Businesses suck at hiding valuable information. Almost everything is public if you know how to find it.
If you’re an entrepreneur, manager or marketer. Get comfy and read on.
This post fleshes out strategies you can use to understand your competitor’s business(es). You will be able to estimate key info using methods below; revenue, growth rate, suppliers and marketing strategies.
I’ll show you how to access data they don’t want you to see.
Let’s get into it.
1. Basics. Getting company details.
Before you get into the nitty gritty you need to find out B-A-S-I-C-S.
Googling is a good start, but we can get more info with a couple extra tips.
We are aiming to know:
- Who owns this website (company/person)?
- Business name and business number?
- What is their business/company structure? Private or public company?
- Owned by a parent company? Other associated brands or domains?
Start with their website footer.
Head to your competitors website(s). Scroll to the bottom.
It’s a lot of lawyer babble, but shows the legal entity who operates the website. Big companies will often have multiple entities listed. Helpful information to jot down for later on…
In some countries, it’s a legal requirement to list a business name and number on the bottom of every page.
Who owns their domain.
All websites have domain name (”example.com”). Details of domain ownership is registered on a publicly accessible database known as ICANN.
A lot of third-party services are built on top of the main database. I recommend going straight to the source though. The ICANN lookup site looks basic, but it is rock solid. Who.is is also good.
Some folks pay to have their data hidden (like me).
But a lot don’t, so you’ll be able information like:
- Phone numbers (rare)
- Company Name and Business number
- Registrant (person/company) name and contact info
Now that you have a company name and number. You’ll need to search different databases to find out some more interesting information such as owner/board members, address, time in operation, etc…
Where is the Business Registered? And figuring out if you can access that information?
All companies are registered by some government organisation.
The database you search depends on where the company is registered. It’s pretty easy to find that information.
- Australia —> Use company name and/or number (ACN) into ABN Lookup or ASIC Connect.
- USA —> No national registry, it’s all state based. Search the relevant state’s “secretary of state” database. Google “Arkansas secretary of state business search”.
- UK —> Company name or number into Government House portal.
This wikipedia page covers all international registries.
Linked. Search “Company Name”.
2. Show me their numbers.
Companies are either public or private. They either have to share their financial data (revenue, assets etcs) or they don’t.
Private companies don’t publicly disclose financials (except in the UK). You’ll need to use external sources for that juicy information. This blog post covers ways to find private companies’ financials around the world.
This web tool will help estimate USA private company revenue, payroll, and number of employees. Take it with a grain of salt. Not sure how accurate it actually is. God bless indie developers.
In the UK, the Government House has all the juicy data you’re after. Once you’ve found the business of interest. Head to the “Filling History” tab to see reports. Financials are usually under “Full Accounts”. They share E V E R Y T H I N G. It’s awesome.
Can’t find the information you’re after from external sources? You can estimate minimum revenue with ball-park the formula below.
Rough Revenue Estimate = # EMPLOYEES X US$150,000
Public companies are… ✨public✨.
Data is released quarterly in USA (SEC) and yearly in AUS (ASIC).
The easiest way to find financial reports is via the “investor relations” or “investors” page on their website. They can sometimes be hard to find, but if it’s a public company it will be there.
Some companies are owned by other companies. Often these financial records are nested in their parent companies’ records. If a you’re struggling to find the data check parent companies.
Long reports… Read the whole thing?
Financial reports are full of valuable information. Though a lot of stuff is junk to you at this point.
My suggestion? Figure out what’s valuable. Get in. Get an overview. Get out.
Here are the things that I scan every time:
- Press Release
- “From the CEO”
- Financial Report
- managements discussion and analysis
- cash flow statement
- income statement
- balance sheet
- Conference Calls/presentation recordings
- Reading transcripts is faster than listening (and they’re searchable with cmd + F).
- Open mic for analysts to ask questions – some real gems can be found here, it also allows you to get a feel for the sentiment in the room/zoom.
Check Stock Information
Stock prices might be useful to you.
I usually google “[company name] ticker” to see price movements. Used in combination with financial reports you can get an idea of how the company is tracking.
Detailed stock analysis beyond my circle of competence.
I know that these services might help though:
- yahoo finance (free)
- stockrow (paid).
- Koyfin (paid)
- tikr (paid)
3. Assessing website quality.
You can tell a LOT by appearances.
High quality businesses usually have high quality websites.
Three or more of these and you’re dealing with a company who isn’t successful by accident:
- Good SEO.
- Good copy.
- Clear brand.
- Custom made.
- Call to actions.
- Custom images.
- Schema Markup.
- Email collections.
- Mobile optimised.
- Social media links.
- User intent optimising.
- Good content marketing.
- Google my business listing.
- Cart Abandonment promotions.
On the other end of the spectrum… Old looking websites might mean dumpster fire business OR CASH MACHINE!
Good businesses with shit websites often have no competition. They also tend to be more B2B than consumer facing. Or, like most businesses, they could be small and local.
What is their brand?
Everything is messaging. Well interpreted qualitative data is just as important as the quantitative.
Learn to read the messaging of a brand and you can figure out who their target audience/demographic/psychographic is.
- What images?
- Any product reviews?
- User generated content?
- How is their copy written?
- What fonts/colours do they use?
- Name dropping folks they’ve worked for?
4. Where are they growing/investing?
What jobs are they advertising?
Looking at job postings gives you a glimpse into the problems they’re trying to solve. What ants do they need to further their colony?
- Looking for warehousing staff in Russia? → ecomm business that does their own fulfilment looking to expand Russian operation
- Needing Django Developers? → Know what technologies they use and where they’re growing?
