Competitive Intelligence : Domains, Hosts and WHOIS
Sometimes it is hard to figure out who your online competitors are, or worse, what they are doing to beat you. Sometimes it feels like you are beating your head against a wall because no matter how hard you try you just can not figure out how they are doing it.
Today I will look at some of the tools you can use to gather competitive intelligence about your competitors and the online market space in general.
I received a lot of positive comments about a Google article I wrote a few weeks ago on Google’s domain name strategy and what it could indicate as future Google plans. Using a freely available tool (and applying my wildly active imagination) I was quickly able to look at the domain names purchased, and surmise where Google could (And likely will) be moving into in the months and years to come.
Some wanted to know how I could find such information out. Was there some secret tool that I used? Perhaps I hacked into the Google mainframe to get the information?
The truth is, I found it through a freely available tool.
In this article I explain how you to can do some domain exploring to perhaps find out what your competition is doing.
Let’s start by looking at a tool to help you figure out some things about different sites.
Using a WHOIS information service can give you tons of information. In fact, using one is how I was able to dig up all those Google registered domain names. Using a domain explorer, such as the Whois.sc Domain Explorer I was able to quickly find hundreds of domains with “Google” in them. Then it was a matter of looking for the common registrar mentioned in the article.
Using this tool one can look at and around their competitors sites to see if there are possibly other domains out there waiting to be set up. This tool will tell you registered domains, as well as those that are actively hosting a site or just parked.
FYI this can also be a great way to find domain names which are complementary to your product or service and perhaps register them ahead of the competition.
So if, for example, you sell blue widgets but find that popularity is growing for green widgets a domain search may show you that greenwidgets.com is available for registration. You could then register it in advance of the competition ensuring yourself against their movements into the market space with a catchy or easy to remember domain name.
Another thing you can use WHOIS services for is to find out the other domains hosted on a server. This can be particularly useful if you find other competitors domains registered with the above technique.
Using another WHOIS service I can also look at the competitors site, get their IP address and then look at the other domains hosted on that IP. Generally you will find that those that have a host stay with that host for many of their domains.
By looking at the other domains hosted on the IP address, you may be able to get an idea of their current or future business plans by looking at the other domains they have registered and have hosted.
Also, you may sometimes find a domain that is soon to expire, or which has expired that you can snatch up quickly.
For example, if a competitor has registered multiple keyword domain names but has had them parked, and lets one or two expire, you could purchase them for your own use.
Alexa is another tool one could use for competitive research.
It is one now owned by Amazon which can give you various details about a site and it’s performance on the web in general.
While the results can get skewed, they are somewhat reliable. At least they can give you an indicator of how your site is doing in relation to theirs, as well as how they have been performing on the web.
Further, you can see some of the other sites visited around theirs and get some users reviews. Again, because this is a relatively small system which can be manipulated, I wouldn’t suggest relying strictly on these numbers or what you read.
As a side note, using this system can also help you build links. This is because you can get a feel for what sites people are visiting around yours (and your competitors) and then approaching these sites for links.
These are just two of the many freely available competitive intelligence tools out there. Over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to others, but for now, play with the different WHOIS services and Alexa so you can get an idea what they can do for you.
Rob Sullivan is an SEO Specialist and Internet Marketing Consultant at Text Link Brokers