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4 Ways to Spy on Your Competition and Gather Intelligence to Grow Your Business

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sales and marketing for your business. You should look to your competitors, especially if you’re just starting out, and take what they’re doing well and apply it to your business.

This is why I always suggest spying on your competitors… in a good way! We’re going to ethically spy on our competitors and use all the public-facing information they put out to improve and grow our business.

If you’re just starting out, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by focusing and doing the things that work. Look at what’s working for your competitors and model what you do after them. Take what they do and improve it.

Here’s four different ways to do it, as well as show how to use each method to grow your business.

1. Sign up and subscribe to everything your competitors offers

You can learn a lot about what works for your competitors by subscribing to their email lists. Subscribing to their emails will show you how their emails look, what kind of language they use in their emails, how frequently they promote their products and email customers, as well as give you ideas for sales and promotions.

Don’t forget to take advantage of other things your competitors offer: attend their webinars, go to events they host, go to events/conferences they go to, etc. If they have a physical retail space, visit it.

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Take note of the emails you begin to receive from your competitors. Check for patterns. If they send the same kind of promotions, discounts, or general emails, you have a good reason to believe it’s because they work.

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If I’m a subscription box company selling healthy snacks, I might consider modeling my pricing structure and refund guarantee after what I see in the email above.

2. Set Google Alerts and BuzzSumo alerts on your competitor’s brand and industry keywords

Google Alerts are your best friend as a business owner. They not only allow you to keep tabs on who’s talking about your brand but also who’s talking about your competitors as well as the industry you’re in.

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Setting up a Google Alert will allow you to receive a weekly or daily email of all the latest news and articles for the keyword you’ve set an alert for. For example, setting a Google Alert for “Tesla” will send me the latest news as well as articles and blog posts talking about Tesla.

This will allow me to keep tabs on any announcements and news my competitors make. I can use this information to pivot or react accordingly.

I can also use the information I get from Google Alerts to see which websites like to talk about my competitors. If they like talking about my competitors, it’s likely they’ll like talking about my business. This gives me a list of websites and publications that I can begin to reach out to or pitch to.

You can use Google Alerts to keep tabs on the industry you’re in, too. For example, if you’re involved in ecommerce, set a Google Alert for “ecommerce”. You’ll begin receiving news and articles that are talking about your industry.

Lastly, you should also look at BuzzSumo. Like Google Alerts, you can receive new articles on certain keywords right to your email. I find BuzzSumo to be a little better at finding the more relevant articles, as well as faster in delivering me the latest news as it happens.

3. Follow them on social media and keep tabs on them

It’s also a good practice to follow your competitors on social media. This will again give you ideas for your campaigns and posts on social media, as well as stay on top of any news about your competitors.

I don’t recommend following your competitors with your business’ social media profiles (you can if you want to) but instead, create a throwaway or incognito account that you check daily to see what your competitors are up to.

4. Reverse engineer who’s talking about them and promoting them

Spying on the competition also means keep track of who’s talking about and showing some love to your competitors. There’s a few tricks you can use to see which influencers and websites are talking about your competitors.

The first method, and a quirky one at that, is to use Google Reverse Image Search.

Doing a reverse image search on product photos on your competitor’s website will allow you to see what other websites are using their product photos. Usually, the websites using their product photos are websites that are promoting your competitor or talking about them.

For example, let’s do a reverse-image search of one of the images on this Kickstarter.

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The results show me the other websites using this image, likely pulled from their Kickstarter.

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When you look at the results, you will begin to find publications, blogs and websites talking about your competitor and their products. This will give you a good idea of the publications and websites you should reach out to or get the same kind of coverage on.

I also use BuzzSumo to see who on social media is sharing my competitor’s website, blog posts or products.

So again, I would inset the URL of the Kickstarter of my competitor into BuzzSumo:

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From here, click View Sharers to view a list of the biggest influencers sharing this page.

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These are the influencers I would then reach out to, to promote my business and product.

Your Turn

I think it’s important to mention that I don’t want you to become obsessed with your competitors. The mistake many entrepreneurs make is focusing more on the competitor’s business than their own.

Your competitors are there to keep you in check and force you to innovate and be better than them.

Your competitors are also there if you’re new. You can save yourself all the headaches and struggles that they already went through and take what works for them and works well, and do it yourself. This will help get you a lot of traction quickly by following proven methods and strategies.

Published in Entrepreneurship Growth Hacks