Techniques for Spying On Your Competitors Online

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Spying on your competitors online to find out what they are up to, what worked for them and possibly what didn’t, is a great way to revamp your competitive strategy and soar above them. What’s more, as long as the information you are trying to get is freely and publicly available, your spying is legal and ethical, and therefore, acceptable. This article covers these four aspects: 1) why spy on your competitors, 2) how to find out who your competitors are, 3) how to spy on your competition, and 4) spying with the help of web-based tools.

WHY SPY ON YOUR COMPETITORS

Here’s a look at four reasons why you should spy on your competitors.

You can foretell your competitors’ next moves

The information you get from competitive intelligence will help to foretell what your competition intends to do next. Their marketing will give you an idea of a new trend or provide initial signs of a new service or product they are preparing to launch. Based on the information about which direction your competitors are taking, you can decide whether you should continue in the direction you are currently moving along or proceed along a different direction.

You can make better business decisions

The awareness of what approaches and strategies proved successful for competitors will enable you to be more focused with respect to decision making concerning your marketing activities.

You can discover new opportunities

Spying on your competitors will help to identify loopholes in their marketing, and you can utilize this knowledge for your benefit. For example, if you monitor a rival’s PPC campaigns, you may be able to get an idea of which area of the market you need to concentrate on next and which areas you can pause for the time being at least. In addition, if you know which products or solutions your competitors are concentrating on, you can come up with a fresh product, solution or angle that would make you unique in some way as well as satisfy a requirement within the market.

You can identify where your competitive edge lies

With the help of competitive intelligence, you can understand where your strengths lie in comparison to your competitors.’ Suppose you find out that a competitor has a huge budget compared to yours, for online advertising. Rather than chase them, you can search for and target other areas of marketing that they do not concentrate much on.

HOW TO FIND OUT WHO YOUR COMPETITORS ARE

Google search, analysis of top websites and alternative keywords

google search

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Consider all the competitive keywords that provide the best definition of your business. Develop a list of these keywords, enter them as search queries in Google and see what results turnup. For example, if one of your keywords is “plastic surgeon Alabama,” you can type that as a search query, and the top results returned would be your major competitors for that keyword. If yours is a small business, it may be difficult to compete with the big names in the industry. In that case, you can benefit from any directory websites that figure in the top search results, and looking for alternative keywords.

With respect to directories, when you enter a search term, see if any directories appear in the search results. For example, a directory result that is returned for “real estate agent Georgia” is that of Zillow. More than 20,000 real estate agents are listed on this website and so this website may be a great resource to locate one or more competitors. You can arrange the listings by their recent sales and search for the associated websites.

With respect to finding out alternative keywords, when you type a search query, at the bottom of the first results page, you’ll see some keyword suggestions from Google. These are a number of long tail keywords associated with your search and that you may think of adopting for your SEO campaign. The keywords would, of course, direct you to competitor websites for those keywords.

Check your website and use Google Similar Pages extension

You may already be aware of who your key online competition and your local competition is. To know who are your direct competitors for long tail keywords and the same online community, go to your website and utilize the Google Chrome extension titled Google Similar Pages. This extension will enable you to determine which websites the search engine regards as similar to your own. Repeat the process for your known competition. List out the competition you already knew about as well as the newly discovered ones.

Look for blogs in your niche

To locate these blogs, you can do a search on Google Blog Search. For example: if you are a laboratory equipment supplier based in Connecticut, you can use the search query “laboratory equipment supplier Connecticut.” The second way to get to the blogs for any niche is to go through the Technorati directory which lists thousands of blogs. There, the blogs are listed by authority. Browse for the most reliable and relevant blogs and choose the best ones.

HOW TO SPY ON YOUR COMPETITION

Look out for job ads posted by competitors

It would be a good idea to keep an eye open to job ads posted by your competitors. From these ads, you’ll understand what skills a particular competitor is recruiting for which in turn is a major indicator for fresh initiatives. A great resource for such job ads is Indeed which has a collection of listings from plenty of online job boards.

Check out competitor websites

Take a look at competitor websites and take note of the following:

  • The kind of content they have and continue to upload to attract website visitors
  • The keywords they incorporate in their pages for SEO optimization
  • Whether they have a blog and if yes, the topics they cover in it
  • Whether it is easy to determine their chief offerings (products/services) immediately
  • Whether there is an email list that you can sign up for
  • Their target market
  • Whether their website is easily navigable and how it has been constructed
  • Are there any website features that your website can benefit from?
  • How your company differs from theirs
  • Do they have any offers for their visitors and would you like to try doing something similar

