By Joshua Lucas

Issue # 3

Wednesday, March 18, 1998


Bill has decided to get wired. After a year of listening to his daughter and wife talk about what they did online that day, Bill wants to join them.

For the next little while, his daughter and wife are his teachers in this fascinating new world. He learns about search engines and places to go for the latest news. During this time, ideas are forming about bringing his hardware store into the online world. Unfortunately, there are just too many sites to explore. Bill just wants a place to start.

Does this story sound familiar? You’ve been online and have seen the Web. You are really excited about what the Web can do for your business but you don’t know where to start. Maybe, you’ve already dived in and have set up a site, but you don’t feel it is living up to the hype.

To me, the most important aspect in the creation of a site is knowledge.

Not knowledge of the latest technology but knowledge of your competitors and your customers. Why learn about these two? Because they are the most important parts of your business. You need to separate yourself from your competitor and you need to become indispensable to your customer. The only way to truly do this is know all about each of them. This week, we will look at knowing the competitor and next week, the customer will be looked at.

When Bill first started his hardware store, he didn’t have to worry about anyone except Jim down the street. Jim was his only competition and there was a mutual respect between the two. If Bill didn’t have a certain hammer, he didn’t feel awkward about giving Jim a call and finding out if he had it. The reason for giving Jim business, because he knew Jim would do the same thing for him.

Unfortunately, Bill not only has to worry about Jim but also the big hardware chain that is moving into the county. The business has become more cutthroat and Bill is looking for an extra edge. The online world gives this to Bill. What does he need to know about his competitors? He needs to know what they’ve done online and what their plans are for the Web.

"Lucas, Joshua Lucas" ... writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognizable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstroms. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.
Use this form to enter "keywords" relevant to your business, and search the Yahoo! database for your potential competitors.
[ Yahoo! ]
Then use this form to enter the same keywords and search Infoseek for the same information.


Type a specific question, phrase or Name.

What Bill needs to do, and what YOU need to do, is search the Web for your competition.

The best place to start is with the Internet's most popular search engine, Yahoo! ( Although it is the most well-known search engine, and boasts over 17 million hits a month, ironically it has the smallest number of listings. However the sites on Yahoo! are often of the highest quality, because Yahoo! reviewers screen EVERY site and (claim to) only accept the best.

Another good one to try is Infoseek ( Why? Because Infoseek is the only search engine to accept and post web sites as soon as they are submitted (the others, especially Yahoo!, will take anywhere from 2 days to 4 weeks to add new listings!) The end result is that Infoseek will give you the "freshest" listings, and Yahoo! will give you some of the very best examples.

Confused? Let's go back to Bill's example. . .

Using either search engine, Bill would go and search for ‘hardware’ and see what comes back. He'd select whatever sites seem relevant, and surf around them. With over one hundred million pages to search, engines can return a ton of results which you might not need or want.

If you do get too many results, you can refine your search or go to one of Yahoo!’s city (or country!) databases. There are ones for places like Boston, LA, or Chicago. . .or for countries like Canada. The links are at the bottom of Yahoo!'s home page.

So, Bill has seen how other hardware stores have set their sites up, now what? Well, look at the sites again and come from the perspective of a customer.

Here are some questions to ask when surfing;

  • As a potential customer, would this site be beneficial to you? Why or why not?
  • Does it give useful information or is it nothing more than a brochure? What do YOU consider "useful"?
  • Would you, as a customer, visit this store and buy something from it because of their site?
These are questions that you will need to ask about your site as it comes along.

Knowing your competition is one of the most basic business rules. The Web has expanded who your competition is and who you have to worry about. In order to separate yourself from them, you will have to learn from them about what to do and what not to do. Next week, we will find out about your customers and why knowing them is just as important as knowing who you battle against.

NEXT WEEK: Know Your Customers

Spend time this week searching the Web to see what your competition is doing. Jot down what you think works and doesn't work, and why.

Here's a few more places to search:

Lycos -

HotBot -

Excite -
And don't forget to keep sending me topics you'd like to learn more about!

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