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In any business you need the proper tools to succeed. That’s no less true for online marketing. And if you want to beat the competition then you need to rely on the proper tools for competitive intelligence. But what are those, exactly?

Competitive intelligence tools are tools that online marketers use to get a better handle on what their competition is up to and why. They range from the purely public – like Google Alerts – to the purely private. Espionage is one element that has been used to gain a competitive advantage, but at the risk of making it sound sexy and adventurous, it can be dangerous. The idea is to gain some inside knowledge on the competition’s processes, goals, and business workings that might help you be more competitive in the marketplace.

Spying on the competition, however, is not like living a James Bond movie. At its worst, it can employ illegal activities like bribery, blackmail, etc. At best, the tactics can be questionable.

With competitive intelligence, companies tend to stick with the more public information available about the competition. In most cases, you don’t have to resort to illegal means to gather information on your competition. Public documents and information tell a good story. But without the proper tools, even that can be a challenge.

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