There’s a huge amount of data about your competitors available to you. The same data is available about you to your competitors. All this competitive intelligence exists now and is likely used against you in some shape or form.
And this knowledge is power. Especially in the hyper-competitive industries. Here’s how you can establish an edge and stay one step ahead of your competitors by conducting competitive analysis.
What is competitive analysis?
Competitive analysis is the research you do in order to dissect, learn more about and asses the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. It can help you be on top of the game and gain a competitive advantage in your industry. It can help you out-hustle, out-think and out-play your competition.
Is your site traffic declining and you’re in a need of a marketing boost? Are you stuck for great campaign and content ideas? Want to take over that first spot on Google’s search results?
Competitive analysis can help you uncover the best moves of your competition which you then can improve on to beat them. The process goes something like this:
- You take a look at your competitors and reverse-engineer their strategy
- You get to understand what they’re doing and what their approach is
- See how big a threat they are to your business
- Identify what’s going well for them and what resonates with their audience. Chances are that these tactics will work well for your audience too
- Identify gaps and areas where you need to improve and how best to position yourself
- Get inspired from, imitate or even “steal” their best ideas to refresh your own strategy and boost your own business
What you’re going to learn in this guide is not only useful for analyzing your competitors. You can use the same process and the same spy tools to learn more about a potential client for your freelance consulting business or if you want to get to know the company you want to work for a bit better.
Let’s get started.
How to conduct a competitive analysis: Step-by-step guide
1. Create a competitive analysis template
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy and you might not even need it if you’re only looking at one or two competitors. In case you do look at a longer list of competing brands and you do want an easier way to note your findings and remember them, something like this simple table could be used as your competitive analysis template.
What exactly you’re comparing will depend on your situation and needs. Some prefer to rank each of the factors by weighted score and add all the scores up. Some prefer to do the full analysis and focus on things such as the number of employees and funding.
I’m less interested in cumulative scores and more interested in new ideas and inspiration for things to explore such as new sources of traffic or new topics to create content about. Basically, tailor your competitive analysis template to fit your purpose.
2. Make a list of your competitors
You know who your competitors are, don’t you? Have you determined the best companies in your field?
- Define your industry
- Write down the list of your competitors
- Pick the first one you want to take a closer look at
- Let’s go on using several spy tools to gather the information.
Cannot think of any competitors? Simply go to Google and search for your field or a relevant keyword phrase for what you’re doing. You will get a list of sites that Google thinks are the most valuable within that industry. These are your competitors.
3. You can learn a lot by exploring their website
Search the name of your competitor on Google and check out their official website. What you look for will depend on your industry but some things to explore:
- What’s their hero image and the unique selling proposition?
- What features and benefits do they focus on the most?
- How do you sign up to their services or product?
- What tone of voice do they use?
- What kind of media do they use to present themselves?
- Do they collect leads in any way?
- What type of content do they publish (blog, webinars, podcasts, reports)?
- Which events or other activities do they promote?
- What contact methods do they offer?
These will all give you a nice overview of what the company stands for.
4. Let’s look under the hood of their website too
Now it’s time to look a bit deeper. Let’s get under the hood of their websites.
Get the traffic estimation and other website stats
Look up their website on Similar Web (freemium). Similar Web is a very useful tool. Everything that I list below you can get using the free version:
- Traffic estimation numbers including the total number of visits, average visit duration, pages per visit and the bounce rate
- Traffic sources and top referral sites
- How much traffic they get from social media and how this is split between the different social platforms
- The traffic they get from search engines including the keyword phrases that they rank for
- See if they use search engine paid marketing and keywords they bid for
- The countries their visitors are from
Very valuable information, don’t you think?
A popular alternative to Similar Web is Alexa but I find the stats from Similar Web to be more extensive and more accurate.
Get details on their domain name
Look them up on Whois (free tool) to learn the history behind their domain name:
- When the domain name was first registered
- When it was last renewed and when it’s about to expire
- Who registered the domain name
- Which company was used to register the domain
- The contact info of the person who registered the domain name
Learn about other sites they own
Look them up on Spyonweb (free tool) to get:
- A list of other websites that are hosted on the same IP address
- A list of other websites that share the same Google Analytics account
Get the full list of pages and posts they have published
Type “site:theirdomainname.com” into Google for the number of pages and other content published on the domain name that Google has a record of.
