Reverse engineering the search marketing strategies of competitors may sound bad. But it’s actually an established business strategy practiced across virtually every industry, both offline and on. You need to know what your competition is doing in order to do it better, faster and more profitably. If your goal is to rank within the top five for a popular keyword phrase you will have more success if you study how the currently ranked top five got there, and what they’re doing to stay there. Only then will you really understand what you have to do to break into that group.

Researching your competitors’ page optimization, marketing strategy, current rankings, link profile and the rate at which they acquire new links are all essential aspects of SEO. In this lecture I’m going to outline many of the specific metrics and strategies that you should be keeping an eye on in order to keep pace with your competition.

Where they get their links

Knowing exactly where your competition gets their links can help you to follow their same ranking path by working to get links from the same, or similar, places. Knowing where they get their links can also help you to discover new categories of link sources and can give you new ideas of other creative avenues of acquiring links.

How they get their links

Understanding how they get their links is just as important as knowing where they get their links. By researching how they get their links you’ll be able to determine how many links they naturally receive compared to how many links they trade and how many links they buy. This can give you an indication of their strategy, their goals and of their budget.

The value of their links

Researching the value of all of their links will reveal not only the most valuable link sources but will give you an idea of the level of value of links you can expect to have to obtain in order to competitively rank. Once you have a list of your competitors’ most valuable links you can work to get links from as many of the same sites as possible and you can also research those pages’ most valuable links in order to build a longer list of potentially valuable link sources.

The rate at which they get new links

The rate at which you get new links, otherwise known as your link velocity, is a very important metric to keep an eye on. Your link velocity will either send signals to search engines like Google that your links are being acquired naturally or that they’re being built unnaturally, and therefore should be devalued. Keeping an eye on your competitors’ link velocity is important so that you know the pace at which they’re acquiring new links, so that you’ll know the pace that you must maintain, or exceed, yourself.

Keywords they rank for

One you determine who your primary competitor is for the target keyword you’re considering, you should expand your research to learn all of the keywords that particular site ranks for. This will not only give you an idea of how formidable this website might be, but will reveal many more potential target keywords that you can go after yourself. You might not necessarily compete with the same website on each of these new keywords; you may find new target competitors for each target keyword depending on the strength of the websites that rank within the top ten.

The percentage of their traffic from search

Attempting to gauge the traffic volumes of a website by using Alexa ranks, is in my opinion, too ineffective to rely on. Alexa really only gives you an indication of traffic volume since all of their metrics are gathered only from people using Alexa service to monitor their website usage. A more reliable method is to use SEO research tools that not only monitor overall website traffic but also categorize it by traffic type. For example, can track overall website traffic volume very accurately and SEMRush can tell you how much of that traffic comes directly from search. Understanding their traffic sources can indicate to you their marketing strategies.

Tools for reverse engineering your competition


Ahrefs is a very advanced link researching tool that has one of the largest databases next to Google itself. This tool can be used to find all of your competitors’ backlinks and rank them according to value.

Majestic SEO

Majestic SEO is a full-featured SEO tool that can do many things, including giving you a historical view of the rate at which any website acquires new links. It can even give you side by side comparisons of the link building activity of any number of sites dating back years.


SEMRush is a premium SEO tool that can show you all of the keywords that a website ranks for in Google. It can also show you how much of their traffic comes from organic search and how much of it comes from sponsored search.

Compete is another SEO tool that provides many search metrics, the most valuable of which is an accurate overview of a website’s overall traffic volume as well as other metrics you typically only see within stats programs such as Google Analytics, including bounce rates and time on site.

Market Samurai

Market Samurai is great for keyword and competition research, but can also be used effectively for seeing the optimization strategies of your competitors. It can show you how many pages it has indexed in Google and you how many backlinks come from .edu and .gov pages. It can also show you how optimized their pages are for any given keyword or keyword phrase.