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5 FREE Tools to Spy on Your Competition (2019 List)

Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall
August 06, 2019
33

As a digital marketer, it’s important to know what your competition is up to online. It’s how you stay competitive, and make sure your own marketing is just as good, if not better.

With the right tools, you can learn about your competitors’ keyword strategy, improve on their content, and find the best linking opportunities.

There’s just one problem. A lot of these tools are pretty costly. If you’re just building your business, you may not have the budget for the big-name tools. Plus, some of them can be very complex. If you’re short on time, you need a tool you can use fast.

Luckily, there are free tools that give you almost the same features completely free, meaning you can spy on your competition without blowing your budget. It won’t take long to get the info you need to make sure you’re winning the competitive game.

What We Look For in the Best Competitive Research Tools

We looked at a range of online competitive research tools to find the ones that offered the most functionality. Some of the key criteria were:

  • Free: We looked for tools that are available for free (or at least have a free version) so you can investigate your competition without having to pay a dime.
  • In-depth analysis: You’ll want the ability to generate data on traffic, keywords, content, and more.
  • Ease of use: You must be able to get the information you need without having to go through a steep learning curve.
  • Brand monitoring and SEO data: The tool needs to help you understand what’s working for your competitors.

#1 Google Alerts – Best for Tracking Competitor News

A good place to start spying on your competitors is figuring out when they’re getting mentioned online. Google Alerts is the perfect tool for this.

5 FREE Tools to Spy on Your Competition (2019 List)

What You Get

Since this tool is from Google, masters of search, you can be pretty sure it’ll find practically every instance where your competitors are mentioned. It’s great for:

  • Monitoring competitors’ brand names
  • Getting information on specific products or product categories
  • Tracking mentions of particular pieces of content, like competitors’ cornerstone content

It’s easy to use, with a single screen where you choose your options. You can specify how often you want to get alerts (instantly, daily, or weekly) and where you want to search for mentions (news, blogs, web, and more). Once you’ve created your alert, it runs automatically, so it’s a timesaver, too.

The only downside of Google Alerts? The information isn’t particularly organized. It just comes as one big list. Still, it’s simple and effective.

Beginner FriendlyYes
Brand MonitoringYes
SEO DataNo

#2 Social Mention – Best for Searching Multiple Social Media Sites in Real Time

Still on the subject of tracking mentions, Social Mention is worth consideration. This simple tool offers real-time social media search across more than 100 social media platforms.

What You Get

With Social Mention, you can:

  • Type in a competitor’s brand name, product name, or keyword and get a snapshot of real-time mentions
  • Search across blogs, bookmarks, images, and videos
  • Find the questions people are asking about your competitors

If you search for everything, it’s easy to segment your findings. You can also sort results by date or source to find the most relevant results to inform your marketing approach.

One of Social Mention’s best features is sentiment analysis, scouring the mentions to show:

  • Whether the overall feeling is positive, negative, or neutral
  • How many individuals are mentioning the brand

Social Mention’s interface can feel a bit dated. Having said that, it provides a useful overview of how people feel about your competitors, and about you.

Beginner FriendlyYes
Brand MonitoringYes
SEO DataNo

#3 BuzzSumo – Best for Content Marketing Analysis

If your competitors are killing it with content, you want to know what’s getting the most attention so you can replicate their success. That’s where BuzzSumo comes in.

What You Get with the Free Version

This tool helps you:

  • Search for the best performing content on a particular domain in the past year
  • Find popular topics
  • Get sharing statistics for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, and more
  • Get data on content length, content type, and more

Since all you have to do is type in a keyword or URL, BuzzSumo is ridiculously easy to use. This tool will help you identify what types of content are working for your competitors so you can publish even better content to attract your audience’s attention.

While you can use the tool for free, you’ll have to create an account to do more than a certain number of searches. This also limits you to the top ten results.

What Do You Get If You Pay?

If you upgrade to BuzzSumo’s Pro plan, you remove the limitation on the number of search results, and can get more information on backlinks. You can also see the influencers who are sharing content, and search over longer periods, from the last 24 hours to the past five years.

When Should You Upgrade?

A good time to upgrade to the Pro plan is when you’re thinking of doing influencer marketing. Knowing who’s linking to your competitors’ content is a great starting point for building your own list of influencers.

Beginner FriendlyYes
Brand MonitoringYes, but need to upgrade for full results
SEO DataNo

#4 OpenLinkProfiler – Best for Quick Backlink Analysis

One of the important things to know about your competitors is who’s linking to them. There are a lot of tools offering backlink analysis, but these tend to be expensive. Open Link Profiler is a great free option from SEO Profiler, and it’s simple to use, too.

What You Get with the Free Version

In addition to tracking backlinks to your competitor’s site, you can:

  • See which pages have the most unique links
  • See which industries are linking most often to your competitor
  • Identify the types of links (e.g., links from blogs, ebooks, interviews, and reviews)
  • View the top anchor text used by those inbound links

This free tool does have some limitations in the number of results available, and how you can view them. For example, to see all suspicious links or print a PDF report of your competitive analysis, you’ll need to sign up for a free SEOProfiler account.

What Do You Get If You Pay?

If you upgrade to a paid SEOProfiler account, you’ll be able to get data on 1,500 keywords daily. You’ll also be able to run more projects and get access to brand monitoring, keyword spy, domain research, and other tools.

