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What's the Competition Doing?

Resources and advice for gathering competitive intelligence.

by F. John Reh
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There are many reasons why you might want to gather competitive intelligence about one of your competitors. Competitive intelligence gives you hard facts on which to base decisions about marketing tactics, R&D investments, product launches and overall business strategy. Effective gathering of competitive intelligence can easily be done using legal and ethical sources of information.

There are many ways to collect the information you need. You could:

  • buy a competitor's product;
  • hire their employees;
  • visit their booth at trade shows and conferences;
  • talk to their vendors; or
  • use publicly available data.

Public data sources include permit filings (building permits, environmental reports, SEC reports), newspapers and magazines, and on-line sources. In this article we will focus on the online sources.

Online Sources
Online sources of competitive intelligence information include company websites, online versions of publications, search sites, and monitoring services.

Company Web Sites
Company web sites are one of the best sources of basic information about a company. If you don't know the URL (location) of a company's web site, you can usually find it by typing www ahead of the company name and com after it. For instance, or Sometimes a company's web site address is based on their product name rather than their company name. If neither of these works, you can usually find it through one of the search sites (which are discussed below).

On a company's web site you usually find some general information about the company. It is commonly found through an "about" or "info" link off the home page. For instance,'s home page has a link at the bottom of the page called "our story". Many companies have information about key executives on their web site. There also will be information about their products, services and pricing. Almost all company web sites include information about where they are located and how to contact them.

Online Publications
Many magazines and newspapers have online versions that they publish on the Internet. Although some restrict all or part of their content to subscribers, most have at least some free content.

Generally these sites have a search capability. You enter the name of the company or person about whom you would like information and the site will search its archives for related information. Here are some examples:

Monitoring Services
Monitoring services will track a company or industry you select for news. You can arrange with these sites, for a fee, to keep track of a number of companies and industries and notify you whenever news about them is published on the Internet. In addition, many of these sites let you manually search their databases for information about your target company. Some of these sites include:

Search Sites
Search sites come in many varieties. General search sites search that portion of the Internet they know about. The results these engines return are significant for quantity rather than quality. Probably the Best known of these is Google, but MSN's Live Search and Yahoo! are competitors. And don't overlook:

  • AllTheWeb, owned by Yahoo!,
  • AltaVista,
  • DMOZ, the open directory project,
  • and Dogpile, which searches Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask at the same time, but with less depth.
  • and Metacrawler another multi-site search engine like Dogpile.

Moderated search sites are the model conceived by The Mining Co. (now This site, a collection of hundreds of subject matter experts, searches the Internet intelligently and presents only the best sites for your information. Several channels of specialty information are available from this site including the Business & Finance channel.

Specialty search sites restrict themselves to a specific portion of the Internet. Arguably the best specialty search engines for competitive intelligence are the financial search sites. These sites have the latest information on company news, stock price, stock history, insider trading, SEC filings, and associated financial information. Here are a few of these: