If you’re a small-business owner who’s looking to gain a digital-marketing advantage, you need to be spying on your competitors. Not in the sense of traditional espionage, which, admittedly, would probably be a lot more fun than the type of spying I advocate in this post.

No, by spying I mean using the tools you have at your disposal to gain an in-depth understanding of the ways in which your  competitors are behaving online. It starts with competitive analysis.

To that end, “Key Factors to Effective Competitive Analysis as a Small Business,” courtesy of the website, Search Engine Watch, provides lots of helpful tips for learning about the methods businesses similar to yours are employing to increase their search rankings and turn clicks into conversions.

But even after learning all you can about your competitors’ behaviors, and then implementing a digital marketing strategy accordingly, sometimes your best efforts return disappointing results. Which is why it’s critical for every small business to be in position to take corrective action when a marketing plan goes awry.

But that’s sometimes easier said than done given the fact that even in today’s hyper-analytical world of marketing best practices, at times we face either incomplete or nonexistent data, which obviously adds to the challenge of developing a decisive course of corrective action.

So here’s another Search Engine Watch story, titled “How to Use a Military Concept to Manage SEO in a Data-Scarcity Reality,” which explains the OODA Loop concept.

In short, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act are the concept’s four components, which are then repeated once you’re provided new results based on the previous iteration.

Regarding the OODA Loop, the article states, “With limited data about the causes for loss of visits and leads, using this framework you can make educated decisions to advance your campaigns.”

So while today’s small businesses have unprecedented access to a treasure-trove of data that provides insight into the marketing decisions your competitors make, you need to have a plan in place for those times when your research yields incomplete or even missing data.