Sometimes entrepreneurs and marketing professionals get so hung up on their own strategy that they forget there are others out there in the same industry. Unless your business is one-of-a-kind (and how likely is that, really?), you have competitors. You don’t operate in a vacuum, so your marketing strategy shouldn’t be constructed in a vacuum. For the best possible outcome, you must study your competition – both what they do wrong and what they do right.
But what does it mean to track what your competitors are doing? Do you call them up and ask? Most businesses won’t take kindly to handing out their secrets to the competition. Do you go undercover? That’s a bit too time-consuming and imprecise. No, what you need is a bit of online research.
But you’ll have to dig a bit deeper than just a Google search. Sure, it’s helpful to explore your competitors’ websites and to check out what others are saying about them online. But you’ll need some more systematic exploration to get all the dirty details. Check out the following ideas for how to go about it.
Monitor Social Media
Your competitors are almost certainly on the major social networks. And even in the extremely unlikely event that they aren’t, people are still probably talking about them on social media. You can monitor what other businesses are saying about themselves and what their customers are saying about them.
To simplify the task of gathering this data, try a monitoring tool such as Hootsuite or Mention. These let you specify key phrases, then alert you whenever your designated phrases pop up online. So you can use them to monitor your own brand conversations as well as those of your competitors.
Use The Right Tools
There are also tools that are specifically designed to help you keep an eye on your competition. Here are a few of the best:
SpyFu is a paid tool that’s designed to allow you to “spy” on your competitors. It lets you search any website and see the keywords that have generated the best organic search results, as well as those they’ve bought on AdWords. This is fantastic for your SEO research and for informing your PPC campaign. If you want to improve your organic or paid ranking, it’s helpful to see how your best competitors do what they do.
This is a simple, user-friendly tool that lets you identify which URLs, IP addresses, etc. are owned by the same company. This is a free tool so there’s no risk involved, and it could be useful for expanding your knowledge of your competitors beyond their websites
SimilarWeb shows you multiple significant data points about competitor websites. For instance, if you type in a competitor’s website, you’ll be able to see search rankings globally, by country, and by category. And you’ll also be able to see total visitors by week and where visits originated. You can even get recommendations for who else you might want to watch. This is a paid tool, although there is a watered-down version available for free.
Open Site Explorer
This tool from Moz is great for analyzing both your own and your competitor’s backlinks. You can use it to learn about both page and domain authority (the quality of links) as well as the overall quantity of links to a competitor’s website. You can also check out valuable social media metrics, such as shares and likes. You’ll have to pay for full access to this tool, but you can take advantage of a free 30-day trial and see how it works out.
You can learn quite a bit about competitor websites by using Alexa. This tool gives you valuable information such as search traffic, bounce rate, successful keywords, and more. Basic plans start at just $9.99 a month. If you have a small business or startup, the basic plan could be a good way to get started with researching your competition.
Ask Your Customers
The hard data you’ll get from the above-mentioned tools are invaluable, but it’s also impersonal. if you really want to know what’s attracting consumers to a particular brand (or what’s driving them away), you’ve got to ask real people.
More than likely, some of your customers have either done business with competitors in your field or they’ve researched your competition before choosing you. To find out why you need feedback.
There are lots of different methods for getting customer feedback, but one of the most popular is through surveys. You might already be using surveys to get feedback about your own business practices, so why not throw in some questions about the competition? Questions like “Why did you choose us over competitors?” and “How does our pricing structure compare to other companies you’ve done business with?” should return some valuable results.
You can also get useful feedback just by talking to your customers. You’d be amazed what people are willing to share in the casual conversation. It helps to make a list of talking points. If an individual seems open to engaging in a discussion, you can start asking about the competition. Just remember to keep it friendly.
Through a combination of hard data and subjective insights, you should be able to size up your competition pretty well. This is worth spending some time (and maybe even a bit of money) on. As the adage goes, work smarter, not harder. Learn from your competitors’ mistakes and you’ll never have to make those same mistakes. Learn from their successes and you won’t have to suffer through the same trials and tribulations to get there.