Spygate Wasn’t Good for Football, But It IS Good for Small Businesses

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Are you ready for some football? The season is underway, and, of course, the big news from the last six months that everyone is still talking about is the bounty scandal. This blog post, however, is harkening back to another infamous scandal: Spygate and the New England Patriots.

While spying on the competition is considered a no-no in football, we say go ahead and spy on what your competitors are doing. If you’re uncomfortable with the word “spying,” then let’s call it “studying.” Here are five strategies for spying on studying the competition…and what you should do with the information you find.

1. Discover new keyword phrases. Go through the core pages on the competitor’s website and note the keyword phrases they’re using in three places:

  • The title tag, which is the text that shows up at the top of your browser and in open tabs
  • The headline on the page
  • Any phrases that are repeated throughout the content, especially those in bulleted lists

Cross out ones that you know you’re already using and compile a list of the ones you hadn’t considered before. From there, you can hand this data off to a search engine optimizer or SEO copywriter to have him or her do further research on any good opportunities with these phrases. Or you can research the phrases yourself using Google’s free keyword tool. You can use the phrases in existing website pages, new pages, blog posts, etc.

2. Think social media. How does your competition use social media? Are they active? Do they avoid it? Do they leverage one particular medium well? While you might not feel comfortable following the company on your own, you should still make a habit of touching base and seeing what the competition is doing from time to time (consider it a quarterly case study).

3. Consider content assets. Sign up for their newsletters, subscribe to their blog feeds, download their freebies (yes, use a stealth email address if you want). We are not suggesting that you steal any content. But the great thing about reviewing another company’s content is that it will often spark your own ideas and creativity. Another advantage: see what the competition gets wrong and put out some content that corrects the error. For example, maybe you’re an IT company and your competitor puts out a checklist on what to do to keep your identity safe. But maybe you feel the tips don’t work and/or the list is missing some key points. You could issue a more in depth thought paper on privacy issues and include the points you feel your competitor overlooked or ignored.

4. Spot the missing puzzle piece. No company does everything perfectly. After reviewing all of the competitor’s materials from the website on down to their after-hours voice mail message, determine what’s missing. For example, maybe you’re a salon owner, and you noticed your competition has typical hours on the weekend, even during the busy wedding season. Surprise customers by extending your hours on Saturdays to accommodate bridal parties. (This wouldn’t have to be forever; maybe you open your salon two hours early on Saturday mornings during June, for example.) The key is to PROMOTE this differentiator in all media.

5. Avoid their mistakes. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to be aware of what you think your competitors are doing wrong…and then capitalize on that info. Does their customer service leave a lot to be desired? This is an opportunity for your customer service reps to shine. Make sure they go the extra mile. Does your competitor fail to provide follow-up service or info? Make sure you have a nurturing campaign in place for new customers (it could be something as simple as a three-touch email campaign) that addresses common concerns or questions new customers have about one of your products or services.

How ’bout you? Do you spy on competitors? (We won’t tell!) What have you learned and what have you done differently in your own marketing as a result? Share in the comments.

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