SEO is tough right? Even if you work in the industry it can be tough to keep up with all the changes in the industry -- but what if you are a small company and you don't have a marketing budget to speak of, never mind an SEO budget or PPC budget! There are some great blogs out there that cover every kind of topic you care to think with regards to your Internet Marketing. There are some great Marketers that are willing to give away all their best ideas. But how do you decide what are going to be the best tactics for you and your little company?

Lets face it, you are never going to have time to undertake all the Online Marketing activities of the big boys if you are a small business. What you need to do is check out what it is your competitors (in your niche or industry) are doing that makes them rank well in the search engines and gives them great search engine visibility.

Put on your deerstalkers folks, get out your best Victorian pipe and lets go sleuthing...

sherlock holmes

Spy tactic 1: Google Alerts

Loads of people have heard of Google Alerts and I am sure plenty of you use it as part of your online reputation management. Google alerts is a free service offered by Google (we love it when it is free) that lets you enter and save search terms. When google finds something new as it travels through the Internet it will email and let you know. Great for reputation management!

Also great for spying, dear Watson. If, let us say, you are spying on 5 important online competitors set up Alerts for all of these. Set up a spreadsheet for each competitor, on this spreadsheet you may want to include tabs for links, blogs, directories, industry publications...the list is endless and will change slightly depending on your industry. Every time you get an Alert form Google you will be able to see who and why certain sites are mentioning your competition - you know have another potential linking opportunity or Marketing opportunity! Just remember to keep the evidence well organised as intensive sleuthing leads to short term memory loss!

Spy tactic 2: Social Mention

We all know that Social Media activity is important to your SEO and recently Google and Bing confirmed this - now is the time to make sure that you are mentioned in the right places. Social Mention will allow you access to real time social media search - searching blogs, microblogs, video, audio - anything you care to think of. Get your competitors saved as search terms and like Google Alerts you will receive emails from Social Mention detailing who is talking about your competition, what they are saying and whether the sentiment is good or bad.

social media monitoring, spy on your online competition

Now is the time to find out who is saying great things about your competition and get them to say better things about your business! You may also want to check out Icerocket, Addict-o-matic, Seesmic, Tweetdeck and a whole host of other great tools for keeping tabs on folks.

Spy tactic 3: Use SEO tools to see what else that may be up to

We all know there are loads of great SEO tools out there and we have all seen a thousand lists that highlight the 'best SEO tools' - but which ones do you specifically want in your spy tool kit?

 Open Site Explorer is great for getting detailed breakdowns of the sites that link to your competition - it can be great for helping you find the links that your competitors got with the juicy anchor text that you need! It will also give you a good idea of how much work you are going to have to put in to get those rankings that you so desperately want:

Spying on searchenginepeople!

Other great spying tools that you may want to add to your kit; Trifecta, Competitive Link Research Tool, Keyword Difficulty Tool and Crawl Test.

Spy tactic 4: Spy on their PPC campaigns

If you are running or thinking of running a PPC campaign for your business - you need to get SpyFu. This little to gem allows you to see what your competitors are up to in the world of PPC.  SpyFu allows you to download the keywords that your competitors are using and emulate successful campaigns. there is nothing wrong with cutting the odd corner when you don't have a marketing budget - but you need to remember that you will need to improve on the campaigns of your competitors. don't steal, borrow and improve.

And so concludes this brief journey in how to spy on your online competitors, this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list but rather a taster. Investigate yourself, find the tools that suit you best and let us know your thoughts.

When you sit back its all a bit of a no-brainer this spying lark - elementary my dear Watson...