Are you curious what your competition is up to? When you visit your competitors’ websites, do you feel like you are spying, drumming up images of Cold War espionage or saucy, seductresses from World War I like Mata Hari who used their feminine whiles to gain information through covert operations? Well, you don’t have to be Mata, 007, CIA, or KGB to do a little snooping into what others are doing online.
- Search and Identify. You may know which nearby businesses compete with yours and you know who competes with you across town, but do you know your online competitors? They are the businesses that show up in search engine results (ie. Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) when you search the name of your profession or product along with the geographic locale.
For example: If you are thinking about selling a set of sharp knives in Chicago you’d search “sharp knives Chicago.” When you look at the results note who is at the top of the results, what the brief description of their business is on the results page, and if there are businesses that don’t fit the search criteria (for example, did Sharp Knaves Chicago show up?). Do any of the search words you used show up as domain names? If not, you should consider buying part of the search phrase or the whole search phrase as the domain name; it’s a strategic move to prevent a competitor from using it and you can use it for an additional website or blog.
- Page View. All the top browsers allow web visitors to view the underlying code of a website by using a tool like “page view” or “page source”. After identifying your top three competitors you’ve searched, peak at the code of their home page. You won’t have to read the entire page of code. The gold is near the top – “keywords”. Yes, you can see your competitors’ keywords and discover if any are worth “borrowing” for your website. You may have guessed this already; if you can look at your competitors’ keywords they can also look at yours. You can bet that someone is already looking at your keywords!
- Become a Mole- Become a Friend. A bit more searching is needed to see if your competitors are using social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, blogging, or have a Facebook Fan Page. Follow your competitors to see the directions in which they are taking their businesses. You may find that you have less competitive than you thought and even find an area in which you can collaborate.
Enjoy a little online spying to gain insight into your web competition. Your snooping shouldn’t end with becoming a copycat. Work to discover what is working for other businesses, new ways to differentiate yourself from others, and a better understanding your own website’s unique position online.