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What Your Competitors Don't Want You To Know
By Margot B. -- January 2, 2002
Accurate and timely information is essential for any business to remain competitive.  Read their financial information, compare companies on several different types of investment data. 

Margot B

It's much easier to obtain information on companies that are publicly held because they must report financial information to the Securities & Exchange Commission.  Therefore, the first step in researching a company is determining whether it is traded on the stock exchange.

Following are some sources for a variety of information that your competitors don't want you to know:

  1. Check at http://www.hoovers.com for just about any information you would want about a company; a corporate description, financial information, key officers, competitors, and more.

  2. Corporate Information provides US and international companies' information including research reports, company profiles, earnings information and analyst reports.

  3. Business.com reveals news, research and contacts for 10,000 public and 44,000 private companies.

  4. You can research public opinion of a company and its competitors by using Google's Usenet Service and Silicon Investor's Stock Talk.

  5. CEO's Express, a business research service is a wonderful site for gleaning information on a company.

Opportunities to profit from competitors' mistakes:

Read competitors' information and prices at more than 2000 online shops; collect information from any online store.  Most services are free.

You can learn what good web site design is by looking at bad Web design.

If your prospective customer is bedazzled and confused by your web site home page, h/she will instantly leave.  Your storefront [index page, or home page] should have a graphic or logo, which acts as a sign over your storefront.  The site must be easy to navigate, and well-organized.  The back-ground color or texture must be truly a background pattern and should not interfere with the text, making it difficult to read.  Too many graphics draw attention away from the text because they are distracting.  With Web graphics there has to be a fine balance; just enough to dazzle and entertain but not so much as to annoy.  Graphics don't have to be animated for the most effect, they can be static, i.e.straight line, either horizontal or vertical---and still have a strong dynamic power.  Line serves as a guideline for the eye.  But this depends on what audience you are targeting. Some-times more graphics are more effective.

The customer must be able to easily contact you.  Sign your page, make the e-mail address prominent.  Sometimes a customer may wish to contact a live person so you need to connect with your customer by having a place for name, address, phone number, fax, and check-boxes for requesting information on products or services.

Privacy

Does the competitor's site have an effective privacy policy?  Will the sensitive data you enter during a purchase be encrypted?  A 'layered' security model, where internal assets are secured, partitioned, and monitored is of the utmost importance.  For credit card numbers security, you need to use the secure hashing algorithm [SHA-1] in order to make an unique surrogate value that can be referenced, but not used to charge against the account.

Advanced encryption should be used for credit card numbers, at the least a Tripe-DES algorithm with a 168-bit key and the use of a hardware device or secure key storage system to store the keys.  It's important to frequently rotate the keys to provide physical control over who can access them.  Then when the data is no longer needed, the disks must be physically destroyed or destroyed using a wipe algorithm.  If it doesn't need to be recovered, the key should be destroyed.

Importance of finding other areas for improvement:

In order to succeed in e-marketing it is an absolute must that a business have a reliable web site.  This must be addressed first because choosing a web site host is one of the most important decisions an e-marketer will ever make for her business.  Without it, your business will fail.

The web site must be reliable, without frequent technical difficulties, one that offers personal contact and available and prompt service.  The Web host will have to be able to solve problems and answer questions, with 24-hour staffing for maximum reliability.  It's important for the site to provide industrial strength hosting if the e-marketer expects to have a very high traffic site---it's important to have a host with a large pipeline, mail, access to the site's log files, and to have system programs.

Businesses need to reference programs in a cgi-bin directory.  Most Web hosts allow FTP access to a cgi-bin directory but not Telnet access.  So this can slow down site programming.  Without Telnet access the e-marketer cannot compile programs in C or C++, and technical support to do it.  Therefore it is imperative that the host allow Telnet access to a cgi-bin directory.

It's important to avoid being locked into a contract where the e-marketer can't choose another Web hosting ISP in case the first one that's chosen doesn't work out.  If the Web developer is listed as the Administrative Contact, it may be difficult to change to a new developer if need be.  This can be checked out with http://www.internic.net/whois.html.

An Internet business must have mailing list management programs available for newsletters, as well as autoresponders for automatic responses to e-mail messages.  The Web host ISP must provide access to the log files.  SSL is needed for credit card security and an ISP operating system that is compatible with the system that the e-marketer uses to maintain a database.  The ISP's current customers can be questioned for this information as it may be difficult to get the information from the ISP host.

Success in e marketing will go to the site that offers unique services, superior service, enough resources to support your clients to their satisfaction, i.e. customer interaction and feedback resources.

To evaluate whether it is wise to trade with companies that merge through acquisitions, we must be mindful that their capabilities diminish with a merger.  In order for companies to create and maintain service, it takes time, and the value of these acquisitions cannot be determined at the outset.  These newly merged companies face many challenges and many of them do not succeed.  Read their financial information, compare companies on several different types of investment data; graphs and charts, on financial performance, and review annual reports.

'Promotion Stat' provides solutions to help Web owners to evaluate the effectiveness of their advertising and promotion campaigns.  It tracks sites' visitors who are referred to your page from individual links and ads and tracks the visitors' behavior while on your site.

