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Published February 26th 2019

How to Do an Effective Competitive Analysis

We take you through what a competitive analysis is, how to do one, and how to get all the data in order.

Definition: A competitive analysis is the process of categorizing and evaluating your competitors to understand their strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your own.

In other words, it’s not a complicated idea. It’s common knowledge that the better you understand your competitors, the better chance you have of beating them.

The concept might be simple, but the process is more complicated. A competitive analysis can cover a whole range of areas, metrics, and disciplines. Some of these will be more important dependent on who you are, but the more exhaustive you are the more effective your competitive analysis will be.

We’ve attempted to give you a comprehensive list of steps to help you undertake a competitive analysis. Combine these with your own understanding of your industry and business, and you’ll have something really powerful.

How to identify competitors

First things first. You need to know who your competitors are. You’ll probably already have a list, but have you considered every angle?

Let’s start with the basics for those running new businesses where the environment is yet to be explored.

Kinds of competitors

There isn’t just one type of competitor out there. There are direct and indirect competitors (also known as primary and secondary respectively).

Direct competitors

These are companies offering the same service or products as you in the same geographical area – targeting the same audience and serving the same needs.

Indirect competitors

These are companies who offer the same, or similar, services and products to you in the same area, but who are serving a different need or purpose or targeting a different audience.

As an example, say you sell beer. Your product is stocked in supermarkets around the country.

A direct competitor would be someone who also sells beer and has their product stocked in the same kind of places as you do. The beers are similarly priced and both are targeted at the same group of people.

An indirect competitor would be someone who sells wine. The wine is sold in the same place, but the product is obviously different, while the target market is also different but with some overlap. This would not be a direct competitor, but they could still be taking some of your business if their product convinces someone to go for a glass of red over a beer that evening.

Tertiary competitors

There is also third type of competitor, a tertiary competitor. This is someone who sells a product that might be vaguely linked to yours, but doesn’t really compete. Identifying these types of competitors is still important.

Why? These are competitors that could become direct or indirect ones if they decide to pivot. You don’t need to do as much research on them, but keeping an eye on any big changes or developments on their end could be beneficial.

Now we know how to define the type of competitor, it’s time to start finding them.

Google and search engines

Google, or the search engine of your choice, is a prime starting point. Here you can do a number of things to dig up competitors, all through the use of algorithms none of us will ever truly understand.

First up, just search your company name. In some cases Google will list a bunch of companies that other people search for along with searching for yours. Here’s what happens when you type “brandwatch” into Google:

This knowledge panel appears on the right handside of the Google’s search engine results page (SERP), and at the bottom it gives us a list of related companies. You can even click to get some more.

Now, this list isn’t perfect. It’s a mix of direct, indirect, and tertiary competitors. But it’s a start and, by using this list to search more companies in Google to repeat the purpose, we’ll soon have a sizeable list of companies to look at.

Beyond searching your brand name, you can also search for terms related to your business to see who else pops up. If you repair computers across California, just search “California computer repairs” and, lo and behold, there’ll be a bunch of them (likely direct ones).

Make a big list of keywords and phrases that are linked to your products and searches and get Googling (or Binging or DuckDuckGoing) and you’ll soon have a massive list of potential competitors.

This isn’t the last we’ll see of Google in this guide. It’s also a great tool for conducting competitive analysis itself. Find out more in our SEO competitive analysis section.

Search engine ads

Similar to the previous section, here we’re referring to the ads we get served in the SERPs. We can follow the same process as we did for the previous section, except this time we’re just looking at the ads.

Here’s some ad results for searching ‘social listening company’ in Google:

And there we go. This can also work by searching company names, as competitors will often bid on each. Throw in a few things (the keyword list you created in the previous section will be useful here) to see what comes up.

Why do we do this as well look at normal Google results? Because some companies might not be ranking for certain terms, either because they’re too new or not putting much effort into SEO. Meanwhile, chucking money into ads can be a quick way to get noticed.

Make sure you do the searches multiple times to see as many ads as possible. It’ll also give you some insight into what terms your competitors are targeting.

Content tools

Tools like BuzzSumo, that allow you to analyze content, can be a good way to find competitors too. For example, searching relevant business and industry terms will give you the most shared content on those topics.

From there you can sift through the articles and blog posts for mentions of companies other than yourself. There’s likely to be a bit more rubbish to rummage through with this, but it’s important not to leave any stone unturned.

Head to our content competitive analysis section later on to see how to use these tools to learn more about your competition.

Prospects and customers

The people you’re trying to sell to or have sold to, can also help you discover competitors. Simply asking them about competitors will furnish you with some names.

