In a recent How the F*ck episode, Adam Smith from Niche Website builders taught us the strategy behind his “beast” case study.
For context, Adam and his team embarked on one of the most ambitious niche blogging projects I’ve ever seen:
- They started with a DR 27 aged domain
- They bought multiple aged domains and redirected them in (learn how here)
- Their site is now a DR 43 (goal is DR 60)
- They created 4 million words of content across 2,300 blog posts
- The site is up to 40,000 monthly visitors in just a few months
Below is the step-by-step behind what Adam did to identify 2,300 blog post ideas for the “beast” case study.
In our last Premium article, we learned about choosing a profitable blogging niche. This week’s article is an extension of that process, with clearer instructions on raiding competitor sites for traffic opportunities.
What is Tomb Raiding SEO?
Tomb-raiding SEO is the process of finding websites in your niche with weak backlink profiles, but lots of traffic.
When a website isn’t “authoritative” as measured by a combination of Ahrefs, Semrush, and Majestic’s authority scores, yet receives an outsized volume of traffic…we can assume that Google’s rewarding them for their content, the way the site is structured, or something else.
Content strategies are pretty visible and thus copiable. So by analyzing these sites we can understand what Google is rewarding in the SERPs right now—and do the same.
Goal: A clear content calendar, built around topic clusters, that targets the traffic of weaker competitors.
How to do Tomb Raiding SEO in 13 steps
I’m going to assume that you’re starting with an aged domain (either you have a corporate blog already or have just bought an aged domain to build on).
Here's the complete 13-step guide to tomb-raiding SEO:
1/ Create a big list of competitors in your space
You really want to go big on this list.
For the "beast" case study, Adam found 600 competitors and put them on a list.
Google lots and lots of key terms in your industry. Find sites, look at what they’re ranking for, and find more sites that way. (I detailed this here).
You can also use reports like Ahrefs competing domains. Add in the competitors of your competitors and dive down the rabbit hole.
At this point, we don’t care if they’re big, small, have traffic, have high or low domain authority.
Just list put them in a big list—and put your URL in there, too.
Note: Check each of these websites to ensure they are true competitors targeting the same niche and topics. You’ll find lots of sites that don’t quite align, just exclude those.
2/ Pull in six metrics and add them up
- Ahrefs: UR and DR
- Moz: DA and PA
- Majestic: Trustflow and Citation Flow
Individually, none of these are 100% accurate measures of authority. But they’re the best we’ve got.
Together, they help us get to a single point of truth.
Literally, add them up, with no weighting, to get a final authority score for each site.
3/ Order the list highest to lowest
“We order that list highest to lowest on the final authority score, and you are in that list. And then you've got an idea then of where you sit in that competitor landscape from a pure domain authority perspective.”—Adam Smith
You now have a clear benchmark on where your website sits compared to all competitors in your niche.
Filter authority highest to lowest and see where you sit.
In the middle of the list? Great. You know you’ve got lots of competitors weaker than you. We can analyze their SEO strategy in the following steps.
Low on the list? You have fewer sites to tomb raid, but you know that if you build backlinks you can move yourself up in the list.
4/ Remove stronger competitors and append traffic
We want to focus on raiding weaker competitors. So remove any above you for now.
Run a batch analysis of all your URLs in Semrush or Ahrefs. Append traffic estimate data.
5/ Remove outliers
If the majority of a website’s traffic comes from just one piece of content…remove the site. This is an outlier and we can’t learn much from it.
You’ll often find a site ranking for a really competitive term they shouldn’t be ranking for, and it’s a risk to copy them because we don’t know exactly what Google is rewarding.
Instead, look for websites with a healthy distribution of traffic across pages.
6/ Remove “waste of time” sites
In another podcast, Adam mentions that he removes every site with less than 1,000 in traffic, too. Because “there’s probably not much we can tomb raid”.
However, keep an eye out for up-and-coming sites. If they’ve been growing rapidly over recent months then that’s exciting to find. They aren’t far ahead!
