5 Ways To Leverage Competitive Intelligence For Fun & Profit

This post is written by David Angotti, Co-Founder of SmokyMountains.com, the fastest growing property management firm in the Great Smoky Mountains region. David's post is designed to help owners and managers make quicker, smarter marketing decisions.

Does the idea of using competitive intelligence and technology to make educated marketing and branding decisions excite you? This post will walk you through how to (legally!) spy on the competition and make better decisions related to content marketing, email blasts, vacation rental pricing, social channels and more.

Without a clear understanding of your competition’s tactics and strategies, the very long-term existence of your brand could be at risk. It’s time to understand where you and your company stand relative to your competition and make informed marketing decisions that will accelerate your success.

Are your ready for the competition to foot the bill on your Listing Site Independence? Let’s dive in!

1. Leverage Your Competition's Pricing

Are you still stuck in the dark ages with “set it and forget” it pricing? It’s time to utilize the free market’s accurate data and utilize advanced pricing tools to produce peak occupancy at the highest reasonable rates.

While there are several great pricing tools out there, Smart Host is the tool my company is currently using to make more intelligent pricing decisions. This tool uses built in logic to suggest a list of our competition’s properties to monitor and then allows us to manually refine the list of comparables. For this tool to be effective, you must create a list of at least ten comparables.

Once you develop the list of comparables, the tool monitors inventory, pricing, and availability on a daily basis. In effect, this tool will help you better understand the supply and demand curve for your exact unit. With a little digging, it will also help you get a good grasp on booking velocity (lead time for bookings) on specific dates.

If you are tired of endlessly researching rates, this is the tool for you! Smart Host allows you to see what the competition is doing in minutes, rather than wasting your day reading over rate tables on the listing sites. If you want to read more, check out this great piece on dynamic pricing by some of the best in the VR business.

  • David's Pro Tip

Although most people simply build one comparable set per property or property type, there is another huge opportunity here. Build a large and diverse comparable set that is primarily utilized to monitor areawide occupancy and trends. This set should include a representative sample set of all property sizes, prices, and types. While the pricing recommendations in this comp set will be worthless, the macro-trends you can identify will be priceless!

2. Monitor Your Competition's Email Marketing

The words email marketing can literally produce an audible groan from property owners and managers. We all know that we should regularly market to our email list, but this is hard work!

In a recent Experian study1, it was determined that on average email marketing returns between $45 and $51 for every $1 invested. If these are average returns, the case is strong to perfect this marketing channel even if it takes a bit of work!

There are so many questions we must answer to stand out in the email inbox. Should the email have a commercial intent (i.e. push our rental)? If so, what offer should I present? Do I need to offer a financial incentive to nudge the potential guest?

By monitoring the advanced segment of our competition along with companies that excel in parallel industries, we can make informed decisions and create highly profitable campaigns in no time.

You will need three items (all free) to quickly archive all of your competitors’ emails:

  1. A new Gmail address that you will use to subscribe to a bunch of mailing lists
  2. An account on IFTTT
  3. An Evernote account

Now that you have signed up for your free accounts, head over to IFTTT and create a new recipe. Follow the steps below:

  1. Log into your account on IFTTT
  2. Click 'My Recipes' in the top navigation
  3. Click the 'Create a Recipe' button
  4. Click the blue ‘this’ link and select Gmail (you will have to authorize the account when you create your first recipe)
  5. Choose the ‘Any new email in inbox’ trigger
  6. Click 'create trigger' and then 'that'
  7. Select Evernote (you will have to authorize the account when you create your first recipe)
  8. Choose ‘Create a note’ trigger
  9. Fine-tune any of the options and click ‘Create Action’

Now, think through everyone in your market (our outside it) that does email marketing well. Go subscribe the new Gmail account to all of those lists. Try to subscribe to at least 15 email newsletters to get a good snapshot of your market as well as the aggregated market.

Did you get stuck trying to find 15 lists? No worries! If you inquire and/or create accounts with the listing sites (HomeAway, FlipKey, & airbnb) that is a great start.

Visit all of your competitors’ websites and opt in to their newsletters. If you are still coming up short, find brands that you admire in the vacation rental space (i.e. out of your market) or in the broader lodging space (i.e. Hilton hotels) and subscribe to those lists. You’ll be at 15 and climbing in no time!

When you get ready to start brainstorming for your next campaign, your Evernote account will be filled with ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Like this tip? I got the idea from Wil Reynolds and his team over at Seer Interactive. They have put together a comprehensive list of IFTTT recipes for marketers2. Check it out and leverage the intelligence to take your marketing to the next level!

  • David's Pro Tip

Use the gathered intelligence to make informed decisions on your persona-based marketing. For example, the generic email newsletters for Valentine’s Day will have TONS of perfect ideas that you can apply to the romantic couple persona.

3. Grab Your Competition's Content Ideas Using Buzzsumo

Developing content that will provide value for your brand involves considerable work!

To justify the effort, expense, and energy invested into creating 10x content3, we must do everything we can to ensure success. Don’t just grab your keyboard and crank out another blog post! Instead, let’s look at a more efficient process that builds on others’ previous content success and enables us to develop our content calendar strategically.

Head on over to Buzzsumo (free version is fine for now) to investigate your competition. Simply enter your competition’s domain, click ‘Search,’ and the tool will instantly uncover the top performing content for the competitor and show you their most shared content.

For instance, I own a property management company in the Smoky Mountains and I’m tired of Sevier County’s site siphoning traffic away from my growing brand. I’m ready to pinpoint their best strategies and dominate them (Sorry Jay!). Are you ready to look over my shoulder while I spy on them?

From these results, I can see that creating content about an active volcano, Apple Barn Pigeon Forge, and mountain experiences have already been vetted and proven successful by my competitor. In addition to the simple results displayed above, you can filter by content type (article, Infographics, videos, etc.), timeframe, and more!

  • David's Pro Tip

Don’t limit yourself to just your own market. Instead, broaden your search and determine what is working in parallel markets. For example, if the insider guide to fly fishing in Yellowstone is performing exceptionally well, there is a high likelihood the insider guide to fly fishing in Colorado will also perform well. This tool cures writer's block every time.

4. Steal The Best PPC Keywords & Ads From HomeAway & Flipkey

Pay-Per-Click (PPC), as featured recently in The Ultimate List for Paid VR Traffic by Conrad O’Connell, can be an important part of becoming Listing Site Independent (LSI)4. Having refined campaigns with highly-targeted keywords and perfected ad copy can help you pluck new reservations out of thin air when you need them most! But don't force yourself to learn the hard way...

SpyFu, which is similar to SEMRush and Keyword Spy, has a database of literally millions of keywords that the service searches on Google and scrapes (processes all of the data from the search engine result page).

The resulting dataset allows these tools to make fairly accurate assumptions including the amount of traffic this is driving to your competitors' websites, the cost of that traffic, the most valuable keywords, and the best performing ads.

Google 'flipkey+your city' (i.e. flipkey+Gatlinburg) or 'homeaway+your city' to find the landing pages specific to your area on these listing sites that have nearly unlimited PPC budgets. Next, go ahead and click the PPC ad for the listing site. This will take you to their landing page for the area you are researching. Copy the web address for the landing page and paste that into the SpyFu.

The big brands like HomeAway and FlipKey will have something known as “utm parameters” set up (basically, other stuff added to the web address that helps them track things effectively in Google Analytics). To find the words they are advertising for in your area, go ahead and delete out the ‘?’ symbol and everything after that. These parameters can cause problems for some of the competitive intelligence tools.

After a little sleuthing with this technique, here is an example of some of the top performing keywords that FlipKey advertises for in the Gatlinburg region:

Note: If you see a lower daily cost than the cost per click, this means the keyword is low volume or that the ad position is too low to garner many clicks.

Let’s assume we have decided to advertise for the keyword ‘Gatlinburg Cabins’ based on the chart above. Should we write the ad copy from scratch? Heck no! We can “steal” the most successful ad copy, too!

To do this, I prefer the another tool for non-paid ad research called SEMrush. Simply enter your keyword (i.e. Gatlinburg Cabins) and hit ‘Search.’ Finally, click ‘Ads History’ in the left menu and you will see a chart similar to below:

The above chart is interactive and allows you to see the ad version and when that ad version was found by the competitive intelligence tool. In the example above, the highlighted ad was found in October of 2015 and it is version number six. When you see a brand testing tons of ad copy and then settling on one, you can be fairly certain that ad copy is magical.

  • David's Pro Tip

If you are in a niche market with low demand, look for high volume areas that you can borrow ad elements and keyword ideas. For example, a property manager or home owner in Oak Island, NC may not have much competition in their specific niche market. However, they can look outside their market and use other similar destinations (i.e. the Florida Keys) that do have high competition to get great ideas related to ad copy and keywords to include in their campaigns.

5. Take A Holistic Snapshot of Competitors’ Sites

Do you have a competitor that does an incredible job at keeping their properties booked and you don’t understand how? There is a good chance that a quick 15-minute deep-dive using SimilarWeb will help uncover the answers to some of your questions.

