No matter the size of your business, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your closest competitors online. Especially since research shows that 66% of U.S. adults have used the Internet to aid in a purchase, a business’ online presence is more valuable than ever.

If you don’t already know who your local business competitors are, you can conduct a search for your own products or services in your area to see what other businesses appear in the search results, check local listings, or even ask friends and family if they know of other nearby businesses similar to yours.  Then, once you determine who your top competitors are, here are a few places you can check to gauge their effectiveness online.


Your competitors’ website is a good place to start when assessing their Web presence. It will tell you many things about them, such as some of the keywords and phrases they are using to optimize their website copy for search, their main value proposition or key message, their featured products or services, and their target market. This can not only help you understand more about your business competition and what differentiates you, it can also help you compare your online marketing efforts. Is it easy to identify what they do within the first few seconds? What products or services do they offer? How are they similar to you, and how are they different? Are they promoting themselves more effectively than you are? Understanding these key factors can help you develop a marketing plan that will help you bring customers to your business instead of theirs.

Search Engines

Gauging your competitors’ placement on search engines isn’t always an easy task, especially since algorithms are continuously changing. However, it can help your own search advertising strategy to see the results of your competitors’ organic and paid search tactics. Keep in mind, it’s best to perform searches in a private browser so the search engine won’t take into account your browsing history and you’ll see generic results. Here are a few things to look for:

Shelf Space – Search for a competitor’s business name online to see how much “shelf space” – or links on the search results page – they own, and what type of content is displayed, such as their website, blog, videos, reviews,  and even text ads. Remember which local listings, social media sites, and content sites are displayed and compare them against the ones that show up when you search for your own business name.

PPC Ads To see what your competitors may be doing in paid search advertising, start by identifying a list of 5-10 top local keywords and searching for them on top search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing If your competitor is also bidding on their own business name in search advertising, chances are their paid search ad will show in the sponsored section of the search results when you search for their name as well. Bidding on your business name is a cost-effective way to quickly get your brand to appear on the search engine results page.

Organic Rank – Also look at the organic listings when you search for those local keywords, as well as the keywords you are optimizing your own site for. Where do your competitors rank in comparison to you? What kinds of content are ranking – is it just their site, or do other content and social sites show up as well?

Reviews & Local Listings

Take note of your competitors’ online reputation by looking at their reviews online. You can check out review sites like Google + Local, Yelp, Citysearch, or industry-specific sites and see how they are ranking compared to you and if those sites are optimized for search. In addition, conduct a search for your competitor’s reputation terms, like “Business Name Reviews” on a search engine and see what turns up. Do your biggest competitors have more reviews than you? Is their reputation overall positive or negative? Either way, you may want to start asking some of your happy customers to leave you reviews on some of these sites, so that when a consumer is researching both you and a competitor, your glowing reputation can speak for you online.

Social Media Sites

Another place you want to audit your competitors online is on social media. Start by looking for their Facebook page, Twitter profile, and Google Plus pages. Do they have these pages created and optimized? If so, what types of profile photos and “about” information are they using to represent their brand? In addition, take a look at how many fans they have, how frequently they post on each social network, and what kinds of content they are sharing. It’s important to know the kinds of messages they are sharing and how often so you can determine what’s most effective for your business type. You can also use this information to create unique messages for your social fans that will set you apart from your business competition.

Content Sites

Content sites like a company blog, YouTube channel, or photo site, are also key ways businesses can boost SEO and engagement online. See which of these of these sites your competitors have created and which they are using to their advantage. What types of blogs, images, infographics, or videos are they sharing? Are they using relevant descriptions and keyword-rich tags? Because these types of content can rank well in search engines and provide backlinks to a business website, seeing which sites work for your competitors can help you decide the types of sites you want a presence on as well.

Now that you have a good idea about your competitors’ Web presence, you can take this information into consideration for building your own online strategy. What tactics work well for them that you can try in your own marketing? What are you doing more efficiently than your competitors that you can focus on to give your online presence a boost?

Have you ever scoped out the competition online? What did you learn, and what did you do with the information? Share your thoughts in a comment!