Evaluate the quality of your competitors' sites, their sales promotions and pricing; look for sales and discounts, and customer feedback facilities.  A simple domain name, easy navigation and use, working links, a prominent, efficient privacy policy and an easy-to-find e-mail address are important features to consider.  These can make a difference between your site succeeding or failing.

Focus on your niche and the content of your first page will be more credible.  Web sites that focus on a very narrow theme will create visitors of greater interest who are more willing to buy.  People don't have time to search for what they want.  If your site visitors are confronted by too many things, they will do nothing.  Don't overwhelm them.

Your business web site should not take over 30-seconds to load or your potential customer will not wait and simply surf elsewhere; download speed has to be a prime consideration as it is of the most benefit.

A company should concentrate on the ability to pay a bill online.  This aspect has transformed home-based, start-up companies to Fortune 100 companies.  You can accept checks over the phone or Internet, handle credit card transactions online, transfer funds, with http://www.paybyweb.com.  This program uses live people; it is not an automated system, because they use people to verify your data instead of machines.  They can often 'fix' an account where the banking information has been entered incorrectly.  They do credit card processing, check processing, and electronic funds transfers.  You can do all your banking using your computer, phone, notebook computer, cell phone, or fax.  There are no monthly fees, transaction fees, or recurring charges.

Assess the added value resulting from this analysis by:

Monitoring your company's competition in the search engines or directory listings, the number of links they have pointing back to their web site or what their business reputation is in the usenet/newsgroup community, as well as yours, and the number of third party links pointing back to your web site.  You can use tools such as LinkBank .  This enables you to understand how to maximize your marketing dollars by learning where you need more of an online presence.  The alternative to this program is to do the monitoring by hand, which is time-consuming but worth the effort---if you have lots of time.

Do others' sites trade links with yours?  Spy-BOT, a reciprocal link tracker will check those sites linking to yours. Spy-BOT is affiliated with The Dev Web.

Targeting a niche market:

Because you can't be everything to everybody, to be successful on the Web you normally have to have very specific products or services that target a niche market.  Your site must be as personal as possible, as if you're face-to-face with a customer.  Visitors should get the idea that your site is the premier source of ideas and information on whatever your web site specialty.

What aspects of a competitor's online activity should a company concentrate on in order to gain the most benefit?

It is generally believed that because general presentation is foremost, we must avoid those ads that mention 'free web space', that you'll give away more business to the advertisers whose ads that the hosting company will paste all over your Web page than it would cost you to pay for Web hosting.  These ads are designed to give your visitor an opportunity to click out of your site before getting the first words of your presentation, as they are usually placed at the top of the site.  But another aspect to consider is that a site hosted [free] by Tripod or Geo-Cities seems to usually be given preferential treatment by the top search engine, Google. Bravenet is another excellent free Web host, and is not overlooked by the top search engines.  Bravenet's, Geo-Cities, and Tripod's banner ads are unobtrusive.  It has to be a personal decision.

It is a general opinion that with your own hosting and URL shoppers are more willing to do business with you, though through Tripod or Bravenet, you can get a shortened URL sub-domain, which most of the search engines will accept.

How are companies already analyzing competition online?

By examining sales copy and headlines, by how quickly pages are displayed with different modems, and how they look in different browsers; by checking the search engines for high placements; by analyzing ads [the visitor's first impression of a business can make or break a business.  Ads must not be duplicates of others but must be different, unique, in order to make real money.]  By discerning who the business' affiliates are, and whether they offer products that meet the needs of their potential customers.  By determining whether the affiliates' products are of high quality and whether they provide good customer service; by checking with the Better Business Bureau; by checking a competitors' log files; and noting who the sponsors are.

One way to tell if a site isn't getting any advertisers is to note how many banners advertise their own site.  Either they aren't getting anyone to buy their banner space, or the rates are so low it is more profitable to advertise the company's own products.

Possibility to find a complementary service to partner with:

Web rings allow Web users to link similar sites and to form rings of sites on any topic of interest.

Link to other sites like yours to increase traffic to your site by joining a Web ring.  It is an alternative or addition to the search engines, providing an avenue for linking common Web-based interests.

There are some large ad networks that bring thousands of web sites together.  These are very attractive to advertisers and big companies.  The AdStop.com can get you started.  They include how-to advice and a host of reviewed ad networks.  ValueClick delivers ads to a global audience, including over 30% of Internet users in the US. Banners range over 10,200 sites before 14-million people.  A large corporation may need a more extensive campaign designed by an ad agency.

Work with fellow marketers by attending seminars and trade shows.  Advertise on radio, TV shows, list with a directory.  Partner with an e-business consultancy such as E-marketing.com that offers a wide range of strategic, design, technical, and marketing skills.  They help you develop an e-business strategy, build digital brands, generate online revenue, and build personalized relationships with customers, by e-mail campaigns and viral marketing online ad campaigns.  They help collect data about customers and prospects related to their buying habits and Web behavior.  This enables companies to begin a dialogue with their customers in order to earn their loyalty and repeat business.

Copyright 2000
All Rights Reserved
Margot B.

About the Author

Margot is the owner of Margot's Writers' Resources.  She also is a writer, ghostwriter, proofreader, and web developer.

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