Overview

To start with, go ahead and enter the web address of the site you are wanting to analyze and hit ‘Search.’ Now, you will see a traffic overview page similar to below. Are they doing a great job keeping properties booked? It might be related to the volume of traffic. What does that site’s volume look like compared to your brand?

Referrals

Next, click the ‘Referrals’ option in the left menu and you will see the following:

From the above graphic, we can determine that the two sites on the left are referring the lion’s share of the 4.37% (referral percentage) of the site’s nearly 200K monthly visitors. Based on this information, it should be a high priority for our brand to also garner traffic from these sources.

Search

Now, let’s determine the percentage that is coming from PPC. Click ‘Search’ on the left side and a chart similar to the one below will appear. As you can see, the 5.12% is a small percentage. However, these may be highly effective keywords and a deep-dive using the PPC competitive intelligence tools (described in method #4 above) is worth your time!

Social

What social channels are driving traffic to your competition’s website? Remember, just because a brand is posting a dozen updates a week on a social channel does NOT mean they are producing significant traffic. The graph below will help you understand a brand’s social traffic relative to their effort.

For example, the brand we are evaluating has tweeted 15K+ times, but the actual traffic that is producing is minimal for the site. If several brands you investigate produce similar results, you can skip that initiative -- Facebook will likely be your most effective social traffic source in that case.

Similar Sites

In case you don’t have enough work cut out for you from analyzing this site, go ahead and dive into the wormhole. The ‘Similar Sites’ tab will show you a list of similar sites that you can perform this entire investigative process on to mine additional insights.

  • David's Pro Tip

On our journey to Listing Site Independence, we must learn to leverage unusual tools to accomplish extraordinary results. Even if you only own one property and feel like you will never be able to compete with a property manager that has several hundred, you can glean valuable information from the methodology used. Don’t use the excuse of being small to justify being lazy!

Conclusion

At this point, you may have learned some new tricks and enjoyed my post. But don’t stop here.

I urge you to actually do this. Set aside a couple of hours and carefully go through the steps outlined above and grab that intelligence that your competition has paid dearly for. Set a goal of finding three actionable pieces of information that can lead to change within your company. Then write them down:

  • Actionable info #1
  • Actionable Info #2
  • Actionable info #3

Since the competitive landscape is ever-shifting, I recommend continually monitoring your competition through a combination of manual research and tools. In addition, a thorough deep-dive every three to six months can pay huge dividends for your brand.

To reach Listing Site Independence, we must learn to operate lean and leverage the competitive intelligence of all of our competition for our own profit!

It’s time to commit to harvesting competitive intelligence and using that data in both short-term and strategic decision making. Let’s do this!

Footnotes

  1. Reasons Why Email Marketing Can Work For You, Experian, http://www.experian.com/small-business/why-email-marketing.jsp
  2. The Ultimate List Of IFTTT Recipes For Marketers, Seer Interactive, http://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/ifttt-recipes-for-marketers/
  3. How To Create 10x Content - Whiteboard Friday, MOZ, https://moz.com/blog/how-to-create-10x-content-whiteboard-friday
  4. Listing Site Independence Framework, VRMB, http://www.vacationrentalmarketingblog.com/lsi/

About the Author David Angotti

After successfully founding and exiting an educational startup in 2009, David began helping companies with business development, SEM, SEO, CRO, online marketing, mergers and acquisition, product development, and branding. Now, he is focused on his own property management firm.

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  • whooaa. Now here’s some food for thought… I know what I’ll be doing over the weekend. Tremendously insightful and helpful… I’m going to re-read this a few dozen more times and get started. Thank you! And thanks to Matt for always bringing in these guys. Regards from Buenos Aires.

    • Hi Max!

      Thanks for weighing in and glad you liked it!

      Don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of info. Instead, ask yourself what three pieces of data you would want a corporate spy to steal from the competition.

      Once you know that, decide on the best tools/methods and go grab the data.

      Good luck!

  • David, I skimmed the first two topics (as I’m heading out for a road trip in a moment) and I can’t wait to delve into your post later. How generous of you to share your knowledge in this area. Thank you!

    • Hi Amy!

      I hope all is going well with your rentals and biz! Now, you have to promise not to use this new knowledge against me since you are in my market… 😉

      Have a great weekend!

      • LOL David, I promise. I actually send people your way when we’re booked. I tell them you’re the only MC in the Smokies I’d send them to. And that’s the truth!

