Why You Should Learn From Your Competitors

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Now you’ve explored the market generally and have a list of specific markets related to your own particular interests – have a look at how your competitors, those businesses already selling to that market, are relating to them. You should look at this both online and offline to get a balanced view.

Firstly, most markets will be segmented. For example, woodworking might be segmented into woodworking tools, types of woodworking, various woodworking techniques, tools used for woodworking, etc.  Car repairs might be segmented into do-it-yourself auto repairs, car door repair, car leather repair, etc.  See how your area of interest is segmented within the market.

Have a look at all the various segments of the market individually in just the same way as you did for the general markets, using the search engines to find various sites of interest.

The thing to note is how these various segments relate to the market. Is there a lot of competition within the “coffee table woodworking” section for instance but not many pertaining to “woodworking on a tight budget”? Are these sites selling something or are they purely information sites? If they are selling, are they selling online or do you have to order a brochure or send them an order with a check? How do they work in general? Try to keep a running total of the various aspects so that you can quantify your research. Produce a chart, perhaps, so that you can see at a glance the number of sites selling various products or services.

Also have a look at how well these competitive sites present themselves. Are they shoddy amateur looking sites with a muddled approach or are they well-presented and professional looking?

A great way for checking out the competition is a Website called Hitwise. This will provide you with competitive intelligence of websites in the US, but you do have to pay for this service.

Another way to find out the same sort of information for free is to use the Google Keyword Estimator tool

Enter your keyword, and then hit search.

The results page shows you how many global and local searches there are for a particular term, and Google also displays the competition for the keyword searches.  For the term “woodworking,” there are 1,500,000 global searches per month, and 823,000 local searches (local searches are searches conducted within the United States).  The competition is Medium for this term.  Google also provides a list of keyword ideas, that includes derivatives of the original search term.  For example, for our search of “woodworking,” the Keyword Idea section includes:

•    Fine woodworking
•    Woodworking projects
•    Free woodworking plans
•    Woodwork
•    Wood working

There are many sites and services that offer information on the popularity of various search terms, but the Google Keyword Tool is completely free, and since Google is the most popular search engine on the market, the information it provides is probably the most accurate.

Information that you can get through online resources includes things such as….

The traffic ranking of the sites you are interested in: this gives you an idea of how many visitors the site gets.  The number one ranking is the best possible ranking a site gets. The more popular the site is, the lower its ranking.  The site with a ranking of 1,000 is more popular the site with ranking of 250,000.

A list of related links: these links lead to sites that feature content similar to the information on the page you are looking at.  This is great as a shortcut to other sites.

The number of other sites that links to the site: this is another indication of the sites popularity.  It will give you an idea of how much work has been put into developing  “link exchange” relationships (also known as “backlinks”) with other sites.  The more sites linked to your site… the better your ranking will be with the search engines.

Getting sites linked to yours is a great way to spread the word about your business to a larger audience.  This also allows you to find out which sites have links to other sites that cater to your target market.  It's worth taking a note of these as once your site is up and running you may be able to get links to your site.

The contact information for the site owner: this is useful if you want to get in touch with the site owner for any reason. Very useful if you want to get a link with your site! The site that shows contact information also shows credibility.  Watch out for sites that don't include this information.

Site review: this information is like gold dust! It will show you what visitors think about the site and its products or services.  You will gain valuable information from this as to what to do or not to do.

Use this information when you are researching how existing companies are talking to the market.  It will help you evaluate the competition and compare different segments of the market.

Online hangouts

Once you have a good idea of the specialized markets in your area of interest you need to look further and connect to the people who belong to these markets.  These people may become your future customers. Get to know them!

You might find them in discussion forums and chat rooms where they talk to each other. They may be part of a news group or they may have a blog. A blog is a journal type Website with constantly updated content.  These have become a major phenomenon on the Internet.  Nearly every subject seems to have a blog these days!

