Sales & Support 1-888-220-7361

The Reciprocal Consulting Blog

You are Browsing the April 2014 Archive:

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¬†


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.

Social analytics is very important. Today I’m going to discuss a tool that you can use for a few good purposes. With this tool you can search for information about a certain topic within your niche to see how popular that topic is. It’s a good keyword research tool that you can use for your online content – that includes website content, articles, blog content, and social media content.

Another practical use for this tool is to see what your competition is up to. If your competition has been posting information on a particular topic, then Topsy will let you know. It’s good for competitive intelligence.

Finally, you can use Topsy for social analytics. If you click on the Social Analytics link at the top of the main page, then you can compare search data for up to three keyword phrases. Again, it’s a great keyword research tool.

The great thing about Topsy is you can measure the data you’re looking for in realtime. You can also measure it over time. Furthermore, you can search for content by type (i.e. tweets, links, photos, videos, experts, and trending).

After you search for information on a particular topic, you can narrow down the content search results by time. For instance, you can narrow your search to the last hour or broaden it to the past 7 days. You also have options in between. You can also search by network, but the only options available at this time are Google+ and Twitter.

Topsy looks like it will be a good social media tool. I hope it sticks around awhile.

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.

What would it take to complete your online presence? Do you know?

First, let’s define “online presence.” What is it? Do you need a website to be online? If you don’t have a website and you engage in social media marketing, do you have an online presence?

Regarding the website question, you don’t need a website to be online. It’s preferable, of course, if you are doing any marketing for your company, but any presence you have online constitutes an online presence. That means if the only thing you do is listen, then you have an online presence.

But that’s not a complete presence.

So what does a complete online presence look like? Ostensibly, I’d say a complete online presence has several characteristics that include:

  1. >A website as a basic hub of your online activity
  2. Regular, valuable content
  3. Targeted search engine optimization
  4. An e-mail marketing strategy
  5. A social media marketing strategy
  6. Video and/or mobile content
  7. Online advertising strategy
  8. Analytics
  9. Competitive intelligence and research

These do not have to be in any particular order, but a complete online presence would include each of these elements. Your tactical marketing might consist of one or two of these pieces working in tandem toward a miniature goal. Your overall strategy, however, should include a plan for each one of these elements as you work toward a broader, more significant goal for your business.

Do you have a total marketing plan for your business? Are you working toward a complete online presence? If not, why not?

Compelling content gets a lot more traction than generic content. Just ask anyone who has converted from generic to name brand content – what is really “unique” and “original” content. Your content.

The big question for most online content providers today is, How do you make your content more compelling? It’s a good question and one that deserves an answer. Here are three ways Reciprocal Consulting has identified to make your online content more compelling.

  1. Address the deepest needs of your audience – Find out what your audience needs and wants the most, then give it to them. That might require some research. There’s nothing wrong with a little competitive intelligence to see what the marketplace needs as long as you follow that up with a dynamite plan.
  2. Be different – In other words, discover your Unique Selling Proposition. What sets you apart from your competition? Find that out and exploit it.
  3. Drive hard and fast to the COA – COA stands for Call to Action. Your readers won’t respond to you if you don’t ask them to. Write great content and end it with a strong call to action. Get your readers to respond to you by ending your content with a link, a buy now button, or anything that requires that they take action. Make it enticing.

Your online content must stand out from the pack or it will go unnoticed. Be compelling, be strong, be engaging.


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.

It might seem strange for an SEO company to mention anything that is more important than SEO, but the truth is there are things that are more important. We’ve identified 5 very important things about online marketing that are much more important than SEO.

  1. Reputation Management – Without a good reputation, all the SEO in the world is for naught. Good products and services, customer service, and the ability to solve your customer’s needs are the building blocks to good reputation management.
  2. Conversion Optimization – Bottom line, if you aren’t closing sales, then nothing else matters. Drive traffic and convert it – by any means possible.
  3. Market Research – Successful online marketing begins with market research, and that includes competitive intelligence.
  4. Relationships – Business is all about building relationships. Maintain good, solid relations with your prospects and you’ll take care of #1.
  5. Targeted Marketing – Who do you serve? The best marketing in the world reaches out to the market you serve and let’s everyone else go.

