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6 Sneaky Ways Your Competitors Are Keeping Ahead of You Competition among entrepreneurs is fierce. Be prepared for it.

By Victor G. Snyder Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

PhotoAlto | Frederic Cirou | Getty Images

Online marketing is no longer the type of thing only certain industries or businesses care about. No matter who you are or what you sell, you can assume that your competitors are using digital channels -- likely more than one -- to reach the same target audience you're after.

Indeed, competition is fierce for us all, and we need to be prepared for it.

Especially as you start to succeed, your competition will take notice. You're likely to end up with a trail of competing copycats following your marketing team's every move. You may even attract some downright malicious competitors actively trying to harm your campaigns and properties.

Related: Calling George Smiley! My 5 Best Strategies for Spying on Your Competition.

Fortunately, when you know the spies are coming for you and your strategy, you have time to prepare a countermove or two. Here are just a few of their tactics -- and some things you can do to render them ineffective.

1. They play content copycat.

One of the simplest ways competitors can try to sneak ahead of your success is by tracking and replicating your content strategy. Any marketer can follow your content to try and reverse engineer your strategy.

Maybe you've seen a competitor repeatedly cover something on their blog one week after you, or maybe they've started a weekly video series using a format that's eerily reminiscent of your own show.

It's smart, though. Because content is so publicly available, its visibility makes it easy to track. For example, BuzzSumo's research tools let you identify which pieces of content are most popular on any given publication and with which social platforms. Once competitors have that information, they can try to mimic these specific content assets.

To gain an edge they can't touch, focus on creating such high quality, "10x content" with a branded twist that can't be replicated.

2. They use click farms to waste your money.

Competitors who aren't satisfied simply copying you might also actively diminish the results of your marketing campaigns. For example, they may go after your search ad budget.

It's all too easy for a business to hire a click farm to tap on your ads and deplete your budget, with sites charging dollars for batches of thousands of clicks. And that's just one form of online ad fraud, which will cost $19 billion this year.

To protect your brand and budget, fraud protection software can stop disingenuous clicks on your ads before your media budget dwindles. This type of AI solution integrates with your Google AdWords and Bing Ads accounts to identify offending IP addresses and stop them from even seeing your campaigns.

Related: 9 Crucial Tips to Protect Your Small Business From Credit Card Fraud

3. They follow your earned media tour.

Earned media, like content, is easy for competitors to track. After all, maximum discoverability is one of the main reasons why earned media is so desirable.

From getting covered in publications and podcasts to working with influencers, competitors can follow your coverage and pitch those same outlets. Online monitoring tools scour multiple channels at the same time, an alert for your brand can turn into their "to-do" list.

But just like with the content copying discussed earlier, your company's press stories can't be replicated perfectly. This speaks to the core of PR's value. When you've found a story that resonates, you can start to parlay each press hit as a stepping stone, and you'll be able to attract a caliber of media contacts that copycats won't be able to reach.

Related: The Most Valuable Online Business Course You Can Take Is Studying Your Competition

4. They hire hackers to take you down.

As if it weren't bad enough to play copycat or use click farms, sometimes competitors might try to hurt your website, which is essentially your storefront. In this case, there's a lot more at risk than your daily ad spend.

Nefarious weapons like DDoS attacks can shut down your business to customers, and can cost from $14,000 to millions of dollars in damages.

It's important to protect your business by making sure your servers are as secure as possible. Use protection and prevention tools, and configure your firewall to protect against DDoS attacks.

5. They follow your trail of backlinks.

In addition to tracking earned media, your competition is likely tracking other kinds of endorsements you're receiving, such as SEO links.

By using tools to monitor backlinks competitors can see who's linking to you and use that as their own link target list. If they're able to reach out and get links from those same sites, or even a sample of them, they can jump in rankings.

But creating backlinks takes time, and you've started with the upper hand. It's just a matter of staying ahead. In cases like these, you may do best to simply double down on your link building efforts. By building more strategic links, you can quicken your pace until they can no longer keep up.

6. They stalk your display ads.

Finally, competitors can easily track and replicate your display advertising strategy. Next thing you know, they're popping up there too.

By using available software to determine what runs where, they can see which formats, sources and networks are working for you. From there, especially with large networks, their ads can start showing up on the same sites quickly. Fight back by ditching ad networks in favor of direct relationships. Not only will you get better value for your spend by working directly with webmasters instead of through resellers, but your competitors will have a harder time retracing all your steps quickly enough.

Related: Don't Wait for the Competition to Disrupt Your Business -- Disrupt Yourself

It's all too easy for competitors to copy, steal or stalk your marketing strategies, and it's frustrating. But as long as you can stay ahead by keeping quality high and your strategy strong, they'll be too busy watching you to truly catch up.

Victor G. Snyder

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Consulting Business Coach

A Florida native, Victor G. Snyder has served as a consulting business coach since 2003. He founded BossMakers in 2014, empowering entrepreneurs to filter out the noise, achieve flow and tackle the challenges that will get them where they want to be – ultimately, to own success.

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