Before the digital age, it was tough to get an idea of what your competitors were up to. You might be able to glean some facts from their brochures, press releases, seminars, shareholder briefings, or by posing as a customer and get a handle on their pricing structure.
But if a company played its cards close to its chest, then their marketing strategy, strengths and weaknesses and business intentions would have been hard to fathom. This often meant that you could find yourself rapidly outmanoeuvred by their product launches and better pricing.
Planning your marketing strategy when you don’t have all the facts is, at best risky, and at worst disastrous.
The internet levelled the playing field
Fortunately, today it is a different story.
Several factors have contributed towards the levelling of the marketing playing field. The trend towards transparency and clearer accounting has meant that a company’s report and accounts are more revealing than ever before and social media has led to an outpouring of information from companies. But more than any of this, a company’s website in most cases now tells you almost everything you want to know about a company.
This change has implications, however; with companies knowing everything about their competitors, it is harder to compete. You can probably match products, services, pricing and support, so where is your competitive advantage? What can you do to encourage a buyer to buy from you and not them?
You have to define your core proposition, rather than relying on some inherent advantage you’ve had in the past. And you also have to know your competitor's strengths and weaknesses. This is where a thorough competitive analysis can help your marketing.
In this post we are going to look at how analysing your competitor’s website’s can help inform your marketing strategy, but a complete competitor analysis should take into account a whole range of other factors as well.
Analyse your competitor's business strategy
There are many techniques for competitor analysis, and some are very well-known; such as SWOT, ADL Matrix, Porter’s Five Forces, PEST/STEEPLE and the Growth-Share Matrix. These methods vary in their ease of use, their reliability and their appropriateness. They are all subjective to some extent – they all involve making judgements and interpreting their implications.
Competitor Website Analysis
Whilst you do have to consider what a website analysis will tell you, it primarily relies on data, and so is a lot less subjective.
There are several ways to analyse a competitor’s website and a number of tools to help you do so. (And as well as the website, you should consider monitoring emails with a tool like Owletter along with social media monitoring and analysis too)
Identify your competitors
The first step is to identify your competitors. If you know your industry well, then you may be able to make a simple list. Your sales team can help here – they should be aware of the companies that you’ve won and lost business from and to.
At the simplest level, you can do a Google search on a keyword and see what turns up, both in organic search and paid for ads.
But there is also a whole range of tools that go deeper and can help you do more, such as:
While most of these require a paid subscription, Google AdWords is free – and you may already be using it – just use the Auction Insights report.
Look at your competitors websites. How busy are they? How much traffic do they receive?
SimilarWeb is a popular traffic estimation tool, allowing you to not only get an overview of website traffic, referrals, search traffic and keywords, but also social media, display advertising, audience, and similar sites and apps. There is a simple free version, but for a deeper analysis, you will need to pay dependent on your needs.
Bear in mind that many of the tools in the SEO section we are covering next will also include traffic data in their reports.
Undertaking a thorough SEO competitive analysis is one of the most useful tasks you can carry out, as it gives you critical insight into the tactics that work in your industry.
Given that SEO is data intensive, there is a wealth of tools available to perform a wide range of analyses and report the results.
SEMrush is a great tool for running a keyword competitor analysis using the competitor's report. SEMrush uses a measure called a competitor level, which looks at how many ranking keywords your competitor has, and what percentage of them are your common keywords.
You can use SEMrush to:
- Find keywords competitors are using, and you are not.
- Find keywords you are both fighting over.
- Analyse a competitor’s website page per page - how many keywords the page contains and how much traffic the page gets.
You can also use the tool to look at a competitor’s backlinks, which may give you some ideas for your own link building strategy.
There’s a great guide to conducting keyword and backlink competitor analysis with SEMrush on their blog.
Another very popular tool for looking at competitor keywords (organic and PPC), backlinks, traffic stats and more is Ahrefs. The site offers a range of tools that can be used for competitor analysis. In fact, they have a great post, which starts by looking at some competitor analysis tools, but then shows you a comprehensive sample website analysis using Ahrefs and Similarweb (mentioned previously).
Founded in 2004 as SEOmoz, it started as a blog and an online community where some of the world's first SEO experts shared their research and ideas. Now Moz is a SaaS company offering a set of SEO tools, but it still hasn’t lost it’s commitment to teaching and explaining, offering a solid Beginners Guide to SEO, an informative blog and lots of other useful SEO resources including a range of free tools.
One of them, Mozbar, is a toolbar plug in for Chrome which gives you instant metrics while viewing any web page or Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It’s great for giving you a quick overview of link metrics, including domain and page authority.
If you want to know what content your competitors are being successful with and where then BuzzSumo is a great tool for competitor research. It allows you to see what content is getting traction for your competitors, what networks are they having success with, who is sharing their content (which will allow you to identify influencers) and how your content compares.
In the digital world, where competition is a click away, you cannot afford to ignore what your competitors are up to. Performing a thorough competitive analysis gives you the information you need to take advantage of opportunities for improvement and avoid potential threats to your business. By looking at what other businesses are doing well, you can implement strategies for doing even better. If you can identify areas where your competitors are weak, then you can target those areas, making the best of your competitive advantage.
One final point, the digital marketing eco-system is by no means static, but changes all the time. You will need to run your competitor analysis on a continual basis to ensure you don’t get left behind.