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6 Ways to Win with Competitive Intelligence

Steve Rayson
6 Ways to Win with Competitive Intelligence

Steve will join SEMrush on February 24 for a free webinar, “How to Win with Competitive Intelligence.” All webinar attendees will receive 30% off BuzzSumo Pro for 3 months. Learn more about the webinar after the jump!

One of the key reasons for business failure is not keeping up with competitors. However, competing effectively requires competitive intelligence, not simply watching competitors and copying their actions.

In this post, we'll take a look at six ways you can use competitive intelligence tools like SEMrush and BuzzSumo to beat your competitors.

Why Copying Competitors is Dangerous

It is relatively easy to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. However, copying their actions has a number of dangers.

The first danger is, simply, you are always one step behind. While you may be able to improve on your competitor’s actions, you run the risk of being permanently behind the times. However, a bigger risk is you may copy something that is not actually working. Monitoring and copying without intelligence of what is working is particularly dangerous.

I know of one example where a company was very impressed by a competitor’s mobile app. They felt the competitor had stolen a march on them with an impressive looking app and looked enviously at the new development. Given all the talk about the growth of mobile apps and being mobile first, the company decided they had to keep up and invested heavily in developing their own mobile app. Only a year later did they read an article by the competitor setting out why the mobile app had actually been a distraction, costly to develop and that was why they were ditching it.

This is a good example of why monitoring and copying is dangerous. You should monitor competitors, but you need competitive intelligence about their strategy and what is working for them. Mimic not what they do, but what works best.

Competitive Intelligence

In this post, I will outline how — with SEMrush and BuzzSumo — you can gather detailed competitive intelligence on what is working for competitors in areas such as:

I will also set out how you can set up alerts to monitor your competitor’s performance on an ongoing basis.

With this competitive intelligence you can work out your competitor’s strategy and see what is working for your competitor. You can stay one step ahead by building on successful strategies and improving them.

1. Review Your Competitor’s Top Performing SEO Keywords

A really useful feature of SEMrush is the ability to review your competitor’s top performing keywords. Just go to the organic search positions and enter your competitor’s URL. This brings back a report report showing the competitor’s top ranking keywords, presented in order of the keywords delivering the highest share of that domain’s organic search traffic. The URL of the page ranking for that particular keyword is revealed.


You can sort the keywords by search volume to see the queries made most often in Google (or Bing). A high CPC may represent a valuable but highly-competitive keyword whose traffic it may be advisable to attract using SEO rather than Paid Ads.

The Traffic % lays out which keywords are driving the highest volume of motivated searchers to your competitor’s page. By clicking through to the URL you can see which types of content are driving your competitor’s organic search traffic. You can open up the webpage by using the blue arrow to review the message, format, quality and length of the content, as well as on-page SEO elements. You can use these insights about what is working to improve your own content strategy and may even be able to improve your conversion techniques.

Detecting a list of your competitor’s unique, well-performing keywords is a win for any SEO. Finding out what keywords a competitors’ blog content is ranking for gives you a good sense of what is working for them, and that can be a great takeaway for content marketers and writers. The ability to focus on subdomains affords the ability to narrow results to the blog, or other pertinent sections of a website. In particular you will want to see keywords that your competitor is ranking for but you are not.

You can do this with SEMrush using the chart tool. By using the chart option you can see the common keywords you rank for, and also the unique keywords where your competitor ranks in the top 20 but you do not.

In the example below there are 10,000 keywords where WordStream ranks in the top 20 where Hubspot does not. Set up charts once, and monitor the situation on an ongoing basis by embedding them on your site, or save PDF reports for review and distribution.


2. Review Your Competitor’s Most Shared Content

To see a competitor’s top performing content we can start with a BuzzSumo search. Simply enter the competitor’s URL into BuzzSumo to see their content that has attracted the most social shares. You can also enter multiple URLs for a single report on multiple domains, e.g. buzzsumo.com OR SEMrush.com. This will return a mingled list of their most shared content sorted by total shares.


Thus, you can see their most shared content, the headlines that are working and the networks where they are getting traction.


You can take this a step further with a BuzzSumo content analysis report for their domain. This provides more detailed information as shown below on their new content frequency, the networks that get most traction, their most successful content formats and much more.


The next step is to compare their content performance to your own. You can do this by running a domain comparison report in BuzzSumo, which provides a detailed comparison of your own site against your competitor’s such as numbers of posts, average shares, content formats and content length. This research will give you actionable insights such as content formats, headlines, networks and even day of the week for best sharing.

3. Review Your Competitor’s Paid Ad Strategy and Performance

SEMrush has the latest data on paid ads and is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to ad research. Simply go to the Advertising research section, select Positions and enter your competitor’s URL. SEMrush will instantly give you an overview of their paid search campaign including:

  • The number of keywords bringing visitors to their site through paid search.
  • The amount of traffic they generate through paid ads.
  • An estimate of how much your competitor is investing in paid search.
  • A comparative chart of their key competitors in paid ads.

Below is an overview for Marketo.


The charted analysis over time is useful. In the example above, I switched the chart to traffic cost and can see Marketo have recently started to double their paid ad spend.

If you scroll down, the paid search positions table will present a mass of detailed and useful information. This includes the paid keywords bringing users to their site, their ad copy, landing page URLs, CPC, ad rankings, traffic percentage (share of traffic driven to the website by the keyword), competitive density (number of results for the keyword) and trend analysis.


