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Competitive Intelligence often seems like it belongs in one of the vintage “Spy vs Spy” comic strips from Mad Magazine with implied meanings and vague application. This isn’t true, because competitive intelligence actually can help you focus your strategies and learn from your competitors.

Bill Sebald’s post in the Moz Blog is a good look at Building Better Content By Improving Upon Your Competitors and the comments actually improve upon the original post by carrying the discussion further. The article “lifts the hood” on creating content with common SEO tools and an analysis of the topics a competitor’s website is targeting and figuring out their URL, Title Tag, Meta Description, H1, and Meta Keyword data. With Screaming Frog or similar tools it is possible to look at any site in many enlightening ways.

This is the launchpad of the brainstorming session, keeping track of all the rabbit trails and ideas that might be developed into something better. To quote Bill Sebald:

“At this point you should be taking notes, jotting down ideas, observations, potential content titles, and questions you want to research. Whether in a spreadsheet or the back of a napkin, you’re now brainstorming with light research. Let your brain-juice flow. You should also be looking for connections between the posts you are finding. Why were they written? How do they link together? What funnels are the calls-to-action suggesting? Take notes on everything, Sherlock!”

Utilizing the competition for inspiration is one thing, but moving your brainstorming to action that is effective takes inspiration into reality. Creating new funnels with fresh metrics, off-page content for SEO, or some focused emphasis content all are possibilities worth looking into. Figuring out how to focus your strategies by getting inspiration from the competition is one way that competitive intelligence can really pay off.

For more insight into competitive intelligence, visit http://www.reciprocalconsulting.com/competitive-intelligence.php#2.

 

 

Competitive Intelligence is a fairly recent term, but the idea has actually been around for a long time. High school football teams, for instance, used to spend the week before the big game watching choppy footage from previous games in an attempt to figure out what the opposing team’s strategies were going to be. The coach and the quarterback would go over different plays and analyze as much as they could so a winning strategy would be in place.

Familiarity Breeds Competitive Strategies

The more times football teams play each other, the easier it is to figure out ways to win. In business, you aren’t playing for points on a scoreboard, but you are playing to win something. Businesses compete for customers, sales, search engine rankings, and a host of other contests that depend on the industry. So how do you decide what you need to know?

The more familiar you are with your industry and competitors, the bigger your perspective is on how your business fits into the picture. Analyzing the top competitors in your field will reveal things to emulate, but it will also reveal things that you can differ in so you stand out in contrast.

For instance, keywords are a huge part of search engine optimization, but you don’t have to copy the same keywords that everybody else in the industry uses. A move from the short-tail keywords to longer phrases that are specific to your business just might be what pushes your ranking past the other guys. But you need to know what they are focusing on so you can do something different.

As Sun Tzu famously said, “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

Competitive intelligence is an essential business tool. Learn more about it at http://www.reciprocalconsulting.com/competitive-intelligence.php#2

Competition is a funny thing. Have you ever seen that crazy game where an onion is passed around as music is played? When the music stops, the onion holder must take a bite or leave the circle. Eventually, only the competitive people with iron stomachs are in the ring, biting the raw, slobbery onion, and fighting to win before they collapse in agony. Why would they do this? To win a game.

That game is a good illustration of the way we can lose sight of what’s important in the heat of competition. You aren’t competing in an onion-eating game, but sometimes we start competing for the wrong goals in marketing.

Measure What Matters

One example of this game is seen in measuring sales. Only looking at the number of sales is losing sight of the most important thing.

Ultimately, the thing businesses compete for is customers who are loyal. Loyal customers will share their confidence in your business with others and add their friends to your growing base of people who keep coming back to buy. Loyal customers give you feedback and help you develop your offerings and services to their maximum potential. Loyal customers keep your sales growing in the future.

A smaller number of customers who repeatedly buy will be more valuable than a larger number of customers who buy once and go somewhere else. What matters in these two groups is the loyalty, not the initial purchase. In the future, this makes the difference in sales.

Competitive intelligence has to measure what matters in all the areas of your business, looking at what those numbers represent in order to analyze them correctly. Otherwise, you might be like the winner of the onion-eating game, wondering why it seemed so important to win.

There’s a lot to be discovered about competitive intelligence at www.reciprocalconsulting.com/competitive-intelligence.php#2

Moz just came out with a list of 2014 Inbound Marketing Trends and, in short, those trends are:

  • SEO is getting more money thrown at marketing automation
  • Content is still king so you need to create a content strategy
  • Social networks are only useful if your target market uses them
  • Mobile marketing needs to be responsive
  • Local mobile searches convert to engagement 88% of the time
  • Email marketing keeps on providing great value for low cost

It’s good to know what everybody else is doing, but just knowing the current trends is not enough. The best thing to do with a trend is use it.

