Marketing: The Complete Guide to Online Competitive Analysis

Before the digital age, undertaking competitive analysis was much trickier.

If it was available to you, comparing revenue data would give you a solid idea of how you stacked up against the competition.

If you were a brick-and-mortar business, you might benchmark the number of store locations each competitor operated across. If you wanted to understand how they were positioning themselves, you could scout around for their adverts.

A visit to your competitor’s shop might help you understand more about the customer experience they offer, while the good old fashioned survey might reveal richer insights about the attitudes of their customers.

The explosion of online media has expanded competitive analysis methodology much further.

Online competitive analysis has come so far that the variety of information available is huge, the level of detail fairly comprehensive- you can track such a broad range of data that the real challenge now is not obtaining the information, but working out which metrics are the most important in winning the war between your brand and the competition.

The advantages of competitive analysis

There are several insights that you can take from doing this research, and those insights can inform more than one team within your business.

Sales, marketing, product and engineering departments can all benefit from understanding the marketplace and your competitors.

Determining the strengths of your competitors

Understanding where your competitors are doing well allows you to determine where their main focus is. What are they doing well that you are not focusing on enough? You can find ways to close the gap on areas where they are stronger than you.

Determining the weaknesses of the competition

Finding the areas they are not succeeding in means you can identify areas of strength to highlight. It allows you to push the advantages that already exist to really hammer home these differentiators.

Alternatively, you can develop those areas further to set your brand apart from theirs. Sales teams can use this knowledge to their advantage too.

Developing a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

This information will give you insights that will show how much of your businesses, and strategies, overlap. You may be selling a similar product, but are you targeting the same corner of the market?

You may be promoting yourself as the premium product on the marketplace, whereas your competitors may be positioning themselves as a value product. In which case, they are not in direct competition.

Supporting content creation

We are not, of course, suggesting you plagiarize anyone. Instead, get inspired. Undertake some competitive analysis of the content they publish, and you may begin to see content themes and topics that resonate with your shared audience.

Driving product innovation

Researching competitors to understand their product is a necessary part of product strategy.

To not understand the marketplace in which you operate would be careless; your rivals will be doing their research on you. This knowledge can inform the development of your own product. You wouldn’t want to release a product that is worse than those currently on offer.


Competitive analysis tools

Website changes, A/B and multivariate testing

A company’s website is the modern equivalent of (or complement to) a shop window.

It shows how a brand is positioning themselves, how they are selling their products and the areas they highlight. It will be updated if they change their positioning, or if they start to offer new products, so by tracking the website you can stay up to date with a lot of changes.

Competitive analysis tools like Kompyte will track your rival’s website and inform you when a change is made, notifying you of everything from a new banner to the launch of a new product.

Cromonitor will tell you when a website is carrying out A/B testing by accessing a website from multiple IP addresses and take screenshots when it detects a test in progress.

Emails and blog posts

Newsletters and blog posts are the main way of pushing a brand’s marketing out to their audience.

This content forms the voice of many brands, and will also keep you updated with changes in product and strategy.

It’s probably not the best idea to sign up using a business email, but this is easily circumvented by using a personal email, or by using a tool like Owletter. You can access a competitor’s blog regularly, or add it to an RSS feed to be notified when new posts are published.

Search: organic and paid

A good search strategy can reap huge rewards, taking advantage of some of the 40,000 Google searches per second.

Researching the keywords your competition are targeting, and their ranking in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), will help you understand how mature their strategy is and how far it overlaps with your own.

This then informs your own plan, working out which keywords to target and the type of content that is working for them.

You can do the same with paid search, researching through Google or a tool such as iSpionage, which reveals your rival’s monthly budget and alerts you to new ads and new keywords that are being targeted.

Backlinks

Undertaking backlink analysis can help inform your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy, and tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer can assist you here.

If an authoritative site is linking to a competitor, you may devise a strategy with the aim of obtaining similar high-value links, helping to close the gap.

Alternatively, the research may uncover such a high volume of links that you have little chance of overtaking the competition. In this case, you may need to be more strategic in your SEO plan, or look for alternative channels to drive your competitive advantage.

New competitors

Some tools that are primarily used for SEO and PPC optimization, for example SEMrush, can also inform you of new competitors by highlighting newly ranking pages in the results page.

Social

A good social strategy will drive brand awareness and help get your content in front of a wider audience. Followers, comments, retweets, engagement, likes, status updates, videos and photos – a huge number of metrics can be benchmarked via social media channels.


Going deeper

Discovering the amount of buzz and sentiment around your competitors has long been part of the social strategy, as has measuring your share of voice within the industry. A robust social media intelligence tool can deliver these sort of competitive analysis metrics.

Detailed searches allow you to discover the qualities consumers associate with your competitor’s brand and product. Which common customer issues arise that could help differentiate your brands? Which locations are particularly strong for them? How are their marketing campaigns received by their audience?

Discovering the answers to these questions can lead to specific strategies to focus marketing, product development or sales.

You can also keep tabs on your PR strategy and the efforts of your competitors, highlighting media coverage within the industry. You may spot opportunities that you hadn’t considered if a reputable publication is writing about your rivals.

Whether it’s a comparison with your closest rival or an investigation into the entire sector, monitoring social gives a great overview of the landscape, and delivers actionable insights to drive business outcomes. 



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