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How to Identify Competitors Worth Spying on

As briefly mentioned in my Statbrain review, many webmasters include competition monitoring in their overall strategy. I believe you’ll have a lot to gain if you do it too. Now, how can you identify sites and blogs that are truly worthy of your precious time?

Choosing the type of competitor you want to spy on

First of all, let me make one thing very clear: I’m not proposing that you engage in illegal activities. “Spy on” is just a fancy term in our case. I’m sure you get the idea.

That being said, let’s see the three types of competitor that you could/should be interested in:

1. Successful: For more than obvious reasons.

2. Intermediate level: Because you’ll find it easier to relate to them, since they probably don’t have as many financial resources as the most successful ones. Yet, they may be well on their way to achieve huge popularity. Keeping one eye on sites that could be in a transitional period will teach will a lot.

3. Beginners and/or little-known: Just because a site isn’t popular, doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything from it. At the very least you may be able to spot several mistakes that you should avoid. And who said that those obscure webmasters will never become famous someday? You can witness the beginning of a fantastic story.

Numbers and data that can guide your competition monitoring efforts

How do you determine how successful — or not so successful — a site is? Well, I guess you must be able to tell which the main sites of your niche are. You don’t have to think too much about them; you just know that they are famous. But what about those sites that are just moderately popular? And how do you spot those webmasters and bloggers who pretend to be much more important than they really are?

There are several things you can verify in order to measure a site or blog’s success. Note that many — if not all — of these pieces of data can be manipulated. So, don’t rely too much on them.

Now that I’ve written my little alert, I’m going to show you what you should be checking out, in no particular order:

  • Publicly available stats: Does your competitor link to an external stat provider? Great! As flawed as such services may be, they are still a good source of information on a site’s traffic.
  • Advertisers pages: “Advertise here” pages often contain traffic numbers and other relevant data, so they are the first or second thing you should verify. Just remember that the info on them may not be totally accurate, since they are designed to impress potential advertisers.
  • Subscribe numbers: Very important for blogs, although it depends on the niche. The less tech-savvy readers, the less RSS subscribers a blog should have.
  • Comments: Does the blog or site gets comments on a regular basis? Or only once in a blue moon? Some successful blogs rarely get any comments, due to their content and audience’s nature. Still, a large amount of quality comments use to be a good sign.
  • Forum members: If the competitor you’re evaluating offers a forum on their site and/or if it’s a forum itself, take a look at the amount of members it has. Also pay attention to the forum’s activity level. See if the posts are always written by the same members or if there’s variety.
  • Traffic analysis tools: See what Alexa, Compete and similar tools can tell you about your competitor.
  • Google rankings: Does your competitor rank well for search terms that you’re interested in? Then it’s mandatory that you concentrate your spying efforts on it.
  • Social media votes: How often does your competitor get spontaneous votes, reviews or links on sites like Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and Mixx? By “spontaneous” I mean activity that isn’t self-promotional.

In case you have more ideas on how to evaluate competitors that could be added to your “to-spy list,” share them in the comment form.