Spying is all the rage in SEO. Search marketers love to secretly spy on their competitors to try and decode their winning tactics. The logic (and hope) is that if they can determine why a particular site is ranking so well, then they can apply the same strategy to their own websites to best the competition.
The inherent flaw in this logic is that it is impossible to duplicate a site's link profile, even with all their link data. Bottom line is there are some links you will never be able to obtain, no matter how crafty you are or how hard you beg (which speaks to the importance of building quality backlinks  so your competitor's can't easily turn the tables and duplicate your link profile).
But that's okay. Your goal shouldn't be to replicate a competitor's link profile, link for link. You goal should be to identify their most valuable links and the ones that you have the best chance to acquire. And by replicating a percentage of their primo links and layering them into your own existing link strategy, you will be able to close the gap or even outrank your target site in the SERPs.
Now, like most search marketers, I also do my fair share of spying. And one of the SEO tools  I've used that makes it relatively simple and very effective for spying on competitors is SEO Spyglass.
SEO Spyglass: The Link Detective’s Super Tool
Most SEOs understand that Google uses a link-based ranking algorithm(s) to determine rankings. The more quality links you acquire, the higher you rank. So SEO Spyglass aims to provide users with the best link intelligence on the Web to help them triumph in the battle of the SERPs.
The key SEO metrics you can extract from a target website with SEO Spyglass are:
- Backlink Pages: The URLs that contains the link pointing back to your rival's site
- Link Anchor Text: See which keywords your competitor is targeting in their link building
- Toolbar PageRank and SEO Link Value: Determine the value that each backlink provides, based on TBPR and SEO Spyglasses own metric "SEO Link Value"
- Alexa Rank: See which links are sending your competitor the most traffic
And that's just the tip of iceberg. SEO Spyglass gives you a ton of additional analysis info, such as domain age and IP block data, outgoing and incoming link-to-link targets, trusted directory presence and more.
SEO Spyglass in Action
So SEO Spyglass preaches to work smarter not harder, which is pretty sound advice. Manually analyzing a competitor’s site looking for opportunities to capitalize on is a time consuming, laborious process. So SEO Spyglass helps you work "smarter" by automating this process for you. All the grunt work of data collection and organization is gone, leaving you to put on your spy hat and grab the low hanging link opportunities.
For example, I used SEO Spyglass to perform competitive link analysis for a client this past weekend. The software spit out a ton of valuable SEO data and uncovered some fantastic link opportunities that I've never seen using any other single free or paid tools on this particular client account.
Doing this painstaking manual analysis by hand is incredibly time consuming and inefficient. But SEO Spyglass did it for me in minutes and pulled it all together in one handy easy to navigate, sort-able dashboard.
There's so much data here and so many columns of info that I needed to break the screenshot into two sections. Here's the second half.
NOTE: I've blurred out information on the competitor site for privacy reasons.
Being able to peer inside my competitor's link strategy, I was able to determine why they're ranking so well for a few particular "money" terms. I also learned that this site has a pretty spammy link profile with tons of low value blog comment links. However, thanks to SEO Spyglass, I did find a handful of really valuable link targets and I was able to evaluate the degree of difficulty for acquisition and plot my strategy in just 20 minutes of sifting through link data. Doing this level of link analysis manually would've taken hours easily.
SEO Spyglass Reporting
Once I’m done with the analysis dashboard, I can generate a slick report with SEO Spyglass that accomplishes two things:
- Educates you on how to turn the data into action: This is a big feature for the average business owner or anyone getting their beak wet with SEO
- Ties it all together: The report also extracts the key takeaways from the competitor link analysis work you’ve just performed and summarizes them in an easy to understand format. Doing this exposed even more opportunities for me that I’d glossed over in the data dashboard.
The report I generated is formatted into slick, comprehensive nine page document (that you can customize with company or client logo, colors, etc,) which includes an intro, followed by seven steps which are detailed how-tos, and ends with a final words page that wraps it all up for you and stresses the keys to ranking well.
This is great for shooting around internally within your company for monthly or quarterly competitor reporting or to send to clients for next steps. It's also very information rich and explains best practices and acutely details next steps so even a novice can understand how to take action.
So how is SEO Spyglass different from other link analysis tools?
Answer: link volume.
SEO Spyglass is in a class of its own because it can gather more than 1,000 backlinks per domain. Yahoo and other search engines are capped at 1k link limits. What this means is that you’re only get part of the story. To effectively evaluate your competitor’s link data with accuracy, you need to see all the data. With SEO Spyglass, though, you get so much more link data than any other link analysis tool. That way you get the whole story and you're much better able to do effective analysis.
Another aspect that differentiates SEO Spyglass from other tools is that it queries a number of search engines, not just the big three (Google, Bing, Yahoo), and uses a combination of advanced search operators to dig deeper into the search index returning 5,000-30,000+ backlinks depending on the site's backlink profile (up to 50,000 for large domains). That level of link analysis is a data junkie's dream come true.
SEO Spyglass Pricing
SEO Spyglass excels at helping you examine your competitor’s link profile and uncover nuggets of opportunity for your own SEO efforts.
There are two pricing levels for the software: enterprise and professional. I'm using the professional license because it suits my needs and it's perfect for site owners, webmasters or SEOs.
Pricing: SEO Spyglass Professional is $99.75.