If you want to build a solid online business, make sure you focus on these 5 key areas. To the degree that you succeed at these and that your search engine optimization efforts support them, you’ll do well online. Forget these and it won’t matter how good you can optimize a web page.

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.

Where do you gather information about your competition? There are plenty of sources online where you can keep tabs of your competition and gather competitive intelligence. Here are 21 sources of information for keeping tabs on what your competition is up to.

  1. Twitter – Are you following your competition on Twitter?
  2. Their website and blog – Are you following the competition’s blog? Do you regularly check their website? You can use SEO tools to look at their effectiveness in search engine marketing and use that against them.
  3. Facebook – Are you checking in on your competition’s Facebook page or the walls of their executives? You should be.
  4. News sites – Do you read industry news portals? That’s a great place to find out what announcements the competition is making public.
  5. E-mail newsletters – Do you subscribe to your competition’s newsletters?
  6. Forums – Industry forums are a great place to gauge what people are saying about you and your competition, plus you might be able to lurk on what representatives of your competition are saying in the forums.
  7. Q&A websites – Is your competition using sites like Quora, Yahoo! Answers, and Are questions being asked about your competition? You should be keeping tabs.
  8. LinkedIn – If your competition is using LinkedIn, find out if they are using the Questions format or joining groups. Go where the competition is going and watch what they are doing.
  9. Google and Yahoo! Groups – Is your competitor a member of any groups on Yahoo! or Google? Unless you join the niche groups yourself, you can’t know.
  10. Niche social sites - Are there are social sites within your niche that your competition might be a member of? Join them.

Competitive intelligence is important. Don’t be blind to its benefits. Use these tools effectively to keep tabs of your competition.

How do you use Twitter? Or, do you use it?

If you’re like most people, you’ve flocked to Twitter to see what the big fuss is about and you’re not quite sure how to use it. What is this thing called Twitter? There’s so much going on yet you haven’t quite figured out what to make of it, or how to use it.

Rest assured, there are as many ways to use Twitter as there are people using it. It’s a very flexible and versatile social media tool. That’s one of its strengths.

I know people, for instance, who simply use Twitter to listen in on what is being said in cyberspace. They use it for competitive intelligence. They also use it to hear what their customers are saying. They follow who they want to follow, then listen.

There are other people who just can’t seem to say enough. Any time something happens around the world, they have to tweet about it. They tweet their blog posts, they tweet the natural disasters, they tweet their grandma’s pea soup, they tweet other people’s blog posts, they tweet industry insider news, and the list goes on. Which way is the best way to use Twitter?

In truth, there is no best way to use Twitter. Most business owners and managers can benefit from using Twitter in a variety of ways, and that includes both listening and shouting. The key to effective Twittering is to figure out your strategy before you start, and to be consistent over time. But don’t be afraid to change your strategy midstream either.

Competitive research is one of the most important parts of doing business online. If you are going to beat the competition on the playing field, then you’ve got to know as much about what they are up to as you can. That means, you’ve got to get your feelers out and do a little competitive intelligence work. Q&A sites are a great opportunity for doing that.

One way to use Q&A sites for competitive intelligence is to query your competition’s name or name brand on the site. You’ll almost always find people asking about and discussing the features and ways of using your competition’s products.

If you read the answers on those questions related to your competition, you can often learn new things about your competition. If not, you can sometimes use those questions as a platform for suggesting your own products as an alternative. In other words, if someone asks a question about alternative uses for your competition’s product, then that’s an open door for you to discuss your product.

Competitive intelligence is non-negotiable. The only way to win in any market is to know what you’re up against. Q&A sites present the perfect library of information on resources on almost any industry, and it’s a great place to learn more about the competition.

