those insights to an automated client report or dashboard in order to show your clients new opportunities for them to grow their business.
Moz's Link Explorer is a long-time favorite tool of internet marketers and is one of the most widely-used backlink checkers and website analysis tools online today.
The tool provides you with link metrics for any website including Page Authority and Domain Authority so you can research your competitors and determine if they’re worth targeting.
Link Explorer shows you a massive database of your competitors' links, helping you target those sites with your link building and content marketing campaigns. The platform claims to have data on 37 trillion links, 656 million domains, and 6 trillion pages.
Ahrefs is one of my favorite competitor analysis tools. Ahrefs comes with a full suite of competitive intelligence tools running on the database of 16 trillion backlinks and 3 trillion URLs.
The main Ahrefs’ tool to analyze competitors’ performance is called Site Explorer. With this tool, you get an in-depth look at the search traffic and backlink profile of any website or URL including both organic traffic and paid traffic.
Aside from analyzing each domain individually, you can also use their Rank Tracker tool, which allows you to monitor your rankings over time and chart performance against your competitors.
Ahrefs Content Explorer has similar functionality to Buzzsumo. Input a URL or keyword, and it returns the top content for that keyword, ranked by social shares, organic traffic, referring domains, and Domain Rating (Ahrefs' equivalent of Domain Authority).
Similar to Ahrefs and Moz's Link Explorer, Majestic was originally a backlink checker that has slowly evolved into a full-stack marketing intelligence tool.
It's worth noting here, however, that the tool doesn't introduce any groundbreaking backlink or link-building features. When doing competitor analysis, I find that Majestic's "Top Backlinks" and "Anchor Text" reports are the most useful, both from an information perspective and also because of their simple and intuitive UI.
Multi-site backlink analysis is one feature that Majestic does better than the others. This allows you to take a group of your competitors' URLs (up to 150) and pull backlink data for all of them at once, which can dramatically accelerate link-building efforts for a particular keyword.
Performing competitor analysis is a crucial step before you decide to spend your time or money trying to rank for a particular keyword. It's important to analyze each of the top SERPs and decide whether a keyword is worth going after.
Long Tail Pro does all this for you, identifying the weak points in your competitors' keyword coverage, so you know exactly which keywords to target. To find out which keywords would make the most money just, enter your keyword or group of keywords and LTP returns a long list, ranked by profitability.
Long Tail Pro has been around for a long time, but it seems to keep getting better with age, thanks in part to a group of SEOs and developers who regularly update the software.
When it comes to competitive analysis, Monitor Backlinks is on par with the other tools mentioned here, providing a treasure trove of competitor data.
Monitor Backlinks allows users to sort their links by several filters, add tags, check backlinks index status in Google, and identify redirects and errors. Just as with Ahrefs, Majestic and Moz, Monitor Backlinks also provides details about anchor text distribution, and even includes a “keywords ranking tracker” for Google.
Unlike the "big three" backlink checkers, Monitor Backlinks does something unique by sending email alerts when your competitors get new links. This is an amazing feature for ensuring that your site or your client is included alongside mentions of competing brands. (For example, in roundups of "Competitor Analysis Tools".)
Netpeak Checker is a tool for SERP scraping and data aggregation from the top SEO services. It's a standalone software program that syncs with almost every known marketing analytics platform.
Netpeak gathers data from a long list of sites then displays it all in one dashboard. It's a great tool for marketers who want to look at the overall landscape of competition with a niche.
For example, you may find that a certain group of competitors has more Facebook comments than others. You could then inspect those sites to see what kind of social media campaigns they are running.
Website Grader is a HubSpot tool that gives you a quick snapshot of important website metrics, including performance, mobile, SEO, and security metrics.
Your site then gets an overall "grade" based on the cumulative score out of 100 for all the metrics.It's free to check one site, but to compare metrics requires a subscription to CMS Hub Professional. The website is a fun, lightweight tool for sending reports to clients.
KeywordDiscovery is a powerful keyword research tool that pulls from a database of 36 billion search queries from various search engines around the world.
By pulling data from every search engine, KeywordDiscovery finds keywords that other tools might miss. It goes one step further still, showing you which of those keywords drive the most traffic to your competitors.
For example, you can see that a competitor gets a large amount of traffic from the keyword "best seo tools," but not "seo tools." Knowing this, you can design content that targets the longer tail terms.
KeywordDiscovery does most of the heavy lifting, too. The tool will tell you exactly which terms you should target, based on a variety of traffic and competition metrics.
Serpstat is an all-in-one SEO platform that includes more than 20 tools, including one for competitor research.
