Press - How is the competition using press? This can help generate ideas by keeping up with trending opportunities, linking opportunities, as well as seeing how the competition is using press for SEO, social marketing etc.
http: //trendwatching .com/ is a great resource for learning about trend watching.
Forums - Find out what people are discussing in your industry. Although there are many forums out there that no-follow, there are plenty of forums out there that do-follow and could be a great source for link building, discussion ideas and topics.
What are people talking about? What can you learn? Can you find any opportunities?
Directories - (I know I know) but it is very important to find the sites that are linking to more then one competitor, it is also a great tool for keyword research and finding “niche” places to gain links from.
This is a great way of finding the more “trusted” directories that your competition is listed with. Also by looking at their listing, you can see their anchor text and how they vary it, and use it!
Articles Submission Websites - Another great way to keyword research, generate content ideas, and see how they are using these sites (and how many of them) for link building.
You can then go to each article site and do a search for the URL, and see what they are posting, what keywords they are going after (by anchor text) and how many articles, links etc. they have.
Anchor Text & The Allinanchor: Search Operator
Allinanchor: This search operator is still important for researching the competition because it shows the sites that have high number of inbound links with specific keywords. This helps you keep a better eye on your progress as well as snooping on how the competition is doing.
Search Operator You now know which sites are doing the best job with their anchor text (and what keywords they are going after) so its time to see where they get all their links from!
Now that you know the sites that are on top by using “allinanchor:”, you can do a search with those sites and the keywords that you are targeting to get a better idea of places to find links, and why the competition ranks.
ALSO: You can now start to compare the top sites, and gain valuable information (including top keywords) from sites like Compete.com
You can take the top sites and compare the data side by side.
If you use tools that are available to you (and FREE), like the SEO For Firefox Tool (by Aaron Wall of SEOBook), You can get very exciting site comparison data.
Use these same tools to help you find out how many unique domains are linking to the competition. This will give you a better idea for link building and how much effort you are going to have to put in.
What pages of the competition are getting the most traffic? What pages have the most links going to them? How can you tell which pages are doing the best on social media sites?
The easiest option is to use the SEO For Firefox tool to gather this data by doing a site: search in Google. This will tell you what pages/content are doing the best. Its obvious what you would then do with that kind of data! Data for: Digg, Delicious, SU, Twitter and more! Great for researching STRONG content!
This is a great tool to use for research, and finding STRONG content that has done well with social networks.
When you have the tool installed, you can browse on any site, or bring up any Google search - show all pages to a site, whatever you want, and it will show you the data! Download the tool here: www.97thfloor.com/social-media-for-firefox
Google has many Search Operators that you can use to research the competition, find great sources for links, and do some pretty intensive competitive analysis - and its all FREE!
The source of these Search Operators can be found here: http://www.googleguide.com/advanced_operators.html With an explanation of each operator and what it will do for you. All great and worth the time it takes to research. Highly recommend!
Matt Siltala Dream Systems Media, Owner http://www.dreamsystemsmedia.com @Matt_Siltala on Twitter