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Tactics of SEO Warfare for Web Businesses

June 22nd, 2007 by shawn · 12 Comments

So let’s say you’re a business owner, or you do consulting. And you have a competitor who outranks you in the Google search results for your niche…let’s say the search term is “adult baby diapers“. Haha no let’s not say that. (I’ve just been reading some weird things lately. Read that article I linked to. It’s entertaining.)

No let’s say you sell something more normal, like vintage collectibles. You have a shop using a shopping cart system and you dominate the search results for this particular niche. Sure there’s a couple of other hangers-on but they come and go and you mostly stay right on top. But then one day you notice your sales drop and you check your site stats and notice less unique visitors and less hits. Hmm…something’s changed.

The search term is “vintage halloween costumes”. You look at the results in Google and what you see gives you a queasy, sinking feeling and gets your temper fired up, all in the space of two seconds. “What the hell happened??” you ask yourself. “Why am I at the bottom of the page, when I used to rank #2?” you demand to know from the search gods.

Can this situation occur? Sure it can. Can it happen (seemingly) overnight? Yep. Is there anything you can do about it? Yes. It’s time to bust out that Sun Tsu book you never read, and get ready for some seo warfare.

Okay, put that Sun Tsu volume on your desk – so it looks like you did read it. And it might give you some inspiration later. But for now, forget about it. What we really want to do is to find out about our competitor. No dirty tricks for now, we just want to find out some information – namely:

  1. Just who the mastermind (or dingus) is that outranked us in the SERPs
  2. What other sites this person operates
  3. What he looks like, so we can throw darts at his picture

Later, we will explore some more information such as…

  • What strategies this person (likely) is using to outrank us,
  • How we can counteract his efforts, and
  • What we must do to crush him

This really is warfare! I’ll prove it to you by using my supreme logic: you need food to live. You need money to buy food. And you need to rank high in the search engines to earn money from your website.

Therefore, when this competitor outranks you he is basically snatching the food out of your toddler’s mouth before he can take a bite. The competitor is trying to kill your family!! (Raises fist) We must crush him!!

How to Find Someone’s Other Websites

Okay so this course of instruction is gonna span a few articles on this here blog. Let’s keep it simple for now. We just wanna find out who this mother is and what other sites he owns. Here are various steps to give us what we want to know.

  1. WHOIS – Domaintools is a site I like because I don’t have to enter a captcha every time. Gives you whatever is basically public registration info. You can sometimes query a couple of different whois sites and get slightly different info. (Go ahead, try looking up diydollars.com on both this and this site. See any difference?) So, make sure you aren’t missing something.
  2. So you know who owns the site. Or not. Maybe they have a private registration. How to find out the owner? You can try the DialogSelect database which has some historical whois data. You can lookup by a person’s name or by a current domain. You can try the RIPE DB. Play there for a while. Another way is to use the Historical WHOIS lookup at Domaintools. If they have a private registration, you might find that it was added later, and an earlier record of the registration might show their identity. Good luck with this, though. They could also have registered under a fake name. Or they could have registered in a non-English speaking country’s registrar. Good luck getting the info.
  3. To find out what other domains a person owns, you want to try the DialogSelect tool above but more reliably you want to do some searching based on “fingerprints” you find on their site. A fingerprint is just what it sounds like: some piece of data that uniquely identifies the person. This could be a phone number (search everywhere for the number in different forms), an address, a header or footer on the site, a copyright notice (like Copyright 2007 Plepco Industries or some other such thing they put on all their sites). [By the way kids, this is why you don't ever want to leave a fingerprint on your site especially if you're doing "blackhat" type stuff.] Probably the “fingerprint search” method is the most fruitful method of finding these sites.
  4. One more good way of finding your competitor’s sites is by extracting all the links on his site and checking them out. Some will obviously not be important to you. But inevitably, he will have linked to one of his other sites from somewhere on the site you know of. There are scripts available to do this or you can just check by going through the site manually, but if it’s a large site you should let your friend PHP do all the work.
  5. You ever thought about forums? Or even USENET? Yeah, people leave trails everywhere when they post on forums. So get the site’s email addresses and search for the same addresses on Google, especially Google Groups. If you get no hits, try the name without the domain – specifically if you find a very specific address like joestiffler77@megacorp.com for instance. You would probably be able to just search for “joestiffler77″ and find that this person has other email addresses at different domains. I have used this to find people. Someone emailed me recently, and I searched for his email address and found some forum posts he made in 1994. On that forum I viewed his profile. (Hahaha.) In the profile I found a website he ran. I also learned what his area of expertise was, by reading his posts. For example’s sake let’s say he said, “I am adept at programming cell phone software”. I searched for his last name and the terms “cell phone” and found that he spoke at a cell phone conference in another country. So can you guess what happened next? I looked up the conference and was able to get PDFs of the proceedings as well as pictures of the guy. Yeah. There are trails everywhere.
  6. One more thing I’ll throw in here is Flicker (or Flikr or Flickr or whatever the hell it is now). Sometimes people like to use the same Flickr profile name as their email name or their forum handle. If you search for the name you might find a bunch of pictures of them which can be interesting. (Or not.) This brings to mind the more useful and obvious MySpace searches you can do.