Be sure to keep this up, as well. New companies will be proactive in approaching your clients, so they can often be the first warning of a new rival on the scene.

You can do this as part of your sales process by asking about previous suppliers when getting customer info. Also, if you’ve got a particularly good relationship with a client, just ask them to send over any sales material they get sent by other firms.

Trade publications

If there are any publications in your industry, physical or digital, make sure you’re checking these regularly. Competitors will pop up, but they’ll also help you keep an eye out for new companies or others changing up their plans that might affect you.

Social media and forums

This is in a similar vein to speaking to prospects and customers, but you won’t be talking to them directly here. We talk about anything and everything on the internet, especially now we have things like Twitter and Reddit. This means there’s a wealth of info out there.

We got into more detail on using this for a competitive analysis later, but it can be good for finding competitors initially.

Use the search functions for various platforms and forums to dig up mentions or discussions on products and services. Have a read around and you’ll likely find some competitors pop up – for example, when people ask for recommendations. Our Twitter search guide will come in handy here.

It’s even better if there’s a subreddit dedicated to your industry (such as this one on smart home devices for an example). You’ll be able to discover plenty of competitors this way. Here’s a guide on Reddit if you’re not familiar.

How to conduct a competitive analysis

Now that we have our list of competitors, it’s time to start the actual competitive analysis. Not all of these steps will be useful or relevant to you, but each one should at least be explored.

Each step is broken down so that you’ll get a description, how to conduct this part of a competitive analysis, and then some guiding questions or ideas to lead the analysis.

When you’ve got all the data together, you can then start comparing yourself in a useful way to your competitors and discover areas to improve, as well as how your rivals might start taking business from you.

It’s a good idea to build out a spreadsheet where you can keep all this info in one place. Consider setting up multiple tables, one for your main direct competitors, one for your main indirect competitors, and then a list of any competitors you want to keep an eye on. The third spreadsheet will end up being quite extensive, but use it more as an index and data resource than something you check and update regularly.

The basic stats

We’ll start with the simple stuff. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we want to get a general overview of a competitor, including their size, reach, activities, and personnel. This will help you get a basic comparison going between you and your competitors.

Data points to consider:

  • Revenue
  • Number of clients
  • Number of offices and locations
  • Number of employees
  • Info on noteworthy employees
  • Products and services they offer
  • Areas they operate in
  • The websites and social channels they own
  • Company history and significant milestones

Financial records and reports

This one is mainly for competitors who are public and have to publish their financial reports. Obviously knowing the revenue and profits (or lack thereof) of your rivals is useful information, especially if you can see it broken down by products, services, or whatever else.

So what if they’re not public? You might still be able to find some of this information elsewhere.

There’s no one place to look, but plenty of our other steps might help. Companies will often talk about their financial progress in blogs, press releases, interviews, talks, conferences, and other mediums. In other words, useful data might just pop up so you should always be on the lookout.

Take it with a pinch of salt, though. A passing comment on a blog post might not tell the whole story, or even be accurate.

Messaging

This is an area where we can start to get a good idea on how a company sees themselves and what they’re trying to achieve. Remember, their messaging will be spread across a range of mediums and channels such as:

  • Website copy
  • Social media
  • Physical materials (such as brochures and trade materials)
  • Employees speaking at events
  • Emails
  • Press appearances
  • Interviews given by employees
  • Product copy (such as on packaging or in an app)

Each of these (and any others we’ve not covered), will give you an insight into what your competitor sees as important, their key areas, and the kind of people they’re targeting. It’s worth mentioning that the above examples are not created equal. Be wary of discerning a company’s direction from a CEO’s speech at one conference. Their website and material copy will likely be more illuminating.

Example

It’s the year 2320 and travelling to Mars for a leisure trip or work is just an everyday thing. Two companies offer this service: Starcrest Executive and SimpleShuttle.

If we look at their websites, Starcrest Executive talks about luxury and comfort on their Mars trips, with the actual cost not mentioned except on a specific page. With SimpleShuttle, the costs are upfront, appear on multiple pages, and are presented as cheap, while the copy talks about value and efficiency.

From that we can make an assumption that Starcrest Executive are targeting people with a higher income than SimpleShuttle, and that their selling points differ (comfort vs cost).

It’s a simple example, and signifiers like this might depend on your industry, but it’ll help you get an idea of the kinds of things to look for.

Questions to consider:

  • What is their opening piece of copy on their homepage?
  • What features/products do they emphasise?
  • What are their selling points?
  • How do they talk/what language do they use?
  • Who are they talking to?
  • What imagery do they use?
  • What competitors do they talk about?
  • What clients do they highlight?

