Competitive research helps to understand your competitors.
Analyzing their actions help lower costs while revealing opportunities.
You leverage their efforts.
There are several ways to research your market.
Read on, if you want to out-do the competition.
The Competitive Analysis Basics: Start Here to Understand the Competition
Competitive intelligence is “the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, and competitors …”.
We already know the value gained from a thorough understanding of keyword & market research.
These two items merely touch the surface of what can be learned from the competition.
The Must-Have Competitive Research Tools
There are a plethora of SEO tools at your disposal (just do a quick Google search and you’ll find more than you can handle) but let’s curate the list and go with just four that will give us all that we need:
- Google Chrome (which we’ll use to look at the developer code)
- Google Trends (which we’ll use to track the trending of the topic/niche)
- Google Adwords Keyword Tool (which we’ll use to analyze the keywords)
- SEMRush (which we’ll use to scope the backlinks to the competition)
The best part of these is, of course, that they’re free to use.
They’re also incredibly easy to understand so even if you never touched these tools it shouldn’t take longer than an hour or so to adjust.
Seek and Outrank: The 4-Steps of Competitive Research
Now let’s get into action and put these tools to good use.
What you’ll be doing is digging deep into the competitor’s website to find any missing “pieces” of the SEO equation.
You can then use your information to exploit your competitor faults for your gain.
Quick note: Gut instinct plays an important role in competitor intelligence. You can get a “feel” for your competitor’s position in the market based on the social reactions of their community and consumer base. You’ll also do yourself a huge favor if you buy their product to see what they have to offer from the buyer’s perspective.
Step 1: Analyze the Competitor Keywords (and Faults)
One of the handiest tools that happen to be built right into Google Chrome is the ‘Inspect Element’ option when you right click on a part of a page.
This brings up a developer preview of the web page code which can reveal a wealth of information about a competitor’s website including:
- Title (and other meta) tags
- Scripts and themes
- CSS styling
- File directories
Yes, there are tools that will pull most of this information automatically.
But, peering under the hood can help you understand internal ideas.
Or, it’s a great way to reveal plugins powering your competitor’s website.
Step 2: Gauge the Competition and Market Potential
Next up you want to understand two things:
- What’s the potential for the keyword the competition is going for?
- What’s the likelihood that it will stay relevant in many years to come?
You may be adjusted to doing keyword research as part of your routine when creating a new project or writing new content.
Never forget that it’s still very powerful when it comes to doing competitive research in a topic/niche you’ve taken into consideration.
Simply place in the keywords you’ve discovered based on the heading tags found from the process explained in step 1 of this post (otherwise fill in the exact URL within the ‘website’ field).
You’ll now have a propagated list of keywords relevant to your competition which they’re most likely trying to claim #1 position.
You can also use our SpyFu guide to reinforce your information by examining the exact keywords they have chosen based on their Google Adwords campaigns.
Put the two-and-two together and you know have a refined focus on what keywords you need to capture to become a main competitor in the market.
Secondly, head on over to Google Trends and populate the fields with you newfound keywords and phrases discovered through the Adword keyword tool.
You can refine this speculative look at the keyword trend with great modifiers, such as:
- The type of search (web, image, product, etc)
- The location
- The date range
- Specific categories
As a bonus, you can find related search terms under the graph which can give you a great set of ideas for other keywords you may have missed during your research with the Adwords tool.
In all, look at the graph and see where the trend is going.
If it appears that it has been a consumer favorite term (product/service) for a good amount of time and doesn’t show any major signs of dips than you’re looking at a keyword that has long-term potential. On the other hand, if you’re seeing big spikes at specific points of the year than it may just be a holiday-type keyword/niche. Or, if it just completely drops off then it’s already losing market favor and doesn’t seem to have a long-term future.
Step 3: Check in on the Backlinks (and Find the Opportunities)
Finally, we’d recommend using SEO tools to search backlinks such as SEMRush.
These tools give you a glimpse as to where the competition has been building (or gaining) links to their website.
As you know – links matter in search ranking but it’s more important to understand HOW they may have received the link than just where it’s coming from.
The results can be somewhat of a jumbled mess and a little hard to understand (at first). But, you’re given all you really need to know in order to replicate (and improve) the competitions link building campaign so your project can capitalize on hidden opportunities.
1. Compile a list of the websites where your competition is present.
2. Visit the pages and find whether they received a simple link, mention, or guest post.
3. Contact the website owner and mention that you have a relevant website, too, or pitch them on a guest post.
You may streamline this process if you chose to work with virtual assistants that can be used to compile and complete this process while you continue on the big picture.