The first step to any good marketing is research. But that can entail any number of things. Usually, it means

  • Competitive intelligence
  • Market research data
  • Keyword research
  • Industry background research

And that’s just a start. Take a look at one of our case studies to see how a success start with market research ended with a well thought out plan that made our client successful.

While research is important, going through the steps to learn about the competition, the competitive landscape of the playing field, and your own keyword research will not necessarily guarantee success. You’ll also have to implement your plan.

There are a lot of moving parts to an effective Internet marketing strategy. There are content development initiatives to oversee, paid search initiatives, social media opportunities to exploit, and some additional research along the way to uncover unseen opportunities that might arise during the course of a campaign.

When there is so much at stake for the future of a company, you cannot afford to hand your Internet marketing over to amateurs. You need a professional to manage the process from beginning to end.

First, do your research. Then, take what you find and mold it into a plan. Execute your plan aggressively and monitor. Internet marketing success is not an accident.

J.C. Penny, Forbes, and now Overstock – all suffering severe drops in search results because they had breached Google’s terms of service. While Google will have you believe they are on top of things, these large corporations suffered their search penalties because someone either reported their activities to Google, or because they create a big news story which caused Google to act.

It raises a question – would you report your competitor for breaching Google’s terms of service? I am sure there are thousands, if not millions, of online businesses that are frustrated because they cannot climb above their competitors in Google search. There’s the obvious way out – transfer your SEO efforts to closely investigating your competitors then reporting them to Google. I can see Google slowly sinking under the weight of reports if this situation occurred.

While a lot has been said about reporting competitors, we should compare the situation to that of offline businesses. What would you do if a competitor was gaining an unfair advantage due to illegal or immoral actions? Would you report them to authorities? The business community has done so for decades. While buying links, for example, is not illegal, it does run contrary to Google’s policies and those that do engage in this activity should be aware of the risks.

So what does the short-term future hold? Will the next growth area in SEO be an extreme form of competitive intelligence, who’s only aim is to find dirt on competitors? There is a real danger in this tactic. If you have been online for several years, can you remember what you did at the very beginning? Before digging up dirt on your competitors to gain an advantage, make sure you’re squeaky clean first. It could come back to bite you! Of course, with the three big scalps mentioned at the start of this post, it could be just the tall poppy syndrome at work.

Big business turned to IT decades ago. They had the money to buy huge mainframes and to pay for the dedicated staff to manage them. What those mainframes could do in an hour often took dozens of workers to do in several hours. Small business has toyed with IT, some with a great deal of success, others with not so much success. It seems that small businesses are once again looking at IT as a means to cut operating costs. It’s interesting to note that Internet marketing is one of those driving forces.

According to SmallBusinessNewz:

nearly 36% of small businesses are investing in improved email marketing campaigns, 28% are looking at Google Adwords and 21% are looking at Facebook advertising.

They also report that 30% of small businesses are investing in “virtualization, business intelligence and collaboration“.¬† Business intelligence (or competitive intelligence) has been a primary motivator for many medium to large businesses where dedicated staff research competitors across the broad spectrum of the Internet – especially social media.

One of the driving forces into the future will be the introduction of smarter software that will deliver better analytics of social media activity. We are already seeing better analytics coming out of Facebook, other social media sites will not be far behind. One of the best indicators of how successful Internet Marketing is becoming is the fact that traditional marketing sources, print, television, and radio, are now crying poor and bemoaning drops in sales, viewers, and listeners.

Today, you can create a highly successful video ad for far less than the cost of a television ad. Where television charges tens of thousands of dollars for some 30 second ad spots, you can publish and promote a video of any length, almost for free, across the Internet. You may not get the same audience, but when you can produce 20 or 30 videos for the same cost as one television ad – savings are fairly obvious.

We are only touching the surface when it comes to cost cutting. Cloud computing is yet to make a huge impact yet the potential for savings could be huge for small businesses. Internet marketing is just one dimension, but its success will drive ventures into more cost cutting activities using IT and the Internet. The ride is going to be interesting.