Pricing

On the surface this is pretty straight-forward. Simply do a bit of research and come up with a price list for your competitors you can compare to your own. In cases where you sell very similar products, this is easy, but in other cases it can be a bit harder.

When products or services differ, for example on features of a piece of software, price comparisons get a bit harder. The best bet is to find as much common ground as possible and compare appropriately.

Where this isn’t possible, you’ll have to bring in the extra or lacking features to give context to prices. Even if you can’t compare directly, you’ll soon be able to see if a product is fairly priced compared to your own offering.

Getting pricing information isn’t always easy, either. If it’s not listed on the site, you might have to put yourself through some of a competitor’s sale process to start getting quotes (although this will throw up other useful info too). Another option is to reach out to their clients or ex-clients and see if they’ll pass on any tidbits of info – again, if you’ve got a good relationship with one of your own clients they might be willing to share this kind of information from when they previously worked with a competitor

Recruitment and careers

You can never know for sure what a competitor is planning on doing, but you can make educated guesses. Careers and recruitment pages can be really helpful here.

Job postings can give us an insight into the inner works of a company. If they’re on a recruitment drive for devs and engineers, they’ve obviously got a big project in the works. If they’re getting in lots of new salespeople, they’re looking to drum up a bunch of new customers.

These pages could also give clues or signs of turmoil or trouble. A big increase in job openings across the board could suggest a lot of people leaving. There’s nothing hard and fast to take in this situation, but it could be a starting point to start sniffing around.

Sites like Glassdoor, which let ex and current employees leave reviews on their employees, are worth a look too. Some of these reviews can be very candid and will give you a better understanding of what makes your competitors tick.

Website content analysis

It isn’t news to anyone that websites are incredibly valuable for selling and getting leads. But, of course, it’s also easy to have a site that fails at doing either. Keeping up to date with technology and the latest trends is important for website conversions.

This is why it’s important to look at what your competitors are doing. Are they getting ahead or falling behind? What gaps can you fill that they’re failing to? What are they attempting but doing badly?

For a start, look at the type of content they produce. Most will have blogs so see what topics they cover, how often they post, and how well they perform. Do they do any long-form content, such as guides or reports?

Have a good root around their entire site and see what you can dig up. See if there’s a common theme between your competitors and compare their resources to yours.

Of course, an important part of this is seeing what actually works. There’s no reason to copy something that fails.

Tools like BuzzSumo will help you start with this. Chuck in a domain URL and it will tell you what kind of content gets the most shares.

Here’s how ours looks:

If you were a competitor of ours, you can see that we’ve seen some decent successes on social, and across various platforms. You also get to see what types of content work too.
It shows, for example, that there’s some worth in covering what our products can do rather than what they are.

You’ll also notice that Buzzsumo includes the number of links pieces get. This is good for looking at referral traffic, but it’s also important for search engine optimization (SEO). We’ve got a whole step dedicated to that down here.

Questions to consider:

  • What types of content do my competitors create?
  • What topics and themes do they focus on?
  • Who are they targeting?
  • What needs are they trying to meet?
  • How well does it perform?
  • What types of content and topics perform best?
  • How are they using this content to get leads or sell products?

Social media analysis

There’s a huge amount of insight to be gained looking at how your competitors use social media, but also at how people on social media talk about them.

One of the first things to do is to get an understanding of what your competitors are up to. What platforms do they use? Who do they talk to? What kind of posts do they make?

This will be very surface level but take a look at who is performing best and what’s causing that success. Then you can start to go a bit deeper.

Using Brandwatch Audiences you can analyze a competitor’s Twitter following, including who they are, what they talk about, and who influences them. That’s just for Twitter, but there are other tools around that can help here as well.

It’s also important to see who has the biggest share of voice on social media. You’ll need tools to do this, and we’ve got a explainer on social share of voice to help. Take a look at that and make sure you keep an eye on the percentages regularly. “Set and forget” is not a good idea – things can change rapidly.

Another of our tools, Brandwatch Analytics, can help you analyze your competitors extensively. You’ll be able track reach, sentiment, conversations, and topics over time, getting data from a whole range of social sites  – from Twitter to Reddit to news reports.

You can also get really detailed with rules and categories that will help you organize everything. Very soon you’ll have a real-time dashboard that will help you keep updated on competitor activities and see how well they perform on social media.

Be sure to look at this from an owned (channels actually owned by a competitor) and unowned (posts from people outside the company) separately. They will often tell two very different stories.

Questions to consider:

  • What platforms are working for your competitors?
  • Are conversations different on different platforms?
  • What is your share of voice compared to your competitors’?
  • What content works?
  • What kind of language do they use?
  • Who do they interact it?
  • What’s the sentiment and emotions around conversations?
  • What are the demographics of your competitor’s followings?
  • Are they working with influencers (and to what success)?

