Finding online information

about your competitors is easy - the difficult part is finding meaning.

When researching the competition, you can avoid pitfalls by seeking

'intelligence' instead of 'information'.

The difference between

'information' and 'intelligence' is twofold: purpose and process.

Having a purpose and a process for gathering information ensures that

the results will be useful - instead of merely informative.

A well-defined purpose allows

you to search the Internet broadly and deeply without drowning

in a flood of marginal information.

The process for gathering good

competitive intelligence is straightforward: identify industry/market

trends and competitors; define your questions; find the answers;

analyze the results; and act on them.

The process begins with a wide

search of the Internet to define trends in your industry/market and

competitors.

Useful

resources include search engines, newspapers, business journals, and

trade press and online newsletters. Consider resources such as title="opens in a new window" href="http://www.newsisfree.com"

target="popup">NewsIsFree

and other topical news 'clipping' sites. href="http://www.prnewswire.com" title="opens in a new window"

target="popup">PR

Newswire and title="opens in a new window" target="popup">Business

Wire
can be useful sources for

news releases and competitive PR.

Beginning with a broad

industry/market search decreases the likelihood that you'll overlook

potential competitors and non-competing businesses in the industry that

may pose as sources of benchmarking, market insight and inspiration.

Once you've identified trends

and competitors, you can identify the questions you want to answer

about your competitors. Finding competitors' identities, pricing,

plans, strengths, weaknesses, suppliers and customers play a very

important part in formulating an effective business strategy.

Finding answers often begin at

a competitor's own web site. When visiting competitors' web sites look

beyond product/service information. You can also learn by viewing a

competitor's employment opportunities, organization chart, supplier and

vendor lists, and press releases.

After you've explored a

competitor's web site, use other web sites to learn about their

organization. Conduct keyword searches on search engines, public

records sites, discussion groups and blogs.

Notable

sites:

These

represent only a handful

of sites that are useful for gathering competitive intelligence. Based

on your industry, competitors, questions and creativity, it is possible

to find a wide selection of useful online/offline resources.

According to the title="opens in a new window">Society

of Competitive Intelligence Professionals,

more than 95% of information that is required for gathering competitive

intelligence is publicly available from open sources.