I’m addicted to the FX drama “The Americans.”  The two main characters are KGB spies sent to the U.S. to live like Americans and gather intelligence for use by the Russian government during the height of the Cold War. They’re clever and manipulating and sometimes ruthless, but they’ve also been known to show mercy, and they love their Americanized kids with a fierceness any parent can relate to. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

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The Library world is generally a giving and generous place. But in order to promote your library, you need to be a little cunning. You are working hard to drive results from your promotions. You need to stay ahead of your competitors (bookstores, museums, online book portals like Amazon, and competing library systems.) In order to do that, you need to know a little bit about them!

I found 12 tools–all free–that will help you gather some intelligence on your “enemies.”  Once you know what’s going on with your competitors, you can identify their areas of weakness and “move in for the kill.” Okay, not literally but I’ve always wanted to say that!

Moat: This site has a free advertisement search function. Type in the name of your competitor and see the ads they’ve recently placed.

SEMrush: Check out your competitions’ organic keywords and how they compare to other sites in a similar business. I love the back links feature-you can see which sites are referring customers to your competitors’ sites. I learned one of the big hotel chains in downtown Cincinnati is referring customers to a competitor’s site. (Stop that!!)

SpyFu: Next to Google Analytics, this is my all-time favorite tool. Check how highly your competitors rank in SEO keyword search and get insight on keywords that lead customers to your competitors’ site, including any paid keywords they may be using. You can plot the reach of any website on a timeline, giving you an idea of when the site is seeing a spike in traffic. And you can plot your competitors’ social media vanity metrics next to your own. I know some people poo-poo vanity metrics but they do give you insight into the reach over the total audience.

Social Searcher: Type in your competitor’s name and see the real-time social media posts related to their brand on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

SimilarWeb: Beautiful graphics highlight all kinds of useful information about your competitors’ customers including where they live, their social media interactions, and their interests! You can compare your website with two competitors under the free plan.

Moz: Another site for checking on keywords, keyword ranking, and SEO effectiveness. The site also lets you see what links were recently created which lead web users to your competitor and the top landing pages on your competitors’ sites.

Alexa: I used this site when I was a web journalist to check the website popularity of my competitors. You get basic traffic stats including the average page views of your competitors, how long their visitors stay on their page, the bounce rate, and the site their customers normally visit right after your competitor’s site!

TalkWalker: An alternative to Google Alerts, it lets you search blogs, websites, and news for posts about your competitors. You can have the alerts delivered to your inbox once a day or once a week.

Topsy: Search Tweets about your competitors from as far back as 30 days under the free plan.

BuiltWith: This provides super-fascinating insight into your competition’s CMS. Find out what was used to build their website, the name of their host server, any widgets on their site, their email service, and the date of their last CMS updates.

MarketGrader: This free tool from Hubspot grades your website or your competitors on several key items like blogging, social referrals, SEO, and lead generation.

Glassdoor.com: Glass Door allows you to search your competitors for job openings. They also have reviews by current and former employees. That might not sound like high-level marketing information, but getting a look inside the corporate culture of your competitors can tell you a lot about their priorities.

How do you gather information about your competition? Share ideas with other readers in the comments section!

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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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