The platform lets you automatically identify your top competitors, view side-by-side comparisons of a domain’s position in organic and paid search results, and discover your competitors’ pages with the highest visibility score.
The tool also enables you to research keywords and compare rankings for up to 200 domains at once with their Batch Analysis Tool.
CONTENT & TRAFFIC ANALYSIS TOOLS
Buzzsumo is every content marketer's dream. It's a powerful tool for spying on your competitors’ top content and modeling their content strategy.
Enter your keyword or competitor URL into the tool, and Buzzsumo will return a list of top content by share count and links.
You can see, for example, which of a competitors’ pages have the most shares. Knowing that content headline and format performed well, you can use that information to create something better.
Then, promote your content to the same people who shared your competitors’ piece and they'll likely share yours too (assuming it's unique and interesting content).
Buzzsumo comes with a set of helpful tracking tools. Set up content alerts and Buzzsumo will notify you whenever a competitors’ page gets a new share or link. You can then immediately reach out to the linker or sharer and request the same for your content.
Buzzsumo is one of my "must have" tools. To get the most mileage out of the tool, here's a tip: use Buzzsumo together with SEMrush. First, find the top content within your niche. Then, check SEMrush to see what keywords those pages rank for. Boom — now you have a juicy set of keywords to optimize for.
BuiltWith is a competitive intelligence tool that helps you spy on your competitors and even steal their customers.
Marketers can use the tool to identify which technology your competitors are using. You can see, for example, the exact WordPress theme and plugins used by a competitor.
Using BuiltWith's Competitor Comparison report, you can see some incredible data like who's using their products, and which technologies are growing within a particular region or demographic.
Most people know Alexa.com for its "Alexa ranking", which is a number that broadly explains how popular a website is compared to other sites around the world. If a site has a low Alexa ranking, then you know it's popular and gets a fair amount of traffic (the lower the ranking, the more popular the site).
As such, comparing various websites' Alexa ranking is a quick and easy way to see how they stack up against each other. That said, Alexa is much more than a single rating. The platform provides all sorts of data and a full suite of tools to help better understand web traffic and measure your site against competitors.
Regarding competitive intelligence tools, Alexa is probably the best at measuring traffic stats, showing views, bounce rate and all sorts of other goodies. It's like the "Google Analytics" of the entire internet. And like GA, you can find all sorts of valuable insights in the data to optimize your content marketing campaigns.
SimilarWeb has grown into one of the most powerful competitor analysis tools. It's a popular tool amongst major brands, providing crystal clear data and insight on a variety of important marketing metrics.
I use SimilarWeb to see where my competitors are getting their traffic. Social? Organic? Paid? SimilarWeb shows all traffic sources and includes changes over the past few months.
I then correlate traffic data to historical keyword rankings (also part of the tool), which helps me prioritize marketing campaigns.
If my main competitors rank well for a particular keyword around the same time they acquired a particular backlink, then I know that doing a guest post on the same site should get similar results.
MONITORING AND MENTIONS TOOLS
Google Alerts saves you the trouble of visiting the site to repeatedly perform the same search. Set up an alert and have the latest news about your competitors delivered to your inbox. It monitors news, blogs, video, discussions, and books and more.
With Alerts, you can monitor competitor brand and keyword mentions. For a simple tool, Alerts has a great reporting feature. Set up an alert one time and then receive real-time, daily or weekly email reports in your inbox.
Perfect for the budget-conscious marketer or small agency, Google Alerts are great for organizing competitive intel on a budget.
As social media continues to dominate our digital lives, social listening has become increasingly important for brands. Listening and partaking in the conversation about your brand can have amazing benefits (just as tuning out the conversation has dire consequences).
Talkwalker is like Google Alerts on steroids. Like Alerts, the tool monitors keywords and mentions, but it takes things to the next level and listens to digital conversations in more than 187 languages across 12 social networks.
To get started with Talkwalker (it's free) just add in your keywords, brand name, and your content and let Talkwalker handle the rest. The tool shows, in real-time, how people are talking about your brand. Are they excited? Afraid? Angry? Enthusiastic? With Talkwalker, you can map out the global emotional response (aka "sentiment") to your content.
The implications for competitive research are huge. For example, you could reach out to angry customers of a competitor with a special offer, effectively stealing large chunks of a market in a matter of minutes.
You could also see, for example, how well received your competitors' ads are by different demographics. A Talkwalker case study found that Americans respond better to visual ads on Facebook, whereas Europeans were more likely to click text-only ads.
Mention is a tool that enables brands and agencies to monitor the web. You can set up alerts based on keywords or hashtags to know exactly when other sites are talking about your competitors, including everything from simple text mentions to links to tweets.
If a website mentions a competitor (or their product), you may be able to reach out and get a link to your site, without your competitor ever knowing.