Many blogs allow readers to leave comments and allow bloggers to communicate with one another and share ideas. You could pick up some great tips this way for developing your own products.

They say the customer is always right! Whether or not you believe this, it is worth finding out what people want, what they don't want and what they are searching for.  When you monitor these discussions you will notice that certain questions appear again and again. Use this information to enable you to discover people's needs and problems and develop a product that people actually want.

Try typing ‘discussion forums’ into a search engine along with a description of the market you’re researching into and check the results.  Also have a look at some of the groups such as:

MSN groups (https://groups.live.com)
Google Groups (http://groups.google.com)

If you are interested in blogs do a keywords search in one of the following blog search engines:

Google Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com)

Blog Search Engine (www.blogsearchengine.com)

Once you found some good blogs and discussion boards don't be afraid to talk to your future customers.  Find out what they want and what they think about the products currently being sold.  Think of ways you could improve on what's available or more importantly, ask them about problems or needs that are not being addressed.  This is a direct way of finding out what products are needed.

Low cost research

There are tons of free and low cost research tools out there to help you discover what your potential customers want.  With these tools you can see what they looking for and how often via the search engines.  You can find out about what they're complaining about at customer review sites and you can find out exactly where they go to find the products and information they need.  You can find out all you need to know about your potential customers.

With this sort of information you can find out about how much competition exists in your market and how well it is meeting your potential customers’ needs.  You can track down particular competitors and learn a lot from them.

Not only will be able to find out about your competitors, you will also be able to determine the size of your potential customer base and predict the likely success of any idea before you spend a single penny.

The secret is finding the right keywords.  Keywords are the words that people type into a search engine when they try to find the information they want just as you have been doing.  They are what customers use to describe what they looking for.  If you want to find a woodworking and coffee tables you may type in “woodworking coffee tables”or “coffee tables and woodworking. For car repair, you may search for “Chevrolet repair”or “transmission replacement.”

Once you get a feel for these keywords you will be able to find the sites your potential customers are visiting and find out much more about them.  Guessing keywords is no easy feat, though.  People have all sorts of quirks and what may seem obvious to you may not be what other people will use.  There are some additional online tools to help you find out the most popular keywords such as the Google Keyword Tool.  This will help you take the guessing out of listing keywords. There are new sites like this appearing all the time and it is a good place to start.

Finding out what people are searching for in order to solve a particular problem will give you a good idea of the demand for your potential product. For example let's say you decided to start researching car repair and in particular you want to find out about repairing a transmission. You can use the Google Keyword Tool and it will list all of the search terms related to your key phrase and provide you with the list of how many times they had been researched in the last month.  This can be a great way to get ideas!

Narrow your focus

The Google Keyword Tool can help your research not only by showing what people are searching for online but also how many other website are competing for the same audience.  Basically, Google Keyword Tool (illustrated above) keeps a record of how many times a particular keyword or phrase was searched over the past 60 days and includes several of the largest search engines and metacrawlers on the Web.  It allows you to search its database to see how many times your particular keywords or phrase might appear.

It will even organize all of this detailed information into useful reports that you can use to estimate how much traffic your site could expect to get in a 24-hour period if you were ranked in a top position under those keywords.

Once you have this information of course, you will be able to decide if you've chosen a good niche market.  Even better than this, you can discover which keywords are popular with your target market...  but aren't being used by your competitors!  When you get into it, is really good stuff!

The main thing to remember is to think like your potential customer when you type the keywords into the search engines and try to come up with terms they might be searching for. Explore the sites that are geared to your market and note how they present themselves.  What products are they selling, and what methods are they using?  Perhaps more importantly, what products are they not selling?  Is there a gap in the market here that you could fill?  Get to know the people who belong to your market by visiting the sites where they hang out such as blogs, discussion forums, chat rooms and newsgroups.  Find out what they like and don't like about the products currently being offered by other sites -- this could be the key to your success!