Trying out Spyfu

Spyfu has been around for years, but they’ve changed a lot. This is a tool that estimates the level of domination any website has over specific keywords.

Keywords are search terms, the things people type into the search engine box to find you. If you offer medical spa services, your top keywords might be things like “microdermabrasion” or “chemical peel” or “laser hair removal.” Your online competitors are the websites that show up just ahead of and just behind yours when someone searches for that keyword. Spyfu can help you identify your top competitors and find keywords they’re ranking for, so that you can add to your keyword list.

What should you do with your keyword list? At the simplest, your goal is to have the best page on the web for each of those keywords. Knowing how your competitors are doing can help you define “best” and seeing their pages can give you good ideas for how you can pull ahead of them. Spyfu can help you get that information.

Spyfu offers an “SEO Overview” which gives some quick estimates and insights:

spyfu-medweb1

This dashboard gives estimates of the amount of organic search traffic to the website from the estimated number of keywords the website ranks for. It gives some historical information on rankings, the types of backlinks the website has, and the age of the domain. Scroll down and you’ll see more information for specific keywords. There are better web analysis tools around, but this one is focused tightly on keywords.

We found that the paid search data was often more useful in getting insights into competitors. “The keywords companies pay for tell us more about their intentions than the ones they’re ranking for,” Rosie said.

This information disregards personal search results, so it can show you roughly where your competitor is, not what your customers see. It’s also based on estimates, not firm knowledge. Because of these facts, Spyfu is more useful in comparisons. Since they’ll be gathering data for multiple domains with the same level of accuracy, you can get an idea of how your competitors are doing, in comparison with you and with one another, for specific keywords.

For example, if you know that a particular company is a competitor of yours and you see them popping up for searches you think your customers might make, you can plug them in and see how they’re doing:

spyfu-medweb

Here, we can see that one of the competitors (the one we picked) is ahead of the others, which Spyfu chose. The number of relevant keywords this company controls is higher than the numbers the rest of the pack control.

spyfu-medweb2

In the somewhat gamified Kombat feature, you can compare two or three websites and discover which keywords they share and which additional keywords each site controls. In this case, we can see that the company we asked about has far more ranking keywords by the size of its circle in the Venn diagram — and we can also see that its competitors have control over a number of keywords our choice doesn’t have.

You can plug in your own website, too. If the information Spyfu gives you is completely off-base, with suggested competitors who aren’t your real-world competitors and keywords that you don’t care about, that’s an excellent sign that your content needs work. You’re not communicating well with Spyfu’s algorithm, so you’re probably not communicating well with search engines, either. If you’re shown with no competitors and few or no organic keywords, which we have seen exactly once over the years, then your website is either brand new or really poor from the point of view of SEO.

Fix those things and try again — and in the meantime, check on your competitors to see what keywords you might need to be using.

We tried this process for HadenInteractive.com and got a different list of competitors from the ones we usually think of, but Spyfu is probably right for online competition. We also saw that, while we were the clear leaders on most keywords and on the total number of keywords, there was one key phrase that all the others ranked for, which we do not: “arkansas search engine optimization.” Since we have a global clientele, we don’t work on local search the way we should, and this certainly gives us a nudge in the right direction.

You can easily do just these reports and end up with a good list of keywords you should include in your content, as well as competitors to learn from. If you put in your domain and your known competitors and you’re way ahead, don’t just scoff at them. Let Spyfu pick your competitors for you. You may be a big fish in a small pond, but you might also be ready to move into a bigger pond.

You can dig more deeply into the data in the other reports, but it is essentially the same data. “This is the information you need for a strong strategic content plan that will really make a difference,” says Rosie, and I agree. I’ve been using Spyfu for years, in combination with other tools, and I find it very useful.

Spyfu also has a backlink checker, an essential tool for linkbuilding.

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The free version gives you just a handful of backlinks, but if you spring for a paid version, you’ll probably like the analysis tools, which allow you to look specifically at links from blogs or at links your competitors have but which you do not have.

“I know that a lot of this stuff is probably in Analytics, but this is a lot easier to read,” Rosie points out. “I can skim it and see things that irritate me very fast.” Irritation is the strongest precursor to action for Rosie, as for many business owners.

Spyfu has a free version, but there are also three paid versions:

spyfu-prices

Is Spyfu worthwhile for the average business owner?

“If you just want to spy on competitors, the free one is useful,” Rosie says. “The paid versions are more for companies like ours.” That is, for digital marketing and SEO pros. Most businesses don’t have someone working on their digital marketing full time, and the free information from Spyfu is probably plenty for the occasional user.

In fact, Spyfu use could be a negative for many business owners, Rosie noted. “There’s a lot of valuable data for developing SEO strategy,” she says, “but it has no information for what to do. You can see things happening, have feelings, start tinkering, and do more damage than good.”

This is definitely true. If you see that your competitor is way ahead of you for a keyword you’re both working on, and your response is to jump in and do some old-fashioned keyword stuffing and a bunch of link swaps, you’ll definitely damage your digital marketing.

If you regularly work hard on linkbuilding and keyword ranking for your company, though, the paid version is going to be more valuable. The backlinks tool in the free version doesn’t provide enough data to be useful, frankly, and the data limitations for the other tools mean that the information is most useful if you have a lot of experience with a lot of different websites, which you probably don’t. An SEO expert with extensive experience can look at the information and extrapolate the pattern the data fits into. Without that background, you may not see a pattern in a handful of data points.

For most businesses, we recommend using the free version when you put together your quarterly strategic digital marketing plan. If you don’t put together a quarterly strategic digital marketing plan, let us do it for you.

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