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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.

Competitive intelligence is a very effective way to gain an edge on your competition in the marketplace, but it’s best if you keep it ethical and legal. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your competition doing to you. In other words, don’t break the law.

Still, legal concerns aside, you can spy on your competition in a number of ways (all of which are legal). Here are 7 of them.

  1. Subscribe To Their Newsletter – Just about every company has a newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Companies often share their latest developments with their newsletter subscribers first. If you’re on the list, you’ll be in the know. Subscribe to the print version as well as the e-mail/digital edition.
  2. Follow Their Blog – This is something you can do anonymously. No subscriptions necessary. Just log on once or twice a day and see what they’re up to.
  3. Follow Them On Twitter – Almost everyone has a Twitter account these days. Are you following your competition? You should be.
  4. Newspaper Clippings – People and companies still make the news the old-fashioned way. Are you clipping any print news about your competition? You should be. But also include clippings of online news – websites, blogs, etc. Anything that is newsworthy should go in your drop file.
  5. Check Out Their Facebook Page – These days, companies are as likely to update their Facebook page before doing anything else.
  6. Stay Connected On LinkedIn – Is your competition active on LinkedIn? Have you even looked. Many companies have their employees answer questions on LinkedIn. You should be there right alongside them.
  7. Download Their Mobile Apps – If your competition has a mobile app, you should be using it.

There’s no telling what you’ll learn about the competition if you do these 7 things. Competitive intelligence today isn’t like it was 20 years ago.

One of the most powerful competitive intelligence tools in your arsenal is Facebook. There are plenty of ways to use Facebook, but you should know that because it is the most trafficked website online nearly every business in the world is trying to get there to get their slice of the marketing pie. So there are plenty of opportunities to spy on them.

Here are three ways to make the most of your competition’s marketing efforts on Facebook:

  1. Join their Facebook page – Many businesses spend all of their Facebook time managing their page and marketing through their page. If your competition has a Facebook page, join it. Check it often for updates and subscribe to their Networked blog if they have one.
  2. Sign for their app – Many businesses are developing their own Facebook apps. You should use those apps because they can be a clue as to what your competition might be considering next. Many apps tools later become marketplace offerings.
  3. Executive profiles – If you can get the names of your competition’s top executives, look to see if they have profiles. If so, send them a friend request. If necessary, send a friend request from a fake account or have your sister’s cousin do it instead. Be sneaky, but legal.

Competitive intelligence is alive and well, even on Facebook. Embrace it.

You want to find out what the competition is up to, right? Is a press release a good tool for that? Absolutely!

Of course, there’s not a lot of information you can get from a press release. You already know the name of the company and you probably know their address and contact information. But the one really important piece of information you can gain from a press release is what the company has been up to lately. That’s important news.

Chances are, you won’t know about new developments until they go public. That’s when press releases are written. But the press release can give you some insight into a company’s thinking about a new development.

What you want to do with the press release is drop it into your clipping file. You should have one of these for every competitor you do research on. Anything related to that competitor goes into the clipping file. News stories, press releases, D&B information, stock market reports, brochures and annual reports, and anything else that gives you insight into the company’s operations. As new developments roll out, have someone be responsible for doing the research and collecting the information.

Competitive intelligence is a cost of business you can’t ignore. If you do, you’ll fall behind.

Most online marketers see where search and social media cross. Heck, even Google is starting to employsocial media tools to make its search engine better. But what about competitive intelligence? Does it intersect with social media at all?

You bet it does.

In fact, if you aren’t using social media for competitive research, then you aren’t using social media to its fullest potential. The first thing that comes to mind is following your competition on the top social networks. At a minimum, you should be keeping tabs on what your competition is doing at

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

And if you are a local business with local competition, then you should consider looking at what your competition is doing at

  • Foursquare
  • Meetup
  • Google Places

Just to start.

Social media is a tool with many uses. Competitive intelligence is just one of them, but it’s an important one. You can spy on your competition through any social network just by following them and learning what they are up to. If you want to be sneaky, you can set up anonymous accounts or proxies and spy on your competition that way.

Any way you do it, social media is a great competitive intelligence tool. Don’t ignore it.