Using a trend takes more analysis, and that’s more work. If all you do is jump on the bandwagon with everybody else, you are reacting instead of responding to the possibilities. Trend analysis is part of the competitive intelligence package because it is figuring out what everybody else is doing.

Using a trend takes that analysis and decides if your unique target market wants to be on that bandwagon. Maybe they do. Sometimes they don’t. You have to have a relationship with them and know them so you can predict accurately.

Using a trend takes a long-term perspective when strategizing. It isn’t enough that everybody else is doing it because you might not want to be where everybody else will be when the bandwagon breaks down. Those who are on the wagon in order to “be on trend” will be stuck because they are focused on that trendy bandwagon instead of where it was going.

If you are using the trend as a vehicle to reach your goals, it’s easy to jump off and keep going when it stops working for you. 

For more information about trend analysis and competitive intelligence, visit reciprocalconsulting.com/competitive-intelligence.php#5

In the middle of listing Link Building Tips That Actually Work, Tina Courtney-Brown suggests that you let your competitors determine where your links come from:

“Just as your metrics tell a very poignant tale, so do the results of your competitors. Research where they receive the majority of their links from, and the methods employed to gather these links. This analysis will also help you to identify ideal partnerships.”

That’s a valid observation for link-building, but competitive intelligence analysis adds even more depth to the things you can learn from your competitors. One way that really sticks out is by learning from their mistakes. If you can do this, your competitor has “paved your way” by making it easier to avoid the problems they ran into or the blind spots they may have.

Learning from someone else’s mistakes requires an understanding of their perspective, and a recognition of your similarity. In competitive intelligence terms, you would get that from developing a familiarity with their business and how it operates. This isn’t trade secrets, but things like reading their blogs, looking at their websites, and analyzing public data on their performance. After a while, that understanding of your competitor allows you to see where they made some mistakes.

But seeing someone else’s mistakes is useless unless you actually do learn from those mistakes. This is how your competitor can pave your way, because you can strategize how to avoid those mistakes, and compete intelligently. Your business will make the same mistakes unless you recognize the similarities and figure out an alternative plan of action.

Competitive intelligence is a lot easier if you get expert, professional help. You’ll find it at reciprocalconsulting.com/competitive-intelligence.php#6

 

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing, and now most popular, social media sites online. Have you looked to see if your competition is using it? If not, you should.

Nevermind using Pinterest for your own marketing. You can do that and, chances are, you’ve already considered it if not already doing it. But an even more powerful opportunity awaits you in spying on your competition. See what each of your competitors are up to by spying on their pinboards.

Hat tip to SteamFeed for this tip:

  • Start by signing up for Pinterest and filling out your profile. If you want, do it under an alias. This is a good strategy if you plan to use Pinterest to spy on your competition and nothing else, but it really isn’t necessary since all of your pinboards are secret. No one knows what your boards are called or what pins you keep in each board.
  • Set up a separate board for each of the competitors you want to follow. Your competitors will know when you follow them, so if you don’t want them to know you are following them, then an alias works great.
  • Keep up with your competition by noting each of their moves, news announcements, new product launches, etc. As an alternative to the last point, set up a separate board for each type of event you want to track (company news, promotions, new products, etc.) and track each of your competitors in those event boards.

How you set your Pinterest espionage account is up to you and your unique needs and depends on how many competitors you want to follow. Any way you look at it, Pinterest is a great opportunity for spying on your competition.

Google has a global market research tool that hardly anyone knows about. I’m afraid they’ll kill it if more people don’t start using it. It’s called Global Market Finder.

As its name implies, it’s useful for finding global markets for any niche based on keywords. In fact, you can use the tool as an alternative free keyword research tool even though that’s not its real purpose.

You start by choosing the location of your business by country, then you choose your language. Next, you add a few keywords into your keyword box – one per line. Click “Find Opportunity.”

This is where it gets interesting. Your results will appear broken down by country. Go through the list of countries and find the one you are interested in, beginning your marketing initiative. It doesn’t have to be the same country you reside in or that your business exists in. This is a great tool if you are thinking about opening up in a new market.

So you click the + button to open up your language options. Choose your language and scroll down the list of keywords. Google also gives you the option to choose additional keyword suggestions, which is great for finding alternative keywords for the markets you want to target.

If you are a large company that operates in several markets around the globe, this is a great search tool.