Step 4: Piecing it All Together
After completion of these steps, you should have a firm understanding of where your competition stands in the market. And, their level of value they bring to the community.
From here you can begin working the angles to build your ranking and market placement through link building, social media, and SEO practices (such as those they’ve failed to utilize).
This research will allow you to enter any market with the ability to quickly get in, start promoting and earn a great income.
You’re making your entrance with a thorough understanding of what the consumers want and what the competition fails to deliver.
Going Deeper into Competitive Research: Learning Everything about the Competition
The basic primer gives you a general idea of how your competitors are operating online.
But, you can go so much deeper with the research.
You can use the same tools (and a few, new ones) to completely break-down and dissect the competition.
I’m talking about leveraging everything they do… so you can out-do them.
This next bit is divided into sections though they work best when combined.
Take some notes, and get ready to stomp your competitors.
Competitive Research: Leveraging Advertising
When it comes to analyzing your competitor’s advertising it really just comes down to keeping an eye open whenever you see their running campaigns.
You can keep an eye on them through a couple different, basic ways:
- Search for their business, products, or services in Google
- Subscribe to their social channels to monitor for sponsored stories
- Setup alerts for your competitors using Google Alerts
The simplest way that I would recommend is by using the site: SpyFu.
To explain it in the most basic terms – you can do this:
1. Go over to SpyFu.com
2. Type in a competitor (or their main keyword(s)) and view results
Though the free version doesn’t give nearly as much information as a premium account (for obvious reasons) we are still able to see some very interesting pieces of information:
- Search volume
- Avg. cost per click
- Daily expenses (take it with a grain of salt)
- Major keywords they bid on
- Examples of their ads
From there you can then re-enter some of the keywords (or click through) to see other campaigns they may be running with them.
3. Combine this information with other methods (such as setting up alerts, doing Google searches, and monitoring their social updates). Create a swipe file of ads that you see are doing well. Look at how they word their advertising, use creative, and which landing pages they’re sending leads.
You may also find, through these methods, some of the ad partners they deal with so you could approach them inquiring about advertising space. When you’re talking with a rep you could casually mention a competitor is in the space and whether they could divulge information to aid in your campaigns if you so happen to advertise with them.
One more thing you may want to consider is using virtual assistants to collect information on your competition and send back reports, screenshots, and suggestions as to the best approach to gain an edge on competitors’ advertising.
Competitive Research: Leveraging Content
Understanding the competitions’ content, strategy, and marketing initiatives is, perhaps, the easiest set of actions for this five-part series because the information is right out there in the open.
You can find this information through a variety of means:
- Seeing which content is shown in the “popular” section of their sidebar
- Keeping track of how many social shares they receive on posts
- Looking at the number of comments on the posts
- Viewing the piece from the perspective of a customer (to get a feel for tone and direction)
The places where you’ll find all this content are the usual channels:
- Business blog
- Guest posts
- YouTube videos
- Slideshows and whitepapers
To make this easy – I’ve gone ahead and put together a simple set of actions for you:
A. Go to their site and take a look at their “popular posts”
Write down their current hits and use this, later on, to come up with ideas of your own knowing that these are ones the community already enjoy.
B. Subscribe to their newsletter
This way you can see how they transition content consumers into their list.
You can now also monitor and find ways to create better email through this, too.
C. Solicit a guest post (or read their guidelines)
Come at them anonymously with the intent to publish a guest post about the industry.
Talking with their people could reveal their current content strategy and what they are generally working. You can take that information and form it into something of your own.
You don’t need to follow up on the guest post, either, since you’ve already got the information.
D. See how they do social and content
Look at how they pair social and content together – including community feedback – to get a grip on what they’re doing to drive people to content and then using that information to create new pieces based on audience reception.
All-in-all it’s just a matter of subscribing to your competition, taking notes, and then seeing how you can do one better on them.
What you’ll often find is that a post they’ve created may not touch on all that points their audience wants/needs and it’s this lack of information where you can capitalize.
Check the comments and feedback you find. You will often hear their audience expand on the concept that the producer failed to introduce. Include that in yours and now you will have a similar post with an added weight which breathes additional value to the industry/marketplace.
Competitive Research: Leveraging Social Media
Social channels will tell a lot about a business, its brand, and its audience. The public nature of social is that it’s out there in public so you already have a layer of transparency. You can use this transparency to shape future plans for your business if you use a bit of competitive analysis.
There are many social channels out there but generally just stick to the following to make it easy:
I would also add forums to this list.
Very few businesses are truly taking advantage of forums. Check to see if your competition is on them (and active) else stick with the list for now.
