When you’re running a business of any size, there are a couple of fundamentals that are essential to success: finding out what your customers (and potential customers) think about your goods and services, and how your offerings differ from those of your competitors.
As regards the former of those two processes, fortunately that’s the easier part. Feedback from customers after purchases and associated levels of complaints and compliments will go a long way to helping any business understand what they need to do better. But there is an old adage in business that ‘dissatisfied customers don’t usually bother to complain, they just never come back’. If that’s true, then for every customer complaint you receive, how many more dissatisfied people are out there who you simply know nothing about?
As soon as a purchase of an item or service has been made, smart companies are straight in contact with the customer, asking them to provide feedback. Some even offer incentives such as future discounts or freebie add-ons for feedback forms being filled out promptly after a transaction. In this way, building a picture of any company’s opportunities and threats from the customer perspective is relatively straightforward. If anything, with review sites like Feefo and TrustPilot being so popular, and let’s not forget, very public, every company is kept on its toes when it comes to providing a quality service or product.
Openings in the window trade
What’s more difficult is finding out in any meaningful way what your competitors are up to; after all, such confidential business information is kept as closely guarded as possible by any business. Beyond the simple advertisements that they might publish online and offline, wouldn’t it be great to find out how your competitors are faring when it comes to offering discounts, customer satisfaction levels and price / product range?
One way to find out about price fluctuations and product availability is to keep a watchful eye on competitors’ websites. That’s easy enough to do manually, if, for example, a rival double-glazing company is offering UPVC doors at 50% off the regular price (whatever that is!) or sells a limited range of goods and services. Half an hour’s internet research each day by the sales intern armed with a spreadsheet and an A4 pad and a pencil might well suffice.
But what if you’re a medium sized business offering bespoke business travel services to executives and high-flyers? Then it might be time to turn to smart technology such as residential proxy servers provided by companies such as Geosurf, as their servers allow businesses to ‘scrape’ competitors’ websites for their going rates and availability. If you try doing this without a residential proxy server, you might well end up in legal hot water. So, what is a residential proxy and how is it useful?
Hiding in plain sight
A residential proxy server is one that carries an internet protocol (IP) address provided by an internet service provider to the general public, as opposed to a data-center provided server from a commercial cloud supplier, for example Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. The proxy server acts as a ‘middleman’ or ‘bridge’ server that masks the location and identity of the actual server connecting to the internet. In short, a residential proxy is what a business uses when its online activities and cyber security strategies mean that it would rather not be recognized as a business, preferring instead to be seen as a private citizen working from a kitchen table in a residential street somewhere.
One such situation where residential proxies are invaluable is when ‘scraping’ rival businesses’ websites for pricing, availability and special deals. Scraping is the term used for automated bots that crawl through a competitor’s website and download the information required in a format that makes it easy to import into spreadsheets. Whilst the process of scraping isn’t illegal, it will almost certainly be against the target website’s terms and conditions. If the website owners catch competitors scraping, they can block the miscreants’ access to their site, and even take civil litigation procedures if they wish to make an example of the company involved.
Scraping is usually carried out from commercial servers, so if it’s performed from a residential proxy, and well cloaked by the proxy provider, it can’t be identified or traced.
SEO for all seasons
Another advantage to residential proxies is their various changeable locations, which allow companies to view their own website(s) from nominated geographical areas. This can be especially useful if the website’s search engine optimization (SEO) has been focused on a particular area for a specific product, service or dedicated price.
Imagine for example that a company selling outdoor clothing wanted to concentrate on marketing to a cooler part of the world to sell products in the summer. The temperature in June in Alaska might reach only, say, 18 degrees C, whereas in Texas it’s closer to 40. In that case, it’s only practical to have light windproof coats appear on websites to residents of those target areas, especially if marketers are shelling out for Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising.
If a clothing company is based in Texas, how would it know if its SEO strategies are working without sending a couple of people armed with laptops all the way up to the Yukon? But by using a residential proxy based in the target area, the marketing department can test away without ever leaving their air-conditioned offices in Austin.
In summary, businesses using residential proxies make it much easier on themselves to find out about their own marketing, their own dynamic pricing and the activities of their competitors. For the nominal dollar spend each month to rent such proxy servers, it’s really a no brainer not to use them.
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