- Marketting Folks? → They’ve got a bit of spare cash and looking to grow.
- “Careers” pages are a good place to start. As are job boards and advanced google searches → ”(job OR career OR work) CSIRO -site:csiro.au”*
Get an idea of their traffic flow and sources.
This is an exciting topic. It feels like it should be illegal.
Website traffic = $$$. If you understand where a company’s traffic, you understand how they’re making money.
This is a complex topic. A whole industry is built around accessing this information. You can get most of the value using free tools:
- Ubbersuggest ★★★★ Generous free tier.
- SimilarWeb ★★★ Meh free tier.
- Google Trends ★★★★ Free.
- Ahref ★★★★ Meh free tier.
- BuzzSumo ★★ Meh.
- SpyFu ★ Meh.
Generally I look for; number of visitors, source of traffic, country of visitors, best blog posts, search keywords they’re going after.
Once you get used to these tools, you’ll figure out what information is important to you.
Who is talking about them?
Use your Advanced Google Searching to view latests mentions of X competitor. E.G.
5. Flick through their Ads
Facebook Ad library
What. The. Fook.
Facebook ad library… It breaks my brain to think you can search all ads run by your competitors. It feels like cheating.
Companies only pay for ads if they’re sure it’ll get them a return on investment. It’s worth seeing how ad creatives change overtime as the business fine tunes their strategy.
Each platform has trends and best practices. I recommend spending a bit of time analysing what works and why it does.
Go deep. It’s worth it.
How are they getting your attentions? What is their copy? Who is presenting the information? How many shots? How long is each shot? User generated content? What is their call to action? Where does the ad link to?
TikTok Top Ads
TikTok has a similar ads library called Explore Top Ads.
It’s nuts. You can’t search for ads in a country, for a specific industry, by a specific company.
TikTok is still an emerging platform. It’s the wild west out there! Being able to see what works for for others is invaluable.
Oh, they also allow you to see click through rates, ad retention graphs and all sorts of useful (slightly nerdy) tools.
Old businesses didn’t have the internet, but they had newspapers. And damn good marketing.
Below is a list of free databases of the worlds newspapers. Use it to see how old companies advertised their products.
- TROVE is Australia centric. It contains digitised and searchable newspapers, books, art, letters, research, reports…
- Europeana is a project that makes europe’s history searchable; newpapers, photos, posters, art… 50+ million items to search. Its a big deal.
- Elephind.com aims to make all free newspapers searchable from one place. It’s a work in progress, but bloody powerful. Has newspapers from around the world.
- Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers by Library of Congress makes US newspapers from 1789-1922 searchable.
- U.S. Newspaper Directory has newspapers published between 1690-present.
That should be more than enough to get you started. You can find the definitive list of all online newspaper archives at this wikipedia page. ICON is also a good source of info.
You’ll note that the calibre of copywriting in these ads is impressive. Use it for inspiration on your marketing campaigns.
Google trends allows you to see how popular a search terms is. See search volume for Google, YouTube, Google images, google shopping.
You can use it for topics, but also for specific brand names.
You can do some pretty sophisticated stuff with this tool. Google it.
6. Who is talking about them?
See mentions on other sites.
Advanced Googling is a great way to see where Company X has been mentioned. Google “company name” -site:companywebsite.com. A bunch of interesting results will pop up. You’re looking for contact info, reports, publications, staff, reviews, news articles. You can’t be sure what you’ll find, but its often useful info.
I’m interested in starting a pet treat brand and I know “U-Chews” is a supplier. What information can I find?
Search phrase: “*u-chews” -site:u-chews.com.au”*
- Director Name and linked in account (easy to get email from this)
- An instagram account that shows some of their manufacturing techniques.
- A list of American companies they’ve sold to.
- Gossip posing as an news article
- A directory of other pet businesess
Where has their logo been used?
Reverse image searching for a companies logo often give you a list of websites where their logo has been used.
This includes websites that they own, websites where they’re mentioned, places that they’ve advertised, and other shared resources.
Figure out where the images are being used using:
- imgops.com (free, my favourite)
- ImageRaider by Infringment.report
7. Guerrilla Contacting.
Find past customers, read their review and… contact them?
Services like Snippet, built with, Clearbit, case studies, social media, Google reviews allow you to see customer reviews. It’ll help you find pain points in current product offerings.
This is a bit naughty, but nothing is stopping you from contacting known customers over email. Some people send surveys and ask for feedback on best features, worst feature, best headaches, things you’d like them to include etc…
Not sneaky enough?
Let’s pretend company.com is our competitor. We could just buy “company.com.au” or “company.co” and send the survey from there.
Make sure you state that you are not associated with COMPANY.
Contact employees (or investors)
If you need insider information, talk to insiders. Most folks want to share what they’re working on. You can ask questions.
See the my blog post about cold emailing to learn how to find anyone’s email.
8. E-commerce Tactics
Finding Competitors’ Suppliers
- Search records of imports for pretty much any US company. Allows you to see past shipment contents, supplier names and address (can then get Alibaba supplier).
- Also does agricultural shipments, pharmaceuticals and animal products.
- Then search factory liason a
Shopify stores all have similar website structre. To find out their best selling products /collections/all?sort_by=best-selling after their website.
Similar tactics are possible for a lot of other online stores. Etsy, eBay, Amazon all have entire ecosystems of tools you can use to get the upper hand.
We’ve covered a lot here. Hopefully it helps you.
If I’ve missed something, please let me know. Always keen to see how we can better navigate this internet thing.
Have a good one.