When it comes to researching the competition and trying to understand where you (and they) fit into the niche you both operate in, there are different types of research based on different types of information you can gather about your competition. Here are three types of competitive research you should implement during your intelligence gathering phase:

  1. Market research – Market research involves searching specific keywords and determining how you stand against your top competitors. It also means researching customers and their needs and seeing how you and your competition stack up to the values that are important in the marketplace.
  2. Content research – With content research, you are only concerned with the type of content your competition is producing, where they are getting it published, and who they are targeting that content toward. You should also include a good link portfolio analysis in this research phase.
  3. Process/Brand research – The process or brand research is all about company internal processes, especially sales. This is a tricky gray line because if you cross it you could be in illegal territory. You want to find out how your competition covers customer complaints, conducts its sales process, and engages with customers through marketing. You’re not looking for trade secrets.

Competitive intelligence research is an important part of the beginning phase of starting a new business. It can give you a lot of insightful information about your competition but also about potential customers and the overall market.

When you enter into business and decide to compete against other companies in your niche, one of the most important activities you’ll have to engage in competitive analysis. But what should that entail?

There are three key areas that you should analyze your competition on today. This may change in ten years, but today I’d say you need to look at these three areas:

  1. Inbound links – Where are inbound links to your competitors’ websites coming from, what anchor text are they using, and which pages are being linked to?
  2. Social influence – Which social networks are your competition using, how active are they, and what kind of content are they posting on these social sites? Also, try to determine, if you can, the reach your competition has.
  3. Content analysis – This is a very important piece of the competitive analysis puzzle. Look at your competition’s top content. What is it? Also, which pages are getting the most traffic? What kind of on-page optimization strategies are they using?

The idea behind competitive analysis is not to find things to copy from your competition. Rather, you are looking for opportunities they may have missed and looking to see what strategies you might capitalize on.

Competitive analysis is a big part of the overall picture when starting a new business. Don’t forget about it.

Michael Martinez brings up a good point about competitive analysis. He says,

In search optimization your top five competitors are the five sites that appear most often in the same queries that drive traffic to your Website…. You are ONLY competing with other sites that appear in the same queries that drive traffic to your site.

In other words, if you are selling any product online, then chances are you are competing against Amazon, eBay, and Wal-Mart. But you probably think your chief competitor is XYZ, a similarly-sized company in your niche.

Offline competition is completely different than online competition. If you do business in Smalltown, USA and there’s no Wal-Mart, then it’s easy to identify who your top competitors are. They are businesses selling the same products as you to the same geographic demographic. If there is a Wal-Mart in your town, they’re your top competitor because they probably sell something you sell.

Online, the game is different. Those competitors in your home town may or may not be competitors online. If your website ships products through the mail, then your local competition is likely not competition online.

This is an important concept that a lot of business owners find difficult to grasp. Outdoing non-players in SEO is useless. Your job is to increase your search engine rankings, and to do that you have to pass the businesses that have them. In a lot of cases, those businesses are top sellers like Amazon, eBay, and Wal-Mart. You have to be able to put that into perspective.

Social media and competitive intelligence go hand in hand, but the first step to a good intelligence maneuver is listening. In fact, listening is absolutely essential.

So what entails listening?

There are quite a few free and paid tools you can use to listen. It’s the online equivalent to putting your ear to the ground and listening for oncoming horses. You want to know where your competition is and what they’re doing. So listen.

Your first step should be to subscribe to a few Google Alerts. You choose your most important keywords and subscribe to the Alerts. Google will notify you when those keywords are mentioned anywhere online, or at least on pages indexed by Google.

You should also look for blogs in your niche to subscribe to. Google Reader is especially helpful for this.

Other online tools like Tweetdeck and HootSuite allow you to subscribe to Twitter followers. More than just allow you to see who’s saying what on Twitter, these tools give you additional features that allow you to massage your Twitter stream so that you can manage it more easily.

Klout allows you to get a handle on your competition’s influence.

All of these tools are free. There are a few paid tools out there that give you a little bit more functionality and organization. Some of them can prove useful as well.

Whatever tools you use, take the time to put your ear to the ground and listen. That’s the only way you can know what your competition is up to.

One of the most important parts of marketing online is getting a handle on what your competition is up to. One of the most important growing trends in that space is social media. It’s what I call social intelligence.

Social intelligence is learning what your competitors are doing with social media. To do that effectively, you have to follow them.

