How to Gather Basic Competitive Intelligence Information on the Web
You can get plenty of competitive intelligence information for free on the web, but this high-tech resource is likely to produce a lot of low-value intel for several reasons:
Search engines, such as Bing, Google, and Yahoo!, often fail to reveal the most relevant content. The majority of the best information on the web is part of the deep web — content that doesn’t appear in typical search results.
Organizations are likely to filter and spin the information they post to present themselves in a more positive light. You may be misled by biased or intentionally omitted information.
Information is often too old to be of value for producing useful intel. Remember, good intel is future focused.
Even with these potential drawbacks, the web is a good place to begin your search, and if you know where to look, you can find some enlightening, accurate, and current information along with leads to more valuable sources.
How the internet can help with competitive intelligence
Start with a basic web search, using any of the three leading search engines — Bing, Google, or Yahoo! — but don’t stop there. Figure out how to use the search engine’s advanced tools.
If you’re using Google, you can narrow the search results to web content, images, maps, videos, or news; a specific location; a time frame, such as past week or month (to filter out old content); and so on.
Look for a Search Tools link or button, which may appear above or to the left of the search results for additional options. You can also scroll to the bottom of any page search results page to find the advanced search option.
For consolidated search results from all three leading search engines, perform your search at info.com. Try searching for corporate information to get a wide-angle view of corporate information from a variety of sources.
To tap into the deep web for information, don’t restrict yourself to the leading search engines. Instead, visit specific websites and use their internal search engines to find what you’re looking for. Here are a few websites to get you started:
How social media can help with competitive intelligence
Social media consist of discussions on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other such venues. These conversations often center on products and services that customers like or dislike, companies that went above and beyond to serve a customer or failed miserably to do so, friends asking friends for recommendations on what to buy or where to eat, and nearly every other topic imaginable.
Imagine if you could listen in on these conversations and extract insights to help you improve your business, more effectively meet your customers’ needs, or even develop new product offerings. Well, you can with the help of analytics.
How to mine corporate websites for competitive intelligence
Corporate websites, including your competitors’ websites, may not be the most valuable resources for gaining insight into an organization’s inner workings or strategic plans, but you can use such sites to dig up a few valuable pieces of information, including the following:
Names, bios, and contact information for the organization’s key personnel
Mission statements that may provide insight into the organization’s identity and overall competitive strategy (a change in mission statement can be particularly revealing)
Job openings that may provide insight into what an organization is gearing up for in the future
Information about your organization that may reveal areas that require change; for example, a feature list comparison that reveals weaknesses in your product
Financial reports, such as SEC filings, provided for investors
Executive presentations (webinars) delivered to Wall Street analysts, which are often a good source of information on top-level strategic directions and new initiatives for publicly traded companies in the U.S.
New product announcements that may provide insight into the organization’s future direction
Links for downloading white papers or subscribing to newsletters and other publications
Discussion forums, where you may be able to gauge customer sentiment or identify unmet customer needs
Insight into what the organization is doing to improve customer service and communication
Approach corporate websites with skepticism. A corporate website is primarily a marketing tool, but some organizations are more transparent than others.