Observe and/or follow their social media activity

  • If your competitors in the industry hang out on Facebook and chances are they do, it would be good to monitor their conversations. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get useful information such as the clients your competitor’s sign.
  • You can sign up on LinkedIn to follow a particular company (ies) so that you get notifications as and when there are new posts on their LinkedIn page. In addition, using LinkedIn’s search feature, you can look for a firm and find their previous employees and fresh hires. Companies may identify and boast about their clients in the updates on their personal LinkedIn page. If you are concerned that the company may know you and hence may block you, try to get a colleague to follow the page, instead.
  • Create lists so as to monitor your competitors’ social activity on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Also devote some time to studying their brand on SocialMention.
  • Subscribe to their RSS feeds for Yelp.
    • Yelp has amazing localized search results so you can easily get a list of your competitors who are situated near to you. Once you have the list in hand, you can subscribe to their RSS feeds for this multinational corporation’s website. This is helpful in monitoring their reviews. It would also be worthwhile if you had an idea of what your community’s opinion of your business is.
  • Use Twitter
    • Here are some suggestions to use Twitter for competitive intelligence.
      • Follow your rivals’ event or product hashtag. The real-time following of an event is helpful in coming up with a messaging plan or competitive response. Event tags such as SAP’s Forum or #OpenWorld enable hassle-free following for real-time updates and messaging on Twitter, Vimeo, RSS feeds, Instagram and YouTube.
      • Check out your competitors’ public lists to determine how they classify their followers. After doing so, consider subscribing to their Twitter lists and following whatever or whoever they are following. You may consider utilizing a tool such as FollowerWonk to locate people who are your competitors’ followers but not yours. Follow these followers and possibly, sooner or later, when they see that you are following them, they may follow you in return. This is based on the assumption that they are following your competition because they are interested in following experts in your industry. This way you are not just monitoring your competitors’ Twitter activity but also using it to your benefit. With FollowerWonk, you can also monitor the growth of your competitors’ profile as well as yours.

Spying With the Help of Web-Based Tools

  • Google Alerts: In addition to being free, another great thing about this tool is that you don’t have to keep on visiting the site to carry out the same search. Just set up an alert, and the latest news pertaining to your competitors would be sent to your email inbox. The tool monitors news, discussions, blogs, books, and video.
  • SEMRush: This tool permits you to do things such as find out which keywords your competitors are ranking for, monitor the positions of their organic keywords, view their PPC ads, and find pertinent long tail keywords. Though you can get a lot of free information from the homepage’s free search bar, for additional queries and results, you should upgrade to the $69.95 per month package.
  • Google Trends: Google Trends gathers the information about hot and trending topics and searches. You can also get information about your competitors’ website activity for a particular period, from the tool. Type the website address of the competitor you wish to “spy on” in the search box. You can compare the activities of two or multiple websites simultaneously. Click on “Websites link” in the new window that appears.
    • The information you can get with this tool includes:
      • Per day number of unique visitors to a particular website – The information would be presented in graph form. You can see the traffic in numbers for different time periods by using the pull down menu titled “All years.” Thus, you can determine which time period has maximum traffic.
      • Which country and even which specific regions in a country provide the most traffic to a competitor website
      • The search terms most frequently used by your target market – This information would help you improve your list of keywords so that more people come to know of your business.
      • Other websites visited by your competitors’ visitors – This will give you an idea of the interest of your target market which in turn will help you tailor your content and perhaps, even your products and solutions, to suit them.
  • Compete: In its own words, Compete is a “digital intelligence” tool that utilizes online consumer behavior. When you type in a domain, you are immediately shown the competitive rank and unique visitors. Another great way to apply this tool is to export the CSV so that your team is involved in the data. If the site for which you seek information has comparatively low traffic, you have no option, but to go for a paid plan – $199, $649 or custom.
  • Ahrefs: Ahrefs provides an abundance of information on referring domains and IPs, external links, main anchor text, linked domains, top pages and more. The free account provides limited information covering three reports and 10 results. For more thorough information, you would have to take the $79 per month package.
  • Commun.it: This straightforward platform is best regarded as a kind of Twitter management tool. In addition to enabling you to set up monitoring for specific phrases, you can identify your valuable Twitter users. These are of three categories namely: engaged members, supporters, and influencers. As soon as you log in to the tool, a ‘quick actions’ page appears which shows you users that you can thank, follow or unfollow as per you wish, and also tweets to retweet. You can choose between a free account and a paid account (minimum $40.99 per month).
  • Marketing Grader: This is a free HubSpot tool that evaluates websites in terms of social media, blogging, lead generation, SEO, and mobile, furnishing an overall score. This a great tool to use to learn where your competitors are scoring and where they’re erring. So supposing, your competitors are missing an RSS feed, reliable sources linking to them or an email subscription option, this tool will let you know about it.
  • The Wayback Machine: This tool from the Internet Archive enables you to have a look at what your competitors’ pages looked like before their present look. This information may be able to help you understand how modifications to the website improved conversions.
  • Adbeat: This is an enterprise tool that enables you to see all of the ads that specific advertisers are making use of, split test their ad copy and locate competitors you were not even aware of. You gain access to some of the leading Ad networks such as Adsonar, Google Display Network, Pulse 360, Doubleclick and MSN Content Network. Mobile competitive intelligence is available for devices such as iPad, iPhone and Android Smartphones, and also Android tablets. A free trial is available, for 30 days. There is also an introductory package for $99 per month but this package only monitors Google ads so you may have to go for a pricier package.

In conclusion, it may be said that spying on your competitors doesn’t necessarily mean you should blatantly copy them. You can use whatever information you get about your competitors to develop your strategy to carve an enviable place for yourself in the market. Of course, if you noticed that your competitor is using a goldmine keyword or engaging in some other activity that would be worth emulating, you may want to tap it too.

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