Posted on May 9, 2018

Brief Guide: How to Conduct Competitive Intelligence

Before you build a website or invest in professional marketing services for your website, you should understand your competitive landscape. Regardless of the size of your organization or website, you’ll want to conduct competitive intelligence to:

  • Gain a better and more data-driven perspective of your competition online and offline.
  • Understand where your organization, its website, its brand, and its products fit within the overall marketplace and its niche or industry.
  • Make better decisions across your business, including those relevant to marketing, branding, and product development.
  • Remain agile and relevant to your customers and stakeholders across different mediums.

A recent post, Understanding Competitive Intelligence and Why It’s Vital to Your Online Success, highlighted the ins and outs of why it is important for you to conduct competitive intelligence. It also briefly touched on how to conduct competitive intelligence. This post will go into greater detail.

Continue reading to learn more about things you need to do when conducting competitive intelligence.

Understand the Difference Between Competitive Intelligence and Corporate Espionage

Before you get started conducting competitive intelligence, it is important to know that it does not entail espionage or “spying” on your competitors. While conducting espionage, individuals typically engage in blackmail or steal another company’s secrets to gain a competitive advantage, which is highly illegal and unethical. While uncovering competitive intelligence, individuals work to collect publicly available data about other companies, markets, and products, or collect data from customers and shareholders in transparent ways that can be accessed publicly and ethically. Read this Investopedia article to learn more about unlawful and unethical practices that you should avoid.

Know Your Business Goals for Collecting Competitive Intelligence

When conducting competitive intelligence, one of the first things you’ll need to determine is why you need to collect the intelligence for your business or organization. This will help you pinpoint what type of intelligence and information you need to gather, as well as what resources you’ll need and want to rely on as you gather your intelligence. Are you gathering intelligence because you’re developing a new product or service in your marketplace? Are you attempting to update your marketing and sales tactics or pricing? Read the “Uses for Competitive Intelligence” section in Understanding Competitive Intelligence and Why It’s Vital to Your Online Success [Note to ipage: link to this post on website once it’s published.] to learn more about the many reasons why your business may need to conduct competitive intelligence.

Use the Right Tools for Collecting and Evaluating Your Competitive Intelligence

When conducting competitive intelligence online, you’ll want tools that help you uncover:

  • Competitors’ domains and their rankings, as well as their backlink profiles, the number of pages on their websites, their keywords, etc. You can use tools like Open SEO Stats, SimilarWeb or SEMRush for this. And, you can use a tool like Alexa to determine emerging competitors in your industry or niche.
  • What programs and integrations are behind your online competitors’ websites. You can uncover things like what kind of content management systems, email integrations, marketing integrations, etc. are on your competitors’ websites with tools like BuiltWith.
  • Up-to-date news and information about your competitors and your industry. You can set up Google Alerts for this or use a tool like TrackMaven.
  • What types of topics and content have performed best for your competitors online. Rely on BuzzSumo to uncover this information.

Build Your Own Cloud-Based Database to Store Competitive Data and Information

While this may seem daunting at first, maintaining your own database of competitive data and information isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Just remember that once you gather your competitive intelligence, you’ll need to store it in a central location that is accessible from any device you use. Otherwise, you may lose or misplace valuable intelligence. With a cloud-based database, it’s easy to organize, sort, and update your intelligence and competitor and market profiles, as new information constantly becomes available to you. You can use and update spreadsheets in Google Drive for free. Or, you can rely on other cloud-based services like Zoho One.

Visit and Evaluate Your Competitors’ Websites and Their Performance

If you truly want to understand how your competitors work, visit their websites yourself. See what type of content they share and how their websites are structured and see how quickly their pages and content load via a mobile device. Then document this information in your database.

How do their websites rank in search engines and search engine results compared to yours and other competitors? What features do their websites have? What website features or elements are missing? While some of the tools mentioned above can uncover this information too, nothing beats experiencing a competitor’s website first-hand in order to uncover valuable intelligence.

Follow Your Competition

Once you know who your leading competition is, follow them on social media, follow their ad campaigns, read their blog posts, and sign up to receive their emails and newsletters. You can use the content they share to form your own voice and perspective and to differentiate your voice from theirs. Meanwhile, you’ll also gain valuable intelligence about your target market and what topics and type of content they respond to the most. You can make note of what tactics and content are working and which ones aren’t.

Read User-Generated Content and Conduct Surveys, Polls, and Case Studies

When you’re tapping into a newer marketplace (i.e., internet of things, artificial intelligence, etc.), you may not have a lot of historical or readily available intelligence to uncover. Or, sometimes you may discover that you want data and information about your industry or marketplace that is not already available. When this happens, don’t hesitate to acquire the intelligence yourself. You can always conduct surveys and polls and reach out to your target market to ask them about their experiences, desires, etc. For instance, you can conduct case studies to see how customers like using certain products or application features.

In addition, you can collect intelligence by following successful hashtag campaigns on social media to see what’s trending. Or, you can consult other user-generated content online such as customer reviews and forums. When doing this, you’ll learn more about what your target market or audience talks about the most, as well as what they really care about and want. If needed, you can even get on the phone and conduct cold calls or talk to people on the street to gain insight into what your target audience cares about.

Learn from the Experts in Your Industry and Rely on the Right Industry Resources

Remember that competitive intelligence isn’t just about benchmarking your online competition. It’s also about understanding your entire niche or marketplace and where you fit within it. You’ll want to discover opportunities and untapped consumer bases within your marketplace, and you’ll want to remain at the cusp of what’s new and emerging in your industry or marketplace to remain competitive. So, be sure to follow and learn from industry experts to gain access to reliable industry resources and research. Many industry influencers and leaders publish their own marketplace data and case studies that you can glean valuable insight from on a rolling basis. You’ll always know what’s most important, what’s trending, as well as what’s emerging. Know what publications and experts you can trust in your field and follow their posts and know how to access their information.

Visit Industry Conferences, Seminars, and Trade Shows

In addition to following experts and industry leaders online, you’ll also want to attend industry-wide conferences, seminars and trade shows in person. While you’re there, you’ll learn about what new products and services are being developed in your industry or marketplace, any new research or best practices, and more.

Join an Association

Various associations will provide cutting-edge research and competitive intelligence that is applicable to your particular field and industry in one place, so you don’t have to constantly consult a variety of resources on your own. Association members can access emerging best practices, techniques, tools and more, while networking with other industry leaders.

As you conduct competitive intelligence for your new website or business, remember to keep this brief guide handy.


Feature image: Pixabay

Sources Cited

Investopedia. Industrial Espionage, Accessed 3/9/2018.