How to Spy on Your Competitors (Without Going to Jail)

competitive intelligence mainBreak out the ole binoculars because it’s high time you started spying on your competitors like a good small business owner should.

Yep, that’s right, I believe strongly that engaging in a little spying is essential to your business’ success.

Why? Because, if done right, you’ll find out all of the following about your competitors, and more!

  • What their customer service is like
  • How much they charge
  • How they’re advertising
  • If they offer warranties and what they entail
  • How they treat followers on social media
  • What their social media posts are like
  • New products/services coming out

So get ready to become the ‘Peeping Tom’ of your industry (just way less creepy) by checking out the easy ways you can start spying on your competitors below!

Stay Alert to Their Every Move

It might sound illegal, but I assure you, it’s not. Keeping tabs on every move the competition makes is not only recommended, it’s damn smart.

And, don’t worry, you won’t have to hide in any bushes to get this info.

Here are some great bush-free options:

Google Alerts: Fast, easy, and free, Google Alerts will send you emails (as it happens, daily, or weekly) whenever your competition is mentioned online.

Twilert: This monitoring tool lets you keep track of any and all mentions your competitors have gotten on Twitter. The basic plan is $9 per month and comes with a free 15-day trial.

Strategator: This monitoring tool allows you to gather quite a bit of competitive intelligence all in one place, including company location, online reputation, stock market news and indicators, blogs, social network information, internet links, corporate communications, and more. It can be used free or for $13.99 a month for more features.

Mention: Like Google+ but with more features, Mention lets you monitor alerts about your competitors from anywhere online, including social networks. The basic plan is free but paid memberships come with extras like analytics and a data export tool.

Do Your Dirty Work

Yes, spying takes time, but it can reveal crucial information that’ll keep your small business up to date on what your competitors are doing (and not doing) giving you a priceless advantage. So grab your computer and roll up your sleeves because it’s time to do a little dirty work!

Troll review sites like it’s your job. Yelp, Google Places, MerchantCircle, Trip Advisor, Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List (or whatever the top review sites for your industry are), should all be trolled on a regular basis. Doing this will reveal actual consumer insight as to the good, bad, and seriously horrible experiences consumers have experienced at your competitors’ stores.

Peep their social media posts. Following all of your competitors on social media is a must — by doing this you’ll see what type of posts they’re putting out, if they’re getting any engagement, what consumers are saying, liking, and disliking, what your competitors’ response times are to any comments, and so on and so on. Hot tip: Facebook has now made it easy for you to keep track of pages you want to peep by implementing a ‘Pages to Watch’ feature on all fan pages. Simply click the ‘add pages’ link, search for your competitors, add their pages, and they’ll be easily accessible for your spying pleasure. All you can see at the moment from your dashboard is how many ‘likes’ each page receives per week (hopefully Facebook will add some additional analytics down the road) but it definitely simplifies the spying process, which is nice!

Check out their website. If you have a website, you are definitely going to want to know how it stands up to your competitors’ sites. User experience is huge, so take some time to carefully go through each page of their site and then evaluate your experience. Did the site feel intuitive? Was it user-friendly? Were you confused at any point? Could you find the shopping cart? Was it too slow? Did any pages come up with an error message? Take what you like — and what you don’t like — and use that information to make your website stronger.

Start subscribing. This step is so simple it’s strangely easy to overlook. Make sure you subscribe to every offering your competitors have, whether it’s a newsletter, blog, email update, or all three. You can find out a ton of valuable information on pricing, new product updates, company changes, etc., this way — all delivered right to your inbox — for free!

Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Old-School Spying

Not all competitive intelligence has to be gathered virtually. In fact, there’s a lot you find out the old-school way and you won’t even have to dress in all black to get it done.

Become a secret shopper. Want to know how your competitors treat their customers? How long customers wait in their stores without being helped? If their staff is knowledgeable about their products? How much they charge? Hit the road and start secret shopping their retail locations! If you’re afraid they’ll recognize you, send out one of your team members or hire someone specifically for this purpose. Use the information you gather, both the good and the bad, to make your business better.

Attend the same festivals/special events. Will your competition be selling their products at any festivals, tradeshows, or farmer’s markets coming up? If you can’t have a presence there as well, and even if you can, be sure to take notes on what their setup looks like, how their staff or they personally treat customers, how many people stop at their booth, etc. Keep in mind that the point of this, (and all competitive intelligence in general) is not for you to simply copy what your competitors are doing. Rather, it’s to help you get inspiration for how you can take things to next level with your business.

