Five ways to improve and fine-tune your online competitor research to give your business an edge

Five ways to improve and fine-tune your online competitor research to give your business an edge

Polly Kay

Polly Kay
18th October 2018

Conducting competitor research is vital for businesses of all types and at all levels, in order to maintain and grow your market share and avoid losing revenue to another online business.

Make sure that you’re using the most effective online competitor research tools and methods to secure your own market share and keep your business ahead of the game by using these five tried and tested approaches to analysing your competitor’s digital activities.

Use online competitor audit tools

Thoroughly researching an online competitor isn’t something you can fully automate. A large part of analysing your competitor’s activities, successes and failures involves piecing together a complete picture of all of the information you collate, and knowing how to read between the lines and draw informed conclusions from the available data.

However, using the right online competitor audit tools can help you to build up the raw data you need to begin an analysis, and support or inform your findings.

This, combined with putting in the time required to conduct a personal analysis of the less tangible information that is available online will provide you with the insights required to draw informed conclusions that have real-world value for your own business.

There is a range of competitor research tools that can be put to work to analyse other websites and gain insights into your competitor’s online activities, and here are some of the best tools and approaches to use to gather data to start you off.

Website search term and keyword ranking tools

Tools like SEMrush can help you to discover how your competitor’s website ranks organically and how their ranking has changed over time, and can provide insights into the site’s most valuable keywords and search terms.

It also allows you to audit your competitor’s backlinks and external brand mentions, among other things.

For a deeper dive into your competitor’s online activities, SpyFu provides a more in-depth analytics tool that can tell you everything from a competitor’s organic search term click count to their paid search ad budget.

This allows you to compare your competitor’s paid and organic results side by side, providing direction and insights into how and where your own ad budget should be allocated – or if your time and funds would be better spent on improving your organic results.

Social media analytic tools

No successful business can afford to ignore the power of social media when it comes to spreading the word and raising brand awareness, and analysing your competitors’ social media endeavours is an important part of effective competitor research.

Fortunately, there are a number of tools that can help you to navigate the often obtuse nature of social media competitor research, such as LikeAlyzer, which assigns every chosen Facebook page with a ranking from 1-100, and provides industry averages across a wide range of different niches.

This allows you to compare your own Facebook page with your competitors and see who is beating you – and potentially, why.

To measure engagement, growth, keywords and follower audiences across multiple social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, Fanpage Karma can provide a detailed overview and comparison tool.

For Twitter-specific insights, Twitonomy will allow you to review an analysis of your own Twitter feed and any other feed of your choosing.

Know who is competing with you (and beating you) in SEO, and why

If one of your competitors is beating you in the SEO rankings for your main keywords and primary search terms, finding them and identifying why they’re at the top of their game is the key to beating them on the field.

In order to do this, you’ll need to write a list of your most important keywords and search terms, enter them into Google (and potentially, other major search engines too) to find out which competitors are placing in the top slots.

If you find that one competitor reliably appears within the top-ranked organic results for all or most of your chosen keywords and search terms, then you’ve identified your main competitor and the business you most need to get to know better.

There is one potential side-effect of this approach that might not be what you were looking for but that provides a hugely valuable insight nonetheless – which is identifying businesses that are beating you in search rankings but that aren’t actual competitors.

For instance, if you’re targeting a geographic keyword or search term using town/city names such as “Rugby” or “Reading,” finding out that you’re being beaten in ranking by businesses pertaining to the game of rugby or reading a book can provide an insight into the types of search results your keywords are triggering so that you can fine-tune them to rank better for your desired local audiences.

Examine your competitor’s strategies by analysing their blog posts and social media feeds

How your competitors are interacting with their audiences and the tone, style, and approach that they’re taking to doing so are all things that you need to know to conduct effective research into your online competitors.

This can take time, because you’ll need to really get to know the competitor in question by reading their blog posts, social media feeds and other online interactions and potentially, go back several months or even longer when doing so.

Reading a competitor’s blog and taking a look at the view counts for individual posts, the amount of comments posted for different types of content and the organic buzz generated by these endeavours can be invaluable when it comes to determining what your prospects want to read and see, and the right tone, style and format to deliver it in.

The same holds true for your competitor’s social media interactions. The platforms competitors use, the voice and language style they post in and how they interact with their audiences provide valuable information into the “how” to support the “who” information you can collate using some of the social media analysis tools I mentioned earlier on.

Identify your competitor’s USPs and compare them to your own

When you have identified your main competitors, you need to find out what their USPs are, and how they compare to your own and that of other competitors.

Doing this will provide insights into the USPs that your buyers are looking for and respond to so that you can work to improve your own USPs to emulate or surpass your competitors.

If you find that your USPs are similar to or even objectively better than a competitor but that your competitor is still taking the larger part of the market share, this information is really valuable too.

Coming in second to a competitor with the same or even weaker USPs indicates that you’re not making your USPs clear enough to your prospects – or that you’re simply not reaching them and so, are unable to compete on a level playing field.

This will enable you to work on highlighting your USPs and determining the right approach to letting your prospects find them effectively.

