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Regardless of the type of business you own, you have competitors. Even if you own a store in a small town, the chances are good that somebody there is chasing the same customers you are.

Have you ever thought that it would be helpful to know what your competitors are doing to attract customers? You can walk into their store and look around, but that’s not going to help you understand what’s bringing customers to their door. What will help, though, is spying on them online.

Why You Should Spy on the Competition

Some business owners recoil at the idea of spying on their competitors. The word “spying” can have a negative connotation, but in this situation it doesn’t have to. Certainly if you had a competitor who advertised on television, you wouldn’t run away or hide your eyes when their commercials aired. On the contrary, you would most likely watch them with a great deal of interest. You would want to know what they were saying and who they were targeting.

Spying on your competitors online is no different from watching their commercials or paying attention to their ads in the local paper. It’s a way of evaluating them. Not only can it help you understand who they are, it can help you spot opportunities they might be missing.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine that your competition has a Facebook page with a large following. When you look at the page, though, you notice that there are some customer service complaints there that haven’t been addressed. What does that tell you? It says that they are not utilizing social media to improve their customers’ experience. That observation can point to an opportunity for you. Providing great customer service on your Facebook page can help you differentiate yourself from the competition.

In addition to spotting marketing opportunities, spying on your competitors can also help you:

  • Understand how they want to be perceived online
  • How they differentiate themselves from the competition (that means you!)
  • What their future plans are
  • How much traffic their website and social media pages get
  • How engaged their customers are
  • What their customers are saying about them

The above information can help you do a better job of reaching your customers and differentiating yourself from the competition – and the only way to get it is to spy on your competitors. In case you need an additional incentive, it may help to keep in mind that there’s a good chance your competitors are already spying on you! You might as well return the favor.

Tools to Help You Spy on the Competition

 It might seem time consuming to spy on your competitors online, but it doesn’t have to be. You can take the time to gather some basic information on your own and then make use of the dozens of useful tools that are available to make the job easier.

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Gathering Basic Information

The first thing you need to do to spy on your competitors is to gather some basic information. For example:

  • The URL of their website
  • The address of their Facebook page
  • Their Twitter handle
  • The keywords they are targeting on their website

Once you have this basic information, you can use it to set up automated monitoring. There are plenty of tools that you can use, and many of them are free. Here are some of the most useful:

  • Google Alerts is a free tool from Google. You can use it to set up alerts and receive an email every time one of your competitors is mentioned online. You can also use it to monitor keywords if you wish.
  • SocialMention is a free search tool you can use to find out when your competitors are mentioned on social media, blogs, and videos. You can use it to search your competitors’ names or keywords. They also offer the option to subscribe to an RSS feed for your chosen search terms so you can be sure not to miss anything.
  • Marketing Grader is another free tool that assigns you (or your competitor) a grade based on how successful your online marketing efforts are. It is especially useful because it takes information from various sources to arrive at the grade, including blogging, SEO, and social media.
  • MonitorBacklinks is a paid tool, but they do offer a free trial period. You can use it to check out your competitor’s backlinks – an important tool for SEO – and while you’re at it, you can also check your own!
  • Topsy is a free tool that lets you monitor your competitors’ activity on Twitter and other sources going all the way back to 2006. They have a premium option too, and you can monitor links, videos, photographs, and industry influencers.
  • SEMRush is another free tool that you can use to get tons of information about your competitors’ websites. It will give you data about keywords, search rankings, keyword traffic, and ad performance. Even better, it puts all of your data into a nice, graphic format that makes it easy to read and analyze.
  • SpyOnWeb is a free tool that will help you track down any websites your competitors own. Some companies have blogs or secondary sites, and SpyOnWeb will let you look up the sites by IP address so you can connect the dots.

These are just a few of the tools that are available to help you spy on competitors. Of course, it can also help to make some of your spying hands-on. You can learn a lot by following your competition on Twitter or Facebook, or by subscribing to the RSS feed of their blog. The main thing to remember is that the more information you have, the better able you will be to differentiate yourself from the competition.

As a local business owner, you know that you are competing for the same customers and sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to marketing online.  Sometimes; A little bit of smart spying can leverage the good ideas of your competitors into profits for your own business. 

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