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How to Spy on Your Competitors Online


Understanding your web traffic is only the first step to winning online. Success on the Web today means understanding not only what works for you, but what works for others as well. One of the worst mistakes that you can do is to think that your online business exists in a vacuum and that you have nothing to do with your competitors. In fact, there’s a lot of insights and winning strategies that your competitors can teach you that you can apply into your own business.

There’s no shame in spying on your competitors; in fact, big businesses even have large departments whose sole task to track what their competitors are doing. Knowing what others in your industry are up to helps you become more competitive and improve your business.

If you are running an information website for example, you may want to spy on your competitors in order to:

  • Identify the content that are gaining the most traction for them in social media
  • Determine the topics they are posting online
  • Determine the content and keywords driving the most traffic to their site
  • Determine the referrals or biggest sources of traffic
  • Determine what emails they are sending out and what level of engagement they are getting

If you are running an ecommerce website, you can spy on your competitors to:

  • Determine the products that they are selling
  • Know how they are they using social media to engage their customers
  • What offers are they giving their customers whether online or email

However, gathering information about your competitors take a lot of time and effort. To help businesses do the job efficiently and quickly, there are a number of tools designed to help in collecting and analyzing data about competitors. Some of the best tools are not free, even pricey, while others are free.

The first step in competitive analysis is to identify your goals. What kind of information do you want and what will you do with the information you have on your competitor? Then you can find the right tools to help you with the job. For example, spying on their email marketing strategies require a different set of tools than checking their success on search engine optimization. There are very specialized tools that can help you accomplish them — and it all depends on your budget.

Here are some premium tools to consider to help you spy on your web competitors in the online marketing arena:


Media Metrix comScore

If you have at least $25-55K a year (add more if you want weekly data and whether you want sources of traffic, which is an add-on), the best tool to spy on your competitors is comScore. You will learn your competitors’ traffic patterns, best content, where traffic is coming from — but yes, price is pretty steep. ComScore’s data comes from a global panel of more than 2 million users who have given them explicit permission to measure their Internet usage patterns.

Some of the questions the tool can help answer for you include:

  • What is the trend of the total unique visitors per month of your competitors?
  • What is the demographics of your competitors’ traffic (gender, age, household income, household size, race, and ethnicity)? Which websites rank highest within certain demographics?
  • What are the pages most viewed?
  • What is the percentage change year-over-year or month-over-month to help you determine the fastest growing competitors?
  • What is the level of traffic coming from search and what are the top keywords?
  • What is the distribution of traffic according to major geographic locations (Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, North America)?
  • What are the other sites your competitors’ visitors go to? Which competitors are drawing more of your current user base?
  • What are the websites driving traffic to your competitors? Are partnership and ad buys paying off for them?
  • How is your competitors performing in search, both paid and organic? What terms are driving traffic and what is the demographic of key searchers?


Trackmaven competitive analysis

Trackmaven is a cheaper alternative that can help you find content opportunities and optimize your distribution strategies. It is a good tool for determining what types of content is getting a lot of traction both in social media and site sharing, and what distribution mediums are working well for your competitors. You will get notified of the most viral content of your competitors, learn average engagement per post, data on the number of posts per day, number of posts on Facebook and their number of likes, etc.

Trackmaven can help you answer questions such as:

  • What are the dominant platforms used by your competitors to distribute their content?
  • What is the average share per post of your competitors?
  • What is the topic of your competitors’ best performing content?
  • What is the most frequent title length of your competitors’ post?
  • What press outlets are covering or mentioning your competitors?
  • Which of your competitors are winning in various social media? How far ahead/behind are you?
  • What are the effective call to actions used by your competitors that generated the most engagement?
  • What is the format of your competitors’ most shared posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media?
  • What time are your competitors posting on Facebook, Twitter, etc., especially for the posts that get the most traction?

Return PathConsumer Insight Return Path

Email is an important marketing medium for most businesses, generating a solid source of traffic and conversions for websites. One way to spy on your competitors is to gain insights on how the engage in email marketing.

For email, a really good tool to use is Return Path. Return Path’s email intelligence product, which costs around $12K-20K per year, helps you see opportunities for you in terms of email marketing. You will learn what your competitors are sending out, what the read rate of their emails is, how many are deleting their emails without reading, and how many are being marked by ISPs as spam. Using Return Path, you can answer questions such as:

  • What are the emails sent out by competitors and how many on a given period?
  • What percent of your subscribers also subscribe to your competitors’ mailings?
  • What is the trend of their average percentage read? You may be sending out more emails but your competitors are getting higher read rates.
  • What is the campaign frequency by day of the week?
  • What are the top performing email campaigns? You will be able to see the actual emails sent by your competitors so you can study the content, subject line, call to action, and all other elements of their email message.

Engaging in competitive analysis can help you understand what works for your competitors in order to better engage with your customers and provide them with better products, content or services. However, it can be costly and your success in competitive analysis will depend on your goals, how much you are willing to pay, and the time you want to spend analyzing what they are doing, and what you intend to do with the data or analysis you get. After all, having the data is just the first step; it’s what you do with the data that counts the most.

My next article will be on the free tools you can use to do competitive analysis.

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Category: Online Business

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