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Have you ever wished you could keep tabs on your competitors? That you could legally spy on the leading businesses in your field or area to find out how they are getting customers or why they are outselling you?
The good news is that you can learn a lot about what your competitors are up to without doing anything illegal. Today's technology gives small business owners plenty of ways to learn how competing businesses drive business and sales.
Set Google Email Alerts
Find out when there is new information on the web about competing businesses, their employees or their products with Google Alerts. 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.
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, Google+ and Instagram 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.
Search for the Company Name Online
Use Google, YouTube, Facebook, Bing, and Yahoo to search for the names of companies you want to keep tabs on and for the types of products or services they sell. Look at where those companies show up in the search listings and 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 as an anonymous user (or turn personal results off in Google). This will help prevent the search engines from guessing at what they think you want to see based on previous searches you've done.
If you are keeping watch on local competitors, be sure to include a couple of location words in your searches. 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 home page.) 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.
Search for Their 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 events they are speaking at, or have spoken at in the past, affiliations they havewith other companies, places they've posted or gotten publicity, and other details that will help you understand what your competitor is doing to get publicity, attention for their products and traffic to their stores and web pages. Your search may also turn up an employee leaking information about an upcoming product, or talking about the next area the company hopes to move into.
Talk to Vendors 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. 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?
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.
Rely on Automation and Web Scraping Tools
SpyFu is a fee-based tool commonly used in conjunction with Google Adwords, but it's useful to uncover more information about your competitors' focus. The tool reveals which keywords companies purchase and what organic (ie, not paid) search terms place well on in search. Knowing that 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.
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.
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