In competitive industries, different businesses constantly push each other to perform better. Whether it’s about listening more closely to customers, building new features, or offering new pricing plans, everyone is in a relentless battle to stay ahead of the game.
Competitor research isn’t a one-off job . Too many companies build a big ol’ report when they start out, only to let it gather dust as they press ahead. But as businesses remain more agile than ever, pivots occur one week to the next – meaning competitor research must be an ongoing activity.
We all want to know the growth strategy of our competitors, that’s for sure. Of course, what we do with that information is a matter of choice. The options are usually as follows:
- Copy the strategy: Ill-advised, unethical, and usually not an effective or sustainable idea
- Learn from their mistakes: Avoid wasting time, energy, and cash on bad ideas or execution
- Use them as inspiration: Build on competitor campaign ideas in a distinctly improved way
- Spot the gaps and pounce: Identify the missed areas where you can power growth
This article will show how to choose the right competitor information to analyze, and how to use manual tactics and automated tools to conduct qualitative and quantitative research.
Researching the Competition
Firstly, you need to choose what matters. Put simply, what you choose to analyze very much depends on your goals, audience, and proposed strategy.
For example, overall web traffic could be ignored in isolation – although it begins to mean something if a competitor is driving significant organic volume to keyword-focused landing pages. And competitor backlink data might be rightly sidelined if you have no intention of using SEO as a growth channel.
Too many businesses fall into the trap of being crippled by FOMO. Whilst a wealth of information is useful for background knowledge, it’s not all equally relevant.
Focus on the things that matter, rather than getting caught up in an ongoing battle to do better in every conceivable area.
How to analyze the competition
There are three main routes to exposing marketing opportunities from your competitors. Here’s what you need to do to get the most impactful information:
1. Go undercover as a spy
The onboarding, activation, and retention phases are critical to your business and equally critical to your competitor’s business. Customer service is also fundamental to the long-term satisfaction of a user base, whether it’s community-based or through a support team.
Get involved and become a customer. It’s worth your time, energy, and financial investment to get a fully-rounded view of how your competitors perform in terms of customer experience.
This is perhaps the easiest and most direct way to learn about your competitor’s growth strategy from an in-product angle. And by engaging with their website, product, and social profiles, you will quickly see what type of ad retargeting campaigns (if any) are being used to nudge prospects down the marketing funnel.
2. Quantitative research tools
For overall analysis of competitor digital channels, SimilarWeb is a great tool. It uncovers granular data about competitor websites and apps, including traffic and engagement, audience demographics, keywords, active users, and much more. This can be combined with Ahrefs or SEMrush to get detailed insights for SEO competitive research, and for PPC you can use WhatRunsWhere, SpyFu, and/or Adbeat.
Using these tools (and others), you’ll be looking for hard data on aspects such as traffic growth to key pages, increase or decrease in ad spend, velocity of domain authority growth, volume of customer reviews, the number of active users of an app/platform, and the ration of web vs. social brand mentions.
3. Qualitative research tools
“Softer” qualitative research is equally important to understand what your competitors are doing, but also why they’re doing it. Google Alerts will tell you what they’re saying in the media, and Google Trends will show the relative search popularity of their brand over time.
Crunchbase will give some indication about the business’s operations, structure, and finances. A page-crawler such as Screaming Frog will show the size of the website and the keywords they’re targeting, and BuzzSumo provides information about the themes and topics in their content, which stories they’re telling – as well as uncovering the influencers they work with.
Audit Compliment-Interest Companies Too
Businesses should look beyond immediate competitors to gain insights from successful companies who target similar audience groups. We can learn lessons from others that need to tackle similar problems during their customer acquisition process.
For example, if your product or service involves sensitive user data (e.g. bank details), you can check out how others alleviate doubts and guarantee customer security. This might involve researching their messaging, user interface, trust marks – or even understanding which system(s) they use to protect data.
Another example: if your audience is clearly a certain demographic, you can explore ways in which other brands target them – partnerships, channels, etc. So, if your app for swapping upcycled furniture is aimed at middle-class urban professionals, you should research which messages resonate in this world.
For some companies, competitor research is simply one thing to tick off the list. To others, it can be an endless rabbit hole. The truth is that we only have a limited amount of time, energy, and budget. And we need to focus on what we’re doing for our customers – rather than being preoccupied with competitors.
With this in mind, prioritization is absolutely key. Firstly, we must focus on competitors that are actually targeting the same audience with a similar value proposition. Then, we must focus on aspects of their growth strategy that matter – rather than getting lost in battling them on every front.
A key motivation should be to identify weaknesses and missed opportunities. This is the low-hanging fruit. To achieve this, you need to develop a well-rounded view of the competitive landscape – and then zero in on the areas that are ripe for attack.
The various tools listed above will, when combined, create a powerful suite for competitive analysis.
After uncovering the growth tactics within your competitor’s marketing strategy, you can then choose what to target, what to avoid, and how to power your own customer acquisition machine.
PS. It’s relatively easy to see what competitors are doing. It’s harder to figure out what they are not doing. And then understand why. Maybe they’re not doing something because they tried it and it didn’t work. Or maybe they never tried it and there’s a great opportunity there. You need to do the research on the whole industry to be able to answer this.