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10 Steps to Researching Your Competition Online
Regardless of what business you're in, you have competition, or other businesses who are clamoring for the same consumer dollars as you. The competition may or may not be in the same industry, e.g. if you own a movie theatre, your competition will be all venues providing entertainment, such as bowling alleys, theme parks, skating rinks, miniature golf courses, in addition to other movie theatres. Take a moment to determine what business you're in and determine if your type of business might also attract consumers from other industries.
As an online business owner, your competition may not be as easy to gauge, especially if you don't have a retail location for your business, or if you have a global virtual company where you can work with clients regardless of location, as many coaches, consultants, virtual assistants, graphic designers, speakers, and website designers do. How do you begin to assess your competition when your business has no geographic limits? It's very similar to the steps that a traditional business might take, but it's all done online.
Here are the ten steps I use to research my competition online:
1. Brainstorm all known competitors. If you've been in business for any length of time, you probably already have a good sense of which other companies offer what you offer. Look up their websites and make a note of the website addresses. You'll be using this information later.
2. Compile a list of keywords your customer would use to find a business like yours online. How would your target market find you online? Create a list of all keywords that they might use. If you have a business that serves a particular geographic region, you'll want to create a geographic keyword listing as well, like "cleaning business" + "Beaumont, Texas" or "cleaning business" + "Southeast Texas".
3. Conduct a keyword search on the major search engines. The major players in the search engine game today seem to be Google, Yahoo, and MSN. It is the results from these search engine queries that will be the ones most commonly found by your target market. You should try your search with and without quotation marks, like "cleaning business" and cleaning business and conduct a search by location, as well, if that applies to your business. Make a note of the top 10 listings from each search engine query and those will comprise your top competition, along with other local competitors that you know about.
4 Visit your competitors' websites and analyze their offerings. Create a summary of each competitor's services and/or products. Determine the strength and weaknesses of your competition from the perspective of your target market. Assess how your offerings are better/worse/different from that of the competition. Are your prices higher or lower than theirs? Why? What makes you unique? How can you capitalize on that uniqueness and set yourself apart from the competition? By following these steps, you'll discover your competitive advantage, or the reason(s) your target market does business with you instead of your competition.
5. Create a spreadsheet to track your results. You'll want to track your research over time, so create a spreadsheet in which you keep track of all the information you discover about your competition. Compare how both your company and the companies of your closest competition evolve throughout a year.
6. See how your competition stacks up. Determine how popular your competition is. Download the Google Toolbar and determine their Google Page Rank and visit Alexa.com and determine your competitor's Alexa Traffic Ranking. A higher Google Page Rank (on a scale of 1-10), indicates more relevance and higher traffic. In Alexa, the lower your ranking (under 500,000 means your site is fairly well visited; under 100,000 means your site is a big contender in your industry), the more relevant your site is deemed. In addition, with Alexa, you can see the other websites owned by this company, see related sites visited from this website, as well as other sites with inbound links to this site. You can use this latter information to create a list for potential link exchanges or future strategic alliances. A tool you can use to get both rankings simultaneously is Rank Alert: http://www.rankalert.net/siterank.php
7. Complete an analysis of their websites. What meta tags are being used on your competitor's websites? How are their websites optimized for keywords or keyword phrases? How many inbound links do your competitors have? From what other sites are the inbound links coming? Two tools you can use to scope out this information on your competition are Keyword Density Analyzer: http://www.ranks.nl/tools/spider.html, and Link Popularity Checker: http://www.freewebsubmission.com/link-popularity.html
8. Track your competition with alerts. The easiest way to stay on top of what your competition is doing is to track them with Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts. In my alerts notifications, I track both keywords relevant to my business, as well as the names and website names of my closest competition. Google has recently added a feature to their alerts system to notify you of blog postings as well, in addition to website updates and news alerts.
9. Shop your competition. Become your competitor's customer. Buy the products of your top 5 competitors and familiarize yourself with their sales process. By doing so, you'll be able to sell your own product or service more effectively since you'll have a better understanding of what your competition offers. Becoming their customer also lets you discover their weaknesses, as well as your own. In addition, you'll want to join their mailing list or email broadcast list to keep up-to-date on what they're doing.
10. Regularly visit your competition. Visit the websites of your top 5 competitors at least once a month to see what's new. In this way you can spot trends in your industry, as well as determine what seems to be working well for them and determine how you can apply this information and knowledge in your own business.
Creating your competitive intelligence helps you stay one step ahead of your competitors. It's essential to have an up-to-date picture of your closest competitors and what they are doing so that your company is remaining competitive and a major player in your industry.
Copyright (c) 2006 Donna Gunter
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