Do you know who your real competitors are? More importantly, do you know what your potential clients think of your competitors’ services? If not, it’s time to start spying.

At our recent Awesome Females in Real Estate conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., Kathy King of led a session, "Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer."

If you want to keep ahead of the competition, competitor reconnaissance (spying) — of the legal variety, of course — is the name of the game.

Let’s face it. We are constantly under surveillance in one way or another. Our computers keep track of the websites that we visit. Our smartphones can track our location. Online companies can analyze and share our usage data.

Why you should spy

A primary reason for engaging in a spying program is to craft your own unique selling proposition that differentiates your services from competitors. Furthermore, it will also help you to be better prepared to meet the objections someone may have about using your services vs. services provided by a competitor.

Another reason for spying is to identify who your true competitors are online. King recommends a site called Enter your domain and SpyFu will display the competing domains that have the greatest overlap.

It also tells you which key words generate the best organic results for your business. Perhaps the most useful feature is the ability to see the keywords that your major competitors are using.

Your spy kit

King outlined a number of key resources to use in your spy kit. First, check your competitors’ information by plugging their names into Google and LinkedIn. It’s also smart to check out whether they have a blog as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts.

If they have a blog, subscribe to the RSS feed to see what they are posting. Also, if they have a newsletter, it’s probably smart to subscribe to that as well.

Perhaps the most important step to take is to carefully examine how your competitors are marketing themselves on their main website. You can use SpyFu to compare keywords. This tool is especially useful since it provides the top keywords that are generating your organic search results.

It also shows the keywords and results for your competitors, as well displaying the percentage of overlap in your keyword searches.

SpyFu also allows you to determine which websites and searches produce the most leads. An important point to note is which traffic sources are generating the most leads for your site, as well as for your competitors. The goal is to expand what is already working, as well as to take search and market share from competitors.

In addition to SpyFu, you can also use the Google Keyword Tool. Type in the terms you want to search as well as your URL and see the number of searches for each of the key terms. Use the most popular key terms as often as possible in the text of your website, on your blog, and especially in your headlines.

Another excellent tool is from HubSpot. You can plug in your URL as well as that of your competitors to see their strengths and weaknesses. The site gives you a comprehensive analysis as well as providing suggestions on how to upgrade areas that need improvement.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for Google Alerts and enter your name and the names and companies of the competitors who you want to track. Another great tool is, which allows you to follow what others are saying online about your business, your industry or competitors.

What to look for

A key variable to track is your competitors’ marketing messages. How are they positioning themselves in the marketplace? Are they appealing to specific demographics or lifestyles? Is their branding specific to certain market niches? And if so, which ones? Look for gaps in what they’re doing to find opportunities they may have overlooked.

It’s also important to take note of new staff, as well as people who are no longer working for the firm. For agents, if a competing agent retires or leaves the business, see if you can pick up some of their past clients. For brokers, look for recruiting opportunities based upon services you offer that the competitors’ companies don’t provide.

Print marketing

Although King did not discuss this point, a great spy exercise is to have your entire office collect as many marketing pieces from your competitors as possible. Go through each piece at your office meeting and determine which types of messages are the most effective.

Two additional tips are to eliminate "I" and "me" language in marketing and to replace it with "you" language. Also, eliminate as many adjectives as possible from your text, replacing them with verbs. For example, instead of saying, "really lovely, lovely pool," say, "Relax by the zero edge pool overlooking the breathtaking view below."

Spying can be a critical element in your marketing strategy. Spying allows you to identify gaps in your competitors’ print and online marketing strategies. As a result, you not only beat your competitors to the punch, you can also prevent their punches from having a major impact on your business.

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