If you are running an ecommerce business and trying to build authority, the best way to design an effective strategy is to take a close look at the competition. What keywords are they targeting? How are they building quality links? And perhaps most importantly: how can you use that information to your advantage?

Because you are in the same industry as your competitors, you probably already have a pretty solid grasp on what your customers are looking for and the most common keywords they are typing into search engines. However, with a little research, you can collected detailed data on both how your target audience behaves online, and how your competitors are achieving success through online marketing and keyword optimization.

Luckily, there are plenty of great tools available that will help you conduct research. Because everyone loves to save money, let’s start with the free services:

Moz’s Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer (OSE) is one of many great tools offered through the Moz website, which is the leader in providing the latest in marketing news and information. One side note, the Moz website serves as a great resource for anyone interested in issues related to online marketing and ecommerce. It is a good idea to follow their blog and keep the website bookmarked so that you can stay up-to-date when it comes to online marketing best practices.

Explore Keywords
That being said, OSE will allow you to see exactly what keywords your competitors are using as anchor text and where their site is being linked. All you have to do is visit the tool, type in the URL of a competitor and you can view the top 20 keywords that the site has used as an anchor text. You can even click on the keyword and view a list of hyperlinks that will take you directly to the articles that include that specific keyword or phrase.

Discover Link Earning Opportunities
OSE also allows you to view both the link domains and inbound links of your competitors. You can see exactly who is providing links to their page and how those links are being used. This will give you some real insight into who your audience is and the type of content that respond well to, which will ultimately help you to more effectively shape your own content.

How to Use This Information
Once you know which keywords are working well for your competitors, you can optimize your pages for those same keywords. Use them as anchor text and for internal linking purposes. In addition, you can reach out to other sites who are linking to your competition and offer to write a guest blog post or discuss different ways you might be able to collaborate. If they are already providing links to sites similar to yours, they are an ideal first target for establishing your own linking earning opportunities.

Google Keyword Planner
It is practically impossible to discuss anything related to the internet and SEO strategies without mentioning Google. In this case, Google’s Keyword Planner tool is free, but you will have to create an AdWords account to gain access. Once you have a login, you can perform keyword searches by entering up to five competitors’ URLs at a time and discovering exactly what keywords they are using.

Why Use Keyword Planner Instead of OSE?
OSE users can upgrade their free account to obtain more detailed reports, but Keyword Planner offers tons of information without charging a dime. Not only can you get a feel for keyword performance by viewing impressions, AdWords click through rates and keyword search position rankings, you also have a lot of options when it comes to narrowing your searches. For instance, you can look specifically at certain regions or states or see a list of long-tail searches that contain your target keywords. For a more thorough review of Google Keyword Planner and a look at the features it offers, click here.

How to Use this Information
Because Google Keyword Planner allows you to view very detailed information, it can be an especially useful tool for developing content ideas. You can get an idea of what niche markets may not be getting enough attention and concentrate your efforts with laser focus on a very specific, yet potentially profitable audience.

Hootsuite
While the list of free keyword and link research tools could go on and on, we should also take the time to discuss social media monitoring tools that allow you to see not only what is trending in your industry, but also what people are saying about you and your competitors. Hootsuite is just one available tool that allows you to manage all your social media accounts in one place, and provides you with all sorts of insights into what other people in your industry are up to.
While Hootsuite is compatible with all social media sites, it is perhaps most helpful in sifting through Twitter newsfeeds and making sure that you don’t miss important mentions in the overwhelming amount of information that is updated every few seconds. You can set up search streams that show mentions of certain products, companies or trends.

How to Use this Information
In the world of social media, a trend can last just a few hours before the next big hashtag takes over. If you are able to monitor and identify trends as they gain traction, you can be a leader and drive visitors to your site with the perfectly worded and timely tweet. Being just a couple hours behind can mean that you missed a key opportunity to capitalize on a trend that would have spoken directly to your audience. Keeping track of your social media mentions can also help you curtail any bad publicity. Be on the lookout for unhappy customers who may be criticizing your company and take a moment to address their concerns before their posts get too out of control.

One of the great aspects of modern marketing, especially for ecommerce businesses, it that there are so many free tools available. You can gain real insight into your industry, your competitors and the direction you should be taking your company just by visiting a few free sites. While there are also plenty of paid services that may offer more customer service and instructional tutorials for beginners, there isn’t necessarily a need to shell out money if you are still trying to keep spending to a minimum. You can gather important data on competitors and SEO strategies and help your business grow even on a shoestring budget.

To Learn More about 3dcart Marketing Services and how our SEO Team can help you increase sales and traffic, visit http://www.3dcart.com/ecommerce-marketing-services.html