There is a story about the CEO of Walmart being arrested in South America. He had gotten down on all fours, in one of their stores, to measure the width of their isles. The store employees thought that he was insane or drunk and had called the police. This kind of fanatical attention to what other players in your market are doing is fundamental to the success of many businesses.
The good news is that you don’t have to fly to South America to find out about your competitors, there is a lot valuable of information available to you online.
Social media (for instance Twitter and Facebook)
People who follow or have liked your competitor on Twitter, Facebook and similar sites are pretty targeted to your niche. There is also a good chance that they may like or follow you and share your content with their network. The social sites know that and they will let you advertise to your competitor’s followers. Just remember that the reverse is also true, they will let your competitors advertise to your followers.
Many content rich sites have links to social networks on their pages to make it easier for visitors to share the pages. Sometimes you can get an idea of how engaging visitors found the content. If you find content that has gone viral, you might want to do something similar on your website.
Backlinks to your competitor
The search engines use links to websites to rank the content on those sites. They don’t release all of the linking data because they don’t want competitors to use the information to outrank each other. Some of the linking data is however available.
Backlink Watch is a free site that will show you some of the links to a site’s homepage. You might want to target the linking sites to see if you can’t also get links from them.
A competitor’s keyword targeting
Google’s Keyword Planner is a great free tool. If you take the title of a competitor’s page and input it into Keyword Planner it will give you an idea of how many monthly searches there are for that keyphrase and related keyphrases, you can also see how competitive / valuable those phrases are.
You can study how a website converts it’s visitors into email subscribers and sales. Then you compare this with your own monetization methods. The goal is to be better at turning traffic into money than competing websites.
Alexa is a site that uses browser toolbars to track the browsing habits of certain people. They then use the data to estimate how much traffic a website is receiving. The more traffic a site gets the more accurate the estimate.
Flippa is the largest site for auctioning off websites online. When you are selling a website you need to give the prospective buyers a lot more information about the site than that which is normally available. On Flippa you can research past auctions in your niche. You will find a great deal of information about traffic and monetization in your niche.