Spy on Your Competitors; 10 Tips To Monitoring The Competition

by: Sharon Housley

The old adage, "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer", is applicable not only to personal relationships but business relationships as well. While I'm not suggesting that you befriend your competitors, it is important that you are cognizant of your competitors' business ventures and methods.

It is important to realize that while monitoring your competitors is essential, it could easily become an obsession. Therefore, it is crucial that you strike a balance when incorporating it into your business plan. There are several ways to conduct successful stealth competitive intelligence operations. While it is fanciful to imagine yourself as a secret agent or spy, none of these techniques are difficult, hidden or secretive. In fact, most of them are tools or services available to all businesses.

1. Ego Searches

What are ego searches? Ego searches are keywords or keyword phrase searches for a specific brand, product, or company name. Ego searches are a great way to monitor mentions of a competing product. You can automate the set up of ego searches using RSS, so anytime a competitor's product or brand name is mentioned in the news, blogosphere, or print you receive notification and the details in an RSS feed.

How to Setup Ego Feeds - http://www.rss-specifications.com/rss-ego.htm

Create RSS Ego Searches - http://www.rss-tools.com/ego-search-feeds.htm

2. Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence is defined as the process of gathering actionable information in a competitive environment. Competitive Intelligence is researching the business environment or techniques that another business uses. Competitive Intelligence is often used to influence a strategy for business development.

First, it is necessary to know your competition. Background research can be conducted using the tools at DNS Stuff http://www.dnsstuff.com , and various other websites. The DNS stuff website will allow you to do a whois lookup. A number of other research tools are also available on the site.

3. Google Alerts

Receive notification via email on the latest relevant Google search results (web, news, etc.). Define the Google Alerts using a competitors company name or product name. http://www.google.com/alerts

http://www.googlealert.com/ (3rd party tracking service) - Google Alert is the web's leading automated search and web intelligence solution for monitoring your professional interests online. It tracks the entire web for your personalized topics and sends you new results by daily email.

4. Meta Tags

Have you ever considered what keywords or phrases a competitor is targeting on their website? Have a peak at their meta tags by simply viewing the webpage source. Pay particular attention to the header tags that include title, description, and keywords. Are these keywords part of your marketing mix?

5. Information

Arm yourself with information. The Googspy website is particularly useful when used properly. Enter a keyword, company name, or domain, click the results and view the companies top 25 competitors. If any of those websites are using pay per click on Google, you will also be able to obtain a partial list of the adwords they have purchased. The website gives you a glimpse inside competitors, but the list they provide is by no means exhaustive. http://www.googspy.com

6. Incoming Links

There are a number of ways to determine who is linking to a competitor.

A simple search can be conducted in Google and MSN for "link:domain.com" (replace domain.com with competitor's domain). In Yahoo enter a search for "linkdomain:domain.com" (again replacing domain.com with your competitors name). The search will produce all webpages that provide a link to your competitor. Ideally you can request links from the websites as well.

Other BackLink Tools - http://www.webuildpages.com/tools/

Search for Places to Submit to; this site auto-generates http://www.webuildpages.com/search/ another tools that works in a similar way - http://tools.seobook.com/general/link-suggest/ ; simply enter the keyword and a list of sites that will allow you to request links appears.

7. Alexa Ranking

Use Alexa to determine not only who is linking to a competitor, but also to determine what sites are related (list yours) . Alexa monitors web traffic trends, and a list of similar websites. Alexa also has the ability to show a website's popularity trends. http://www.alexa.com

8. Website Monitoring

It is generally a good practice to monitor competitors, and you can do this using a tool like CodeMonitor. CodeMonitor takes a snapshot of a websites' HTML and notifies of any changes. The differences in the web pages are highlighted, making it easy to discern what changes occurred. CodeMonitor is a free online tool, that can be found at: http://www.emarketingperformance.com/tools/codemonitor/

9. Comparison Tools

MarketLeap has some great search comparison tools that allow for you to compare domains and ranking. Marketleap's Trend/History report gives you a view of how you or a competitors website's Search Engine Saturation has performed over time. It also verifies search engine placement based on keywords so you can quickly discern a competitors ranking for various phrases in the top search engines. http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/

10. Other Useful Spy Tools

Domain tools has a mark alert that allows you to monitor the use of a trademark. They also have a number of domain tracking and monitoring tools that can be helpful. http://www.domaintools.com/

Keep in mind that while you should be aware of the direction a competitor is moving. I do not advocate copying a competitor. These tools above are to assist businesses in monitoring their competition. I am not suggesting that you replicate, duplicate, or copy anything that a competitor does. Use the competitive intelligence to make sound business decisions about the direction you want to take.