Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

We’ve all heard this common phrase, but how can you apply it to business? There’s a lot you can learn from your competition — and we don’t believe they have to be enemies either, for the record. Healthy competition can help you keep your business performing at it’s highest level, but only if you’re paying attention and learning lessons. We’ve culled a few lessons about things your competitors can teach you about marketing from the ether. Enjoy — and feel free to comment and share your feedback of things you’ve learned from your competitors.

Make a List, Check It Twice (a Year, At Least)

First things first, make a list of your competitors! These could be direct competitors, such other similar businesses in your same city, national chains that do what you do, or similarly-sized businesses in another city that aren’t your direct competition. Update this list at least twice a year and check in with the various points below much more frequently. If you have your list ready to go, these check-ins can run smoothly and not eat up too much of your time for maximum benefit.

Here’s a useful exercise: pick your top 3 to 5 competitors (those that are growing and succeeding), and then pick 3 to 5 at the bottom, who are barely surviving. You can often learn as much from those who are doing things badly as you can those who are thriving. –Brenda Stoltz, AllBusiness.com

…From Their Reputation

It doesn’t take much to research other companies in your industry. A simple Google search will get you there. Read their reviews and see if they’re missing out on something that you can provide. Their loss can easily be your gain.

…From Their Website

After you have your master list, take a moment to look at your competitor’s website. Take note of their layout, navigation, imagery, and anything else that stands out.  If you suspect they are busier than you, try to figure out why that might be based on what you see. What is drawing customers to their website over your own? Have they just redesigned? What do you like or not like about the design as someone who isn’t intimately familiar with it?

…From Their Blog

Check if your rivals are blogging. (We really, really think you should be!) If they are, check out what they’re writing about, how often they post, and what the response from their audience looks like. Note total views, comments, and other interactions to assess what your shared consumer reacts to historically. Make sure your content is original in every sense.

The best information you will find is on blog comments. Carefully comb through them looking for what the audience says. For example, they comment on a product and how valuable it is, and then ask a question. There’s a little gold nugget right there. Or they could say what they need next, or share something that they didn’t understand. Take these gold nuggets and work them into your product so that they’re already included in yours. —Lynn Silva, Squirrly

…From Their Social Media

Check up on their social media strategy before/during/after you launch your own. Look at competitors’ campaigns and tactics on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. This will help you to learn from their successes and from their failures.

Don’t Obsess About Your Competition

Oh, hi. It’s us, the people who just wrote a whole blog about learning from your competition. But possibly the most important thing of all is not to obsess about what other people are doing. Keeping up with the Joneses can lead to bad business decisions (and life decisions, for that matter), so yes, take your research of competitors into account, but don’t let it be your only guide.

Balance. It’s all about balance.