Know thy enemy
It’s tempting to hurtle ahead without knowing what’s around you, but there is lots to be learned from those who are fighting for the same customers.
When setting up a growth strategy, competitor analysis is critical. Not only does it help you spot key opportunities, but also provides inspiration for what to do… but better. In this article, I will outline three approaches to learning from your competitors. Some more sneaky than others!
#1 – Manual research
As we’ll see, technology can help automate and quantify your research. That said, there is a place for good old’ manual analysis. In this data-driven environment, gut feelings and anecdotes take a backseat. Generally, this is a good thing, but with competitive analysis you can dig into the softer information to get a feel for what competitors are up to.
Go undercover: Your competitors will be growing via seamless onboarding and a smooth customer experience. Why make assumptions when you can assess this directly? Sign up for a free trial, and consider investing budget in sampling the paid experience. Ask questions, seek customer service assistance, and note the pros and cons. Welcome, 007.
Qualitative website analysis: Simple. Browse the competitor’s website and take note of their key pages, user flow, and calls to action. Evaluate whether they’re showing pricing structures, read case studies, and get a feel for copy and imagery tone. Assume that they’ve considered each decision strategically, and question why each choice was made.
Monitor reviews: Dig into the major review sites for information about how the competitor’s customer base view the product or service. Note the trends in strengths and weaknesses.
Follow on social: Again, simple stuff. Track the updates and interactions that your competitors are undertaking on social media channels. You can use technology to make social monitoring efficient, as we’ll see in the next section.
#2 – Leverage technical tools
There’s a wealth of technology on the market, which is helpful for competitor analysis. These tools aren’t reserved for the budgets of big business. On the contrary, they are focused on helping startups and SMEs step-up their game against bigger fish.
I’ll list some of my favourites below, based on their key function for spying on competitors:
Website analysis: My favourite tool for general website analysis is SimilarWeb. Using this tool, you can see the traffic and engagement levels of competitors. You can also track the performance of a competitor’s app, and get a hold on audience demographics. To understand how big your competitor’s website is, use a scraping tool like Screaming Frog for a list of pages and posts.
Google Ads: SpyFu is a solid choice for seeing which keywords your competitors are targeting in Google Ads. It features a whole history, and estimates the budget being spent.
Social media: One comprehensive tool is SocialBakers, which allows you to dig into the stats surrounding your competitor’s social profiles. Another tool is Mention, providing in-depth social media monitoring and other features.
Content marketing: BuzzSumo is one of the best content and influencer research tools on the market, highlighting the top-performing content in any niche, and by any publisher. It can reveal the influential people in your industry, and help you get ahead of competitors on trends.
SEO: There’s not many better tools out there for SEO than Ahrefs. Very robust, detailed, and revealing for competitor keywords, rankings, and backlinks. You can see more free and paid SEO tools in this Pickaweb roundup by Pilar Torres.
#3 – Benchmark yourself and compare
You can only learn if you know what you’re comparing. This is how to see if you’re falling short.
Technology must be used to benchmark yourself against competitors. Firstly, the free Google Analytics and Search Console provide a basic foundation. All of the paid technologies listed above also help you understand your own performance vs. competitors.
Benchmark key information such as number and quality of backlinks, domain authority (DA), return on ad investment, social media follower count, bounce rate or dwell time, and rankings. Decide which metrics move the dial, and focus on them for competitive analysis.
What should you ignore?
As I mentioned, you should only benchmark and compare the metrics that matter to your specific situation. So, with this in mind, you might wish to ignore all the above! But seriously…
Typically, traffic is a vanity metric without context. Is your competitor’s traffic the right sort of traffic, and is it converting or adding value? Furthermore, competitor backlinks may not be meaningful to analyse because you may not be targeting SEO as a channel for growth.
Media placements are also questionable. How do you know whether there has been a return on investment for your competitor from an advert in the newspaper or on TV? In some cases, you can ignore the noise and focus on other areas. That said, media placements require a budget, so they’re a good indication that your competitor has money to spend.
Competitor analysis is essential. In such a cut-throat environment, knowing thy enemy is key to getting ahead. Luckily, we have the technology to support tried-and-tested manual analysis.
A combination of the above tools will help you dig the dirt on what works and what doesn’t. Of course, this data must be interpreted and translated into action. Hopefully, these learnings can be applied constructively to grow your business and its brand.