How to Secretly Spy on Your Competition

by Doug Farrick

Researching your competition (or your clients) can provide many valuable clues to successful business practices IF you know where to look.

While it does take time to research, the good news is: what used to take literally years or months to accumulate you can now do in minutes.

But who has the time and why would you want to do this? A number of reasons really. Here are a few:

  • Be in tune with the "pulse" of your industry
  • Keep up with the latest trends
  • Be aware of major announcements
  • See what keywords your competition is buying

Secondly you can incorporate S & D tactics (that is "Swipe & Deploy"). Make a large list of EVERYTHING your competitors are doing that are getting results and implement as many as possible. Just be slow and steady - the tortoise wins the race here.

GoogleAlerts - Easily monitor what others are saying about you, your company, your competition, your products and more. The great thing about Google Alerts is that it is a very simple tool to use. Just enter in the keywords you want to search and they are delivered to you immediately via email. And these can be delivered in 3 ways - as they happen, once a day or once a week. Google will also keep a web page for to manage your alerts. A very nice way to see all your alerts "at a glance"

Use/Order competitive products - This includes visiting the website, downloading press releases, white papers, subscribing to their Email newsletter. All this information is there for the taking.

Also please notice the details of the communications you receive when ordering, calling, receiving welcome emails - they can be very telling in how they choose to communicate with their clients. Again, view this content with the perspective of how it can be usable to YOU, in YOUR design business. - Formally Googspy, SPYfu has been recently updated to include 20 times as much data. SPYfu claims to monitor over 5 million domains. There is a lot of data here (depending on the site) you can use such as: Alexa Rank, Incoming Links, Average Load time, Sub Domains, Other Domains Owned, Top Organic Competitors, Top Ad Competitors, and more.

So what do you do with all this info? For one It is effective for finding potential joint venture and other types of business partners. It also gives you info on sizes or "density" of potential niche areas for new product and service ideas.

Recently SPYfu has added the ability to download competitors keywords and Google Adwords.

Metatags - it is often debated how important metatags are in SEO (search engine optimization) but after all is said and done it IS important to the search engine particularly your Title and Description tags.

These tags are can give an interesting glimpse into what keywords are being used and how a company is positioning themselves in the description field.

Check out any sites Metatags with this tool - Metag Analyzer. - Alexa is a number of tools-in-one but mostly known for it's Traffic Rankings (which is the middle tab just below the Alexa logo) and the jury is out whether or not Alexa rankings are that valuable and/or very accurate. What they DO, however, is provide a decent tool for evaluating a website and giving a very rough estimation of traffic trends.

Also Alexa has become one of THE places to visit to view these trends as they are all made public. So it is a good tool to at least know and be somewhat familiar with.

Social Engineering - Social Engineering is a fascinating array of techniques are based on flaws in human logic known as "cognitive biases" and are most often associated with negative and deceitful tactics like Pretexting, Phishing, Trojan Horsing and Road Appling.

Social engineering is actually defined as a collection of techniques used to manipulate people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. For example, Pretexting is the act of creating and using an invented scenario (the pretext) to persuade a target to release information or perform an action and is usually done over the telephone.

It's more than a simple lie as it most often involves some prior research or set up and the use of pieces of known information (e.g., for impersonation: date of birth, Social Security Number, last bill amount) to establish legitimacy in the mind of the target.1

Instead of using Social Engineering in a deceitful way you CAN use it to find out legitimate information about a company. For example, you can pose as a customer to find out how a particular company answers the phones, deals with customers, what they offer, etc. Be creative but not deceitful.