If you spy on your neighbors, it's considered creepy. However, if you keep tabs on your competition, it's just smart. To make sure you're not being left behind in your industry, it's important to know what your competitors — both known and yet to be discovered — are up to. So channel your inner Gladys Kravitz and try out these seven tools to keep an eye on your peers.
1. Google Alerts
This is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to monitor your competition. Google Alerts allows you to enter the names of your competitors and receive notifications whenever they are mentioned in the news, blogs, video, or discussions.
2. Social Monitoring
Businesses are using social media now more than ever to communicate with their customers. In fact, 71 percent of small businesses plan to use social media content to attract new customers in 2018. So, you benefit by seeing what they're sharing, where they're sharing it, how often they're posting and what kinds of messaging they're using. An easy way to do this, of course, is just to follow your competitors on various social channels (preferably from your personal account). Or, you could use a convenient tool like HootSuite, Social Mention, HowSociable — or any one of many social media listening tools. Us? We're big fans of Hubspot.
3. Keyword Analysis
If you want to know how your competitors' websites are performing, you might consider SEMRush. Simply by entering a competitor's website, you will learn about their rank, traffic, ad keywords and organic keywords. You can also see a side-by-side comparison of several domains so you are able to see how you size up against everyone else.
4. Snail + Email Surveillance
Direct mail is not dead! Make sure you're signing up for your peers' paper mailings as well as electronic communications. This will quickly show you how they're messaging their customers as well as if they provide any special promotions.
5. Competitive Analysis on the Go
It's an understatement to say that business leaders are busy. You may find yourself running across articles about or by your competition, but not have time to read them at that moment. Enter Instapaper. This app acts like a more sophisticated bookmarking tool — allowing you to save web content when you find it and read it later — even without internet access.
6. Ad Investigation
Advertising plays a big role in shaping your reputation and building your customer base. While analytics on your own ads can show you what's effective in your own marketing, wouldn't it be nice to gain some insight into how your competitors' ads are performing? You can with WhatRunsWhere. This service shows you what campaigns are performing well and helps you identify new traffic sources. The basic package starts at $299 per month.
7. Backlink Wizardry
What is a backlink? It's a hyperlink from another website that links to yours. Backlinks are important not only because they drive more traffic to your site from outside sources, but also because they impact your search ranking in Google's algorithm. Suffice it to say, you should be tracking your backlinks. Monitor Backlinks provides a nice way to do this (and they have a free 30-day trial). This tool allows you to see your competitors' rankings and most visited pages — and compare them with your own website. Once you see which websites your competitors are on, you could reach out to those sites to see if there's a way you could be listed on there as well.
There's a time and a place to be nosey, and competitive analysis is one of those times. You don't have to run around yelling "ABNER!" but you do have to peek out from behind your curtains every once in a while.