Go Forth and Spy

Now that you know the benefits of spying on your competitors and how to go about it, it’s time to incorporate it into your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.

Figure out a plan that works for you and stick to it to ensure you’re gathering this crucial information on a regular basis.

Knowing what your competition is up to, including where they excel, and where they fail, can only make your business grow stronger with each passing day. So get out there and become the savvy Peeping Tom we’ve always known you could be!

Will you be gathering competitive intelligence this year?Edited-Blog-Banner-for-Subscribers-2

About the Author

Shannon Willoby

Shannon is the director of content marketing for Scott's Marketplace and has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. (Or crayon.) When she's not blogging, you can find her daydreaming that she's Khaleesi from Game of Thrones.


  1. says

    Hi Shannon, I’ve been doing so much research today… I have no idea how I landed on this article! But it was great to read it. In fact I had to jump over to CompeteMonkey to signup 😉 Thx for the tip!

    Although I don’t recommend too much spying, a little never hurts. Especially when it comes to understanding what your competition is doing in terms of online marketing & social media (as you stated in the article) or other online techniques that could be beneficial to you in order to better tailor your efforts.

    Google Alerts is also a great tool to bring back [to you] relevant information/articles/content about your particular niche so your abreast of everything going on around your industry.

    Thanks again, cheers! 🙂

      • says

        Hi Shannon!.. it’s funny, I didn’t remember I set it up until now that I read your comment. I just realized that I haven’t received any emails about my competition… I guess that’s a good sign? I guess they are not doing much…

        I have around 25 companies setup on my watch-list. How many competitors do you have setup? do you get emails about what your competition is doing often?

        When I first set it up, I did find a cool tool that one competitor was using, that tool was Crazy Egg, which is an analytics program, but not like Google’s, it’s a more visual kind. It has a cool heat map where you can exactly where on your pages visitors are clicking! I found that kind of cool.

        Anyways, any tips for using CompeteMonkey? Maybe I’m not using correctly.

        • Shannon Willoby says

          Hi, Rod!

          I agree with you — that must be a good sign and mean that your competitors aren’t being very active with trying new tools/apps… which also means since you are, you’ll have an advantage! I have received a few emails but not a ton.

          This is probably because most people try out a new tool for a while and then only switch if it’s not working and/or add another. It’s hard to try out a bunch of new tools at once, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t receive too many updates. But when you do, you learn about something cool, like Crazy Egg. I’ve never used that but it looks pretty awesome. Did you set it up? Would be curious to know if you like it better than Google Analytics!

          • says

            Hi Shannon, I did setup CrazyEgg. They have a 30 Day Trial, thought I would give it a try.

            I don’t know that I “like it” more than Google Analytics… Actually now that I think about, I don’t. I wouldn’t ‘replace’ Analytics. I also use MOZ to track SEO/Optimization progress. All these tools have their own unique way of ‘presenting’ the data. The one thing that Google Analytics lacks, I could say, it’s just displaying the data in a more “visual” easy to understand & analyze way (if that makes sense). MOZ does a great job at that, and CrazyEgg offers something similar in that sense – a visual display of the data that is easy to analyze.

            It’s kind of neat to see exactly where visitors are clicking, how far down the page they are scrolling, what are the hot points of your page. All broken down by many different sub metrics, like time of day, search terms, or referrer etc, at the point of a click. It’s nice to see which photos are getting clicks, social media icons etc.

            Anyways, I know this isn’t the best explanation… but I want to wait until we have much more data on all of our reporting/tracking tools in order to say with more certainty which I would recommend or like more, and why! 😉

            Take care!

          • Shannon Willoby says

            Hey Rod!

            So sounds like it works best when used in conjunction with Google Analytics and other tools. But it seems really cool and I like the idea of more visual data as I’m not that technical of a person. Maybe we will eventually try it out too. Keep me updated on it as you get more data in! Thanks! 🙂

    • Shannon Willoby says

      Hey, Rod! If you set up Gravatar, your image will follow you on any Gravatar-enabled site, which most are, including ours. It’s easy to set up — you just create an account and add your photo.

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