        • That is too kind Amy! There are several other good companies, but I know the feeling – it is difficult to send guests to a place where you aren’t certain they will have a positive experience! Have a great rest of your weekend. 🙂

          • Rae

            Wow David! Your post gives a whole new understanding of the complexities of reaching LSI and the need to be constantly monitoring available information. It is easy to feel intimidated – but your clear instructions on how to proceed are an invaluable insight. Thank you 🙂

          • Hi Rae!

            Don’t feel intimidated. Instead, try to determine a few critical pieces of info about the competition that you need (i.e. ignore the mounds of less valuable data for the meantime) to get LSI as fast as possible.

            Once you determine those critical pieces of info, laser focus on those and don’t get distracted. Mine that data using the appropriate tool and methodology. Before you know it, you’ll be ready for the other methods as well.

            Good luck to you and let me know if I can help!

  • Amy Grant

    WOW – what a great post. I am going to put some of this into action next week. Thanks for your insight and suggestions. Very inspiring!

    • Hi Amy!

      If you get stuck on anything or have questions, just let me know.

      Glad it was helpful!

  • C. Ebsworth

    Thanks for sharing all this valuable data, although a novice, I will work through this for sure!
    Fantastic. Thank you.

    • If you are brand new to this, a good place to start is with SimilarWeb (last tool highlighted). This tool can help you quickly uncover the % of traffic from organic vs. paid, top referral sources, and total (estimated, but linearly accurate) traffic. This will give you the total picture of your competition’s strategy even if you aren’t ready to do a deep-dive with all of the tools highlighted.

  • Thanks David, so much valuable information here to keep us all busy for quite a while. So generous of you to put this together for everyone – star job!

    • Hey Bob!

      Hope all is well! If you have any questions as you dive in, please feel free to reach out. Good luck with it!

  • Tranquildunes

    Nice article with great tips. The one comment I have though in regards to step 4, keywords is one has to remember that keywords and ad content are just two factors in ad effectiveness. Overall add quality, click through rate (CTR), keyword bid, and, here’s a common shortgfall, landing page quality, determine how well the ad will rank. If one copies keywords and ads without a high enough bid or direction to a very relevant landing page, it will not rank as well and thus will not be as effective.

    • Hello!

      I agree with this 100%! Also, another factor is to remember what works for a huge brand may NOT work for a little guy.

      For example, Amazon knows if they can you on the page you will likely buy something. A consumer searching for diapers may buy a $2K camera lens instead of what they came for on Amazon. A little guy does not have as much inventory or power of branding regardless of all other factors and conversion rates can suffer.

      While this post was not really meant to be a deep dive in the how the Google PPC world works, Brad Geddes over at Certified Knowledge has an awesome training program for those wanting to achieve expert status. In addition, Conrad just wrote an awesome overview with a comprehensive list of paid ad channels last week.

      Thanks for comments and adding that dimension. Have a great week!

  • Villa Ausblick

    David, as they say here in Boston, MA: “You are so WICKED SMAAT.” (As seen in Good Will Hunting: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DyF0tR6cQA4).

    Amazing overview and summary! And thanks for raising the bar even higher.

    • Hi Sibylle!

      Great hearing from you! Hope you and your family are doing well. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words and look forward to catching up with you in the IC (or in person) in the near future. Have a great week!

  • David, this is an amazingly article, chokeful with actionable advice. Geting inspiration from your competition is a great thing to do!
    You can also use the free version of SEMrush.com to get ideas on your competitors’s organic (SEO) and paid (PPC) keyword traffic. You can also get a few ideas from where they are getting backlinks.

    • Hi Thibault!

      Thanks for the comment. I LOVE SEMrush, have a paid membership, and highly recommend that tool as well. It has a ton of fantastic features. I was actually thinking about including that tool and KeywordSpy, but was afraid it was going to turn into my top 117 competitive intelligence tips and be around 15K words if I wasn’t careful… 😉

      Hope our paths cross in the near future and congrats on your new gig!!!

  • Pat Kirchhoefer

    Excellent. Thank you for your work and effort in this article.

    • Hi Pat!

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Let me know if you have any questions while you are digging in.

      Have a great week!!!

  • Jane Moore

    Holy Smokes! This is amazing! Thanks for detailing so completely and in layman’s terms. Looking forward to diving in!!

  • 5 Ways to Leverage the Competition for Fun!
    Yes, we really are VR geeks and I love this article! Thanks so much David for pulling together such a well thought out piece that is easy to follow and understand. For a VR owner with only a few rentals, this is powerful stuff! Can’t wait to get into it.

  • Dawn Buckler

    Hello. Does David Angotti have contact details? One major flaw of his website is that there is absolutely no way to contact to ask a question!