Keep An Eye on Your Competitors 

When you are running a subscription website, keeping an eye on your competition is important for several reasons:
  • You can understand what they are doing to compete with you

  • You can get new ideas about how you can improve your service

  • It helps you benchmark your site

  • It keeps you motivated to continually improve what you do

  • It can provide new stories and content

We suggest that you try to build competitor monitoring into your weekly routine so that it is not forgotten. Set aside an hour a week for visiting their sites. To help with this task, there are several internet applications and tools that can make it easy.

1. Bookmark Your Competitors

Sounds obvious, but few people do it. Create a favourites list of your competitors and as you come across new competitors, add them to the list. This will make it simple to call up their sites and help you remember all of them.

2. Set Up Google Alerts

Not many people know about this excellent service. You can input your competitor companies' names and every time a new article, press release, etc. is found by Google about the company, you receive an email:

There are also third party companies that have been set up to take advantage of Google’s incredible search power. One of them is GoogleAlert. It tracks the entire web for your personalized topics and sends you new results in a daily email:

3. Who are Your Competitors?

Sounds like an obvious question, but what I’m getting at is who is behind your competitor’s website. Sometimes it is not obvious, but you really need to find out. Is it News International, or a couple of entrepreneurs working from their garage?

The best way to start this search, if it is not obvious from the website, is to check who owns the domain name. Sometimes these details are hidden, but often they are not. Try using the Whois search field at the website to discover the real owner.

4. Vanity or Ego Searches

Vanity or ego searches are keyword or keyword phrase searches for a specific brand, product, or company name. These searches are a great way to track mentions of a competing product. You can automate the setup of ego searches using RSS, so any time a competitor's product or brand name is mentioned in the news, heliosphere, or print, you receive notification and the details in an RSS feed.

Set up a vanity or ego feed at

5. Look at their Meta Tags

A website's meta tags reveal the keywords that the site owner considers the most important search terms for their site. It is useful to look at them to understand where they are placing their emphasis, reveal keywords you may not have considered, or give you a hint of their future direction. Also, some companies illegally insert their competitor’s names into their meta tags to try and poach traffic from them. If you spot your company’s name in your competitors' meta tags, get your lawyer to shoot off a letter to them!

To see the meta tags, call up the competitor’s page, click on the ‘View’ button and then the ‘Source’ button. This will reveal the page's code. Take a look at the header tags that include title, description and keywords.

5. Your Competitor's Adwords

I have had mixed results with a tool called GoogSpy. You enter a keyword, company name, or domain, click the results and view the company’s top 25 competitors. If any of those websites are using pay-per-click on Google, you will be able to obtain a partial list of the Adwords they have purchased. The website gives you a glimpse of what your competitors are doing, but the list they provide is by no means exhaustive.

6. Who is Linking to Your Competitors?

There are a number of ways to determine who is providing valuable incoming links to a competitor’s website. You can insert the word link in front of your competitor’s domain name on both the Google and MSN search engines, e.g., "". In Yahoo!, enter a search for "". The search will produce all web pages that provide a link to your competitor. Ideally, you can request links from the websites as well.

Other Back Link Tools -

Search for Places to Submit to. This site auto-generates a list:

Another tool that works in a similar way: -- simply enter the keyword and a list of sites that will allow you to request links appears.

7. Alexa Ranking

Use Alexa to determine not only who is linking to a competitor, but also to determine the related sites (list yours). Alexa monitors web traffic trends, provides a list of similar websites and gives an indication of a website's popularity. It is not always accurate, but is the best tool of its kind.

8. Website Change Monitoring

It is good practice to monitor the way your main competitor’s website is evolving. You can do this using a tool like CodeMonitor, which takes a snapshot of a website's HTML and notifies you of any changes. The differences in the web pages are highlighted, making it easy to discern what changes have occurred. CodeMonitor is a free online tool that can be found at:

9. Comparison Tools

MarketLeap has some great search comparison tools that allow you to compare domains and ranking. MarketLeap's Trend/History report gives you a view of how you or a competitor’s website Search Engine Saturation has performed over time. It also verifies search engine placement based on keywords, to allow you to quickly discern competitors' rankings for various phrases in the top search engines. Treat the results with some caution and scepticism, as they are not completely accurate.

10. Trademark Tracking

DomainTools has a trademark alert service that allows you to monitor the use of a trademark. They also have a number of domain tracking and monitoring tools that can be helpful.

I would never encourage copying a competitor, as this means that you are one step behind them. However, I would always encourage a subscription website publisher to keep a close eye on what your competitors are doing . . . and also continually look out for emerging new competition. At the very least, it will keep you in touch with what is happening in your sector or niche. At best, it could save your business from being fatally blind-sided by a major competitor innovation.