Find and analyse consumer feedback

Successful competitors don’t just win new prospects and initial sales effectively – to sustain a viable, successful business model, they also have to keep those prospects interested and willing to return to make repeat transactions.

Reading consumer feedback for your competitors offers value by telling you what their buyers think of the business, its products, its customer service and its approach to tackling issues when something goes wrong, as well as the business’s weak areas and common customer pain points.

Additionally, most online shoppers read reviews before making any significant purchase of goods or services, and will often make their final purchasing decision based on the reviews posted by others.

According to research conducted by Podium in 2017, 93% of consumers surveyed stated that reviews directly impact on their ultimate purchasing choices, and 82% of survey respondents state that reviews have convinced them to make a purchase.

A good place to look for feedback on a specific competitor in the first instance is their own website. Many businesses incorporate collated reviews via platforms like Trustpilot and Feefo into their own promotional collateral and individual product pages.

However, whilst reviews posted on platforms of this type theoretically retain a layer of separation from the company using them to avoid manipulation, they won’t always give you the full picture of what your competitor’s reviewers are really thinking.

Entering a simple search term like “Trustpilot reviews” into Google quickly results in autofill suggestions such as “Trustpilot fake reviews,” which in turn returns pages of results from authority websites like Bloomberg and public blogs and forums alike revealing the limitations of such sites’ impartiality when it comes to weeding out fake reviews – including mentions of paid-for positive reviews posted by agents of the company receiving them.

Look at Google reviews, Facebook reviews and other channels too, which can be used by the general public to post comments and feedback, without the need to receive an invite or incentive to do so as is sometimes the case with partner review platforms.

Additionally, simply Googling the name of the company (or a branded product) and “reviews” will sometimes generate other findings too; such as message board post threads discussing the relative merits of certain goods or services, blog reviews and comments, and other review collation channels too.

If you find yourself with hundreds or thousands of reviews on a single platform to work through, this can be onerous, and the best approach is to get a general feel for the mood and tone of the reviews you find and the relative percentages of negative versus positive scores and comments.

Use the search tools provided by review sites to find the lowest-ranked reviews, and seek to identify their commonalities or repeat complaints from buyers and service users.

 In terms of the sort of timeframe you should look at, reviews placed within the last twelve months will give you the most accurate snapshot of the current state of play for your competitor of choice.

However, it is also worth remembering that your competitor’s prospects will often read historical reviews too, particularly if they also use lowest-to-highest search parameters, and historical information can be valuable in terms of telling you what buyers want – and what they don’t.

Good reviews might be less interesting to read than bad ones, and to some extent, less useful.

However, it is also important to look for insights within them to find out what people like about your competitor – particularly if it helps to explain their brand loyalty and the reasons behind a high level of repeat custom.

This can tell you about the type of things you need to do to coax customers away from your competitor and keep them with you for the long term.

Bringing everything together to give your business an edge

So, how do you combine all of the various elements of competitor research I’ve suggested above, and put them to use within your own company?

The correct answer to this is something that you need to determine on a bespoke basis based on your business goals and plans for future growth.

By drawing up a plan and structure for your own business in terms of what you want to achieve, you will be able to narrow down the right type of competitor research tools and approaches to use to give your business the edge it needs.

Begin by outlining why you’re conducting competitor research, making this as specific as possible.

For instance, do you want to find out why you’re not making sales but someone else with equivalent offerings is, are you struggling with customer retention, or are you trying to enter a new niche and compete with established firms?

Once you have nailed down the “why,” you are ready to nail down the “how.” How are your competitors beating you? Is it due to their organic SEO, ability to engage and reward their prospects, their tone and brand voice, or simply a lower price point?

How can you compete in this area – is your SEO letting you down, are you targeting the wrong market, or are you trying to reach out to them in the wrong way? Are you unable to beat their price point, and so, need to look at how you can add value to incentivise purchases in other ways?

Being able to compare your own approach side by side with that of your successful competitors will allow you to spot the areas in which your competitors excel, or areas in which you are positioned to beat them but still missing your mark.

Next, you need to decide how you can make the best use of this information in order to drive growth, and which members of your team can benefit from the results of your research, and how.

If your business is medium or large-sized, getting the right information in front of the people who need it and in a way that they can use is might be an additional challenge to factor in.

You can, of course, collate your findings into a report for widespread distribution amongst the relevant team members, but in order to catalyse positive change and make a meaningful attempt to drive improvement, the chances are you will need to be rather more proactive.

Organise a real-word or virtual meeting amongst the relevant players – sales, marketing, developers, decisionmakers, and other stakeholders that need to collaborate or at least remain up to date on your business’s wider goals and endeavours.

Determine your short-term and long-term goals and approaches, as well as timeframes for implementing them, and ensure that the relevant parties take ownership of their respective roles in the process. Integrate analytics along the way to measure change and progress too.

Measuring your success is vital, so work in methods of doing this from the get-go – and remember that competitor research and analysis should be an ongoing process, and not something that you undertake once or set and forget in terms of analytic tools that generate potentially valuable data that you never actually put to work for you.