3 Stealth Ways to Keep Tabs of Your Competition Online

These days as companies and individuals continue to publish more in-depth information online, valuable insight can be gained by simply taking the time to track what, where, and how your competitors are posting, advertising, and interacting with their customer base online. As we all sit back and go through the motions of continuous status updates and location-based tweets, we continually “feed” the web more information about ourselves, giving everyone around us a more robust understanding of who we are, what we think, and what our next move will be.

What does this mean for businesses?

There are now several simple, free, effective ways to keep tabs of your competitors without spending a dime. With a little will power and knowledge of the right listening tools, you can now efficiently tap into the thoughts, new directions, promotions, and customer relations of your strongest competitors.

With that said, here are a few tips to help you on your quest for maintaining a competitive edge.

Tap into their Social Media

Recent years have brought new opportunities to tune into competitors by tapping into their social presence. This can really entail everything from incorporating them onto a private Twitter list, to tracking down and following key personnel blog updates, or even screening Tweets of lead executives.

Taking competitive surveillance up to a sophisticated level has really become quite simple, allowing for the tracking of brand names and product lines through keyword searches on Twitter and Facebook. Regardless if you are new to the social space or a seasoned veteran, much can be learned by simply tuning into services such as: Tweetdeck and Tweetymail to strategically monitor mentions. If you really want to get systematic about this, I would suggest using Monitter to generate keyword searches of content published on Twitter, and then subscribing to the RSS feeds of those that generate informative results about your competitor.

Monitor Web Content & Updates

Another low-profile way to keep tabs of your competition involves listening in on web content updates. This can entail anything from monitoring website updates (whether that be press releases or service offering pages) to reviewing new job postings of your competitor on LinkedIn.

Regardless of where you tune in, a simple alert system is necessary to avoid the hassles of constantly sifting through pages manually in search of updates. Google Alerts is a great place to start for a general aggregated view of competitor updates.

If you are like me and interested in keeping a careful eye on blogs, newsletters, press releases, and promotions, I would definitely suggest you take the time to consider a more systematic approach. This is where I usually allow Google Reader to step up to the plate. Using Google Reader, you can easily subscribe to updates of most web pages (regardless of whether they have an RSS feed or not). So, most new content that is published can easily be converted with this tool to an RSS feed, automating the process of surfing through pages of your competitors’ websites. Whenever there is an update, the news comes to you, rather than you searching for it.

If your competitor uses LinkedIn, then it is helpful to remember that new hires and recent departures can be often tracked on a company’s LinkedIn page. Also, it might be worth your time to sift through job descriptions every once and a while to keep tabs on where your competitors are headed. This can be accomplished by strategically following companies to get a glimpse of new job posts, job qualifications, department downsizes, staffing for new headquarters, etc.

Monitor Key Indicators

So, what do I mean by key indicators?

Take a bit of time and research how your competitor’s website has developed through the months or years to serve their market. If you are interested in finding out what people and companies link to your competitor, check out Yahoo Site Explorer for a comprehensive breakdown of backlinks.While you are doing this, don’t forget to consider running your site through web site grader to gain a better understanding of improvements that you can make.

If you find it worth your time, consider running an assessment to see what a competitors’ social media is worth. While the exact calculation may be a bit fuzzy, both of these tools will help you in the process of figuring out your competitor’s reach and influence (Facebook Page Net Worth & Klout). This is especially relevant if you believe that doing so could lead to a competitive edge.

With all of this considered, how do you track your competitors? Are there any tools or tricks of the trade you have come across that seem to work effectively? Please comment below to keep the discussion rolling.