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How to Analyze a Competing Web Site Using Their Google Search Results

If you are really impressed by the success of a high-ranking competitor’s Web site, you can find the secrets of that site using a search engine. By switching roles and pretending for a moment that the high-ranking site is yours, you can better understand it and use it as a model for what yours can become.

For example, if a competitor’s site ranks high for your keyword in the search engine results pages (SERPs), you can find out why it does. It may be due to one of the following:

  • Backlinks. Find out how many backlinks the Web page has. Run a search at Google for "www.domain.com/page.htm" =site:domain.com, substituting the competitor’s Web page URL. The number of results is an indicator of the site’s popularity with other Web pages. If it’s high, and especially if the links come from related, industry sites with good PageRank themselves, backlinks alone could be why the page tops the list.

  • Different URL. Run a search for your keyword on Google to see the results page. Notice the URL that displays for the competitor’s listing. Keeping that in mind, click the link to go to the active page. In the address bar, compare the URL showing to the one you remembered. Are they the same? Are they different? If they’re different, how different? Although an automatic redirect from http://domain.com to http://www.domain.com (or vice versa) is normal, other types of swaps may indicate that something fishy is going on. Do the cache check in the next bullet to find out whether the page the search engine sees is entirely different than the one live visitors are shown.

  • Cached version. If you’ve looked at the Web page and can’t figure out why it would rank well, the search engine may have a different version of the page in its cache (its saved archive version of the page). Whenever the search engine indexes a Web site, it stores the data in its cache. Note that some Web sites are not cached, such as the first time a site is crawled or if the spider is being told not to cache the page (using the Meta robots noarchive instruction), or if there is an error in the search engine's database.

To see the cached version of a page, follow these steps:

  1. Run a search on Google for your keyword.

  2. Locate the competitor’s listing in the results.

    Click Cached in the last line of the listing.

  3. View the cached version of the Web page.

    At the top of the page, you can read the date and time it was last spidered. You can also easily view how your keywords distribute throughout the page in highlighted colors.

A good way to look at Web pages the way a search engine spider sees them is to use the text-only Lynx browser. Google actually recommends (in their Webmaster Guidelines at www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769) that you use a text browser such as Lynx to examine your site, which helps you see your site exactly how a search engine sees it without the benefit of video, images, audio, or any other Engagement Object. You can install the Lynx browser for free, so if you’re interested, go for it. If you don't want to install an entirely new browser, you should install the SEMToolBar (www.bruceclay.com/web_rank.htm#semtoolbar), which has a View Text mode that accomplishes the same thing without requiring you to leave your Internet Explorer or Firefox browser.

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