4 Tips for Researching Your Business Competition Online

Posted August 15, 2012

Any business, big or small, can gain a competitive edge by knowing the strengths and weaknesses of its closest competitors.  Research shows that 66 percent of U.S. adults have used the Internet to aid in a purchase, so understanding a business’ online presence is more valuable than ever.

Identify your local small business competitors by conducting a search for the types of products or services you offer in your local area, and see what other businesses appear in the search results. You can also check local listings, or even ask friends and family if they know of nearby businesses that are similar to yours.  Once you determine your top competitors in your local market, you can use these four methods to see how their Web presence compares to yours.

Visit Your Competition's Website

The first stop when assessing a competitor's Web presence should be the company's own website. It will tell you many things about them, such as some of the keywords and phrases they use to optimize their website copy for search, their main value proposition or key message, their featured products or services, and their target market.

This information helps you not only understand more about your business competition and what differentiates you, it also helps you compare your online marketing efforts.

  • Is it easy to identify what they do within the first few seconds?
  • What products or services do they offer?
  • How are they similar to your business and how are they different?
  • Do they promote themselves more effectively than you do?

Understanding these key factors can help you develop a marketing plan to bring customers to your business instead of theirs.

Conduct a Search

Gauging your competitors’ placement on search engines isn’t always an easy task, since algorithms change frequently. However, evaluating the results of your competitors’ organic and paid search tactics can help your own search engine marketing strategy. Keep in mind, it’s best to perform searches in a private browser; the search engine won’t take your browsing history into account, and you’ll see generic results. Here are a few things to look for:

Shelf Space

Search for a competitor’s business name online to see how much "shelf space" – links on the search results page – they own, and what type of content is displayed, such as their website, blog, videos, reviews,  and even text ads. Note which local listings, social media sites, and content sites the search results display, and compare them against the ones that show up when you search for your own business name.

PPC Ads

To see what your competitors may be doing in paid search advertising, first identify a list of 5-10 top local keywords and search for them on top search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. If your competitor also bids on their own business name in search advertising, chances are their paid search ad will show in the sponsored section of the search results when you search for their name as well. Bidding on your business name is a cost-effective way to quickly get your brand to appear on the search engine results page. 

Organic Rank

Also look at the organic listings when you search for those local keywords, as well as the keywords you are optimizing your own site for. Where do your competitors rank in comparison to you? What kinds of content are ranking – is it just their site, or do other social sites and content show up as well?



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