Competitive Intelligence - Part IV: Off Site SEO Research

In the last section we looked at the competition’s social media presence. Now we are going to dig into another critical area: Search. Specifically, how well your competitors are ranking across the major search engines, and how they are generating those rankings (read: backlinks).


If you’ve already done your keyword research and have a good list of the relevant terms for your industry, you can use the free AuthorityLabs Rank Checker tool to see how your competitors rank for those terms. Just input your list of keywords and set your competitor’s website as the domain to check. Pro Tip: Use the Rank Checker tool to create a comprehensive competitive report for your top keywords:
  • Input your top 50-100 keywords into the spreadsheet and set your site as the domain to check.
  • Copy and paste that list into the same sheet, right below the initial set of keywords.
  • For the second set, replace your domain with your main competitor’s site.
  • Repeat for each additional competitor you would like to check (you can check a total of about 1000 keywords at a time).
  • Run the script to generate a report that includes rankings data for you and your main competitors across your top keywords.
  • Since the results pull into a spreadsheet you can create a pivot table to make it easy to compare the rankings (set ‘keyword’ for the rows, ‘domain’ for the columns, and ‘position’ as the data to populate).
If that sounds a bit too labor intensive, AuthorityLabs subscribers have access to a Competitor Report that pulls the same data (plus some) without all that copy and pasting. Knowing how your competitors rank for your keywords is important, but that is only part of the story. Chances are, they are coming up for many other keywords as well. Chances are, some of those keywords are relevant to your business too. Services like,, and can help you identify those unknown keywords. All of those services, however, require an account (at least a free trial) to view complete results. To run your search:
  • Spyfu: From the homepage, search for your competitor’s domain and click on Organic Keywords.
  • SEMRush: Similar process. Search for your competitor’s domain, then click on Organic Research, then on Positions (in the left hand navigation or in the report interface).
  • Ahrefs: Go to the Positions Explorer page and search for your competitor’s domain. From there, click on Organic Keywords to view the list.
As an aside, all three of those tools will also show you competitor domains that have a similar organic ranking profile to your own (or whoever you search for). SEMRush provides the top ten for free, and Spyfu will give you five. Now that you have a good picture of your competitor’s search rankings, it is time to figure out what is helping them get there.’s Open Site Explorer is one of the best free tools for that type of research. Perhaps not surprisingly, Spyfu, SEMRush, and Ahrefs also provide similar data for their subscribers. For purposes of general comparison, the high level metrics to track here are the total number of links to the site, and the number of root domains those links are coming from. For example, the Open Site Explorer says that has 3,217 total links coming from 460 root domains. This doesn’t account for the type or quality of the links, but in general more is better. It takes a significant amount of effort, and more importantly time, to generate significant numbers of backlinks, so numbers in the tens of thousands and up represent a serious competitive advantage when it comes to search engine rankings. High link counts typically correlate to higher levels of brand awareness and advertising promotion (the more people who know about a brand, the more are likely to naturally link to the site). Of course, deliberate link-building efforts probably play a role as well. If you want to step your analysis up a level, you will need to look at the backlinks themselves. There are two key things to look for while you are evaluating backlinks:
  • What kind of sites are the links are coming from? Are they publications? Forums or social media sites? Directories? Government or education sites?
  • What type of content, or pages, are the links on? Are they being referenced in articles? Lists? Discussions or comments? As partners or recommended resources?
Essentially, what you are looking for here are the tactics your competitors are employing to acquire their links (things like guest posting on blogs, media outreach, social engagement, etc.). Those tactics represent opportunities that you might be able to take advantage of for your own link building efforts. Once you have a good idea of the competition’s organic search rankings and keywords you should be well prepared to take the next step and start looking into their paid ad campaigns. The next section will take you through the process of exploring the competition’s online advertising using some of the same tools we used here, along with a few new ones.


Continue to Part V: Paid Media Research > Back To All Guides >
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