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Use Competitive Analysis Tools to Outsmart Your Competition

The use of competitive analysis tools can be highly effective in determining the strength of your business in relation to the competition. This approach is not only helpful in identifying and investigating established businesses that compete with yours, but in maintaining awareness of startups that are intent upon encroaching on your market share.

Using competitive analysis tools like SizeUp provide sophisticated digital resources that offer valuable insights and facilitate the research efforts you and your team conduct. You can gain a deep understanding into how well your competitors are doing — as well as how you can tailor your own growth strategies to "outsmart" them in the future.

Here are steps business owners can take to identify competitors' strengths and weaknesses:

Look at Their Website

A thorough look at your competitors' websites can offer insight into their products and services. By evaluating their online offerings, you can find the specific phrases and keywords they favor for optimizing the site for searches. If you take the time to read their "About Us" and "Join Us" pages, you should be able to learn a great deal about their business history and approach to new employee recruitment.

Assess Their Overall Web Presence

Start with a Google search to evaluate how often these businesses come up in searches, and in what context. The amount of "shelf space" they own — that is, according to Small Business Computing, the number of links on a search results page — can be telling. This may include paid ads, blog posts, videos, customer reviews and stories written about them by third-party sources.

A comparison with the shelf life your business occupies in a related search can highlight areas where you might want to boost your efforts, or where your competition appears more vulnerable.

Follow Competitors on Social Media

By following a competitor on social media, you can get real-time information on their product updates, promotional activities and other news. You may also see when customer complaints arise, which can be helpful in refining your own approach to customer service and satisfaction.

Consult Public Sources

Many businesses (including, possibly, your own) are obligated to disclose certain information to government agencies. These disclosures may relate to building permit applications, patent or trademark registrations as well as preparations for a public offering. In any event, much of this data is on the public record, meaning you can access it for fresh insights into a company's strategic objectives.

Your region's main public library may contain directories and survey reports that can be useful. In addition, it may employ business librarians who are skilled in helping with market research, competitive intelligence and identifying specific marketplace trends.

Attend Industry and Trade Show Events

Your competitors will likely be represented at prestigious industry events, which provides another great way to learn about how they sell their products and services. In the same respect, check out what industry analysts are saying about your industry. Analysts' studies and research may highlight future customer trends — and can help you determine where to jump in before your competitors do.

Look at Competitors From Your Customers' Point of View

As noted above, browsing the web for reviews and recommendations is useful. Even if the majority of the information you discover is anecdotal and based on the opinions of a few individuals, it can give you a good idea about how some people perceive your competitors, as Inc. notes.

But don't stop there. Consider visiting a competitor's retail outlet. Buy their products and talk to their customer service representatives. Then ask your customers why they favor you over the competition. Is it your price, customer service, quality of the product or simply the service you offer? What they tell you can go a long way toward understanding the appeal (or lack thereof) of your competitors.

Use Digital Resources

Outside of the research you do on your own, you can also take advantage of digital resources such as SizeUp. SizeUp is a free competitive analysis tool that shows how your business compares to competitors while also identifying the best places to advertise. In addition, it can map where your competitors, customers and suppliers are located.

Data is verified by expert third-party researchers and is constantly updated. The result? Business data similar to that employed by many Fortune 100 companies, the most frequently used search engines and even GPS-based auto navigation systems.

Knowing the competition can guide the way toward greater success in your own business.