Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear a hundred battles.”
Today’s inbound marketing experts are great at the “know yourself” part, but every now and then “knowing the enemy” falls by the wayside.
This is a major oversight, since there are few mentors more instructive than a rival company that is succeeding where you aren’t... yet.
Although all companies do what they can to conceal their “secret sauce,” there’s a whole new generation of online tools drawing the curtain back.
No matter what form a challenger’s marketing or advertising may take, you can discover everything you need to know using a variety of software – most of it free.
Let’s look at some of the best online tools for competitive intelligence:
1. Google Alerts
When it comes to free tools for keeping an eye on brand mentions, nothing beats Google Alerts. It’s meant for everyone – not just marketers – so it’s incredibly easy to use.
Even so, it leverages the full power of Google to provide you with frequent, targeted updates on topics of interest.
2. Google Keyword Planner
While we’re on the subject, Google Keyword Planner is the mac daddy of free keyword tools. It’s the only solution direct from the Big G.
Although it lacks snazzy modern features, it’s free and you can use its keyword trends information to feed your other competitive intelligence tools.
When it’s time to get the inside scoop on your competitors, SpyFu has the best blend of excellent features and a simple, yet powerful interface.
SpyFu not only reveals competitor keywords and ads, but also lets you know about the best keyword opportunities you have in relation to rivals.
If you want to go a step beyond SpyFu, SEMRush will fill in the blanks. It’s a keyword tool with a laser focus on competitor information.
Anyone familiar with Keyword Planner will be able to jump into the interface right away, and you can follow competitor rankings like a pro.
Alexa has been around the block far longer than the digital assistant of the same name, compiling deep stats on traffic statistics for the Web’s most-visited sites.
Although it’s a bit less incisive about smaller websites, it’s great for finding out about a competitor’s international traffic.
Small and mid-sized competitors have a tendency to play new initiatives close to the chest. If you want to really know what a company is up to, use SpyOnWeb.
By looking at a firm’s URL or IP address, it will identify resources from throughout the Web linked to that creator.
No matter what your industry is, other people’s ads will always be an incredibly helpful learning tool.
WhatRunsWhere gets you started by tracking your competitors across 40 different online ad networks. In addition to reviewing the ads, you can get alerts when a new one runs.
8. Open Site Explorer
Linkbuilding – this never-ending battle on shifting sands just got a whole lot easier. With Open Site Explorer, you have the opportunity to observe rivals’ linkbuilding efforts practically in real time.
You’ll see new links, anchor text, and an estimate of domain authority level.
Ahrefs is an “all in one” SEO tool that’s gradually making a big name for itself. It’s one of those rare online tools that’s great for small agencies, but also lets you service many accounts at once.
You get tons of data – frequently updated – on all the link building of your major competitors.
10. Majestic SEO
Majestic SEO is one of the leading online tools for all things search-related. It has one of the top link databases on the Web, so its backlink monitoring service is eerily accurate.
All you have to do is click one button and you can get a complete copy of a competitor’s backlink profile.
iSpionage gives you all the insights you need for competitor tracking on both Google and Bing. It also highlights the most effective ads for each competitor, making it great for launching any ad campaign to a fast start.
It’s one of the few online tools that tries to provide industry-wide data, too.
12. Open SEO Stats
Open SEO Stats has been around the block, starting development back in the era of Google Page Rank.
It’s one of the most convenient selections you can have, since it comes in the form of a Chrome plug-in. Just visit a competitor website and you’ll be presented with all kinds of stats.
When it comes to knowing the enemy, it’s not all about links and advertisements.
BuiltWith will give you a comprehensive breakdown of all the technologies used in a website, including things like CMS, email integration, and advertising partners. You might identify some unexpected opportunities!
BuzzSumo’s online tools have made a big splash in recent years by helping marketers identify the top-performing content in their niches.
Its paid services go a step further, making your rivals’ content marketing practices a lot more transparent.
If you haven’t heard of TrackMaven yet, it’s about time! Not only does this suite let you track as many competitors as you want across multiple channels, but you can define the custom metrics that are most important.
Once you have enough data, you can compare yourself to competitors.
Ghostery is a browser extension that makes the invisible visible: It lets you see a list of any site’s tracking pixels and tags.
In addition to being one of the most fun online tools to watch in action, you can learn more about each pixel and even opt out.
With nearly a decade of experience and a robust free service, Quantcast distinguishes itself with a tremendous amount of online traffic knowledge.
Specifically, it gives some of the most granular traffic data on competitors found anywhere, especially if the target site uses Quantcast.
Last but not least, MOAT is something for ad experts to stack on top of SpyFu and WhatRunsWhere. It gives you deep details on advertisements served on display networks.
You can see the creative unit itself and dissect it with tons of handy stats that update constantly.
Skip the Brainstorming Session – Go See What Your Competition is Doing
If you’re looking for inspiration – or motivation – for your next digital marketing campaign, there’s no need to look any further than the companies you hope to compete with.
With these online tools, you won’t find yourself reinventing the wheel: You can find out what’s working well, pare it down to the finest details, and start figuring out how to make it work for you.
This can be a lasting, powerful adjunct to your regular strategy sessions.
There’s always something new to learn from the many different ways people approach problems – and the people in question don’t have to be your friends or co-workers. When you commit to using competitive intelligence, you’re getting the benefit of your rival’s expertise, too.
That’s exciting, but remember never to lose sight of the ultimate goal ...
Helpful, informative Web content that will build trust and move your prospects toward a sale.