Check the technical performance of their website
Look them up on Website Grader (free tool) to see:
- How quickly the website loads
- If the website is mobile responsive
- How SEO-friendly the website is
Discover tools and apps they use on their site
Look them up on BuiltWith (free tool) to discover which technology they use on their site including:
- Which CMS have they built their site on
- Which web analytics, heatmap and visitor recording platforms do they use
- Which advertising technology do they use
- Which tools do they use for pop-ups and lead collection
- Which live chat plugins do they use
5. A look at the team and the funding
This can give you insight into where the company is in terms of the size of their operation and even helps you estimate their revenue. Gives you ideas about where they are going and what their goals might be.
- Look at the team behind the company
- What’s the size of the team?
- Who are the advisors?
- What’s the amount of funding they have raised and their valuation
- What jobs are they currently hiring for?
Most businesses will list these somewhere on their site such as the “Team” or “Careers” page. You should also look them up on Crunchbase and AngelList. For crowdfunding take a look at Indiegogo and Kickstarter.
6. A look at their customers and online reviews
One way to start this is to figure out which and how many customers they highlight on their site. Many brands publish client case studies, testimonials or simply list some of the customers they are most proud of.
Look them up on review site such as Capterra and explore the customers’ reviews for any interesting detail you can find.
Look them up on Siftery for not only customer reviews but also for a list of companies that use their products. It also gives you an idea of how quickly they are adding new customers, how happy those customers are with the product and what market share they hold.
7. Monitor the brand mentions online
Setup email alerts on Google Alerts (free tool) so you can monitor the mentions the brand gets online. This will get you notified if the company is in the news or if someone else talks about the brand on the web.
This helps you discover how well they’re doing in terms of marketing and PR and gives you insights into their communication and media strategy.
8. Learn about their email marketing strategy
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways of selling online. It’s likely that your competitors use email marketing so you should learn about how they do it. Explore these areas:
- What ways do they try to get their site visitors to sign up to their mailing list
- What types of pop-ups and other calls-to-action to they use?
- What copy or offer do they use to entice people to subscribe?
You should sign up for their newsletter too:
- This allows you to get regular updates which helps you follow their progress and learn how they’re communicating with their audience
- Subscribing is also useful to learn what they focus on in their “welcome email”
- Learn the frequency they send the mailers on and on what days of the week or times of the month
- What type of other irregular communication do they send out
- You can learn and get inspired by their subject lines, copy, email template and the CTA’s
As a more time efficient alternative, you can use MailCharts (premium tool). It has a comprehensive database of emails companies send so you can faster understand their strategy, learn and get inspired to improve your email communication too.
9. Follow their blog
A blog is usually one of the biggest organic drivers of traffic to any website. Blog posts are valuable content pieces that get shared on social media and ranked in search engines.
Subscribe to their blog via email or by using Feedly (freemium). Brands normally post a wide variety of content on their blogs which helps you follow what they are up to and learn from what they do:
- Some post customer case studies
- Some post new product announcements
- Some are very transparent and share many of their strategies, lessons and even revenue
- Some analyze data they have access to and post reports and industry trends
10. Follow them on social media
Their social media posts can give you great insight into the company and how they’re doing. Check out all the social profiles they promote on their website and follow them. If they don’t list their social profiles on the website, simply search for them on the individual networks. Then keep an eye on:
- The content they post, when they post it and in what frequency
- What type of content and media do they post
- What content do they get the most engagement from
- Are they engaging with their audience and do they respond to questions
- Learn and get inspired by their content
I usually don’t put too much emphasis on the total number of followers as that is easier to game but focus more on their engagement rate. Engagement rate shows the percentage of their total audience who actually engage with content they publish. You sum up all the engagement you see on a post and divide it with the total number of followers.
11. Traffic from search engines and backlinks
Google is still the top traffic referral source for the majority of websites. And Google traffic is especially valuable because of the purchase intent of the searchers. Facebook users may only become aware of you because their friends are sharing your content which places them much earlier in the purchase funnel.