There are different ways of approaching social intelligence. You can simply follow your competition in your own name, but what if they decide they don’t want to include you in their posts? What if they exclude you because you’re the competition? There’s a simple fix. Create an online persona not associated with your brand and then follow your competition.

It’s clandestine, yes. But it also works.

Your social intelligence persona should be very controlled. You are only interested in following your competitors. But to make sure that you arouse no one’s suspicion, follow your own brand as well. You can use this strategy on any of the social networks:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • and more

What should you be looking for with your social intelligence profile?

For starters, you should be looking for new important announcements about products and services, new marketing initiatives, contests and specials, etc. If your competition makes a move, you want to know about it. That’s what social intelligence is all about. It’s competitive intelligence using social media as the information gathering tool, and it’s an essential element of your marketing plan.

When it comes to competitive research, which strategies or tactics should you use? What’s the best way to get the information you need about your competition to take them on head on?

I’ve identified 4 must-use competitive research tools. Before you do anything else, you should first:

  1. Subscribe to the top blogs in your niche – Click the RSS button, or subscribe by e-mail, but you should be reading the top blogs in your niche every day. Pick the top 5 blogs and subscribe to them. If the top blogs are not also the top competitors, then subscribe to the blogs of your top 3 competitors as well.
  2. Create Google Alerts – Google Alerts is an essential tool. Create Google Alerts for the top 20 or 30 keywords you want to target with your content.
  3. Join the top online communities in your niche – Pick 3 to 5 of the most popular online communities that serve your niche and join them. You don’t have to interact. You can simply browse the threads to see what people are talking about, then you can address the most popular topics on your own blog.
  4. Subscribe to competitors’ newsletters – Set up a ghost e-mail address and use it to subscribe to the newsletters of your competition. Read them as often as you can.

The only thing these 4 competitive research methods cost is the time it takes to read and set up subscriptions. Still, they are essential tactics you should implement before you do anything else.

Frank Reed asks a very important question.

How many times though have you seen someone using Twitter for business and then asking the question “I don’t know if this is worth it. No one seems to be here that would ant my stuff.” Hence the need for a little look around to see if you should even be on a social network because the effort and resources required might be better utilized somewhere else. It ain’t cheap or easy to do social media correctly. That’s something we can all agree on.

True, social media marketing is not cheap or easy. That’s why you need a plan, and your plan should include using those social media networks where your target market already has a presence. But what constitutes “a presence?”

If you find two or three people who might be interested in your product or service using Twitter, does that constitute a presence? What if several of your competitors have Facebook pages. Is that a presence? These questions must be answered.

In order to determine whether your target market has a presence on a particular social media website, you must first define your market. Are you targeting young professionals 18-29 who lean left politically? To define a target market well, be as specific as possible. Narrow your demographic as much as possible, then conduct a feasibility study to see which social media networks your target market is using the most.

Three days ago we wrote about Bing’s new Webmaster Tools. One of the most important features of the new tools is the Link Explorer. Not only can this kind of tool be useful for scoping out your own links to ferret out the good from the bad, but you can also use the tool for competitive research.

What you want to do is pick a handful of your most fierce competitors. These are the companies online that are in the same business niche you are in and that are seeking out the same customers. Visit each of their websites and analyze them. Then, go to Bing Webmaster Tools and enter their URLs.

What you are looking for is links. Link you don’t have and links that are from valuable authoritative websites both within and outside of your niche. Don’t just focus on the links that are coming from sites within your niche. All links can provide value if you do them right. Find good, quality links and make a spreadsheet.

Next, you’ll want to visit of the link partners of your competition and request a link from them. But don’t just send an e-mail requesting a link. Do a little research first. Find out or imagine why that website’s owner decided to link to your competition. What do they have that you don’t have? Or better yet, what benefit do the readers of the linking website receive from that link? Try to think in terms of benefit to the webmaster or the website’s readers. Then present an offer that is attractive to them by telling them why they should link to your website.

That’s how you can use links for competitive research.

As you study your competition, one thing that you should be aware of is who your competitors are getting links from. You can discover your competition’s inbound links by using a link checker. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to do.

Why should you check on your competition’s inbound links? For several reasons. Here are a few.

  • Too see if there are potential link partners for your own website. If a particular website links to your competition, they may link to you as well. Ask yourself what you can do to attract a similar link.
  • Inbound links are used by the search engines to determine rankings in search results. If you believe your competition is getting unfair rankings you might find opportunities to report spammy links or unethical linking practices such as link buying.
  • Compare your link portfolio to your competition’s. Are you missing any opportunities? Are they?
  • One sneaky way to blow past your competition is to discover broken links they might have. You can contact the linker and offer your website as a linking destination instead.

