Master These Tips to Outsmart Your Competition

by Celeste Bishop

in Online Competition

It’s kind of funny how people react to my suggestion that they find out what their competitors are up to – it’s very polarized. I either get rabid interest in knowing every detail about the top competitors or I get the lofty opinion that “we don’t care – we know our customers’ needs and what our competitors do is immaterial to us” or some variation on that.

Competitive Intelligence is Power

Well, as you might have guessed I will ALWAYS opt for finding out about what the competitors are up to – before it smacks me in the face. And, it’s so easy to dissect what they’re up to by doing online competitive intelligence sleuthing.

Here are just a few competitive intelligence tips to get you started: 

10 Online Competitive Intelligence Tips

  1. For starters – how do you stack up against your competitors in attracting online traffic to your website? This is a basic metric but it can tell you a lot about your competitive ecosystem. If someone is killing it – the next step is to learn what they’re doing to get that much exposure and inform how you can close the gap.
  2. Learn how much no/low cost traffic competitors get from search engines (OK – let’s just say Google). Here we’re concerned with non-paid traffic because of the obvious cost advantage it provides over paid traffic. Recently we learned that a fierce top dog competitor of a client got 24% of their search engine traffic solely from one highly searched keyword! Guess what Job One became?
  3. Next, look at what online advertising they do. You can get a sense of how much competitors spend, what keywords and messaging in the ads are working for them, landing page copy, etc. This is a real treasure-trove of information and shortcut to learning about what works to attract prospects.
  4. Do your competitors make it easy for visitors on their website to comment, “like” or share content on your site that they like with friends and colleagues? How does that stack up to your efforts? How do those metrics look in their owned social network channels? These metrics can indicate how much marketing “help” they get from visitors in expanding their reach. Also, since people prefer to make decisions based on recommendations from people they know or trust, if you have too big a gap here it’s really a significant disadvantage.
  5. How aggressive are your competitors in extending their brand and product reach though social network engagement? Do they own groups or communities in LinkedIn or Google+? Do they leverage Facebook if it’s relevant? How sophisticated are they – do they simply push promotional material into these channels or do they truly engage in non-promotional ways that create robust communities? Have they created a new formidable level of advocates through these channels that has gone unmatched at your end? 
  6. Speaking of social channels – what competitive intelligence can you glean from reviews, ratings and comments about your competitors in social channels and on customer review sites such as Yelp, City Search or industry-specific portals? 
  7. Do you monitor your competitors’ claims – particularly if they directly make comparisons to your products/services on their site or elsewhere online? If the claims are inaccurate, leaving them unchallenged can create a significant competitive disadvantage for you.
  8. Do your competitors use new social media in their marketing? Are they leveraging the huge popularity of YouTube or iTunes or SlideShare? Do you see an opportunity for market leadership using these new channels?
  9. Do you track changes to their website so you can keep informed on new products/services, offers, promotions, partnerships, new customers, etc. and basically monitor the velocity of your competitor ecosystem?
  10. Recently I spoke with a company with strong product success built primarily with offline channels such as TV, radio and print media. Yet when people researched them online prior to purchase, they encountered results from competitors and affiliates rather than their business. Their brand words where “owned” by entities with either a vested interest in hurting them or were not as sharp as they’d want in presenting their product. Controlling your brand keywords is important.

While we’re on the subject of competitors – bear in mind that online competitors for search engine ranking might not be your true competitors. It’s not unusual to find entities ahead of you on Google’s results pages that aren’t competitors at all (Hello Wikipedia!) yet they prevent you from gaining more prominent visibility. 

Here’s my challenge to you: reverse engineer your top competitors’ performance using these tips. Build a baseline comparing their performance to yours and make decisions about ways to seize open opportunities and checkmate areas where your competitors are gaining advantage over you. Monitor performance periodically – how often depends on the volatility in your competitive ecosystem.

Knowledge is power. You can always choose to do nothing with the competitive intelligence you gather if you still feel that it has nothing to offer you. My guess is you’ll find a great deal to help you build a competitive advantage.


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