Competitor analysis is a practical way to define your company’s standing against competing brands and identify other market players’ strengths and weaknesses.
We’ve put together all our processes and tools for a complete digital marketing competitor analysis in 5 steps. But first:
What Is Competitor Analysis?
Competitor analysis is the process of researching and analyzing the marketing strategies of the companies operating in a given market.
The competitor research casts light on what other brands in your niche are doing to acquire and retain customers. The analysis evaluates as many factors as possible to bring insights into what drives traffic to your competitors’ pages and leads to their ads. It highlights the gaps and estimates your potential and opportunities to fill them.
Outcomes of the Competitor Analysis
Let’s face it, your competitors and you are fighting for the attention of the audience, and your leads will check similar sites while searching for the best solution. The competitive analysis should highlight areas and channels where the competition is too fierce and untapped opportunities for growth.
Don’t be lured into imitating what your direct competitors have been doing for years – focus on more attainable wins. A thorough competitor analysis shows the best reasonable course of action.
A Wholesome Approach to Researching Your Competitors
At Hop Online, we combine the four main areas of performance marketing in our competitor analysis:
- Social Media Marketing
- Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC)
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Content Marketing
The goal is to unravel the full scope of paid and organic digital strategies your competitors are running at the moment. This helps in building a complete picture of where your brand stands.
A 6-Step Competitor Research
See what tools to use and steps to take for actionable and comprehensive competitor research. From paid channels, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google Ads, to organic performance with SEO and Content benchmarks – all your competitors’ maneuvers in the digital marketing battlefield can be tracked and analyzed.
1. Identify Competitors
First, decide which competitors you want to analyze. Competitor analysis includes your direct and indirect competitors – brands that provide a very similar solution to the same target audiences. Don’t forget those competitors, who offer a completely different service, yet target the same problem that your ideal buyer persona is facing – you should keep an eye on them too.
You’d be surprised how often brands have a misguided understanding of who their main competitors are. Too often, we’ve uncovered major players, spending thousands of dollars on digital marketing, targeting the same audiences that somehow flew under the radar of our clients.
Tools such as Semrush, Ahrefs, SimilarWeb, and Facebook Ad library can help you get a better perspective of who the real competitors in your specific market are and what strategies work best for them.
You could choose to focus on 3 – 5 competitors and explore their digital marketing efforts on all channels and platforms or decide to look into your top competitors per channel, i.e., the top 3 organic competitors and the top 3 competitors in paid search.
Let’s dive a little deeper into competitor research and analysis by channel.
2. Investigate Competitors’ Social Media Ads Strategy
Before you build your social media marketing strategy, it’s worth investigating what others are doing. Check their LinkedIn and Facebook pages, see their YouTube channel, find out if they use TikTok.
Facebook even has a free tool to peek inside the kitchen of your competition. The Facebook Ad library allows you to search by keyword or brand name to find all active ad campaigns. You won’t be able to track whether a competitive brand was active on Facebook in the previous quarter, though.
Businesses often use Facebook and LinkedIn lead ads to take visitors to custom-tailored landing pages. The options for customization and branding might make conversions seem at the tip of your fingers. Dig a bit deeper to find what offers, visuals, and messaging work well for the competition.
3. Benchmark Competitors’ Google Ads
How to track your competitor’s PPC efforts? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most reliable tools.
You don’t have to be running paid ads to access Google’s Keyword Planner, though you’d need to create an ads account to unlock the tool’s free options. The Keyword Planner shows volumes and the average cost per click (CPC) of the keywords your competitors are running in the selected region. You can discover new phrases related to your brand, see how often the public searches certain words, and plan your ad spent accordingly.
Ahrefs is also useful for scanning which keywords your competitors are bidding on right now and their best-performing landing pages. The paid search tab in the tool offers a high-level sense of their PPC investment and how well it’s working for them. Keep in mind, though, that the PPC investment data is not too reliable.
Another tool professionals use all the time is Semrush, which has a free 7-day trial with access to all integral toolkits. Hop’s PPC team strongly relies on Semrush features when analyzing paid search competitors.
In Semrush’s Advertising Research tab, you simply type the competitor’s URL and get to see their ad strategies and budgets. You can read through ad copies, see live ads, track the most profitable PPC keywords, and monitor ad spend. All this data can quickly fuel your own paid ads strategy – from high-converting landing pages to campaign structure and keyword targeting.
