Your phone buzzes just after lunch. Your boss is shouting, “Some new Web site appeared today out of nowhere and it’s advertising heavily against us! Who is it? Find out everything you can about it and report back by day’s end!”
Today’s Web provides easy tools for competitive research. This month’s column provides a road map for sleuthing a competitor in a few of hours, at no cost, using just a Web browser.
This is a link-heavy article. Once you finish reading this, you can go to the CatalogSuccess.com Web site and find a sidebar containing all the links mentioned.
First, ready your browser. If you aren’t already using it, install Mozilla Firefox (www.download-firefox.org) because you’ll need plug-ins that aren’t available on Internet Explorer.
Get these plug-ins:
◆ Google Notebook (www.google.com/tools/firefox);
◆ SEO for Firefox (http://tools.seobook.com/firefox/seo-for-firefox.html); and
◆ Quirk’s Search Status (www.quirk.biz/searchstatus).
Save Those URLs
Turn on Google Notebook by clicking its icon on the bottom-right of the browser. This handy plug-in lets you rapidly clip and annotate the URLs you visit. Notebook is a convenient way to document your findings.
Begin by visiting your competitor’s site. Surf around and clip various URLs. Pay particular attention to press releases, which often provide valuable information on financials and financing if it’s a public company. Scope out the jobs page to determine how actively the competitor is hiring, at what level and with which skills.
A site’s IT job openings typically provide a road map of a firm’s technology choices. Visit the executive bios page and record the names of the company’s management team. Read the company blog. Recent posts are most important, but also study its earliest blogs, which can be revealing. See if any of the competitor’s executives have personal blogs.
View the HTML source of key pages (control-U in Firefox). Sometimes Webmasters leave redacted text in the source, just commented out. I once stumbled upon key pricing information from a competitor this way. In the source, check out its meta “keyword” tags to see what search terms the company deems important. Browse the site’s robots.txt file to see what content your rival would prefer to keep off of the engines. For example, check out the current White House administration’s lengthy exclude file at www.whitehouse.gov/robots.txt.