Why is it so important to research on your competitors’ strategies and their market positioning? Whether you’re an aspiring, emerging, established or giant brand, your business’ road to success and viability depends on your skills to keep a sharp eye on your “enemy” at all times. Competitive analysis, formally known as Competitive Intelligence, focuses on various aspects of a business, from marketing to sales, and from IT to customer service.
Since here at Kondiment pretty much everyone is a digital expert, we’ll tip you off with some insider knowledge on Competitive Intelligence when it comes to Online Marketing. The dynamic nature of this industry makes it especially challenging for brands to stay ahead of the pack and assess accurately how their business stucks up against competitors’. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably looking for solutions to increase ROI by identifying industry trends and emulate competitors’ campaigns and strategies.
Without further ado, here we go!
1. Identify your right competitors per industry segment and services
This is much harder to do than it sounds. Out of hundreds, possibly thousands of direct and indirect competitors spread all over the globe, it is quite a gargantuan challenge to identify your real competition. Needless to say, it is an extremely time-consuming process, unless you have a dedicated full-fledged Competitive Intelligence department. The starting point is to divide your competitors, whether direct or indirect ones, per industry segmentation (e.g. eCommerce, healthcare, travel, etc.) and the services they offer — they might have a different target audience in another industry but provide the same services as you. Since we’re talking about Digital Marketing here, your real job is to consider all these factors within the online medium and scout around for those relevant competitors who use the strategies, tools, campaigns and resources that your business needs to leverage as well.
2. Determine your competitors’ weaknesses and strengths
Once you’ve narrowed down the list to a few front-runner competitors (Kondiment suggests no more than 10) then the whole process gets a little bit easier, or at least less time-consuming. The good news for you? Since we’ve helped out and analyzed hundreds of businesses, our expertise showed us that none of them can perform at full throttle. For instance, one business can excel at Content Marketing but struggles with social media engagement or PPC campaigns. Spend as much time as possible on strategy analysis related to: blog, social media channels, landing pages with offers (discounts, gifts, eBooks, reports, white papers, etc.), newsletter, press release pages, media kits, tone of voice, readability, images and visual content). The next step is to assess the consistency and quality of these factors. Is the content appealing, error-free and available to everyone? What is the frequency with which that business offers all these solutions to their target audience? Our recipe is simple — find out what works in your competitors’ digital efforts and improve it further!
3. Find the right analytics tools
While in the near future Big Data will offer advertisers and businesses a massive amount of information in terms of competitive research, at the moment your best arsenal comes from the likes of Google, Amazon (Alexa) and a few other major players, such as Ahrefs, SemRush, BuzzSumo or SimilarWeb. These are all fantastic tools that can churn out more metrics than you’ll ever need to keep your competitive edge. Just a teeny-tiny issue — you need highly-trained professionals who know how to leverage these advanced tools and make sense of all that segmented information. We’ve noticed that the greatest barrier our clients experience with these tools is the inability to corroborate all this data to increase ROI. It is pointless if you master analytics tools like a samurai masters his sword, if you can’t get to the end result — business growth!
4. Examine your competitor’s website & customer experience
This step is linked to what we’ve discussed so far. Analytics tools can provide you with a slew of data such as traffic volume, page views, content engagement, bounce rates, SEO techniques and many more if you know how to break them down. However, when it comes to usability and customer experience things get a little bit more complex. That’s where you or your expert teams need to assess how easily, fast and conveniently a user interacts with your competitor’s website, how smooth the navigation flow is, and most importantly, how the user’s feedback / experience is recorded or monitored. But the Holy Grail of this whole process is the mighty conversion rate which is normally confidential and non-identifiable. Specialized Digital Marketing agencies have access to such data and although under no circumstances do they sell it to third parties, they have a crisp understanding of what converts and what doesn’t.
5. Execute an SEO competitive analysis
Once you’ve become an expert in your niche following the steps above, you can get down to the nitty gritty of competitive analysis in Digital Marketing. To step up your game, you need to conduct a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) analysis of your competitors’ websites with a view to determining how they rank in search results (SERPs). There’s plenty of other useful information available at your fingertips — traffic volume & keywords (organic and paid), inbound & outbound links, domain authority, spam score, desktop / mobile users, and many more. How many more? Well, Google takes into consideration more than 200 factors when assessing the SEO quality of a website / page. Even for a specialized Digital Marketing agency, conducting such a data-intensive audit for dozens of competitors is well-nigh impossible. However, using the aforementioned analytics tools you can select 4 or 5 competitors and, depending on the availability of your time and resources, try to go through 10 or 15 major ranking factors.