Okay, that’s it for this post. Next time I want to talk more in depth about finding out what they are possibly doing to outrank you and of course how to counteract their efforts with campaigns of your own. Lastly, methods you can undertake to totally dominate and crush them – which you absolutely must do in order to avoid a weekly or monthly tug-of-war in the search results.

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    Tags: Advice & Inspiration · Business How-To's · Ecommerce · SEO

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    Comment by Saul
    2007-06-22 19:03:06

    You made this post almost sound like a PI story. I think you have a really unique style and I like the subjects you deal with and how you deal with them. Hey have you checked out the Postiecon conference in Las Vegas. It is a gathering of bloggers sharing their knowledge on creating good blogs. And it is totally free!
    Hey, keep on writing the good stuff.


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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-22 21:17:35

    Well I’m working on my Magnum PI moustache these days so maybe that played a part.

    I know not of this Postiecon you speak of, but if it’s in Las Vegas I bet it’s cool. I’d be up for that if I could get an opportunity to travel…but I doubt I’m gonna make it this time around.

    If you go take some pics and send them. Maybe I’ll make a post with “Saul’s Postiecon Pics”.

    Comment by Rich
    2007-06-22 23:40:41

    Woah, dude like where is TC and the helicopter?

    Man, I hope I don’t outrank your for anything…but is the money really in SEO? I love ranking high but w/o a conversion engine, no cashie cashie…

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-23 02:25:47

    Hahaha…Well hopefully everyone understands that this article pretty much only relates to people with websites that make money and actually need to sustain a top ranking. SEO matters for personal websites, etc. but I wouldn’t care as much about maximizing my onsite and offsite SEO and ranking high (so much) unless it’s for a money-making website that I own. Examples: an online store, an affiliate marketing site I operate, a pay site of some type where I sell online content (use your imagination), or even a “made for AdSense” type site.

    Basically, if my website is my living I will defend it tooth and nail and you will too. So, that’s who this article is for – people who actually need this info.

    Now, if I could only get a good helicopter pilot…

    Comment by Hungary Real Estate
    2007-06-25 11:23:24

    what a great guide! now how to fight the Iraqis?
    i like seo wars. long ago in a network far far away

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    Comment by Patrick
    2007-06-28 03:25:00

    Very good article. You answered some questions I had. One thing that I’ve learned is that SEO doesn’t guarantee anything! Some of it has to do with a little luck!

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-28 04:26:09

    Luck is where opportunity and preparation meet up. Or something along those lines. I know what you mean, but I HAVE to dispel any thoughts of luck just so website owners out there see that their goals can be met.

    This is SEO: onsite having all your ducks in a row + lots of outside links pointing to you + traffic going to you.

    It’s a mathematical formula that few people know, and while it may be almost indistinguishable from magic, it ain’t luck.

    Just ask those Russian spammers – “How come you guys have such a profitable viagra-selling business??” They’re not gonna say “luck”, they’ll tell you it’s the sheer numbers they manage to wrangle.

    It all comes down to math. And also, momentum tends to build upon itself which is why getting dugg can have good effects on your site for a long time after the initial excitement.

    Just stay tuned – part 2 is up and part 3 of this article is coming. I will explain more than you want to hear. All in due time. :)

    2007-06-28 04:08:37

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    2007-06-30 03:43:10

    [...] Tactics of SEO Warfare for Web Businesses [...]

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    2007-07-13 23:14:10

    [...] explored exploring your competition. We’ve talked about outranking competitors. We’ve layed out some of the more accessible [...]

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    Comment by Fedmich
    2008-01-09 18:15:21

    Isn’t these tools for those that are called as “Online stalkers”, hehe. -joke

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    Comment by Justin
    2009-01-09 14:48:18

    Thanks dude for the informative article – there’s some gems in there :)

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