When Should You Upgrade?

With SEOProfiler, the time to upgrade is when you need more in-depth competitive research. The upgrade allows you to track data for up to ten websites, which means you can get a great snapshot of what’s working across your niche.

Beginner FriendlyYes
Brand MonitoringNo
SEO DataYes

#5 WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool – Best For SEO and Paid Search Data

If you’re marketing your business, you’ll need to know where your competitors are achieving success with keywords for pay-per-click ads and improving search engine optimization (SEO). WordStream’s free keyword tool helps with that.

What You Get with the Free Version

It’s easy to use. Just type in a URL, and you’ll quickly get a report with:

  • The top ten keyword suggestions, including long-tail keywords
  • Google search volume for keywords
  • The ability to filter by industry or country

Enter your email, and you get even more information for free, including:

  • Keyword competition level
  • Estimated cost-per-click
  • A complete list of hundreds of keywords

You can link your Google Ads account to get even more data. WordStream also has some related tools you can also use for free, such as the Negative Keyword Tool and the Keyword Grouper. The Negative Keyword Tool tells you which keywords to exclude from Google Ads campaigns, so you don’t waste money on unprofitable keywords. The Keyword Grouper tool clusters similar keywords, making it easy for you to use them in content marketing and search marketing.

One limitation of the free tool is that you don’t get recommendations to help you with social media advertising.

What Do You Get If You Pay?

The pro version of WordStream is pricey, even when you pay annually, so it’s definitely an investment you’ll want to think about. However, it gives you access to data for both Google and Bing, and to information helpful for social and display ads. Plus, WordStream offers a “20 minute work week” approach for working with your ads.

When Should You Upgrade?

The time to upgrade is when you’re ready to get keyword data for social ad campaigns, and benefit from additional reporting on your competitive keyword campaigns. The upgraded version also includes a performance dashboard, keywords for Bing search advertising, and conversion tracking.

Beginner FriendlyYes
Brand MonitoringNo
SEO DataYes

The Heavy Hitters of Competitive Research

Till now, we’ve focused on the tools you can use for free, but there are a few tools to consider if you’re ready to pay for a premium service.

SEMrush

This all in one toolkit is extremely powerful. It offers:

  • Domain and keyword analytics
  • Traffic analytics
  • Search position tracking
  • Organic keyword research
  • Content audits
  • Backlink tracking
  • And much more

With SEMrush, you can do much more than keep tabs on your competitors. You’ll also be able to improve your own site’s performance, though it costs at least a hundred dollars a month.

The big advantage of SEMrush is that you can handle everything to do with content marketing, search marketing, and SEO in one place. You also monitor and post to social media profiles from within the tool, and use an on-page SEO checker to improve your own content.

You can try out SEMrush for free with a seven-day trial (although you will need to enter your billing information).

SimilarWeb

SimilarWeb is an enterprise competitive analysis and benchmarking tool. It helps you:

  • Peek into your competitors’ online strategy by entering their URL
  • See traffic analytics and other metrics for competitors’ sites
  • Find out industry trends in your niche
  • See what customers want and how they interact with sites before achieving their goals

SimilarWeb helps with competitive research, SEO and content strategies, lead generation, and identifying investors.

There is a free version of the tool, which you can get as a Chrome extension. However, the number of results per metric are minimal, versus unlimited. You’ll also only be able to access a few months of data, as opposed to years. If you’re interested but aren’t ready to pay a large monthly fee, you can request a live demo.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is another multipurpose competitive research tool. With a focus on keywords, links, and content, the tool’s best feature is the size of its database. Currently, it monitors 16 trillion inbound links, seven billion keyword phrases and one billion pieces of content. That’s a heck of a lot, right?

With Ahrefs, you can:

  • Research multiple domains and URLs
  • Track keywords
  • Identify content gaps, which give you the chance to outdo your competitors
  • Explore trends
  • Build keyword lists for ads and content

You’ll need to pay thousands each year for this powerful tool. However, if you want to take a test drive—or just conduct a quick research project—you can do a seven-day trial for just a few bucks.

Which Competitive Research Tool Should You Choose?

With all these different features, it can be hard to decide which tool is best for your needs. The table below will help you compare:

Best ForFree to Use?Outstanding FeatureOther Features
Google AlertsTracking competitor newsYesEasy mention reportsTracking products, tracking brand names, specifying sources to check
Social MentionReal-time social media searchYesSentiment analysisTracking brand mentions, seeing how people perceive your brand, searching for videos and questions
BuzzSumoContent marketing analysisYes, but with limitationsCross-platform sharing statisticsFinding popular topics, getting content metrics, seeing who’s sharing content
Open Link ProfilerQuick backlink analysisYes, but with limitationsIndustry profiles for linksIdentifying unique links, finding anchor text, seeing which sources links come from
WordStream’s Keyword ToolSEO and paid search dataYes, but with limitationsKeyword opportunitiesFinding keyword suggestions, seeing Google search volume, improving SEO and PPC performance

In the end, it’ll depend on which type of competitive data will improve your business RIGHT NOW. Here’s our recommendations:

  • If you want a super simple brand monitoring tool, go with Google Alerts
  • If you’re focusing on creating viral content, use Buzzsumo
  • And if you want keyword data for SEO and ads, use WordStream’s free tool

No matter which tool you choose, you’ll get valuable information to help you beat the competition online.

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