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Inbound Marketing Blog

    Is It Okay to Spy on Your Competitors?

    Posted by Jeff Evans

    Yes! Here Are 12 Tools To Check Out Your Competition

    If you are a business and making any type of inbound marketing effort you have a lot on your to-do list.

    One of the best ways to get inspired with new ideas, stay up on industry trends and collect other valuable data is to keep tabs on your competition.

    Having competitive intelligence is a great way to figure out where you are now, as well as where you are going.

    Who are your major competitors?

    What are their strengths and weaknesses?

    How can you leverage both to your advantage?

    With 2/3 of Americans now making purchases online, your presence in the online ecosystem and how you manage your time there is more important than ever.

    Here are the best ways to make sure you know exactly what they are doing:


    Do you even know who your top competitors are?

    You might know a few of them, but have some more popped up recently that aren’t on your radar yet?

    Staying on top of your current and your newest competitors is important to knowing what they are doing and what they might do next.

    Performing localized searches is the best way to find out who your competition is.



    Yelp’s incredibly localized search results can assure you of a list of your nearby competitors. Yelp can tell you if they are holding any specials or putting out new products you want to know about.

    It is also good to keep an idea on your community’s opinion of you and your competition.


    Use Yelp for Competitor research



    By categorizing businesses, CitySearch makes it easy to find out which companies are on your radar to look out for.


    citysearch for competitive analysis


    Google Search

    You can also start with a simple Google search on your industry.

    Which businesses are showing up in the ranking besides you?

    With Google’s new emphasis on local ranking, there should be some local businesses showing up next to your name.


    Once you have established who the competition is, it’s time to find out what they are doing.

    • What keywords are they using to get ranking?
    • What content are they using to drive traffic to their website?
    • What is most important to them, leads, revenue or engagement?

    You can find out all of this information and more with the following methods:


    When you start looking at the websites of your competitors, keep some questions in mind:

    • What keywords are they using on their pages in order to optimize for search engines?
    • What kind of content are they putting out in order to attract visitors to their site?
    • Can you identify a key message or their best products/services immediately?
    • Who is their target market?
    • What makes your company different from theirs?
    • Do they have a blog? If so, what are they writing about?
    • Can you sign up for an email list?
    • What kinds of offers are they giving to their visitors? Is it something you might like to try?
    • How is their website set up? It is easily navigable?
    • Are there some changes you might like to make to your own website as a result?

    Doing research on other websites will gain some key insight on what they are doing and how well they are doing it.

    Now that you have a basic idea of who your competition is and what kind of website they have, it’s time to go behind the scenes.

    Check out these tools for infiltrating the backend of your competitor’s websites and finding out exactly how you can beat them out in rankings, customer satisfaction and pure traffic.

    When you begin doing research at this level, it’s time to switch over to your private browser so that the competition doesn’t catch on to what you’re up to.


    1. Another Google Search

    This time, instead of doing an industry search in your area, type in the name of your competition.

    You want to know how much online real estate they own.

    If the entire first page is full of their content – in the form of website URL’s, Facebook URL’s and pointers to other things your competitor has out there, you have an idea that they are doing a pretty good job with their ranking efforts.

    While you are doing your Google searches, also type in a few of the keywords that you have identified for your product and target audience and see what comes up.

    If your competitors are ranked at the very top under the paid ads, then you know they have paid pretty good money to be there.

    It may be time to rethink and deepen your keyword endeavors.

    Also take a look at the organic listings that show up below Google’s paid search ads.

    Who shows up there?

    Is your company on page one or two? This can determine how much deeper your new keyword strategies need to go.


    2. SpyFu

    Although there is a charge, SpyFu is a tool you can use to research the keywords that your competitors are using to get rankings. 


    competition research


    3. Google Trends

    Google Trends is a great free tool that allows you to explore what is trending with your industry products or services.

    By clicking on “explore in-depth” you can play around with words and phrases that you think might be of interest in your industry, or for your competitors.

    Pick your own topics, or follow the topics that pop up on the screen. 


    research competitors


    4. Google Alerts

    Google Alerts is a analysis tool that will let you know when one of your competitors is mentioned somewhere out there in the digital universe.

    It would also be a good idea to add your own business on this platform and keep track of what people are saying.

    Find out what others are saying about your competition. 


    Google for Competition analysis


    5. Alexa

    By typing in your competitor’s URL, you can see how your site ranks against them, as well as other key insights.

    Alexa also gives you the keywords your competitor uses to rank and the websites that are linking to their content.


    Best Online Competitive Analysis tools


    6. Compete

    Find out where your competitors’ traffic is coming from, the unique visitors they get and also get an idea of how they are using their social media platforms. Compete gives you a competitive edge with information on your competitors' web interactions.