7/ Find positive anomalies
With some quick filtering on your list, you should identify websites receiving lots of traffic for reasons that are not their backlink authority.
These are who we want to analyze and raid for content strategies.
Here’s an example:
This site has +30,000 traffic with a DR 20. Traffic is spread fairly evenly across 200 pages (below is the Ahrefs top pages report).
8/ For each site, download all URLs with traffic
For all the sites below you, head to Ahrefs or Semrush pages reports and export all the URLs.
You’ll end up with spreadsheets for all competitors' sites (it could be 100s). Combine these into one Google Sheet.
Across all your weaker competitors, you can now see which pieces of content are the best performing.
9/ Use ScreamingFrog to pull additional data
We want to get as much data as possible about each site for our competitor analysis.
ScreamingFrog allows you to analyze 500 URLs for free. So this is also a great starting point for most small competitor sites.
Per page on each site, add:
- Word count
That way you can quickly assess how each site structures their top pages.
10/ Categorize URLs into topics
Topical authority has become increasingly important for Google ranking. In the past, we may have simply ordered the list from highest to lowest and recreated the content.
Now, it’s important to cluster URLs into topical themes and then build within that holistic framework.
"I'll give you an example. I analyzed a plan in the travel space that focused on cruise lines. There were about eight competitors, including some anomalies we identified.
Upon analysis, there were clear clusters. There was a cluster around Norwegian cruise lines, a cluster around Disney cruise lines, and a cluster around drinks packages and different types of cabins. We categorized them based on what made sense."—Adam Smith
11/ Summarize traffic into clusters
So far we have:
- URLs for each competitor
- Categorized into topical clusters
- Traffic per URL
Now, we want to add up the traffic per cluster and get an average traffic per page metric.
Cluster 1: 10 pages, 20,000 traffic. Average traffic per page = 2,000
Cluster 2: 20 pages, 20,000 traffic. Average traffic per page = 1,000
Cluster 1 is a superior choice here. For half the number of pages we get the same traffic opportunity.
Using this method, across all the competitor sites with lower authority than yours…you can easily start piecing together a content calendar.
12/ Make better content
So, how do you actually beat these competitors?
Adam tells me how he briefed his team for the “beast” SEO case study:
- Create completely unique content
- Make sure the article covers all the same topics
- Round up the word count or add 200 words
- Add an FAQ section based on Google’s Also Asked box
With this strategy, you’re massively increasing your chances of winning.
✅ Stronger domain authority
✅ Similar topical authority
✅ Better content (identify weaknesses, poor sear intent matching, long-winded articles, missed topics)
Over time, we’ll likely steal that traffic.
13/ Moving forward
As Adam did with his “beast” case study, you should continue building backlink authority for your website.
As your domain authority score improves, and you move up the ranking list, you unlock more and more content opportunities.
Tomb Raiding FAQs
- Should I write every piece of content a competing site has done? Or just the stuff getting traffic?
Adam: “Only the stuff that's getting traffic and our internal cutoff is at least a hundred visitors per month, at least a hundred.”
Ben: “So there, there could be the fact that they have 10,000 pages about a subject not ranking, not getting traffic, but that's helping their topical authority or something. That’s driving results for keywords with volume behind them?”
Adam: “Potentially, um, we do kind of cover that off a little bit in that, say for example when we did that initial categorization and there was only one piece of content on Disney cruise lines.
Yeah. We would exclude that just because there's only one piece. We would just say that's not big enough to be a category, essentially.”
Ben: “let's say you have a topic cluster, um, most of them. Uh, doing a thousand in traffic in one, in one topic. Let's say there's 20 articles, eight 15 of them are doing a thousand traffic, and then five of them are not doing any, do you just cut them off or do you make them as well?”
Adam: “We would cut them off because they didn't meet the, the, the traffic thresholds”
Note: If this is a SaaS company, you might still want to create content relevant to your product. Traffic is not the be all and end all. With niche blogs, it often is.
Get more from Adam on his YouTube channel—here's their video on Tomb Raiding FAQs.