How to research your competition on a budget
We have all heard about competitor research. But why is it so important?
Well, there are many reasons.
Why I think it is great is because it allows you to quickly gain an understanding of how to market to your target audience.
Your competitors must be doing something right as they are still in business.
Although you don’t want to copy them completely, you can definitely learn a thing or two from them.
This will save you a huge amount of time and money by reducing the need to start from scratch.
You will not need to spend as much time and money testing various aspects of marketing to find what works on your target audience.
You will also be able to effectively differentiate your business from its competitors.
This blog post will walk you through how to carry out amazing competitor research that is going to drastically benefit your business.
And the best part...
This is not going to cost you much!
Make sure you bookmark this blog as you are going to want to come back to it at a later date.
Why competitor research is awesome
Before I get stuck into the guide here are more reasons why you need to be conducting competitor research.
Increase your understanding of your target audience
Understand the price of similar products
Understand where your business fits in the markets
Find opportunities in the market
Discover your weaknesses and do something about them
Analysing your competitors is some of the best research you can do.
Here is how to do it well…
Start by picking at least 10 of your closest competitors. Those that are most similar to your business and who pose the greatest threat to taking business away from you.
I know this sounds like a lot, but by doing this you are going to gain knowledge that will help you market to your target audience better.
I am now going to detail below the information you should be looking out for. Giving you advice on how to conduct the research and why it will be helpful to you.
By the end of this research you will have a file on 10 of your competitors that you can easily refer back to and find valuable information to help you craft amazing marketing content.
This is a no brainer really.
Of course you want to make a note of their name. When looking at their name, think about what this sounds like to your target audience.
Is it easily recognisable? Does it relate to what they do? Is it memorable?
Again, another obvious one.
When looking at their domain think about the same points as above.
Also consider whether it is a good domain that will pick up organic search traffic.
Is the domain name itself is a keyword that people would search when looking for products or services relating to the industry?
When you get on the website, what is the initial message that it gives off?
Consider where your eyes are instantly drawn. What language do they use? Do they use supporting imagery? How does the language and images work together?
This will help you understand what their Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is.
Think about what message this gives off to the target audience. Does this describe what they do well?
We are going to take a step back now and figure out how they are getting visitors to their website.
This will help you understand what advertising channels work for targeting your potential customers.
You can also look at the messaging, images and Call To Actions (CTA) they use in the advert copy.
There are a couple ways you can do this; keeping an eye out during normal internet browsing and using free or cheap web tools that analyse businesses.
Keeping an eye out during normal internet browsing
This sounds a bit silly when I say it out loud but you will be surprised how well it works.
You may have previously noticed that after you visit a website, you seem to keep seeing advertisements for that business.
This is no coincidence. The business is using a marketing tactic called retargeting or remarketing.
This is a more sophisticated marketing tactic but one that can be easily undertaken with a little know-how. It is also incredibly useful for us at this stage of research.
Be aware of the competitors that you have visited when browsing other websites. If an advert for them pops up, be sure to take a screenshot and add that to your swipe file for that competitor.
This is useful research to help craft your advertising copy.
It is not always easy to tell where the adverts come from. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as saying that they must have advertised through the website that the advert appears on.
Usually, they come from a third party advertising platform similar to Google AdWords. There are many different services like this and there are a few tricks you can use to tell what service they have used.
Look for the logo or ‘by xxxx’ after a block of advertising. The below example from Taboola, a content marketing service, was shown on Business Insider.
Notice the little ‘By Taboola’ in the bottom right corner.
For some single adverts, like the big banners at the top of a page, they won’t have this label.
You can usually tell who has served the advert by hovering over it. When you do this, a link will appear at the bottom of your browser window.
In most cases, this will be from the advertising platform. They will have embedded a link that will help them register how many clicks that particular advert has received.
Make sure to note these advertising services in your swipe file. If your competitor is having luck with this, then so might you.
Competitor Analysis Web Tools
A quicker way of finding advertising information on your competitors is by using a web tool like Spyfu. There are many ways this can help you analyse your competitors, one of them is showing you the Google AdWords adverts they have running.
Go to the Spyfu homepage and enter the competitor’s website in the search bar.
You will then be taken to a page containing lots of different information about that competitor (some of this will be useful later).
Right now though, you need to scroll down until the ‘AdWords History’ section. See below, I have used Business Insider as an example.
You can see the top adverts they used on the right. Evaluate this, consider the wording they have chosen.
If these are the top performing adverts, there must be a reason for it. That reason is that they perform very well and provide a good Return on Investment (ROI).
For those who don’t know what a keyword is, it is simply a word or phrase used to find something within a search engine like Google.
This is a good indication to understand what phrases people are entering to find products like yours.
If you know this, then you can start to utilise these keywords within your website content.
By analysing the keywords that your competition is using, you will start to build an understanding of what search terms your audience is using.
This is going to reduce the amount of time you have to spend figuring out which keywords you should use.
