Checking Out the Competition

I have a confession to make.

Checking out the competition brings out the worst in me.

Basically, I’m a kind person. I bake cookies for the office and give to charity, and I would help old ladies across the street if I knew any old ladies who wanted that service. I’m not even all that competitive, for someone who works in marketing. I’m not a stickler for the rules in Scrabble and I don’t shout at ball games.

But somehow checking out the competition leads me to say things like, “You know, you could mop the floor with them” to clients, and I can’t swear that I don’t have a mad glint in my eye when I say it.

It might be better for my character not to check out the competition, but it has to be done in this job. It isn’t essential to go, as I do, and sneer at their punctuation or look pityingly at their links. That is optional. The important thing is to steal their strategies. Ahem, to learn from their marketing efforts.

Find your competition

You probably know who your competitors are in real life, so that’s a good starting point. But your competitors on the web may be a different group of businesses entirely. You find them by typing your keywords into the handy box at the search engine and seeing who comes up. Everyone ahead of you, and everyone just below you, poised to knock you out of your place, is your competitor. Take names.

Spy around a little

Visit their websites, of course. That’s the point at which I tend to sneer at their punctuation, notice the lack of updating, and look askance at their code. When it’s my client’s website, of course, I see these things with compassion and make notes so we can get all that fixed up. When it’s my clients’ competitors, it’s open season for sneering. It wouldn’t hurt to cast a critical eye at your own site after you’ve done a little bit of this. Can your competition come and sneer at your punctuation? You’ll notice it more after you’ve been looking closely at other websites.

Spy around a lot

Use tools like Spyfu to get an idea of what your competitors are doing in the way of advertising and what keywords they’re working on. Spy software doesn’t have fully accurate data about your competitors, but it gives you additional insights into their strategies.

How much of this you can stand, and how much it will mean to you, depends on your level of experience and your tolerance for data. If it makes you feel like your brain is going to explode (a surprisingly common reaction when I try to send clients some really cool numbers to look at), then contact me and I’ll take care of it for you.

Analyze and synthesize

Gather up all that data and see what it tells you about the strategies your competitors use. Some of their approaches will probably be new to you. Some will be things you just wouldn’t do, or maybe things you don’t have the budget to do. But nearly always you’ll see some ideas to add to your marketing inspiration file.

Take action

You’re on page eight for that keyword and the company at #1 has 50,000 more links than you do? That’s a hint that you need more links. You have dubious reciprocal links and the company that’s eating your lunch in the rankings has acres of good content? Another hint. Pick three of the ideas you took away from the competition and write them on your to-do list.

Next time you see those competitors at a Chamber meeting or something, tell them you liked their website. Tell them you liked the way they got those Wikipedia links and you’ve done the same. If you can say it without any hint of sneering, of course.







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