Typically when we hear the word espionage we don't think of it as a strategy to legitimately increase your business. The word always seems to accompany an image of someone being led away in hand cuffs on their way to a long prison stay. Well I am hear to tell you espionage isn't always an unethical way of doing things. In fact, I think you'll find that the leading companies and organizations take part in this type of business strategy every day, and they do it without the fear of being locked away in a prison cell.
Let's take a peak at the true meaning of the word...
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, as the legitimate holder of the information may change plans or take other countermeasures once it is known that the information is in unauthorized hands.
The two sentences above are directly from Wikipdia and if you notice it doesn't say anything about being illegal, and in fact it discusses implementing countermeasures once you know your information is in the wrong hands. I've often found myself wondering what it would be like to sneak in under the radar to gain access to TOP SECRET information. Well the Internet allows us all to live the fantasy and do just that, and it's completely legal and ethical. The only thing it requires is for you to have the desire to gain access to this information, and a couple tools.
Identifying Your Competition
The first step in online espionage is identifying your online competition. This competition isn't simply companies that offer competing products or services. It is any company that is showing up in the search results for keyword phrases you are working to rank highly. Since most companies won't pay as much attention to you if you leapfrog them in the search results unless you offer a competing product or service, these are easy targets. Today most companies don't pay attention at all, so if you are, you will almost most definitely win. You should identify the top ten profitable keyword phrases you'd like to eventually rank number one for, and conduct searches. As you review your list of search results, create a list of the top ten competitors, and their website addresses, for each phrase.
Search Engine Optimization Strategy ID
The second step in the process is to identify the search engine optimization strategy of each competitor. You can accomplish some of this manually by taking a good look at the page which turned up in your search results. You can do this by looking at the on page elements and see if each of these competitors have optimized their site 100% correctly. If you need a quick refresher on what you need to check, refer to Eight Key Elements to Get to the Top of Google. Make sure you take note of every element they didn't address since this can be your road map to domination. Once you've done the manual analysis you can also use another tool which is SEM Rush. This tool will quickly show you what other keyword phrases each of your competitors are ranking for. You can potentially uncover keyword phrases that you didn't even think of that can add a significant increase to your revenue.
Pay Per Click Strategy ID
Is your competition using PPC advertising to drive traffic to their site? If so, what keywords are they using and which words are giving them the best return? Believe it or not you can gain access to this information as well with the proper tools. Think about how powerful this can be. You can literally tap into their most effective traffic source, identify the words that are delivering results for them, and then insert your website in front of theirs to essentially steal their traffic. Again, sounds sneaky, but you gotta love it! If you'd like to download a free tool to constantly monitor this information without leaving the Google results page you can download PPC Web Spy. You can also use a nifty little tool called Spy Fu. Make sure you visit these sites and try out the tools. You'll be amazed at the intelligence you can gain, and it is all absolutely anonymous.
Interactive Strategy ID
Engaging visitors once they arrive on your site is critical to any company's online success. You will need to spend some time thinking like your buyers so you can, at least temporarily, think like they do. Once you've got yourself in this frame of mind, visit your competitor's website and look closesly at the interactive strategy they have in place. Do they have a blog? Can visitors submit a question? Is there video on the site? Whatever they are doing to engage the visitors, it's up to you to decide whether that strategy would be appealling to you if you were a potential buyer. Going through this process will help you improve your website by simply taking the time to think like your buyers and make sure you are delivering an experience that would leave them the most satisfied.
You now have the road map to conducting effective competitive espionage. If you follow these steps and take action on the intelligence you gather, you will quickly be on your way to dominate your competition. Plus you may just add some excitement to your work as you begin to anticipate your competition's next move and remain at least one step ahead of them at all times. Isn't competition fun! :)