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Easy Ways to Conduct Free Competitive Research Online

A couple of months ago, PR industry heavyweight (and one of my business inspirations) Todd Defren wrote about how he doesn't hesitate to engage in corporate espionage, as long as it's ethical.  I couldn't agree more -- who isn't looking for a leg up on the competition by acquiring one of their proposals or learning insider information?

However, in addition to getting lucky and being handed a competitor's proposal, there are many free and easy ways to conduct competitive research on the web.  These methods will give you an idea of what competitors are doing to market themselves online, show you how successful they are, and give you the opportunity to emulate their tactics.

  • Follow your competitors' feeds.  Probably a quarter of the RSS feeds in my Google Reader are those of competitor blogs.  First, I just like to stay up to date with what's going on in the industry and these blogs typically give a good overview.  However, you better believe that I'm also just waiting for tidbits on how they're allocating their marketing resources or managing the internal dynamics of their company.  If they experienced success with Facebook ads and blog about it, there's little doubt that you'll see our ad next to theirs within that week.  Another important feed is your competitors' Twitter.  This is a great way to see what they're working on and reading. 
  • Check inbound links.  The most important element of SEO is your inbound links.  There are many popular methods to build powerful links, such as buying into directories, guest posting on blogs, and submitting to social networks.  Wonder how your competitors are so much more successful for your targeted keywords on Google?  To gain insight into their linkbuilding strategy, go to Yahoo! and search Links: competitordomainname.com. Using this method, you can see what directories your competitors have submitted to, what blogs are linking to them, and many other valuable linkbait information.  On more than one occasion, this strategy has opened our eyes to new locations to post our relevant articles and recent work.
  • Review competitor traffic trends. Frequently you will want to quantify how successful a competitor is online.  A great free tool to compare their web traffic to your own is Compete.  Compete will graph their traffic over time versus yours.  This data will help you know how successful your competitor actually is online.  If you're crushing them in traffic, you're probably doing something right; if they're beating you, you should probably check their inbound links with the above method to see how they're driving traffic to their site.

These quick, free methods of competitive research will help you make informed decisions on how to engage your competitors and where they're directing their internet marketing resources.  By using these methods, we're able to keep up on our competitor's actions in a completely ethical manner.  I encourage you to try these strategies to gain the upperhand in the online battle with competitors.  Do you have any other reliable and easy methods of doing competitive research online?

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