How to Use Competitive Analysis for an Unfair Advantage
By Pam Neely
Ever heard of the “Blue Ocean Strategy”? It’s based on a book about how to carve out an entirely new segment of the market for your business. When you have properly executed the Blue Ocean Strategy, you have no real competition.
I love the idea of the Blue Ocean Strategy, but it’s an ideal I don’t see many businesses achieve. Most of us are keenly aware of our competition and keenly aware how much of it there is. Whether it’s a competing group of companies or viewpoints or technologies, pretty much every business I can think of has heaps of competition. Even Apple and Virgin Galactic. Even the drinkable book.
The good news is all that competition can help you. Sure, it helps you by keeping you sharp. That alone ups your game. But your competition is also a goldmine of market research. Your competition can teach you almost everything you need to know about how to understand your audience better, how to communicate with them better, and how to improve your business.
Your competitive research can be as complex or as simple as you’d like it to be. It can be free, or expensive. You could, conceivably, hire an entire department for corporate espionage. Or you could just spend about an hour a month online.
While this post is focused on digital businesses (or companies that do at least some of their business online), you’ll still get a lot of applicable tips if you’re a local business. Pretty much every tool listed here is free, and none of them requires any special skills to use.
The Quickie: How to do competitive analysis in 30 minutes or less
If you just want the 30-minute sweep, do this:
- Follow them on social media.
- Sign up for their email newsletter. Create a special folder for their emails so you can track what they send over time.
- Place an order, or become a customer some way. If they’re exclusively digital and generally only work one-on-one (so you’d have to become their client to follow this advice), try just buying an ebook or reading their website closely. If they’ve got a book, buy it. If they do webinars or have a podcast, sign up.
- Set up a Google Alert and track them on SocialMention. It’s a well-known trick to set up Google Alerts for your competitors’ company names and product names. And there’s a reason: It’s easy to do and free. But Google Alerts won’t get you every mention. Back it up a bit with SocialMention. SocialMention is limited to social media, like the name suggests, but it usually picks up far more than Google Alerts will.
How to do more in-depth competitive research
1) See which content of theirs does best.
Head over to BuzzSumo. Enter your competitors’ company or blog address. You’ll get back which pieces of content have gotten the most exposure for them.
2) See who’s sharing their content.
From the view in BuzzSumo above (the one that’s the screenshot), click on “View Sharers”:
You’ll see who’s shared their content on Twitter. This is a choice list of potential influencers for you to reach out to.
3) Notice which content formats they use the most.
Do they do any video marketing, or is everything they publish text? If you find that your competitors can’t link outside the text box, that’s a major opportunity. Fire up your smartphone and start recording videos.
If you see only a couple of infographics, or almost no images, that’s another win for you. People are extremely visual, whether we’re in B2B or B2C. So if your niche is light on visual content, rejoice. If you start making good visual content you can probably steal some eyeballs from your peers.
4) See how their website performs.
We’ve written a lot about website speed and being mobile-friendly lately. Those articles were focused on getting you up to speed with those issues. Now’s the time to see how you compare to other sites in your niche.
5) Find out which social media platforms they have a presence on.
This can be really interesting, especially with the niche networks. While you and most of your competitors might be obsessed with Facebook and Twitter, another competitor might be crushing it on Tumblr, while another one is raking it in on YouTube.
The key here – as with any research – is to get the information you need, but nothing more. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
|Competitor||Most active platform||Followers 1st platform||2nd most active platform||Followers 2nd platform|
|Competitor #1||Facebook; post 3x per day||25K||Pinterest: pin 3-4 times per day to 150 boards||30K|
|Competitor #2||Facebook: post 2x per day||13.5K||Twitter: 8X per day||9K|
|Competitor #3||Pinterest: pin 1-2 times per day to 50 boards||4K||Facebook: post 2x per day||5.5K|
|Competitor #4||Twitter: 12 tweets per day||45K||Facebook: 3-4 posts per day||17K|
Is there a lot of information left out here? Yup. But you want to keep your research lean and mean. Otherwise you risk getting lost in competitive research and never applying what you learn. You won’t earn anything extra until you apply it.
Speaking of applying this… while you’re looking at all those social media posts and shares and updates, steal every good idea you can to a list of blog post titles and social media update ideas. It’s a great way to add probably a hundred items to your content ideas list while you’re doing competitive research.
6) Check out their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Once you know where they’re investing their time on social media, dig deeper. Fanpage Karma can teach you a ton about what’s working and not working for them on Facebook.
You can compare your audience to theirs with Fanpage Karma. After registration, a free account will show you a slew of information, including:
- Number of fans
- Posts per day
- Average post length
- Average time to respond
- Growth rate
- Best performing and worst performing posts
- Most frequently used words, hashtags, and sources
- Who their most active fans are
- Their post engagement rate by time of day and day of the week
- A graph of key metrics over time (anywhere from last week to years back)
For Twitter, it’s always fun to:
- See who they’re following. Follow at least 10-50 of those people for your own account. These are the people they listen to, or they want to get to know better. Maybe you might want to know them better, too.
- See who follows them. For this and the last bullet point, you may want a Twitter analytics tool. I still prefer FollowerWonk to just about anything else, but it’s paid. Twitonomy will give you lots of good info for free.
- See how many of their followers are fake. Boy, can this be an eye-opener. Use Twitter Audit to find out if they’ve been cheating. Keep in mind it’s imperfect… inactive accounts are counted as fake.
If they’re the LinkedIn type, check who they’re connected to and which groups they belong to.
7) See what they’re up to on pay per click and organic search.
Of all the suggestions here, this one is most likely to make you feel like you really do have an unfair advantage.
There are plenty of tools that show you how your competitors rank in search or what they’re doing in pay per click. Moz is one. MajesticSEO is another. But SpyFu shows you both search engine rankings and pay per click ads, budget, keywords and more. Unlike its equally good rival, SEMRush, you can get a lot of information from SpyFu for free.
Just a basic search of Eastern Mountain Sports on SpyFu gave me all this:
- 87% of their traffic is organic; 13% is paid
- Their estimated monthly pay per click budget
- How many keywords they are bidding on
- Who their top five organic search competitors are
- Who their top five paid search competitors are
- Their top ads
- Their top keywords (organic and paid)
- And much more
8) Run an SEO audit of their site with one of the free SEO audit tools.
There are two types of audits: SEO audits and content audits. There’s a lot of overlap between the two. There are many free online tools that let you do an audit with a click of a button. That’s a nice short cut given how the typical full-scale content or SEO audit can take a week to complete.
We don’t need that kind of microscope-level view. An automated audit is fine. All of these tools are interesting and good. Most of them have overlapping features:
- Quick Sprout’s site analysis tool: http://www.quicksprout.com/
- Kapost’s content auditor https://app.kapost.com/auditor
- Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/
- WooRank https://www.woorank.com/
- Similarweb http://www.similarweb.com/ This site also gives excellent audience information, and lets you compare two sites at once.
Research, then do your own thing
Knowing what your competitors are doing gives you a significant edge. But I don’t want you to think you should just copy what they do. You should have slightly different “positioning” to make your content and your business stand out.
For the deep dive on how to differentiate yourself from the competition, read “Positioning” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It’s a reasonably short book, and arguably one of the most influential marketing books written in the last 20 years.
For a shorter read (but still a good one), check out Kerry Butters’ post on this site, Crafting Differentiation: How To Separate Yourself From The Competition.
What do you think?
Are you tracking what your competitors are up to? What sort of information do you track? Tell us about it in the comments. Or just give us a shout out if you liked this post.
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