As a smart business owner, there’s no doubt you’re paying attention to your own brand, online and otherwise.
But how closely are you monitoring your competition?
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, it’s a time stretch. But don’t skimp when it comes to competitive listening – it’s an integral part of marketing your small business and seeing how you stack up against others.
Fortunately, there are lots of great listening tools to help you.
1.) Routinely Google Competitors
At a minimum, you need to know where your competitors appear in Google, Bing an d Yahoo search results. If your industry has a popular niche online review site, make sure to include it in your online reputation audit. Do one or more of your competitors appear at the top of the search results? Do you know why? Either more customers are searching for your competitors or your competitors are savvier than you are when it comes to online marketing. In either case, start taking notes! Intelligence you uncover will reveal insights about your competitors and inform your own small business online marketing strategy.
2.) Gain a Competitive Edge with Google Alerts
Are you using Google Alerts? If not, get onboard now to receive email alerts about your competitors. You can set up multiple alerts to track specific companies, competitive products or services, or an individual, so that when your search query is mentioned in the news, you automatically receive notification via email. If daily alerts are too intrusive, you can use the settings to receive a weekly email update. However, if you have an aggressive competitor, you may want to take advantage of the timely “as-it-happens” email alert.
3.) Review Competitive Reviews
A Harvard Business School study said a one-star difference in an online rating could impact revenues up to nine percent. They matter. How many reviews do your competitors currently have on the major online review sites? How about the online review sites specific to your industry? What is the average rating score of your reviews vs. that of your competitors? This is the most direct way to gauge how your company’s products and services stack up vs. the competition. Visit the review sites weekly, if not daily, to get candid feedback from both existing and potential customers about competitive products and services.
4.) Explore Competitive Trends
If you want to track a general industry trend, or a specific person or company, you can use Google Search Trends. Just type in your search term and away you go.
5.) Surf Social Media to Survey the Competition
Monitoring your competitors’ social media presence can serve as a good wake-up call if you get too comfortable. Let’s say your social media marketing efforts have been nestled comfortably into one or two sites. It’s a big surprise to discover that one of your biggest competitors has jumped ship and is devoting resources to a new channel. Are they on to something good? Or tilting at windmills? Check out competitive activity via the new channel and see if any of your existing (or potential) customers also use that channel. Monitor their offers, evaluate their engagement, and see if it’s worth adjusting your own strategy to meet consumer demand. Don’t expect them to come to you – make the effort to meet them on their platform of choice.
6.) What Kind of Content Are Your Competitors Sharing?
Content can be king, if you are paying close attention to your customers’ needs. Do your competitors rely heavily on coupons or special offers? How’s that working for them?
Does one of your competitors offer a different level of content than you had ever considered offering on your own company website? Be inspired! Value-added content is one smart way companies retain web traffic and encourage online shoppers to frequent or even bookmark their site. Humorous how-to videos demonstrating new ways to use your product could be the next big hit on YouTube. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Have a favorite niece sing a little ditty about why she likes your product. Start a web cam from the shop dog’s point of view. The important thing is to connect with your target audience and your competition may provide insights about the best way to do that!
7.) Watch Your Competition’s Website
How do your competitors use their websites to attract and retain business? Being thorough means analyzing website content closely. What is the design communicating? How are they positioning the products? Are you getting indicators about where they might go next? You may discover innovative uses of widgets, surveys or other technology to engage customers. If you want to get serious about it, you might check into using a free tool called Change Detection, which notifies you of any changes to your competitor’s website.
The bottom line? Monitoring search results for your competition is second only to monitoring your own search results in online reputation management. Staying in front of the competition is never easy, but with the sophisticated mix of social media tools available today, you’ll get a level of transparency your predecessors would have salivated over.