Search engine optimization (SEO) analysis

It’s important to see how your competitors are performing SEO-wise too. By SEO we mean search engine optimization. In other words, how well they’re ranking in Google.

Google, and other search engines, can send huge amounts of traffic to a website and, by extension, can be a excellent source of revenue.

A lot of SEO tools will be able to give you an overview of a domain, citing key metrics such as the keywords they rank for and the links pointing to their site. We can’t go into SEO in detail here, but we’ll look at these two areas specifically for this guide (SEO is far, far bigger than this, so take some time to read Moz’s beginner’s guide if you’re new to it).

Keywords

Looking at keywords first, what you’ll want to do is write down a bunch of them that are relevant and important – the ones that convert the best, for example. These are the terms you’re going to want to compete on.

As an example, we’ll take an electrician from the city of Derby. A great way for them to get business will be to rank for terms like “derby electrician’, and the same goes for all their competitors.

Be warned: searching in Google yourself, even in Incognito mode, will not always be accurate. Google will personalise results based on your profile, location, and other things. Don’t take these results at face value.

To really do this properly, you’ll need to use SEO tools

The outcome of this will be a good idea of how your various competitors are performing, how much effort they’re putting into content and SEO, and what you need to keep up. It might even throw up some new competitors.

From here you can plan your own SEO work and get a content plan on the go. Here’s a simplistic piece of advice, but a good starting point: Find out what your competitors do, then do it better.

In the below screenshot, you can see an example of a keywords list generated in Ahrefs. We’ve put in Google’s website and you can see the terms they generate the most traffic from. You can also look at keywords by country and see the SERP results for each one too.

Of course if you’re on a strict budget, a paid SEO tool might be out of the question. There is always Google’s Search Console to help you do analysis of your own site. Unfortunately there won’t be much in the way of competitors, but it’s worth getting set up all the same.

Links and domains

A site’s SEO performance is connected to how many links they get pointed to their site, and the number of sites who create those links. Again, this is simplified. Relevancy, what is linked to, and where from also play a big part (among loads of other things).

Knowing what links your competitors have got is useful for a number of reasons. First, it gives you an idea of what you’ll need to do to beat them. Second, it gives you a list of sites you should try and get links from too. Third, it reveals the type of content that receives links.

Just like the keyword analysis, these three things can be used to guide your content strategy. What works and what doesn’t changes from sector to sector, and this is the best way to find out what works in yours.

Finally, just to reiterate, SEO is a huge discipline. Do your research beyond links and domains as there’s a lot more to it if you want to be really successful.

Questions to consider:

  • What keywords do they rank for?
  • What do your competitors rank for that you don’t?
  • What content ranks well and attracts links?
  • How often are competitors releasing SEO-focused content?
  • What sites link to your competitors?
  • How have they achieved these links?
  • What content of yours is directly competing with theirs?

Putting it all together

Once you’ve got all this info, it might be a bit overwhelming. It’s time to sort it and make it valuable.

To start, try and order each area in importance to your current aims and goals. For some, there might be one competitor you’re looking to beat, so going after their strong areas will be a focus. For others you might just be starting out and looking at ways to break into your sector.

It’s also good to categorize your findings to see where they fit into your strategy. Here’s a very simple table as an example. It takes your specific conclusions from your research, and then assigns an area (or areas) of work it sits under.

As you can see, with “All competitors get links to glossary content”, this will be a consideration for your content team (in creating it) and your SEO team (in optimizing and building links to it). This will help you with strategy and planning when it comes to putting your research into action.

Findings Content SEO Social Brand
All competitors get links to longform content.
Competitor A has the most positive sentiment in online conversations.
Competitor B and C are seeing success with influencer content.

Work through the findings with your co-workers. Make sure the info is disseminated rather than sitting in some massive document and never looked at again. It’s also important to keep it updated.

Another important resource to create are battlecards. These will be factsheets on your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, and are used specifically to convince potential customers or clients why you’re better. They’re an excellent way to get your sales team prepped and always on-message.

Here’s a good run down on creating battlecards. We’ve also got info on competitive benchmarking, where this data will come in handy.

You can take this a step further and create full profiles of all your competitors that go beyond selling points. Here you can bring together all of the information you’ve uncovered in an ordered and useful manner.

The ultimate aim is to put all the research to good use. That means making it accesible and putting it into formats that your organisation can use. In other words, if someone asks who a certain competitor is, what information can you send them straight away?

A strong competitive analysis takes a lot of work, but the rewards are huge. It removes blind spots, helps you improve, and is essential for excelling in your industry. Make sure all your hard work doesn’t go to waste.

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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.