Now of course we’re not talking about corporate espionage, but nonetheless it is important to understand that rigorous competition is a foundational concept of the free enterprise system. Your efforts to acquire all the information you can from public sources using legal methods is not only ethical, it is expected. In fact, you can be sure your more successful competitors will look as closely at your company as you do at theirs.
While your competitors are not actually enemies, many entrepreneurs find a worthy insight in the oft-quoted wisdom of Sun Tzu in his Art of War. This master advises victory only comes when you know your enemies - and yourself. This context for competitive analysis is a good starting point to look at both the tools and methods to use for evaluating how your marketing, products, website and positioning stack up against the rest.
While you’ll probably find your digital agency to be a great source of advice on how to approach your analysis and set up an ongoing program, you can start on your own. There are a number of great tools you can use for your own evaluations and marketing efforts (some free, some not) that are equally valuable in learning about your others in your space. For example, most companies will spend a lot of time evaluating their keywords and traffic-building tools, such as PPC and other paid-search initiatives.
SpyFu Kombat is an online tool designed to provide you with detailed information especially geared towards what keywords your competitors are buying for ads. Also of importance are the negative keywords you should account for and analysis of how the two can help you identify organic keyword opportunities as well. Your paid-search team, or a qualified member of your staff can help you interpret this raw data and show how “the other guys” are getting clicks and what sources are proving to be the most effective. Attribution models help determine the relative value of efforts with local search, social media, and other traffic-building endeavors.
Expanding on that, you’ll want to start collecting information about key metrics related to your competitors’ websites to establish benchmarks and identify ways of exploiting what they’ve missed. Set up a spreadsheet that helps you organize the information you find for further analysis. This can include the likes of:
- Domain Authority
- Inbound links – their quality, value to traffic and rankings
- Broken backlinks – for targeting later
- Indexed pages
- Do key pages answer questions (Hummingbird)?
- Alexa rank (yes, still worth looking at for certain reasons)
- Domain age
- Traffic metrics
- Social media presence, such as:
o Digg submissions/total with more than 100 Diggs
o Bookmarks on Delicious
o Influence on Twitter and others relevant to the niche
o And about a thousand other social media metrics to consider
We recommend you install the SEO Quake Toolbar, Moz’s free toolbar, or even better subscribe to some of the Moz paid tools (they fall under the “not free” category) as they provide a consolidated way to get immediate information on the sites you review. These tools have a number of customizable options, allowing you to track the details most important to you. Some information is important in your initial analysis, but then doesn’t require ongoing tracking.
While there are a number of other tools and methods you’ll want to explore, there is an important principle to understand about competitive analysis: it is not the data you gather that is important, it is what you do with it. For example, if your competitor’s domain age is 10 years or more, they will have generally have an advantage against you when it comes to search rankings. Knowing this, you will have the incentive to work on specific techniques to counter this specific issue. If you find high-quality backlinks that now 404 because your competitor moved the page they were pointing to – ding, ding, ding jackpot! – how are you going to capture them?? Knowing ain’t doing.
We put a good bit of focus into Competitive Analysis in our website audit, so for the price of a one month subscription to a couple of your favorite tools, we do all the work for you of gathering up that key information and putting some strategic direction behind it all.
Whatever route you go, also take the time to understand what your prospective customers are experiencing in terms of UX, engagement with their current providers, and ensure your site stands up well against the competition. Get yourself on the competitions’ email lists – note what you like about their customer service and where you feel opportunities exist to do better.
Especially for New Acquisitions
And if you’re just acquiring a website, there’s no better way to wow your own customers than by using all the competitive analysis you’ve gathered and putting it to work to create an improved experience for your current base. Retention should be just as important, if not more so, than new customer acquisition after all.
What did we miss? If you’ve got some ideas you’d like to see us expand upon in future posts please let us know in the comments!