Even the savviest entrepreneurs miss the business advantage of truly studying the competition. You know what your major competitor sells, but have you ever really taken a good long look at exactly how? If not, there’s no better time than the present.

Studying the competition in your market can yield a mountain of useful information that you can use to make your business stronger. A detailed study involves not just looking at your competitors’ weaknesses, but also their strengths. Understanding what your competition does really well can help you look for ways to improve your own business and find new ideas about how to take your company to the next level.

Here are some places to start your research:

Subscribe to your competitors’ newsletter: If your competitors are as savvy as you are then they send a regular e-newsletter to their fans and customers.

Look at the content of the newsletter – is it all company information or a mix of company information and interesting information that customers could use? What special deals or discount do they offer and how often? Are their new products on the horizon you need to counter?

Follow your competitors on social media: Social media offers a bird’s eye view into how your competition connects with its customers and the feedback they offer.

In addition to keeping up with the latest news from your competitors, you can take this opportunity to learn about their customers. How active are they and what types of post earn the most activity? Do members seem to follow a pattern such as being from the same state or being members of the same club?

Follow your competition on all of its social media sites. If you’re not active on those sites, look at the response they are getting and evaluate if you should add that social media platform to your repertoire.

Read your competitors’ website regularly: Your competitors’ most public document, their website, can yield some very useful information if you read carefully.

Look for the pages are featured most prominently, such as the top of the page or the highest items in the menu bar. These are the pages your competitor most wants users to visit.

Look at the sale items and look for patterns. Watch products through their sales life- cycle or the period of time it takes an item to go from being a new product to the clearance sale page. This can give you hints about new products that worked and those that didn’t. Pay particular attention to any items marked as best sellers. What aspects do they have in common with each other and with your own products?

Don’t forget to look for a page dedicated to wholesale customers. Many companies post additional information for potential wholesalers as PDFs that anyone can download which include information about ordering, minimum orders and price points. Look at the types of material they offer and ask yourself if your wholesalers couldn’t benefit from similar information.

Read your competitors’ press page: The press page will most often highlight your competitors’ strengths. Look for interviews with the entrepreneur behind your competition as well as publications reviewing its products. Add those publications that fit into your niche to your press contact list.

Set up a Google alert: A Google alert for your competitors’ names can help you find out what others are saying about their products. Look for blog reviews, customer comments and any new press. Always be on the look out for reviewers who might also be interested in featuring your products.

Stop worrying about your competition in 2013 and learn from them instead. When you truly know the other companies you are up against you’ll be more able to make a stand in the market.

{Featured image via Lauren Conrad}