Updated ( October 26th, 2018 )
Competitor research is an often overlooked and undervalued part of digital marketing strategy. However, this could be a major oversite, especially in the business-to-business and industrial sectors of the web. Knowing who your competitors are and what web tactics they employ can take a good marketing strategy and help evolve it into a great one.
Knowing who your online competitors are and what tactics and techniques they are using can not only help you learn what is working for them, but also what isn’t working. Learning from someone else’s marketing mistakes saves you the pain of making them yourself and still allows you to grow.
You may also find out more about your marketing vertical or niche in the industry. This may allow you to find new sectors of the market to tap into or to identify saturated markets on which to place less emphasis. Finally, you can expand your knowledge of both who your audience is as well as who your competitors’ audiences are. Being able to identify these factors is key to making sure your marketing strategies are optimized to generate the best leads and connect you with the right sectors of the market.
The first step toward conducting great competitor research is to identify your competition. Not all competitors are created equal, and they can be broken into three broader categories. Being able to map your competition into each of these categories will help you to determine which aspects of their websites and strategies bear the most relevance to your business.
Primary competitors are businesses that compete directly with you in the marketplace. They may also have a physical business presence that provides competition for you. These businesses will be targeting the same audiences and demographics as you and may be nearly identical in the products or services they sell. These are the businesses on which you want to focus the bulk of your research as they will provide the best competitor insights.
Secondary competitors are similar to those in the previous category, but have less direct overlap with the products or services you provide. These competitors may serve a different market or demographic than you, for example serving commercial rather than industrial markets. They may also offer slightly different services or products than your business with some variation that falls outside your desired range of services.
Tertiary competitors are businesses that have a little bit in common with yours but are tangential enough where they are not directly impacting your sales or leads. While these businesses may not bear the full force of your research, they can be a useful study for finding new services or products to incorporate into your business.
There are many different types of analysis you can do on your competitors’ websites that will provide you with valuable information. What you research will depend on what aspects of your own business you are looking to improve.
Competitor research plays a large role in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Competitor websites can provide priceless information such as new keyword opportunities and ways to display content on your site to improve organic rankings. This type of competitive keyword analysis can also highlight valuable keyword groups that some or none of your competition is focusing on. Finding these gaps and opportunities using tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMRush or Spyfu will help your business improve their organic rankings and claim leads and sales before your competition. In addition to showing estimated website traffic for your competitors, these tools will tell you how you rank for a particular keyword on Google compared to your top competitors and will sort them by the average monthly number of search queries for the given keyword in the last 12 months. It will also tell you if you and your competitors’ keyword ranking is improving or declining. Needless to say, this provides insight into which keywords you should try to improve your page rank.
Another useful area of research is inbound and outbound links. In other words, who is linking to your competitors’ site and who they are linking to in turn. Using tools like SEMRush and Spyfu, it is easy to find out in which directories, journals, magazines or social platforms your competition is listed. You may discover new platforms both on and offline that will help you grow your influence in the market. Paying attention to the tactics used by your competition, especially if they publish in articles and journals, can help give you a better idea of what types of content marketing you need to grow your link profile.
In a similar vein, analyzing the content already available on your competitors’ websites will help you identify ways in which you can improve your own on-site content. If a rival site’s blog or news articles win them a large amount of organic traffic, it is worth considering posting regularly scheduled content of your own – even if it is at a slower pace. Looking at the language and keyword tactics your competitors use can help you find areas of thin or aimless content on your own site that need improvement.
Other things to consider in a competitor audit would be their pricing model and how it relates to yours. You may have a great site with competitive content but if your pricing model is wrong, you could be losing leads to a rival business.
If you do not have to worry about pricing, consider the user experience on your site. Is it easy to use? Do your competitors have sites that facilitate an easy user experience from the first touch point to the completion of a sale or lead generation form? For example, do they have an online catalog that enables the user to easily search by part number or keyword. What about visual search? Can the user compare products, see related products, configure custom products or download CAD files?
For E-Commerce sites, does it allow the user to use a purchase order rather than a credit card or enter their own preferred freight carrier information?
Keep yourself open to new ways of engaging the user on your site to improve the quality of their stay and their likelihood of becoming a customer.
Performing a competitor audit can generate a hefty load of information that can be intimidating to sift through. While you hopefully had some goals in mind before sitting down to look at the results, it is imperative to develop short and long term goals for your website. These goals will help you find relevant information in the competitor analysis and identify relevant strategies to employ.
Whether you are making small or large changes to your site based off your research, it is important to set up key performance indicators (KPI’s) to measure the success of your new initiatives. Whether you are looking for an increase in traffic, or increased sales or leads, using tools like Google or Adobe Analytics can help you configure tracking to measure your goals over time. Any changes you make down the road are informed by provable marketing metrics.
If you are able, setting up A/B testing can alleviate some of the risk in making larger changes by testing them on a split audience. While this type of testing can be more complicated, a skilled web team or agency partner will be able to work with your marketing team to set up an A/B test to further ensure the results from your research will have the best impact on your business.
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