    Online Competitive Analysis Ideas


    7. SEO Book

    This is a general website comparison tool.

    How does your website compare with that of your competitors?

    Just type in the URL’s of both and SEO Book gives you stats on page titles, meta tags and keyword phrases you have in common. 


    Ideas for Online Competitive Analysis



    8. Internet Archive

    In terms of website design and basic changes a company makes, Internet Archive is a great way to find out how a company has evolved their marketing strategy over the years they’ve had a web presence.

    Find out how your competition has tweaked their webpage, their pricing and even their product lineup with this fabulous tool.


    Competitor Analysis Online


    9. Domain Tools

    Want to know who owns a particular URL, or how long one has been in existence?

    Come to Domain Tools website to find out.

    You can get contact information, links to and from a website and even other domains owned by the same person.


    Online Competition Analysis


    10. Open Site Explorer

    Run by Moz, Open Site Explorer has a free version and a member package.

    Find out how your competitors rank with on page authority, their domain authority, who’s linking to them, their total links and more.

    And this is just with the free version.


    online competition research


    11. Keyword Spy

    If you want to know a little about how much your competitor is spending on pay-per-click, or online ads, this is where you need to be.

    Keyword Spy has their keywords, copies of their ads and you can find out their ranking for keywords.


    Competition Research


    11. Hoovers

    Do searches on companies, individuals and industries with Hoovers' vast inventory of business information.

    You can get in-depth studies, white papers and other industry related papers that are great inspiration for content, as well as create and build sales lead lists to increase your revenue.


    research competitors online


    12. ReferenceUSA

    Locate information on your competitors as well as make sure that your own business is being properly listed for better search engine results. Reference USA is an awesome source of basic company information.

    Carolyn Brown of Inc.com suggests doing your own qualitative research in order to get the best information you need to beat the competition.

    Online chats, customer surveys and good old-fashioned focus groups are all proven ways to get data that can help you make your own approach to marketing more efficient.

    Combine it with your competitive analysis for a home run.


    research online competition



    After you choose a few of these tools to work with, you should be able to gain some valuable information on your competitors.

    Now it's time to turn to their social media efforts.



    Another great way to find out what your competitors are doing is to find them on social media.

    Check out their Facebook pages, their Twitter feeds, their Google+ circles and their LinkedIn company pages.

    Do they even have a presence on the top outlets?

    If so, are their pages optimized.

    What kinds of visuals are they using and what kind of information are they giving out about their company to represent themselves?

    Also, take a look at the number of fans they have.

    Do they seem to be engaged and making comments on posts?

    What types of content are they posting?

    How often are they posting to which platforms and what time of day are they doing it?

    Are you becoming inspired for content of your own just by what you are seeing? Hope so.

    Are they using other sites like YouTube, Instagram or Pinterest to better market the same product you have?

    Crawling around on your competition's social media outlets is a great way to find out exactly how they present themselves to their target audience.

    What other ways can you hone in on your competition?



    A great way to determine what your competition is up to is to find out who they are hiring and why.

    LinkedIn is a great tool to find out who is working for whom.

    Inc.com also suggests that hiring your competitor’s employees is another good way to get intel on what they’re up to; provided you don’t try to walk through any non-compete or non-disclosure agreements.


    So when you look around at your competitors, their websites, research their intel, take a look at their social media and wander around their keyword strategy what else is there to do?



    Realize that there is plenty of business out there and make friends with your competition.

    Mention them in your Facebook posts.

    Share something from their Twitter feed.

    The best thing that can happen is that they’ll do the same thing for you.

    Gaining the respect and regard of your competitors is one of those unwritten benefits of being the nice guy - even though behind the scenes you know exactly what's going on.

    It's just smart business.



    Now that you have all of this excellent recon on your competitors, it’s time to sit down and do some real thinking and analysis.

    Be objective and look at your own online presence with a clean eye and see how you can improve.

    The analysis that you have just done has taken time, you don’t want it to go to waste.

    How are you going to change and improve your keyword strategy to gain an edge?

    Are there some changes you might need to make to your website to make it more navigable and user friendly?

    Why are you showing up on page three in local Google industry rankings?

    Gauging your place on the local industry totem pole might be a little disheartening at first, but it can also be inspiring and a great way to improve your overall company vision.

    Bring in someone else to take a look at the data you have compiled and get their unbiased opinion.

    Take advantage of the weakness of your competitors.

    If they are clearly superior in some areas, what did you learn about them that you can implement in your own strategy?

    And don't forget, there are some things that make you completely unique in your industry. Capitalize on those as you rethink your plan.


    It is okay to research and spy on your competitors. Gaining an edge in the online market makes it a must to leverage everything you can, including intel on who you are up against and what you need to do to make yourself better than they are.


    Topics: Inbound Marketing