While you’re on the road to success, you may often want to benchmark yourself against your competitors. It’s only natural–and it’s really smart. The fact is that even if your business is doing well, there is always room to improve efficiency. And a great way to assess where you fare in your industry is to take stock of the competition. But how might you do this? We’ve listed a few tactics to help you get started.

Social Intelligence

We’ve told you time and time again about the awesome insights you can glean from the unsolicited online conversation of your consumers. But it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to limit your search keywords in your social research tool to just your brand terms. You can add your competitors as well to see what people are saying about them. Maybe you get a lot of negative feedback about your return policy, for example. Which of your competitors are receiving positive feedback about theirs? This will cast a big net and uncover places you might need to mimic their business practices–or improve upon them and then implement into your business model.

Website traffic

Free tools like compete + Alexa can approximate the amount of traffic your competitors’ websites see within a given month and trended over time. Spikes in volume can indicate when they run paid media, possibly in support of a promotion. Secondly, you can get a backlinks report to see the quality and quantity of backlinks your competition has accrued. Opensiteexplorer.com is a free tool (with some limitations) that can give you a good picture of how committed your competition is to expanding search engine optimization (SEO) initiatives.

Paid media

In addition to website traffic, you should conduct some simple Google tests to see where your competition is running paid media and how deep their keyword builds go. For example, are they running ads on “nike shoes” or are they running more long-tail keywords like “womens nike shoes hot pink size 9″? What kinds of extensions are they using (if any)? Check these same keywords on your mobile device to get an idea of the competition there. Are they paying attention to mobile, local and social advertising? Find out where their paid media strategy might be lacking and be there.

Stay Ahead with Measurement

Did you know that 57% of businesses don’t establish their budgets according to ROI measures (AdAge)? It is imperative that you have a measurement plan for your digital strategy in place. In fact, before you start any initiative (whether it be social, paid search, display, SEO, etc.), you should ask the question “how am I going to measure the success of this?” Having a measurement plan in place can help you uncover cost efficiencies that your competition may not see. Holding all of your campaigns accountable can be the perfect way to get a leg up because you will be able to make data-driven decisions that your competition cannot.

With the help of all of these tactics, you should be able to get a handle on where your competition is and what kinds of budget they are putting behind it. This can help you stay ahead of the game and be ready to roll!