You don’t have to be James Bond or Jason Bourne to find out what your competitors are up to. Competitive analysis for small businesses also doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or money. Differentiating yourself from the competition is something every business wants to do. However, you can’t reach that goal if you don’t get to know your competitors—what they offer, what their customers think about them, what their prices are and, most importantly, what action you can take to stand out.

Here are a few simple ways to understand out you compare to your competitors:

1. Check out their website and ask yourself:

  • Does their website look professional or render on a PC, tablet and mobile device? How does it compare to yours?
  • What key pieces of information are different between your website and theirs?
  • What products/services do they provide that you don’t?
  • How are they priced vs. your company?
  • Do they have a an email sign up? If so, sign up for it (HINT: use a generic email address so they don’t know it’s you! Some companies will remove or block mailings to an obvious competitor email address.)

2. Look at customer reviews

  • Check Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Reviews, Foursquare, etc. to see what customers are saying about your competition. Here are 20 online business listings to browse.
  • Are there any trends or common traits among the compliments or complaints?
  • How do your ratings compare to the competition?

3. Use search engines 

  • Do a generic search for your business type and location (e.g., “florist in San Francisco, CA” or “yoga studio in Minneapolis, MN”) on Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
  • Which page does the competition show up on versus your company in organic results? If your competitors are showing up higher on the page, you probably need to focus on your SEO efforts.
  • Are your competitors using Google Ads or pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to drive traffic to their website?

4. Follow them on social media

  • Follow your competitors on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Facebook recently rolled out the ability to add competitor’s pages to your “Pages to Watch” section and compare their results with yours.
  • How is the competition communicating with customers via social media? What types of information are they sharing and how often?
  • How many followers do they have compared to you?

5. Set up a Google Alert

  • Find out the latest news that hits the web regarding your competitors by using a Google Alert.
  • Set up the Google Alert once and any news stories related to your competitors will hit your inbox. You set the topics and frequency.

6. Visit or buy from them

  • Do it the old-fashioned way. If they have a physical location or a storefront, go check it out in person. Talk to the employees. Get a sense of how they interact with customers. If your business and competitor offer software or a service, sign up for a free trial, or have a chat with a salesperson.
  • If they have an online store, buy something online and note the process. Track how they communicate with customers before, during and after the shopping experience.

With the exception of your time, doing a competitive analysis won’t really cost a thing (well, unless you buy one of their products). It’s time well spent.

What other techniques have you used that have worked to find out what your competition is up to? Share in the comments.

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© 2014 – 2018, Kathy McGovern. All rights reserved.