Google users normally find you because they are searching for an answer or a solution to a problem they have. If you’re the right service or product for that issue they may just as well buy. This is why search traffic is important and why you should learn how your SEO benchmarks to your competitors.
In terms of SEO competitive analysis, one of the most useful things worth knowing are the backlinks. Backlinks are one of the top factors in getting your site to rank higher in search results. If you know who’s linking to your competitors it might help discover new opportunities and get the same sites to link back to you too. Like this:
Search for your targeted keyword on SERP Checker (freemium tool). It can give you some quick insights as it lists which of your competitors top of Google for the searched phrase. It also gives you several extra metrics such as their domain authority, the number of links pointing back to them and the number of social media shares.
Now that you know who ranks the best, you can search for their domain name on LinkMiner (freemium tool). It gives you a list of backlinks pointing to the site.
You can rank and filter these by several options such as dofollow links only or links with the highest number of Facebook shares. This is a list of sites you may try to reach out to and establish a relationship with.
There are a big variety of SEO tools out there and Backlinko has a great list. Most of them are premium on a monthly subscription model so I recommend you explore a few, try them out with a free trial and see which fits your needs and your budget the best.
Two tools above have been selected by me as they are freemium and they allow you to get a sample of results for free even without needing to register for an account.
This is very useful especially for freelancers, bloggers and consultants, as you can do some analysis and link building work and see how much value you can get from it before choosing which tool you may need or which tool you find valuable enough to subscribe to.
Content your competitors rank for that you don’t
Here’s a couple of other ways you can use SEO tools. Both of these are available through Ahrefs which is one of the most recommended tools for SEO competitive analysis.
The first one is the content gap in which you can get a list of topics that your competitors rank for in search and that you don’t.
This is a great list of content ideas for you as you should try to publish content on those topics too in order to boost your search traffic.
Websites that link to your competitors but don’t link to you
The second tactic is the link intersect. It basically helps you find websites that link to one or more of your competitors but don’t link to you.
These are sources which you should aim to reach out to as it’s likely that they would be open to link to you too or to allow you to guest post or to syndicate your content on.
12. What’s their search PPC and social paid advertising strategy
Look up your competitor on SpyFu (freemium) to learn about their search engine marketing:
- See how much traffic they get from search engines
- What percentage of their search traffic they’re paying for
- How many keywords are they bidding for
- How big budget do they spend on search pay-per-click advertising
- See the list of the ads they’re posting
Look up your competitor on AdEspresso (freemium) to learn about their Facebook advertising:
- See the list of Facebook ads that they run
- Learn and get inspired from the copy and the media that they use
- Explore the landing page they drive the paid traffic to
Thanks to the political scandal, Facebook will allow anyone to see all the ads a page is running and will make this part of your competitor research so much easier.
13. Learn which of their content is shared the most
One of the easiest ways to come up with new and brilliant article ideas is to monitor your competitors. And one of the best ways to judge the quality of their content is to see if and which of their articles are shared the most in social media. If people are sharing their content, it shows that there is an interest and demand for this idea.
Look up your competitor on Buzzsumo (freemium) to search for and identify their most shared content across the different social platforms. You can even get a list of people who have shared the content.
Look up your competitor on Reddit by visiting this URL https://www.reddit.com/domain/tesla.com/top/?sort=top&t=all and changing the bold part with their domain name. It not only lets you see which content of your competitors is shared the most but you can also see which subreddits are interested in that type of content and check out the comments from Reddit users.
How about if your competitor uses bit.ly links in social media? Just add a “+” sign at the end of any bit.ly URL that they share and you’ll get the click stats for that link. If the bit.ly link they shared is https://bitly.com/2zY9OoD, you would visit https://bitly.com/2zY9OoD+ to see all the click stats.
You can use these tactics and spy tools to do a great competitive analysis. What are the strengths and the weaknesses of your competitors? What are they doing well that you can learn from? Can you create content around the topics that they get a lot of shares and links for? Create your plan and start working towards reaching and beating your competition.