What’s your business competition up to? Many owners don’t know. Just 43% of small business respondents reported industry competition as a major factor shaping their goals, according to a recent survey.


By not monitoring the competition, however, businesses miss out on valuable information, as well as good ideas. While you may feel your business is currently too small, local or niche to require you to watch the competition, that scenario could change as your business grows and you gain market share.


“If you are running any sort of business, you need to know what competitors for your customers’ dollars are doing,” says Rafe Gomez, co-owner of Montclair, New Jersey-based VC Inc. Marketing. “It’s essential to know whether the folks on your left or right or in front of you or behind you are gaining or losing an edge.”


Fortunately, tracking your competition can be simple as well as practical from a time standpoint.


By not monitoring the competition, businesses miss out on valuable information, as well as good ideas.

1. Create media alerts. Various online services will bring the news to you by sending alerts when your competitors are mentioned in the media. Google Alerts is free and easy: when you visit the site, simply enter in the search bar the names of any businesses you’re interested in tracking, then click “Create Alert” for each name. Talkwalker Alerts is a free alternative that works in a similar way, or you could opt for a paid service such as Mention, which allows you to monitor your competitors’ mentions across social media, forums, blogs and the rest of the web, using advanced features.


2. Check keywords. If you’re listed below your competitors in online search results, it’s possible they are simply better at using keywords to help customers find them—the process of search engine optimization (SEO). Online tools can help you uncover the words your rivals are using so that you can incorporate them into your own SEO campaign. Two good sites to check out are SpyFu and SEMrush, which allow you to search for a competitor’s domain and see which keywords are driving the most traffic. Both services offer free trials, and then paid subscriptions.


3. Monitor social media engagement. Don’t just take note of how many followers competitors have amassed, but pay attention to the level of engagement. “Are people commenting on or sharing their posts? Are they saying, ‘Hey, great tip or great recommendation?’” says Gomez. “If so, you can learn from your competitors and utilize those lessons in your own social media effort.” A company is more likely to receive a high level of engagement if it posts material that’s valuable and useful to its followers but is not necessarily an attempt to overtly sell its products, Gomez notes. For instance, a CPA could share a tax tip or a physician could offer healthy eating advice.


The free app Perch tracks social posts and reviews for any company you choose to “watch” and presents them in a newsfeed format.


4. Check customer review sites like Google, Facebook, Yelp and Angie’s List. Remember, though, that not all customers take the time to write a review. Ask your customers in person how they feel about a competitor’s offerings. “Don’t assume that just because a business isn’t getting news written about them that they’re not doing amazing, innovative things,” says Gomez. “They might not be savvy enough to share what they’re doing with the media or they might not have had time to do a news release.”

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