Effective Competitor Analysis | Key Strategies

How to Create a Competitor Analysis to Actually Get Ahead

By Kristen HicksMar 21 /2019

When working on your inbound marketing strategy, you want to base your choices on evidence of what works for your audience as much as possible. Your own marketing analytics are the most obvious place to gain that data, but they only represent a portion of the available information out there about how your audience reacts to different marketing approaches and tactics.

That’s because you’re only one of many brands actively working to reach and convert the people in your target audience. In addition to learning from your own past efforts, you can benefit from learning as much as you can about what your competitors are doing.

What is a Competitor Analysis?

A competitor analysis is the exercise of learning about your competitor’s marketing activities to gain new insights you can then bring into your marketing strategy. It starts with identifying who your top competitors are and researching which marketing tactics they’re using, the channels they focus on, what they’re specifically doing in each, and what results they’re getting.

Why A Competitor Analysis Matters

Brands can get a lot out of conducting a competitor analysis on a regular basis. There are three main benefits you can count on a competitor analysis to provide.

It provides additional evidence of what works.

Your own analytics will only tell you how the tactics you’ve tried are performing, but with a competitor analysis, you can supplement that knowledge with information on how tactics other companies have tried paid off with your audience. If your competitors have ventured into channels you’re not on yet or have embraced new marketing trends, you can see how well it’s working out for them before you take on those risks yourself.

And for the competitors beating you in key areas, you can analyze what they’re doing to get to that point so you can improve upon their winning strategy. It gives you a whole new set of data you can put to use.

It helps you understand the market and your place in it.

Your audience doesn’t encounter your marketing in a vacuum. What they respond to in your marketing will often have as much to do with the messaging they encounter from your competitors as what they see from you. If you’re losing out on clicks or conversions because a competitor’s positioning is more effective than yours, that’s important to know!

A competitor analysis provides a bigger picture of what your audience sees and how that shapes their response to your marketing.

It provides inspiration for ways to improve your strategy.

When you see what works for your competitors, it will provide your team with new ideas for marketing techniques that can work for you. That doesn’t mean copying what they’re doing, but rather taking what you like from examples of their marketing and building upon it in your own way. Your competitor analysis will provide fodder to fuel your team’s brainstorming sessions and may help spark some new, creative ideas for your upcoming marketing campaigns.

6 Steps to Complete Your Competitive Analysis

For your competitive analysis to provide these benefits, you need to take the right approach.

1. Determine the right tools.

A lot of what your competitors are doing is publicly available. You can learn a lot about their marketing by visiting their website, signing up for their email list, and checking out their social accounts. And with the help of the right competitor analysis tools, you can tap into a lot more information on your competitors and view it all in a well-organized format that makes it easier to use.

There’s a whole industry of competitor analysis products. Some of them provide information specific to a particular marketing tactic or channel, such as search or social, while some take a broader view and supply information across different channels. These products will help you pull out insights it’s hard to find on your own, including all the keywords your competitors rank for in search and which of their pay-per-click (PPC) ads get the most hits.

Having the right tools will make every other step on this list run smooth, and it will give you the means to make sure your competitor analysis is truly comprehensive.

2. Identify your top competitors.

You may think you already know who all your main competitors are, but for the sake of your marketing competitor analysis, you need to identify several different categories of competitors. This includes:

  • Product competitors - those selling similar products or services to yours
  • Search competitors - the websites that get the top rankings for keywords you target in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts
  • PPC competitors - the brands competing for the same keywords, ad placements and targeted audiences you are
  • Social competitors - the social accounts that dominate each channel in your space

You can expect some overlap in these categories, but you’ll likely find that some different brands show up in each.

In some cases, your competitors in these areas may be media companies in your industry or companies that sell products to the same audience but that aren’t direct product competitors. Don’t leave them out of your analysis just because they’re not selling products like yours. You can learn a lot from analyzing what they’re doing to claim success in these spaces.

3. Research their approach in each main marketing area.

Your analysis of competitors should encompass every aspect of digital marketing you’d like to improve on. In other words: all of them. Make a plan for your competitor analysis that includes analyzing how your competitors perform and what they do in:

  • SEO

An SEO competitor analysis will help you figure out who’s getting the top spots for relevant keywords and how. By learning what your competitors are doing, your team will learn additional keywords to target and find opportunities for link building.

Go through each competitor’s blog, download any eBooks or white papers they offer, and check out any videos or podcasts they’ve produced. Pay particular attention to the most popular content and content that ranks well in the search engines. These pieces are doing something right and you’ll want to understand how. Look for trends in factors like the language they use, the length of pieces, and the way they’re formatted.

  • Paid advertising

This is one of the areas where having the right tools especially comes in handy. Find the keywords your competitors are targeting in their PPC campaigns, how much they’re spending, and how many clicks they’re getting. That will help you learn which ads and placements bring in the best ROI.

  • Social media

Investigate competitor social media channels. Even if there are some you’re not active on, it’s worth looking to see if your competitors are there and how they’re faring — it could even help you spot a missed opportunity. Pay attention to how often they post, times of day, what they’re sharing, hashtags use, and how those factors all relate to the number of followers and amount of engagement they receive on the platforms.

  • Email

Finally, an email analysis gives a big-picture view of how often your competitors send emails and what those emails look like. Check out the subject lines they use, what kind of images they include, and how their body copy reads.

4. Work backward to piece together their strategy.

At this point, you’ll be working with a lot of different pieces of information. To make sense out of it, take a step back with each competitor and analyze how the different pieces fit together. Based on the information you have, do your best to answer the questions:

  • What is their positioning?
  • Who are they trying to reach?
  • What are the main keywords and topic areas they’re targeting?
  • Which channels are working with most?
  • How do their tactics in different marketing channels support each other?

You can bet they’re doing some of the same testing and experimentation you are, so pay attention to commonalities in things like the calls to action (CTA), the way their content is visually designed, and the offers they make.

5. Define your main takeaways.

Now that you have a good overview of what your competitors are doing and some idea of the results their different marketing actions receive, boil all that information down to specific takeaways you can use.

First, consider who’s winning in each marketing category. Now consider why. Write down specific steps they’re taking that are paying off. Consider what aspects of their strategy in that channel resonate with the audience. Some of this will be guesswork, but because of the work you’ve done so far, it will be well-informed guesswork.

Work up a list of the strategies and tactics your research shows are working the best for your competitors.

6. Incorporate your findings into your marketing plan.

For what you learn in a competitive analysis to pay off, you have to put it to use. Turn those takeaways into an actionable strategy tied to clear goals.

Rework your upcoming content strategy to include new topics or content formats based on what’s working for your competitors. Equip your SEO team with new keywords to target and websites to reach out to for link building campaigns. Test new CTAs and design styles and measure how the results compare to the old.

Take the best insights and techniques from each competitor and figure out how to use them to your advantage. And each step of the way, keep testing and measuring so you gain new data on what’s working from what you try.

Use Your Competitor Analysis to Learn and Grow

Your team is smart and capable, but that doesn’t mean you don’t always have room to improve. Everyone does. Spending time researching and analyzing your competitors will provide valuable insights and spark new ideas. You’ll bring fresh ideas into the room and more data you can apply to build out a successful strategy that gets real results. And it’s only by understanding where your competitors are and how they got there that you can figure out what it takes to get ahead of them.
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The Author

Kristen Hicks

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and content marketer specializing in helping businesses connect with customers through content online.