There are lots of reasons why you should be looking into your competition’s link practices. You want to find out if your competition is doing something that you should be doing or if they are doing something unethical that you know you don’t want to do. But even more importantly, you want to find missed linking opportunities that you can take advantage of.

Link checking is a very important competitive intelligence tool. You should use it.

When it comes to competitive intelligence a distinction must be made between collecting data and performing competitive analysis. One may be provide some benefit, but often, the other doesn’t.

Online competitive intelligence is a rather tricky subject. Collecting information on your competition’s marketing tactics online is fairly easy, though it is getting more difficult now that Yahoo! Site Explorer is no longer live. You can still do back link analysis, but you’ll have to pay for it. The question is, is it worth it?

In many cases, I’d say it is worth it to study your competition and see what they are up to. But bear in mind that just because your competition is engaged in a particular marketing strategy doesn’t mean that it is working for them. And that means you could spend hours and hours analyzing your competition and coming up with nothing but wasted time. That is true particularly if you intend to mirror their actions.

If your competition is still engaged in five-year-old link building tactics that don’t work, then you could be killing yourself trying to follow them. My recommendation is, don’t.

It’s good to keep tabs on the competition, don’t get me wrong. But if your only intent in doing so is so that you can figure out what they are doing online and following that, you should rethink your competitive intelligence strategy. Monitoring the competition is not the same as analyzing them. And analyzing your competition’s moves is only useful if your analysis leads you to actionable steps that benefit your marketing strategy.

Competitive intelligence is one of those areas where it pays to be cautious. Collect, measure, and monitor, but don’t take action until you’ve engaged in effective analysis.

When it comes to spying on your competition, what can you do with the information you gather? There are actually a number of ways you can use competitive intelligence. Here are a few:

  • Use it to improve your search engine optimization campaigns.
  • Keep abreast of your competition’s developments so you can maintain a competitive posture. Remember when Google+ introduced Circles? Facebook replied with its own version of friends management called Lists.
  • Find out how your competition is responding to your developments.
  • Use the information to poll your customers to see if you can improve your own products and services.
  • Compare the intelligence against developing market trends.
  • Identify your own areas of relative weakness.
  • Discover new ways of looking at old problems.

Competitive intelligence is a never-ending process. What you can learn from studying and spying on your competition could improve your own business practices. Your core products and services might have some weaknesses revealed by what your competition is doing. Do consumers have a more favorable perception of your products or those of your competition?

If you want to remain competitive, keep tabs on your competitors and use the information you gather to make your company and its products the best they can be.

When it comes to online publicity, not all publicity is good PR. That’s what this article at Entrepreneur.com says, and I agree.

There are plenty of ways you can hurt your reputation by publishing at the wrong venue. Here are four specific ways you can do more harm than good by engaging in bad PR practices:

  1. Promoting news to people not likely to become your customers. Why waste your time chasing parked cars?
  2. You could drive traffic away from your website instead of to it.
  3. Publishing content on sites with a bad reputation due to unedited or unfocused content, cheap ads, spam, or warez can give you a bad reputation by association.
  4. Sending content to someone else might help them more than it helps you.

Sometimes, publishing content on your own website can benefit you more than publishing it elsewhere. While everyone desires good inbound links, bad inbound links can be harmful. It is best to maintain your reputation and guard it as much as possible.

If you have a content marketing strategy, try refining it to include a system for evaluating potential link partners and content partners. Don’t publish your content anywhere it could hurt you. Protect your online reputation at all costs.

Like a lot of things, competitive research comes in different sizes and shapes. Here are 5 types of competitive research you might consider when thinking of ways to spy on your competition.

  1. Financial Research – One of the most basic types of competitive intelligence is looking at your competition’s financial information. Do they look like they are headed for financial disaster? Are they profitable? This type of research is easier for public companies.
  2. Market Studies – Market studies tell you how you compare against your competition in terms of market share and influence.
  3. SEO Research – This includes keyword research, but it also entails an analysis of search engine rankings and other key metrics for companies doing business online.
  4. Technology Research – What technology does your competition employ in the course of doing business? Is it proprietary or do they use off-the-shelf technology? In some industries, technology can be an influential factor in who is leading the pack.
  5. Customer Satisfaction - Are your competition’s customers happy with the service they are receiving? If not, why not? This can be a very important part of your competitive research. Too bad many companies forget about it.

These are not the only forms of competitive research available to you, but they are each important in their own way. One thing is clear, if you want to lead in your industry, competitive research is a necessity.