Gathering information on your competitors is no longer the surreptitious, cloak-and-dagger style task it may once have seemed to be. With the advent of technological tools which facilitate data mining, and the proliferation of social media, the information you seek is often quite literally at your fingertips – if you know where to look.

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Set & Forget

If you’re looking for an efficient, set-and-forget way to check, compare and track your competitors, web scraping tools are an excellent option.

Web scraping uses technology to extract data from the websites of your competitors so that you can easily chart and access their information. On of the more obvious benefits of web scraping is that it can be automatically set up to be run at regular intervals (hourly, daily, weekly – it’s up to you), allowing your business to track the changes of your competitors over time and identify patterns.

Google Is Not A Catch-All

Though searching Google for information is certainly handy, Google searching is not the panacea for your competitive research woes. Google searching can often be manipulated in order to present the information the company wants you to see, while hiding the more important information in metadata and otherwise hidden site text.

Using other Google tools such as Google Trends and Google Alerts can give you almost real-time access to search information and trend forming, allowing you an insight into your competitors without fear that the data has been manipulated for SEO purposes.

Social Networking

The social network channels of your competitors are also excellent hives of information. From customer contact, to tone, to specials, there’s a wealth of information to be found if you know where to look. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Pinterest call all give you a unique view on what your competitors are up to.

Don’t forget to read posts from their customers and clients – these form an important piece of your research and will give you an idea of how client/customer interaction takes place, and may even provide you with specific opportunities to capitalise on and better your competitor’s offerings.  

Test The Water

There’s no better supply of information than the source, so why not try being a potential customer of your competitor? If they offer a customer service or quote over the phone, then place a phone call as a potential customer and ask direct questions about their pricing or service.

The trick to this method is to remain polite and to not string the competitor on for any longer than necessary –  you’re looking for information, not for irritation.

Get Talking

Another great source of information is through mutual suppliers or industry partners. If you have a good working relationship, enquire directly about your competitors in a way which is friendly and not too pushy.

Ask whether they’re receiving any special discounts or making any particularly large orders. These small nuggets of information might give you a clue towards a large promotion or incentive in the pipeline, and could give your business an opportunity to develop a strategy to compete or mitigate their campaign.

Dig Deeper

Online review websites and forums are also filled with first-hand accounts of exchanges with your competitors. Websites such as Yelp provide customers a chance to offer honest and critical feedback without fear of repercussion.

Look for patterns in any reviews (such as the mention of poor customer service, or pricing) and find ways to explicitly address and advertise the superiority of these elements of your business in future marketing collateral.

Gathering information on your competitors can be as complex or as easy as you’re willing to make it. With a few key tools and some know-how, you’re well on your way to unlocking the information you require to give your business a competitive edge.

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