7 tips to subtly snoop on the competition

You don’t have to be James Bond to spy on your business rivals. Just make good use of BuzzSumo, Google Alerts, Twitter lists and local newspapers.

When launching a business, it’s essential to learn as much as you can about your competitors.

How can you create a comprehensive, cohesive business plan or marketing strategy if you don’t know what you’re up against? Knowing what other companies offer in your target market helps you determine whether your product or service is market-ready, and it gives you a better idea of which gaps you can fill.

Here are seven ways to (legally) spy on the competition:

1. Use the right tools to monitor competitors’ social media activity.

Performing a generic search on Google just produces results from the top websites within your niche. This might give you a few pointers, but it won’t provide substantive direction or insight. Use these two tools to dive deeper:

BuzzSumo: This great resource reveals insight into a company’s number of social media shares, which sheds light on a competitor’s best content and the people who shared it. You can use a rival’s top-performing content as a springboard for your own efforts. BuzzSumo is also a prime source for keyword research, and it’s an ideal spot to locate industry influencers.

Hootsuite Streams: This Hootsuite feature helps you monitor your competitors’ social media accounts by way of tracking retweets, “likes,” comments and shares. This enables you to see what’s trending (or flopping) in your niche.

2. Use Google Alerts to monitor mentions.

This is a smart way to assess a rival’s backlinks. It’s also a savvy way to keep track of top-performing keywords and identify content gaps that you can fill. Google Alerts is free and easy to use.

3. Use Twitter lists.

Twitter is a content research gold mine. You’ll gain fresh ideas for your blog, keep up with product prices, identify the best performing topics and determine what your competitors are tweeting about. Just don’t commit the rookie mistake of creating a list and following your competitor’s account.

When you create a list on Twitter, select “private,” not “public.” To follow a competitor’s account, don’t click the “follow” button. Instead, click the gear icon beside the “follow” button, and tap “add or remove from lists” to add the account to your list.

4. Don’t forget about newspapers.

You’d be surprised how much company data you can derive from a weekly or daily newspaper. Robert Rolls, head of online business at Umbrellar Cloud, says his company has sourced crucial competitor information by reading articles in newspapers targeted at smaller, local audiences.

Rolls says it’s smart to talk to suppliers and vendors to see if they have any juicy intel—especially if you have a good rapport with them. Don’t be pushy; just casually fish around to see if they spill any news about your competitors.

5. Use iSpionage to find the keywords that work for your competitors.

Your competitors are probably using AdWords campaigns to acquire customers. Knowing which keywords perform best for them gives you a rough estimate of how much they’re spending, and it offers ideas for cheaper keywords that might be just as effective.

With iSpionage, you’ll get an overview of your competitors’ landing pages. There are also free and premium versions for exporting lists of keywords.

6. Compare performance with Marketing Grader.

Marketing Grader is a free HubSpot tool that assesses websites based on mobile performance, SEO, social media reach, blogging quality and lead generation.

This is a tremendous resource that analyzes specific areas where your competitors are doing well or performing poorly. If you have a decent ad budget, Simply Measured goes a step further. It combines several tools to provide information on brands, influencers, competitors, traffic, trends and more.

7. Compare traffic with Alexa. In the digital world, traffic is currency. However, not all traffic is created equal. Alexa is a great source for monitoring and parsing nitty-gritty traffic statistics. Other similar websites include comScore, Compete and Nielsen.

Before launching a business, learn what you’re up against. Using these tools and tactics to spy on the competition will give you a head start toward finding a niche and figuring out where you fit in.

James Cummings is chief executive officer of Daily Posts, a copywriting agency. A version of this post first appeared on Knowledge Enthusiast.

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