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Spy vs. Spy: SEO Counterintelligence

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 16 years and 86 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

SEO Spying and CounterintelligenceUnderstanding and assessing the competition are a HUGE part of SEO, but when the competition also turns out to be a “conference buddy”, the lines sometimes get blurred. It’s still nice to have some ways to creatively discover what the other team is up to. I haven’t worked in too many highly competitive industries myself but the concepts of “SEO counterintelligence” is definitely fascinating no matter if you are the ONLY person in a niche industry (sooner or later you’ll have some competition).

There are new website designers and developers every day who decide that they want to be search engine optimizers. This is very similar to the way that seven or so years ago everyone decided they wanted to design or develop a web site. I was myself a wannabe designer once. I may have even stuck with it if I didn’t suck so badly at design, and could create a site concept that I liked in less than half my lifetime.

With new and intelligent folks constantly joining the ranks of existing SEO’s, the marketplace gets increasingly overcrowded and competitive. The best SEO’s realize that the changes that G, Y, and M make to their algorithms that screw most people are actually helpful to them because they increase the demand for extensive SEO knowledge.

Many SEO’s that are good businesspeople realize that at this point there is still plenty of room for “cooperative competition”. Margins are quite high and it is beneficial to find ways that you can cooperate with your competition to become bigger and stronger.

This post is mainly inspired by a pair of posts by Jake in the WmW supporter’s forum a while back that I’ve been meaning to regurgitate – Dissecting Competitor’s SEO Work

A few ideas for analyzing the competition competition:

  • Check out their robots.txt – see what you can see that they don’t want you to
  • Look for quality CSS-P – If important elements are positioned to the top of the page and the text/code ratio is very good – you’re probably dealing with a pretty savvy SEO
  • Sift through their backlinks using the “linkdomain:” and “link:” commands on yahoo

Counter-intelligence tactics:
Thanks again Jake

  • Selectively deliver your robots.txt to only known SE IP’s – keep competitors from sniffing
  • Selectively deliver content to folks coming in on “SEO queries” using things like,, etc. Normal people don’t use these queries, and it’ll probably be fun to have your competition see a message pop up that says…”hey, quit sniffin’ around my site!”

I personally don’t spend a lot of time on “selectively delivering content”, but I do see the value, and how it will increase as the marketplace shrinks a bit. Probably be a while, but my guess is that those with the most information and ability to use it wisely will win.

Search is a funny industry that relies almost entirely on information. It makes sense that disinformation will become increasingly more important. Here is another thread from Brett T about search bait that is pretty insightful, and might get your gears grinding about interesting ways to attract users and confuse the competition.

Okay, all the links in this post are to WmW supporter’s forum, but hey, it’s a great resource where I’ve learned a lot. I’ll make the reader’s a deal…if you subscribe to WmW, and you drop me a line, I’ll send you my list of favorite supporter’s forum posts from the last year two years or so. Definitely worth your while…and hey then you can even read the links from this post. If you’re already a member you’re probably a competitor also…so no deal for you!


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