Tip: Always consider mobile-first implementations and strategies.
6. Don’t dismiss social listening
Although this buzzword might give you the impression that you need to spy on people’s social media accounts, nothing can be further from the truth. In the simplest terms, it refers to listening (reading) to what your consumers say about your brand, sometimes comparing it to your competitors’, so you can create a dialogue with them and keep your brand top-of-mind. It is not exclusively linked to social media networks, and you may want to keep an eye on review websites as well. For instance, if you run a hotel business, social listening needs to be done through social media as well as other booking / aggregator websites, such as Agoda, Booking.com or Airbnb. But this is only the first step! Next you need to create content, solutions, new business opportunities, improvements / additions to your line of products or services. This means that social listening, unlike monitoring, helps you to strategize in the long term and gives you a bird’s eye view on your brand’s health. Competitive Intelligence in social listening can refer to the brand awareness ratio among competitors.
7. Become a customer or client of your competitors’ services / products
Not everything needs to be about technical strategies. Sometimes it just takes a tad of common sense to determine what kind of experience your competitors offer to their end users. The best way to do this is to become a customer or client. As a case in point, if you run an eCommerce boutique shop, try to identify some real competitors (national or international) and become a customer. Pay close to attention to:
- how you find them (an article, paid ad, etc.)
- what landing page you are directed to and how easy it is to input your details
- how compelling the CTA of their newsletter is
- how you check out (complete purchasing)
- what Email Marketing strategies they have (layout and number of emails you receive from them)
- how efficiently they retarget you (if you keep receiving relevant product promotions or services, upselling, cross-selling, and even how often it occurs)
8. Analyze the marketers' profiles and their department’s size
Credibility and trust are paramount for every business. Even if you run a boutique hotel, your customers need to feel safe by knowing you boast talented, dedicated and efficient professionals. Compare your business with your competitors’, see if they are hiring in the marketing department, read the LinkedIn profiles of their marketers and find out or gauge how many there are in that department. You may not have the financial resources to expand your digital marketing team yet. But if you run a corporation with 300+ employees, you are currently implementing strategies to go global and there are only 5 people in your marketing department, that’s a bit of an alarming issue. Keep your business’ growth at a sustainable rate and invest greatly in human resources, whether hired in-house or outsourced.
9. Stay competitive with Google Alerts
You can easily set up free Google Alerts to constantly keep tabs on your competitors. Instead of monitoring individually your competitors on their product or service updates, why not let Google curate through the best and most relevant sources while you focus your efforts on other aspects of your business? As shown above in the image, there are a few sections with various options to choose from. Since Google will return a whole bunch of results, with many not being too relevant to your interests, you should refine your search results by using long-tail keywords (keyword phrases with at least 3 words) or quotations (e.g. “digital marketing”) for a more accurate match.
10. Consider your competitors’ digital audit
A digital audit entails a very comprehensive analysis in the form of a roadmap of Digital Marketing activities and actions. Normally, consultants, specialised agencies, chief marketing officers and managers conduct such a data-centric analysis with the purpose of determining the health state of a business in the online medium. A digital audit takes into consideration everything we’ve discussed so far plus many other factors and the best way to start is with a template sheet checklist. The whole process requires an impressive amount of time and qualified personnel, so when it comes to conducting a digital audit on your competitors, things are even more challenging.
Here, at Kondiment, whenever we embark on a journey of helping new clients, we first conduct a digital audit and we always kick off with Google Analytics. However, this analytics service provides confidential data, available exclusively to an admin user, and cannot be accessed among competitors. So, skip this step, and only go through public information using the aforementioned analytics tools, spreadsheets, human talent and a pinch of commons sense!
While a competitive analysis might seem rather daunting at the beginning, once you get the hang of it, things start falling into place. But if you do feel slightly overwhelmed, or you need professional advice, don’t forget that Kondiment’s doors are always open to you. Just drop us a line!