Watch a few pregame interviews and inevitably a coach will say this about the other team: "We're not worried about what they will do. We're focused on playing our game. If we execute our game plan … we'll win."
The point? The competition doesn't matter: Do what you do, and do it incredibly well, and you will win.
That sounds great in theory but is terrible in practice. Winning, in sports and in business, almost always requires reacting to what your competition does.
And that means keeping track of your competition--especially from a marketing point of view.
In Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online, HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah describe six different ways to track your business relative to your competition. (In case you're unfamiliar with the term, I should explain that inbound marketing is based on attracting customers with focused, relevant content rather than interrupting them with ads, and their book is an outstanding guide to developing your own inbound marketing strategy and implementation plan.)
Here are the six tools they recommend. Also, check out the slideshare on growing your business with inbound marketing at the bottom of this post:
1. Grade your website.
Go to Grader.com and run your website alongside your competitors' websites to see how well you do.
Pay special attention to upstart competitors who might be more focused on leveraging the Web than some of the more traditional players.
2. Evaluate inbound links.
Use the Grader report to pull out the number of links for you and your competitors.
An increase in the number of links to a site can indicate that a competitor is getting more traction with its products.
3. Monitor Facebook fans.
Use Facebook to see the number of fans your company's website has relative to your competitor's website. (You may have to search around to find the company page on Facebook.)
This number is worth tracking over time--if your competitor starts to gain a lot of fans, it means its customer loyalty is increasing. That might mean it will be harder to steal its customers, forcing you to focus on non-consuming areas of your market.
4. Monitor total traffic.
Go to Compete.com and compare its estimate of the traffic your site gets with that of your competitors.
5. Track mentions and keywords.
Use SiteAlerts.com to see the number of mentions you're getting on the Web, and what keywords are driving search traffic. Then compare the results to those of your competitors.
6. Assess online "buzz."
Go to Google and do a search on "your brand" (in quotations) and look at the number of results in the upper right-hand corner. Do the same for each of your competitors. The number of results shows the number of pages on the Web where the brand is mentioned.
This metric is worth tracking over time since it will show how your "buzz" compares with your competitors' buzz. You can do the same thing in blogsearch.google.com to see how your buzz compares with your competitors' in the blogosphere.