4 Steps to Reverse Engineering Your Competition’s Success: Must-Read For Getting Ahead

What makes some websites extremely popular while others – which look basically the same to the casual eye – are barely visited?

Organic ranking is far from an exact science. Ranking algorithms used by search engines have become so complex, it’s hard for anyone who isn’t a specialist to work with them. However, if you have a competitor with a successful site, they’ve already figured out how to play the gaming. A little spying is an easy way to get information that can accelerate your ranking progress.

Check your competition’s source code

If your competitors have a successful page, visit their source code (right-click anywhere on the page and select “View page source”), and check their page structure. The most important elements are meta keywords, meta description and title. See what keywords they target, how their description is structured and how the keywords are used in the title. Try to understand why your competitor aims at specific keywords and not others.

Reconstruct navigation

Some categories may deliver far more traffic or ranking than others. If you have categories that don’t generate enough results, look at your competitor’s choice of categories. Use their categories in your landing pages and navigation bars.

Reverse engineering content

What’s your competitor’s most popular content? Most sites make it easy to find the most popular content, whether by showing it first or with a “most popular” category option. SEO programs often offer you a list of your competitor’s most popular content.  In SEMrush, for example, you can export a chart of your completion keywords, monthly searches and ranked page. With simple XSL you can extract the most popular posts and pages. Once you find the most popular searches, try to pin down what made these topics or data so popular and generate similar content.

Reverse engineer your backlinks

Backlink building is the most challenging and time-consuming aspect of web optimization. SEO software like Ahref, SEMrush and Moz can help you by showing your competitor’s site links, but it’s just a start. These lists are usually huge and full of irrelevant, impossible to obtain and sometimes harmful links. So first, I recommend getting your competition’s links data and put it in an EXSL file. Then run through them and highlight those links that you can easily generate. Even replicating “no follow” links are not a waste of time if they come from a good source. Links like that are often called citations. Google is looking for this type of links as it makes your site and direct links appear more reliable.

Here are some link types that are useful:

  • Guest posts are perfect for reverse engineering. All you need to do is to find the content your competitors created, offer similar – and preferably better – content, and get the links.
  • Resource links are links that appear on a resources page.  Aim to achieve similar links – it will help your site a lot.
  • Blog comments, Web 2.0 and forums usually give you “no-follow” links. Their value is mostly in bringing direct traffic and in establishing your site’s online credibility. Be careful with these links: uncontrolled link building in this way can make your site look spammy.

Majestic SEO Clique Hunter offers the ultimate link spying tool. They compare your top-ranking competitor and find what link profile they have in common. This is a helpful step in understanding the best links for your industry and how to get them.


Reverse engineering your competitor’s optimization is one of the easiest methods to apply and brings fast results. Luckily, there are many tools and software to help you with that. Many of them are free. Make good use of them! Like Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Standing on your competitor’s shoulders, you can go further than they do.


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