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How To Run Effective Competitor Analysis for Your Small Business

Have you ever wished you knew what your competitors were up to? That you could legally spy on the leading businesses in your field or area to find out how they are getting customers, why they are outselling you, or what their plans are? Well, the good news is, that you can, and gathering the intelligence to analyze your competitors is easier than you think. Here are 15 ways to gather competitive intelligence

1. Identify Your Competitors

You probably know some of your competitors. But you may not be aware of them all. To identify them, go to Google, Bing, Facebook, and YouTube and search for your type of business. Make a list of the top five companies that show up and copy down their domain names.

Look at where your top competitors show up in the search listings and analyze the descriptions that show up in the search results. Those descriptions may give you an indication of who their target market is or what the search engines think is important about their pages.

Tip: Search using Incognito mode in Chrome or InPrivate mode in Edge. This will help prevent the search engines from guessing at what they think you want to see based on previous searches you’ve done. To use those modes, right click on the browse icon and then choose New Incognito window in Chrome or New InPrivate window in Edge.

If you are a local business, do some searches that include your city name, county or other geographical information followed by the product or service you sell. If your competitors show up in search results for those terms, but your company doesn’t, take a close look at the pages the search engines link to on your competitor’s websites. (Hint: it may not be their homepage.) Look at what the focus of the page is, and what words are used on the page, whether their name, phone number, and address are on the page, and what the percentage of text to images is. Then compare the results to your own website. If the company is using YouTube, look at their videos to see what they are promoting and who their target market appears to be.

2. Search for Specific Products and Keywords

Chances are, your type of business may sell more than one product or service, and those products and services might be called different things by different customers. To catch some of the variations – and see which your competitors are getting found for – search for individual products or the services you sell, and see what companies show up on the first page of search results. Then, repeat the search using variations of the product or service name. For instance, if you do lawn care, search for lawn maintenance, grass cutting, and landscaping in addition to lawn care. List the companies that show up in each search.

3. Visit Your Top Competitors’ Websites

What information or products do the competitors feature on their website? Do they have a blog? How do they display what they sell? Are they running special promotions? Do they have testimonials or case studies or videos on the site? What are the headlines they use on each of their pages? Are their sites easy to navigate? How do what they are promoting and how their site looks compare to yours? Does their name, address and phone number appear on every page? Do they have an email signup form in a prominent position on their site?

What you’re looking for here are any common factors (i.e., inclusion of geographic location, keywords, types of products featured, guarantees, lead capture forms, social media links, etc.) that your top competitors are including on their sites that are missing from your site, or possibly from your product offerings.  

4. Follow Competitors on Social Media

Find out about new products your competitor has in the works and when they’ll release them by keeping track of their Twitter feed, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest pages. If you know who some of the employees are, see if those employees have profiles and pages on any of the social networks and follow those, too.

In addition to learning what the companies you compete with are doing, pay attention to who follows them and mentions them in social media posts. Then see if you can make connections with some of their followers.

5. Sign Up for Your Competitors’ Email Lists

When a company is introducing a new product, planning a sale or an event, promoting their community involvement, or just looking for repeat business, they email their customers and subscribers. If you’re on the email list, you’ll have that competitive information delivered right to your inbox.  

6. Analyze Your Competitors’ Ads

Depending on what type of business you run, there are any number of places your competitors may be advertising. If the competitors have been around for a while, keeping an eye on what they’re advertising and where they are advertising can give you important clues about what’s selling and what’s working to attract customers. Places to monitor will depend on your line of work but may include online search ads, local newspaper advertisements, cable TV, local sponsorships, and social media advertising.

7. Collect and Analyze Their Sales Literature

Take a look at the kind of sales literature your customers hand out. What kind of information is on their flyers? Do they promote any one product more than others? Is the material professionally designed? How does it compare to your own?   

8. Set Google Alerts

Find out when there is new information on the web about competing businesses, their employees or their products by setting a Google Alert for each. The alerts will make you aware of press releases, mentions, and new websites that have been found related to the alert terms you set up.

Tip: To keep your email box from overflowing with alerts, be sure to read and follow the instructions and the tips in the links on the right side of the Google Alerts page.

9. Search Specific Competitors by Name Online

Use Google, YouTube, Facebook, Bing, and Yahoo to search for the names of specific companies you want to know about. Add terms like “reviews,” “news,” “press release,” “announces,” or other terms that might dig up public information that would be useful to you.

10. Attend Trade Shows and Local Seminars

Listening to presentations made by your competitors and talking to other attendees and vendors at trade shows can help you pick up information you wouldn’t get elsewhere. This can be a hit or miss strategy, so save it for trade shows that are local and inexpensive to attend, or that you plan to attend anyway.

11. Get to Know Your Competitors and/or Their Employees

Meet them at workshops, industry events or local business events. The more you get out of your office, the more chances you’ll get to meet your competitors and others in the industry who know them. If and when the opportunity arises, ask them about their jobs. They may be willing to talk about working conditions, overtime, salary, or new projects in the works. If they like to brag about their accomplishments or show off, they may volunteer a lot of information you can use to build your own business.

Tip: Remember (and remind your employees) to be careful about what information you divulge about your company to outsiders. Chances are your competitors are just as eager to get inside information about your company as you are in getting information about them.

12. Search for the Competitions’ Key Employees Online

If you know the names of the company principle or their key employees, plug those into your online searches. Doing so will help you find information on speaking engagements, affiliations they have with other companies, places they’ve posted or gotten publicity, and other details that will help you understand what your competitor is doing to get attention and get customers to visit their stores and web pages. Your search may also turn up an employee leaking information about an upcoming product, talking about the next area the company hopes to move into or sharing other information you could use to your advantage.

13. Talk to Vendors, Suppliers, and Customers

A little networking with vendors and customers can bring you a gold mine of information if you’re tactful and have established a good rapport with them. The key is to be a little chatty and to ask questions. When you’re talking with vendors, see if they can give you suggestions about how other companies who buy from them are promoting products, or which products they’re selling a lot of. If a customer calls and mentions a competitor, ask what they think about the competitor. Have they ever bought from them? Were they satisfied? How does the customer think the competitors compare to you?     

14. Use Web Tools to Spy on the Competition

There are a number of tools that Internet marketers and SEOs use to improve optimization and track competitors. Among them, Moz, SEMRush, Spyfu, Ispionage. These tools can show you who links to your competitors (backlinks), what keywords they get found for, and which pages are getting found for those keywords. Some of the tools will show you what ads they are running online or have run in the past, what keywords they bid on, and an estimate of how much they spend bidding on terms. Knowing such information will give you a better understanding of what terms and products are important to competing businesses. Then, you can make decisions as to whether changes are needed in your website, ads, or product literature to make your business more competitive. The services can be useful, but if one of them provides the type of information about your competitors you can benefit from, they are worth trying for a month or two.

15. Join Local Business Networks

If your business is local, joining one or several local business networks and attending their meetings regularly can help keep you on top of local competitors and new competitors coming into your neighborhood. These local business groups are your eyes and ears into the community at large. By becoming a regular attendee and a friendly (not pushy) networker, you may hear about new businesses moving into the area, planned local traffic changes, reasons people are happy or unhappy with one of your competitors and other things that will give you competitive and strategic information to help your business survive and thrive.

Put Your Research to Work

Gathering intelligence about your competitor will be a waste of time if you don’t do anything with the information you glean. To have your efforts pay off,  go over the data you’ve gathered to see if it suggest changes you should make in your own website, operations, or product offerings. List the changes, prioritize them, and then work on implementing them one by one.

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