Similar to influencer marketing tools like Buzzstream and Ahrefs, Mention sorts brand mentions by influencer/site rating and authority, making it easy to prioritize the top link opportunities.
PAY PER CLICK (PPC) TOOLS
My life wouldn't be the same without SEMRush. It's the backbone of all my competitive analysis work. Consistently voted the #1 SEO and PPC competitor analysis app by internet marketers, SEMrush does it all.
It comes with a long list of features, ranging from keyword valuation to SEM insights. But you don’t need to learn them all to get a leg up on the competition. Know the basics and you'll be able to stay a step ahead of competitors both in organic and paid rankings.
SEMrush is useful for both SEO and PPC competitive intelligence, but particularly effective as a PPC tool. Many advertisers assume that their SEO competitors will also be their main PPC competitors. This is rarely the case. SEMrush shows your most relevant PPC competitors, and also, the appropriate keywords to bid on.
For each paid search competitor, SEMrush reveals their ad copy, average position, top PPC keywords, percentage of ad spend per keyword, and total traffic from each keyword. Armed with this information, you can adjust your PPC strategy accordingly.
SEMrush isn't limited to Google Ads — the tool also reports on Bing and Facebook PPC data. As more and more brands have flocked to Bing and Facebook for traffic, SEMrush's data becomes even more valuable.
The difference between success and failure in pay-per-click marketing generally comes down to one thing: keyword selection. Choose the right keywords, and you'll make a decent profit for you or your clients. Choose poorly and you'll be spinning your wheels, wasting time and money on keywords that don't convert.
To identify profitable keywords, use SpyFu. It's a competitive analytics tool specifically for PPC marketers, revealing brands' most profitable keywords (both pay per click and organic).
To uncover profitable keywords with SpyFu, enter each of your competitors’ domains and it tells you which keywords are making them the most money. Take a look at their ad copy and landing pages, then replicate their PPC strategies to get similar results.
Regarding pure PPC competitor analysis, SpyFu may have a slight leg up on SEMrush. Notably, SpyFu has no keyword export limits (SEMrush does) and includes up to 7 years of advertising history for each domain and keyword (versus one year of history for SEMrush).
Ultimately, it's a matter of personal preference. Both tools are great for spying on your competitors' PPC strategies.
Formerly called AdGooroo, Kantar is a multifunctional tool that includes, in my opinion, one of the best if not the best SEM intelligence tool available.
Their “Paid Search Intelligence” tool allows marketers to see their competitors’ top Google Ads and PLA strategies. Get data on how your competitors are spending their PPC budget, how well their ads are performing, which keywords they're using, their exact ad copy, and even the landing pages for each ad.
What's more, SEM Insight alerts you when a competitor changes their bidding strategy. This allows you to go after their weaknesses and take advantage of their strengths.
It's no surprise why medium to large agencies love Kantar. Using Paid Search Intelligence, they can quickly bring a client up to speed with the top advertisers in the client's industry.
The Search Monitor does it all: brand monitoring, trademark use, and competitive analysis across a variety of traffic channels (paid, organic, local, social and mobile). It even shows how you stack up against competitors in Google Shopping.
Built for medium to large digital marketing agencies, it belongs in the same category as Compete and SimilarWeb.
The Search Monitor is perhaps the best tool for protecting your brand with PPC bidding strategies. Using a proprietary statistic called "Knock-Out", advertisers can see when and how brands are being "hijacked" by their affiliates.
Like the other PPC CI tools above, the Search Metrics Paid Competitor Comparison Tool shows competitor keywords, ad copy, and ad spend.
However, it sets itself apart with a unique dashboard that shows both SEO and PPC data, side by side. This allows a dual analysis of keyword data, with both SEO informing PPC strategies and vice versa.
With the SearchMetrics dashboard, you can easily compare organic and paid keyword rankings side by side for thousands of competitors, identifying gaps in your competitors' marketing campaigns. With the powers of SEO and PPC combined, you can quickly see the profitable opportunities and use them to your advantage.
SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS
Most brands have enough on their plate between publishing content and interacting with their audience across all the social networks. Who has time to keep track of the competition? Sprout Social does.
Sprout Social is a social analytics platform that aggregates data from all major social networks and organizes it in easy-to-understand reports. The platform includes tools for analytics, engagement, publishing and social listening.
Every brand, large or small, can benefit from knowing what its competitors are doing on social media. Sprout Social helps you identify trends, tactics, and challenges as you plan your marketing efforts.
Fanpage Karma is my new favorite competitor analysis tool. The tool gives you all sorts of useful information about a Facebook page, from audience engagement to page growth (usually stats only available to the page owner sees).