Here is what I would do when going about looking up, monitoring, and figuring out your competition on social:
A. Visit their website
This is where it’s almost certain they will have social buttons to their profiles (then copy them to a spreadsheet or form). Check their site or blog, and you will find the links.
B. Subscribe to their feeds
Do this so you can take daily notes on their updates (and to amass a swipe file around the updates you see go over well with the community).
Take notice of what they’re posting and its frequency while seeing how their audience responds.
Lurk and adapt your strategy when they have a shift but stay one step ahead of the curb by beating them to the punch (via analytics, testing, and trends).
C. Check their followers
Skip the tools and go old school by keeping track of the most vocal followers on the major social channels.
It cuts through the hundreds/thousands that may be following so you can really cut down on the type of audience they attract (the vocal ones are the ones you want).
D. Entice the audience
Inch your way into their territory by creating and sharing content, or starting conversations, which are similar or relevant to those of your competitors. Use the same hashtags and run promotions when they are active, too.
You want to be there when they are there so you can entice their audience with an alternative option (you).
E. Infiltrate their hangouts
Get active in creating content for the types of websites your competitor’s audience are visiting.
Invest in retargeting advertising which places a cookie in their browser so your ads can be shown within networks they may be visiting. Your mission is to be everywhere.
Competitive Research: Leveraging Sales Data
Figuring out the competitor’s sales is the trickiest of the bunch.
If you can break their code then you are in for a treat.
Understanding how the competition pulls leads, sends them through the funnel, and keeps them as customers is an instant shortcut for your business. Once you know what they’re doing – it’s only a matter of time that you can take their work and crank it up to 11.
The only reason why I say it’s “tricky” is that you have to go “undercover”.
The actual actions are easy but the hard part is keeping your cool and composure because what you’re doing is essentially infiltrating their business while acting like a customer.
And here is how that’s done…
A. Identify the lead generators
Here you will want to scope how the competition is driving leads to their business.
Take a look around and look at their advertising, social, and content (as discussed in a previous post in the series). Also, take a look at who may be referring business to them so you can keep tabs on what that individual may be doing to convince their audience to trust the competition.
B. Slowly down the funnel
Once you’ve found out how they’re driving in leads it’s time that you become one yourself.
Make a small budget and purchase (or subscribe) to one of their offers. Record what happens throughout the process such as which call-to-action caught your attention, how they responded the moment you ordered (like a confirmation email or call), how logistics went, and the experience you had when you received the offer.
C. Follow up
Get on the phone and call into customer service.
Make up some form of an issue you have with their product/service so you can really begin prodding the customer service to understand how they react (taking notes, of course). Get active on their social media channels and talk to the company and others that make up their audience.
Gauge the reception of their community as you become one of them.
D. Find the weak spots
Collect your notes and then have someone go through the same process but with your sales funnel. Compare the notes to see what the competition does differently and where you could improve. Identify the weak spots and the areas of your efforts that allow hot leads to go cold.
By being one of their customers you can really get to know the company than just being a third-party observer. You can get into their head. Going through the process gives you hard data on what they’re doing rather than the usual guessing.
The information you gain from customer service is its weight in gold. If you can pull off at least the same level of customer service then your business will progress but if you can find those weak points and “one-up” their sales then you are going to dominate the market.
Competitive Research: Leveraging Branding
Is it possible to leverage a brand?
When you break it all down — you are looking at major points that create the “essence” of a brand:
Each of these can be observed and replicated to a degree.
Though, you’ll never quite make an exact match.
That’s good because you don’t want to borrow branding elements to the point where you’re copying. Plus, it tells you they have a strong brand — one worth reverse engineering.
Let’s go a little further into all this…
1. Understand their business “language” by reading their content, following their social, and talking to their community.
From content to the products – this is where you’ll understand the majority of the items on our above list.
Reading their content can give you clues as to the tone they have when discussing their business. The creative work they do can help explain their image to the marketplace (hip, cool, professional, etc).
You’ll also learn of their consistency of work, uniqueness in what they do, and how they’re pushing creativity.
An easy way to find out all these key items is to just listen to the community, too. See what others are saying about the competitor. Go on and even contact some of these individuals and ask for their opinions about them.
2. Become part of the community and experience what it’s like for customers
Become part of the “experience” by being a customer/fan of your competitors.
You’ll get deep into their system so you can pick up on things like how they handle customer service and the connection they have with their community.
- Subscribe to their lists and social profiles
- Shoot them an email
- Use their live chat
- Join their forums
Really engrain yourself within the community so you can figure out all the details that make their brand unique.
