Questions  - 
SEO Question : Is it worth monitoring your competitors?

It's actually a rather good question ... so what are your thoughts?

I've heard a term before that says " If you want to rank for your chosen search terms take a look at your top 5-10 competitors to see what they are doing"

Is this a redundant term/aspect of learning how to "Rank" Or did the term even exist in reality. 

If i have a look at what the phrase suggests i don't think I'll even bother as they are all in the "Untouchable Elite Category where they keep panda's and Penguins as pets,

 I know there are a million other things to do (Well i don't really) I've just heard other people saying there is, But yet to discover what they are talking about or even mean.

So based on the phrase alone   "If you want to rank for your chosen search terms take a look at your top 5-10 competitors to see what they are doing"

 Is it worth even bothering having a look If you are Not  in amongst the top 5-10
Serge A.'s profile photoLyndon NA's profile photoIain Calvert's profile photoMatt Holmes's profile photo
I'll use whatever is available to me and it carries no penalty risk.
Full stop.
I think much the same ... it can even help be more efficient (saves you expending resources needlessly).
It can also contribute to your amrketing/promotion plans, audience research etc.
So I say "do it" - just don't expect it to help rank for that specific term (apply it elsewhere if needs be)
We've built a tool which scans all your competitors for a given keyword, analyses their links and shows you any links which your competitors have and you don't. It lists the links sorted by following criteria:

1) Number of instances (e.g. 9/10 competitors have it)
2) Quality Metrics (Flowmetrics)

The first one is to do with "likelihood of scoring a link" there and second one is "should I be getting that link".
+Iain Calvert
"... Depends if you want to lead or follow ..."

That sounds like you're implying that monitoring your comeptitors will result in you following them?
It's not as simple as if you want to lead or follow.

If we're not in the same league, being aware of what they're upto can help.  I like to know who, how and why is on page 1 so at the very least I know what I'm dealing with.  Quite often it can give extra areas to explore.  Sometimes it can lead to entertainment when they do something very silly...  
Well said +Matt Holmes :D

Further - if you don't monitor, how will you know if you're following them or not?
(Monitoring may enable you to identify untravaled routes!)
yes as with all the algorithm changes you want to track who got caught out but also if you are thinking long term plans it's another tick in the box... i say track the top 50-100 competitors if you have the resources available to you... very interesting to watch new entrants rise in some areas so you can adjust your strategies months before they are even a threat
another point around that point of leading for following by +Matt Holmes if you know you have the exact same strategy or techniques you want to track if there is a algorithm change how you both tracked... if one fell and one remained you can get a better insight into what the alogrithm might have targeted...
I guess there must be a fine line between obsessively monitoring and monitoring for success. That's when +Iain Calvert's thought comes into play. If you are a follower - you are more likely to spend more time monitoring. If you are a thought leader - you may not have enough time to monitor. Rather you would check-in occasionally.

In either case, you need to be aware of what your competition does - their success and failure stories, their current standings and etc. It is the level of detail that is different for different purposes.

I will occasionally go over SERPs and see where our competitors stand, then make a 2 minutes visual site audit. 
I tend to look for competitors (in various positions), and then look over the site (structure/content/targeting) and links (source URLs, type of link, content etc), and social presence/promotional efforts (where, profile details, activity level, who they seem to interact with etc.)

Between those points - you can see roughly where they are, how they may have got there, what may be working for them, what may not (and possibly the why's).
Better still, it enables you to see the "holes", and the risks they may have faced etc.

It can be a bit time consuming - but once you are up to speed, and have your notes - you only need to monitor lightly (alert systems then kick in).
I suppose it depends to what level somebody follows a competitor. If it's just being aware of rankings, can be worth while to some degree.

If someone digs into backlinks, then they may end up reverse engineering them, which will only get you so far.

If we look at the bigger picture and take retailers as an example, if a company closely follows another retailers promotions they will inevitably end up copying them to some degree. This is all good and well, but will only get them so far.

If you work out how to achieve your goal (rankings, conversion, rate, sales, subscribers etc) based on your experience you'll get better results, certainly in my experience.

Should you monitor competitors, yes but only so you're aware, not being led.

Back in the real world of agencies, showing what competitors are doing is a great way to convince clients your strategy of adding linkable and shareable content is the way forward long term.

+Lyndon Antcliff, you're right, this is an interesting question.
+Iain Calvert I rather agree with your final points.  

Digging into backlinks is interesting but only to a degree... never  with intent of mirroring - it's usually not possible anyway.  Budget, team size, and many other things usually see to that.  Especially if you find yourself against one of the occasional startup darlings all over the web like a rash... :D

But as a way of getting awareness, which general areas, and what the target actually is, I find it useful.

At which point I then go do my own thing.

Obsessing over competitors, their links etc, is never a good thing...
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