Using this data you can review if your competitor has a dedicated landing page for their paid campaign, whether they are they using benefit-driven headlines with keywords, and how they are structuring ad copy such as keywords, benefits, incentives and CTAs. Trends over time are easily distinguished in the Trend column, for a quick, intuitive understanding of an advertiser’s seasonal budget swings.

The domain Ad history on SEMrush will also show you the ads that competitors are running over time and seasons. We may presume those ads appearing most often are working for the competition, since they keep investing in them. You can then drill down to see the actual ad copy. Knowledge of those keywords can help ad managers construct ad groups based on the campaign structure of the most successful competitors.

4. Review Who Shares Your Competitor’s Content

Who are fans of your competitor’s content? Who is sharing and amplifying it? Who are the influencers sharing their content that you should reach out to?

In BuzzSumo you can use the "view sharers" option to see who shared your competitor’s content on Twitter. BuzzSumo will provide an exportable list including an overview on each sharer such as the number of followers they have, their domain authority, reply ratio and average numbers of retweets.

BuzzSumo will also show you whether you already follow the sharer on Twitter and give you the option to follow them and add them to a Twitter list. You might want to set up a Twitter list of people that share competitor content.


In the case above you can see I already follow Ann and Joe but not Jan or Shane, thus I can review them and decide if I want to follow them and start building a relationship with them, with the goal of getting them to share my content.

5. Review Who Links To Your Competitor’s Content

With SEMrush you can undertake an analysis of who is linking to your competitor’s content. You can see the number of backlinks, referring domains, follow/no follow and top level domain distribution.


By clicking on the “Referring Domains” option you will be able to see a table containing all the domains sending backlinks to your competitor’s website as follows:


The “Total Backlinks” option allows you to see where the backlink originated, as well as which page on your competitor’s site received the backlink. You can review the links to see if they are guest blogging or providing content directly which may be an opportunity for you.

When using the “Indexed Pages” option you can see the specific pages on your competitor’s website that have already been crawled and entered into Google’s database. Starting at the top are pages attracting the most links. From this you may conveniently generate a list of your competitor’s best link building assets. This provides you with actionable insights and allows you to focus on the assets that are working best for your competitors.


6. Monitor Competitor Activity and Impact In Real Time

In BuzzSumo you can set up alerts to be notified in real time of:

  • competitor (brand or product name) mentions in content
  • new content published by competitors, with an idea of its popularity
  • new links to competitors so you can detect emerging campaigns
  • all of the preceding may also be applied to your own domain

These alerts allow you to track and react quickly to competitors. There are three forms of alerts you can set up:

  • competitor keyword/brand alert
  • competitor domain alert for new content
  • competitor link alert

Keyword/Brand Alert

You can set up a competitor brand name as a keyword alert to be notified whenever their brand is mentioned in any content such as an article or blog on the web.


If your competitor’s brand name is not unique you can use advanced operators (e.g. + or -) to narrow your alerts. As with all alerts you can decide to receive your alerts in real time or as a daily digest sent to you via Email and you may choose the language of the content to be detected. You can also set a minimum number of shares before being alerted, if you set this to zero you will we see everything. This is a great way to limit the volume of content to review, if you would be satisfied to see only that which has attained a certain level of popularity.

Domain Alert

Using a domain alert you can create an alert to be notified every time new content is published by your competitor on their domain. This saves the time you would otherwise have to invest to visit and review their site for new content. The results land automatically in your Email for a more efficient workflow.

Link Alert

A link alert will notify you every time a site publishes a link to your competitor’s domain. This will allow you to review each new link, which may also identify link building opportunities.

When focused on your own domain’s inbound links, this form of link monitoring can be useful to quickly seek removal or disavowal of low-quality links if you are engaged in a Penguin recovery. Such emerging links can also act as an early-warning system if “negative SEO” is a concern.

In addition to receiving an email alert you can, at any time, view all of your alerts in your alerts dashboard, or export a spreadsheet for further analysis or storage.



It’s true that focusing on what your competitors are doing does not amount to much if you don’t know what’s working for them. You need competitive intelligence with insights on what is working, ideally a daily briefing with insights you can act on. So ask these six questions about your competitor:

  1. What are their top performing SEO keywords? Can you up your ranking for the same ones?
  2. What’s their most shared content? Should you attack with a contrary view or write a better piece on the same topic? Should you redeploy efforts to the platform where they’re getting more traction than you?
  3. How’s their Paid Ad performance - Should you invest in the same keywords or go around them with your own unique terms, or SEO on longtail terms?
  4. Who’s sharing their content? Can you hack their network for valuable influencers and get them sharing your content too?
  5. Who links to their content? Are these popular sites where your content should appear?
  6. What’s their latest move? Set up alerts so you can see what’s trending for them. Then act fast to newsjack or counter it.

Why not wake up an hour early tomorrow and use SEMrush and BuzzSumo to get the answer to these questions? That way, you can have your competitors for breakfast while they’re still in the shower.

Join Steve Rayson and SEMrush for “How to Win with Competitive Intelligence" on Tuesday, February 24. In this webinar we will explore how you can gather competitive intelligence and actionable insights using SEMrush and BuzzSumo to beat your competitors. Register today!

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Steve Rayson is the Director at BuzzSumo. He is passionate about social data, content marketing, technology and learning. You can follow him on Twitter. Steve joined SEMrush as a featured guest on a webinar, “How to Win with Competitive Intelligence.”
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