Spyfu are also able to provide you with the information about the keywords your competitors ranks on. See this example below from Business Insider.
The number of keywords you can see are limited in the free version but you can sign up for monthly plan for a relatively low-cost.
Backlinks are simply when another websites links to your website.
They are a major ranking factor search engines use to understand if your website provides valuable information.
If other sites are linking to it then they must think you are providing valuable information to their audience.
Moz recently conducted a study examining the top 50 Google search results on over 15,000 keywords and found that 99.2% of all websites had at least one external link (backlink).
To find your competitors backlinks, use Spy Fu to search your competitor's website.
Check out the backlink section. This will list the sites that are linking to your competitors.
Make a note of these as they will come in useful later when building your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy.
Check out this example of Business Insider below. You are able to see their top 5 backlinks using the free version.
You will have to upgrade to a paid for version to see the rest. If you do not want to pay for the upgraded version then making note of these top 5 sites will still help.
Social Media Channels
This is a bit more straightforward to research.
On visiting a competitor’s page, you will easily be able to find the social media channels they use.
This is very useful information as it will help you to understand which social channels your audience hangs out on. This is essential for any modern business.
Make sure you visit the channels to understand how your competitors are engaging with your audience.
Make a note of the types of content they are using. Take screenshots of images, posts, tweets and anything else you think is useful.
Free Offers (Lead Magnets)
I want to take you back to the competitor’s website now and try to find what is commonly referred to as a Lead Magnet.
This is essentially a free offer that is given away in exchange for an individual's contact details.
Here is an example from Social Media Examiner.
This was a pop up that appeared after about 1 minute of browsing their website.
You can see it is an offer that could be really useful to someone interested in social media marketing.
When you click on the ‘Instant Download’ button, you are prompted to enter your name and email address.
These are not always in a pop up form, although pop ups have been found to be incredibly effective.
Anyway, back to lead magnets.
If you are in the ecommerce industry then a lead magnet might be in the form of a special offer or a discount on their products.
If you are not in ecommerce then check out this comprehensive list of lead magnets from Copy Monk.
Keep an eye out for these on your competitor’s page and take a screen shot when you find them.
This will be very useful to help you understand what lead magnets work for your target audience.
Make sure you sign up to them as well. You will then be added to their email list and you can evaluate the emails that they send.
It is worth creating a new email address for this purpose as you don’t want to clutter your existing mailbox.
Keep checking back in with this email address so you can see the different emails your competitors send to nurture prospective customers.
This will come in handy when you want to create your own email marketing strategy.
You want to also look at the type of marketing content they are creating on a regular basis.
Are they pushing out regular blogs or do they have a news section to the website?
Look for other downloadable content as well. The above lead magnet is a great example but perhaps they also have product documentation, or guide books for their services.
Looking for this is going to help you understand what type of content your target audience likes to engage with.
Make a note of this as it is going to help you build your content strategy later down the line.
Call To Action (CTA)
It is also worth looking at the type of CTAs that they use.
These are the words or phrases usually found in buttons on websites, prompting people to click on them.
A great CTA can make a big difference in converting your website visitors.
It is likely that your competitors have found ones that work well on your audience.
Now we are getting into the nitty gritty money making details.
Look for what products or services your competitors offer and make a note of them.
Think about how you can differentiate your product from theirs. What makes your product better or different?
This will really help you shape your USP.
A great tactic here is to try and find negative reviews about your competitors' products or services.
You might be able to find them directly on their website or try checking larger retailers like Amazon.
If it is a service based business then use a website like Yell or Facebook to see if you can find what their customers are saying about them.
By finding the negative reviews you can understand what your audience did not like about that product or service.
You can then figure out how you can make yours better by addressing those concerns.
Make sure you are keeping track of their pricing as this will help you price your product in the market.
By browsing their website and signing up to their newsletter, you will start to get a feel for the customer journey that they are trying to create.
Think about what are some of the main actions they are trying to get their audience to take.
Are they trying to build an email list or just encouraging people to call them straight away? What is the next step in their customer journey?
This is incredibly useful as you will start to build up a picture of how your competitors are guiding their audience towards the end goal.
You will soon understand how you can improve on this process when you create your own customer journey.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Finally, you want to think about what were the aspects of your competitor’s approach that were fantastic and what aspects could be improved.
This will form their strengths and weaknesses which is going to be useful to figure out if there are any opportunities for you to do something better than them.
You will also understand which areas that you might need to improve in your business to stay competitive.
Conducting great competitor research
Before I wrap this up, I want to make very clear that you are not trying to copy your competitors exactly. This is how you end up with a lawsuit.
You are merely trying to understand the approach they take to conducting business. To help you shape the way you conduct business.
It will take you some time to carry out fantastic competitor research.
To be honest with you, the more you do, the better the position you will be in to understand how to create a better business.
If you are serious about making your business work and have the time, then look at 15 or 20 competitors instead of just 10.
You will not regret it.
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