3. Get to know who they work with and what attracts those individuals so you, too, can mingle with influencers.
Who you work with greatly effects the market’s image of your authority.
People avoid new players in the market because people don’t know if they have staying power or can deliver like the big competition already has (and proven to do so).
Start schmoozing with who they work with. Buddy up with their associates to get feedback and opinions about their brand from those that work the closest (yet still on the outside).
Gaining leverage on their associated partners can also lead to a pivot in the industry which may point in your direction if you’re bringing greater value to the market.
4. Borrow Branding Elements that’ll Work with Your Projects
Understanding your competitor’s branding can help gauge your market placement.
Understanding the brand also lets you to create a unique selling point.
A selling point that makes your business different from the rest.
It’ll help you learn the type of customers attracted to competitors.
This ultimately gives you a chance to borrow branding elements working well for them. Effectively removing a lot of the research and development!
Is it stealing? It runs a fine line, but… it all comes down to how you use the information.
Consider the borrowed elements to be a baseline for improvements. Figure out what they’re doing and do one better!
How to Stay Competitive in Your Market
So, you’ve done the competitive research and found opportunities to get an edge.
What happens once you get there?
Competition is right behind you — likely doing the very same research and analysis you did to get there.
You need to stay on top of your market.
Do these things…
Act #1: Plot the Trends
As of now, I find that there are three great sources for keeping up-to-date with the online trends:
- Facebook’s trending ticker
- Google Trends
- Amazon bestsellers
Facebook’s trending ticker is a great resource for finding out what’s happening in near real-time (though there is some delay by about five minutes or so).
Upon noticing an item, clicking through to see how active it’s getting (likes, comments, shares), you should then …
Go over to Google Trends and input that item into the search.
From within the Google Trends results, you can plot its rise and (usually) predict its future. If this item seems to be one that has the lasting power you may then want to …
Look at what’s currently selling in the best sellers list over on Amazon.
By creating a process of plotting these trends you remain competitive — you’re not blindsided by competition and you can hop on the trend.
Act #2: Monitor the Youth
Talking with younger people will give you a great tip-off of where the market is going.
Why listen to them? They:
A. Have disposable income
B. Are often the earliest adopters
C. Become the future consumers of said offer
It seems that the average person age of 30+ is slightly slower at adopting a technology.
I feel that this is largely in part that people don’t want to invest a whole lot of time into something that might not catch on.
However, for the youth, it’s something worth trying because they have the time and energy which is why they often become the earliest of the adopters.
Your best bet for keeping the pulse on what’s happening (in regards to getting that info from the youth) would include:
- Simply asking them their opinions about what’s currently good
- Looking at demographics as part of quarterly releases from tech companies to see if it has a growing number of youth users
- Following trendy blogs and websites that cater to the youth communities to see what are the hot topics and suggestions
While your competition is polling older individuals about what they want — you can be predicting the next big thing by monitoring what’s trending for the youth. This lets you get your foot in the door well before the competition gets around to the next wave.
Act #3: Record the Shipments
I’ll keep this section short and sweet because it’s a pretty easy concept (and process) to understand.
1. Shipments coming into the United States need forms called Bill of Ladings
2. In these logs, you can find the manufacturers of products
3. You can use companies that compile these logs to search for manufacturers
4. This also gives you the ability to type in the competition and find their source
5. You can then contact that manufacturer and attempt to start a business
Basically, you’re pulling the rug right out underneath your competition.
You’re gaining access to their suppliers.
Depending on your income, you could possibly nudge them out of the business by offering the supplier higher volume (and incentives) so they begin working mostly with you.
It also gives you the chance to look at other manufacturers — they may be producing newer, better items which will surely help you stay competitive since the product has an edge.
Act #4: Talk to Influences
Finally, we get to the part where we tap into our network – mainly if we have access to influencers.
This is where who you know really matters.
You can’t expect them to tell you everything that’s in the works…
…but they’ll give you a good heads up if you’re playing fair (aka giving them value).
To get to these people:
- Start with who you already know by reaching out to friends, family, and business associates
- Attend conferences and take important individuals out to lunch to talk about the industry
- Subscribe to the newsletter or monitor their activity (and piece together what they’re working on)
Knowing these tidbits of information can let you make appropriate plans to stay competitive.
Don’t sit on them either… you’ve got to act fast!
You Now Know How. So, Start Doing.
This post covered:
- Competitive research tools
- Different ways to research the competition
- How to stay #1 in your industry
Start understanding your competition.
And, keep tabs on them.
Do your competitive research and start out-doing the competitors.