All you have to do is enter the URL of your competitors’ Facebook page and Fanpage Karma spits out the metrics. The tool also has similar features for YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp, which expands your spy operations across the major social networks.
Despite its problems and past claims that it’s a dying channel, Twitter is alive and well. You can either ignore this fact or get with the program and start growing your account. Enter Followerwonk by Moz, a nifty tool for stealing your competitors’ Twitter followers and growing your audience.
Here's a basic process for getting started with 'The Wonk'. First, write down the top 3 influencers in your niche and enter their Twitter handles in Followerwonk.
If any of the influencers follow your competitors, there's a good chance they'll follow you too. To get on their radar, engage with their tweets, share their content and regularly partake in the Twitter conversation.
To determine who to follow, a simple rule of thumb is to follow the most active Twitter users -- the folks with the most Tweets and engagement. Just remember, if you want to be part of the Twitter in-crowd then you have to participate. Don't be Follow-Unfollow Fred, whose only purpose is there to get followers for the sake of vanity.
If you're regularly following and engaging other people in your niche, you should see results in a matter of weeks.
With a focus on influencer marketing, Phlanx is a social media marketing platform that offers several tools for competitive analysis.
First, their Instagram Engagement Calculator can be used to see how active your competitor's accounts are, which can give you clues about whether their Instagram strategy is effective or not.
Aside from engagement, the platform also features competitor tracking tools for Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Twitch, with Facebook and TikTok coming soon.
Other Competitor Analysis Tools
Who’s Mailing What is one of the few competitive intelligence tools that tracks your competitors’ direct mail campaigns.
It's easy to get caught in a digital marketing bubble and forget about more traditional ads: billboards, radio, TV and direct mail. Using Who's Mailing What, you're able to stay on top of industry trends in each of those areas.
If you see a competitor investing a lot in one of those channels, it may be worth exploring.
Google Advanced Search Operators are words and symbols that enhance standard keyword-based search and deliver more-relevant search results. By adding a couple operators to a search, you can learn a lot about a competitor's site or marketing strategy.
Using a combination of the "site:" operator and your exact match keyword, you can see a competitor's top pages for your target key term. This tells you how difficult it would be to rank for that particular keyword, guiding your keyword & content strategy to focus on keywords that are easier to rank for.
The Internet Archive (aka the Wayback Machine) keeps a database of how websites looked throughout the years. For a walk down memory lane, here's a snapshot of the SEO Moz home page back in 2009:
All fun aside, looking at the history of a competitor's page can give you some unique insights. For example, using a traffic tool like Alexa or SEMrush, you may find that a specific page had a large traffic spike at some point in the past. Check the Archive to see if any site changes were made around that time. If there were, those same design changes could boost conversions on your website.
A common marketing strategy on the web today is the use of microsites for traffic, link bait and lead generation. Want to see what sites your competitors own? Head over to SpyOnWeb.
All you need to do is enter a competitors’ URL and you'll see all the sites that belong to the same owner. This is valuable information for businesses in any niche, but particularly so for businesses with a local, physical presence. Many real estate agents use this strategy, creating microsites for smaller counties and towns to capture new home buyers.
Use SpyOnWeb to see what virtual properties your competition has claimed, and you may gain valuable insights into their marketing strategy.
With so many new digital marketing platforms available today, it’s easy to forget about email marketing. When used properly, however, email marketing is still an incredibly powerful channel that nearly every brand uses today.
Owletter is a tool that lets you capture, store, and analyze your competitors’ emails.
You simply add your competitors to the platform, and Owletter automatically captures all the emails they send with a screenshot. This allows you to learn and get inspiration from exactly how the competition is using email marketing.
Owler is an industry and competitor analysis tool that lets you track companies in your niche.
The platform offers three core solutions targeted at the following groups: inquisitive people, executives & marketers, and sales professionals.
Each of the solutions gives you access to excluding company data on over 13 million public and private companies. You can also sort and filter through news and events and get alerts when there’s breaking news about a company you’re tracking.
If you made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. Well done.
As helpful as these tools are, you don't need all of them to start your covert spy operations. A few tools will allow you to uncover 90% of your competitors' secrets.
If you really want to supercharge your competitive intel ops, pick one tool from each category and put them to work. That's plenty.
That said, competitive intelligence is a double-edged sword. It's important to know what your competitors are up to — what's working for them and what isn't.
However, the best brands lead by example. Don't get too caught up in chasing the competition or you'll get stuck in me-too marketing mode, leaving little time and energy for innovation and experimentation.
May this list serve as a resource for you to go out and conquer the interwebs. If you found it valuable, please share it with a friend or colleague.