Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

How To (Legally) Spy On Your Competition And Get Away With It

By on September 13, 2009 in business strategy with 6 Comments

Business man as spy (image by Big Stock Photo)In business, you want to stay ahead of the competition. One of the best ways to do that is to know what the competition is up to in the first place.

You need to be aware of what innovations they’ve got in the pipeline. What big deals are in the works? Are there any weaknesses you can exploit?

Ah, but how to find all that out?

You must snoop around.

Corporate espionage is illegal, yet you can still learn the inside story.

Short of coaxing information out of someone who works for a competitor, the best tool for sleuthing is right at your fingertips. Akin to a search engine, you can spider around the web to uncover competitive intelligence.

Here are three ways to go about it:

Stay on alert

People are likely talking and writing about the competition online. But how do you know where and when it’s happening?

Set up alerts. All major search engines enable you to set up free news alerts from their news sites. For an extra edge Google alerts not only sorts through news, but also blogs, video, discussion groups and the web in general. works in a similar way, though its focus is social media. Another means to monitor blogs is to use a blog search engine, such as Technorati, Blog Search EngineGoogle Blog Search and Bloglines, where you can search for terms and then set up RSS alerts to keep up with online conversations.

There are also for-pay tools for online watchdogging (some also provide analytics) such as The Search MonitorPR Newswire eWatch, Trackur, CyberAlert, and Radian6.

Scour your competitor’s web site

Plenty of great information is right there for all to see. Yet you’d be surprised how often this most basic investigative tool is overlooked.

Thoroughly scour a competitor’s web site.

Analyze press releases and news announcements. Sometimes a company’s plans are out in the open, but you also need to read between the lines. Certain key new hires can indicate an intended but as yet unannounced entry into a new area of business. Reductions in workforce can be early sign of trouble, or perhaps the company is looking to get out of one area and move into another.

Check out the careers section. Note what job categories have the most openings. Are they doing a lot of executive hiring? Read the job descriptions, especially if the position is new to the company. Here again you may be able to tell if a company is looking to ramp up existing areas of business or enter new ones.

Review product, service and landing pages. Note what features and benefits are highlighted. What’s the gist of the sale pitch? This is all great fodder for knowing how you can counter with even better promotional efforts.

Visit discussion groups, forums and corporate blogs. These can be goldmines for finding out what’s up with a company beyond its marketing and public relations schemes. Notice what’s being hyped. What are customers complaining about? The latter can help you identify potential weaknesses to pounce on.

Read annual reports and financial statements. If it’s a publicly traded company these documents are available. They’re another great source of information where you can glean insight into what’s really going on deep inside an enterprise. For instance, if you see a sizable rise or drop in R&D that gives you some idea of how much innovation is in the works. Financial breakdowns can provide clues about how specific divisions are performing.

Social media. A company’s online presence is more than its main web site. Be sure to pay attention to what competitor’s are doing, and to what customers are saying, on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Let them tell you what’s new

To get the latest news and special offers straight from a competitor’s mouth sign up for its RSS feeds, email newsletters and other promotions.

Note: Some businesses comb through these lists and weed out email addresses that belong to members of the competition. The workaround here is to go undercover: Set up a free email account with Goggle, Yahoo, or Hotmail.

– Deni Kasrel

What to YOU think of these three ways to spy on the competition? Do you know of other (legal) methods to gather competitive intelligence? Comments welcome.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .


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There Are 6 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Hi Deni,

    The web is a vast resource of intelligence and information that’s right there, and publicly available – no underhandedness necessary. I especially like your ideas about reading between the lines on press releases and watching the careers sections of websites. Savvy stuff.

    Thanks for the mention!

    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community, Radian6

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      I see at Radian6 you practice what you preach (and sell) 😉 You have a great product so I am happy to mention it. As for the idea about perusing the careers section, that one came to me based on my current experiences in looking for a new employment opportunity (I am between jobs, as they say). I noticed that some companies were ramping up hiring in certain areas – a sign that they’re expanding, or creating new, departments.

  2. You can also setup a Google Alert with the site: parameter, such as: ‘’

  3. socialtechno says:

    It’s not spying to listen to what people say in public without trying to hide it.

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Yeah, I know — took writer’s license on that one. It’s really just the idea of gathering competitive intelligence, however, that’s not as catchy for a title 😉

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