What is your competition up to these days?

- January 5, 2009

Happy New Year readers! 2009 is going to be a comeback year for everyone – I can really feel it! Let’s make the most of this fresh and exciting New Year by stepping away from our Analytics kingdom for just a little while and focusing on our Site Intelligence efforts, such as, stepping onto the dark side…I mean…your competition!

While it is illegal to use “black hat” techniques to keep tabs on your competition (such as using “spy ware” type software programs), keeping your eyes and ears open to what your competitors are doing is a critical part of being successful online. Knowing what your opponents are up to can give you great ideas and inspiration for your own website or marketing efforts. It can (and should) also serve as an alert or warning system as to what not to do online, which can be equally as important for you.

Here are just some of the many different things you can do to stay on top of your competitor’s efforts:

1. Visit their website!
Pretty simple, right? If you know the URL of your competitor’s websites, check it out to see what they have going on. Pay close attention to how they market to their potential customer base, the language they use, and the type of sales angle that they incorporate. Be observant of the layout of their website, color scheme, navigation, and – of course – products and services offered.

2. Search for them online
See how successful (or how futile) their online marketing efforts are by searching for their brand name. You don’t have to click on their ads or organic search results – just look them up on Google and Yahoo a few times. Here, you’ll want to take note of how aggressive / passive their marketing language is, and what incentives / discounts / promotions they are offering.

3. Sign up for their newsletter / monthly email alerts / RSS Feeds
This is an excellent way to learn “what’s hot” with you business adversaries. Normally, your competitors will promote the latest and greatest product or service to their email database, including any speaking engagements or other important announcements that they have. Learn how they speak to their database and what re-marketing efforts they are using, and consider similar methods for your own Email marketing efforts (if they are using good methods).

4. Check out their social media / blog / viral marketing programs
Are your competitors present in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? Do you know what StumbleUpon and Digg are? When was your competitor’s last blog post? If your competition isn’t focusing on any of these newer mediums, then this is an excellent opportunity to gain ground and establish a presence before they catch on. If they are already engaged in Social Media efforts, consider subscribing to their blog, their RSS feed, and “follow” or “connect” with them. They will most likely speak to their audience much differently in these mediums than they will on their website or newsletter – take note of what they are saying and doing here.

5. Do your competitors advertise / market offline?
Have you seen your competitor’s brand and products in a magazine or newspaper? Are they running a late-night infomercial or day-time TV ad? Have you heard their phone number repeated 9 times in a 30 second radio spot on your drive home from work? You may not be able to afford these mediums as they are FAR more expensive than pay-per-click advertising, but it’s good to pay attention to their offline messaging – visit their site the next time you’re in front of your computer and see if there is a connection between the ad that you read or heard and their website.

6. Look at your Referring Sites / Hostname / Domain Name Reports
Your analytics package should be able to tell you what websites have been sending you traffic, and, what domains are delivering you traffic. This is a great way to tell if your competitors are checking you out. Fight the urge to block out or exclude this traffic from appearing in your reports – keep this valuable data in your analytics package. If your competitors are really checking you out, chances are that you are doing something that has caught their attention, and you are most likely going down the right path.

7. Enable Data Sharing / Benchmarking (with Google Analytics)
Google Analytics allows for you to compare your basic website’s metrics against the averages of websites that are a similar size to yours. This is available within the Visitors >> Benchmarking report. The catch: You must anonymously share your data with Google and other services, such as AdWords, to be able to have access to this section. The benefits of knowing how you stack up against websites in your industry – and across every available industry in this section – far outweigh the risk of anonymously sharing your data with Google (keep in mind they already have your website data when you use Google Analytics, so it’s not that much of a leap of faith to enable Data Sharing in your Google Analytics account).

8. Use online research tools like Google’s Insight for Search!
Finally, get a grip on historical and current trends of keywords and key phrases with free programs like Google Trends for Websites and Google Insights for Search. You can perform searches for your competitor’s brand names and products, and you’ll be able to gauge the level of interest at global, national, and regional levels. If there are terms or key phrases gaining popularity that your competitors are using, you may want to consider jumping on those while they’re hot.

Checking out what your competition is doing can help guide your own efforts, as you learn what to do and what not to do. However, always keep in mind to play fair and behave in an ethical fashion – NEVER slander, defame, or bad-mouth your competitors on your website, your blog, or on your MySpace page. Don’t click on their pay-per-click ads, never subscribe their contact or info email to spam mailings, and refrain from posting negative reviews of their YouTube videos or their Local Submission listings.

Have a great 2009!!!

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