The tool also gives you access to competitors’ Display Advertising campaigns – you can take a look at the ad texts and banners they are using.
A hyper-competitive market can quickly drive high CPCs for your Google ads. If you notice such a trend in your own campaigns, you might be in a ‘race to 0’. To counter that risk, you’d need to invest in your brand with SEO and Content marketing. This is how you can check in on the organic competition.
4. SEO Tools to Track Competitors’ Organic Performance
To track your competitors’ organic growth, SEO experts suggest running crawlers, identifying top-performing pages and keywords, setting up visibility reports, watching out for rising SEO trends, and manually tracking the E-A-T signals.
Web spiders or crawlers can go over your website and the competing domains to collect important data. For instance, Screaming Frog can help you detect a full range of technical issues that affect a page’s visibility on Google. You can unravel duplicate or thin page content, as well as the status of all links to and from a page. The crawler’s free version can analyze up to 500 URLs.
To assess competitors’ organic performance, Ahrefs can help you narrow down their high-traffic pages and the keywords these pages target. A look into these pages would also give you an idea of how the content satisfies the searcher’s intent.
No SEO toolkit is complete without a proper solution for keyword volume and difficulty score analysis. See a comparison between the top 5 SEO tools to pick the one to your needs. Then, perform a search to see what your competitors rank for and how they target trophy keywords with content.
You can detect competitors’ traffic sources with SimilarWeb, especially useful for larger domains with traffic coming from different channels.
Don’t forget about the Expertise-Authority-Trust (E-A-T) signals, as Google fairly rewards websites that have these bases covered. For instance, a well developed About Us page, updating your company’s knowledge graph, adding authors to your blog content – all of these small changes can show Google who the people behind your business are and make your domains more trustworthy.
Organic performance is also reliant on the content a brand publishes and promotes. You’d need to investigate your competitors from a content standpoint too.
5. Evaluate Competitors’ Content Marketing
When researching your competitors’ content marketing strategy, most of the work you’d need to do is manual. At this step, you’d need to spend time on the competitive webpages, see what types of content and formats they use, and how you can stand out. A must-do is to review:
- The main navigation pages content
- How the pages on the website interlink
- How are your competitors showcasing the benefits and features of products or services
- What content formats they use for their marketing
- Gated and non-gated content resources
- Main topic hubs
You can satisfy your audience’s intent, expectations, and pain points only with highly relevant and valuable page content. Any competitor that develops such a strategy would attract and retain their visitors.
Where to start from? You’d find the answers when you map your clients’ searches with top, middle, and bottom of the funnel content. See whether your competitors have well-developed pages to support the buyers’ journey at all of these three distinct stages.
Also, check how they communicate their unique selling proposition and differentiate their competitive advantage from the rest.
Your competitors are probably using behavioral tactics to nurture their prospects and trigger a purchase decision. Google’s own research describes the process between consideration and purchase as the “Messy Middle.”
For example, you can spot that similar websites are using ‘the power of now’. If that is the case, think about putting ‘instant access,’ ‘24/7 service,’ or ‘same day shipping’ offers, if you also provide those but haven’t communicated them clearly enough on your product pages.
Similarly, suppose your competitors are using cognitive bias tactics such as anchoring, bandwagon effect, or decoy effect on their pricing pages. In that case, it may be worth it to consider how you’re presenting your product’s value and pricing.
6. Map Out Challenges and Opportunities With a SWOT Analysis
No competitive research is thorough without a ‘good old’ SWOT analysis. The SWOT analysis doesn’t need to cover everything in detail. Mark the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in a framework that can show you the path ahead.
When you go through the previous 5 steps of your research, you’d note the similar trends in your competitor’s paid and organic marketing. You will be able to tell where they have an advantage and where you can outperform them with some reasonable investment of resources. What can you achieve in the short run, and what requires a long-term strategy?
Put All Your Research Together in a Competitor Analysis Template
The final effort is to put all your collected data and insights in one document you can share with stakeholders. This way, you can refer to it as you build up your own digital marketing strategy.
There is no need to start from scratch – here is our free competitor analysis template. You can simply copy and customize it for your own use.
As with every research, the competitor analysis requires some time. Keep in mind this is not a one-time task – it would help add competitor research as a part of your recurring digital marketing tasks. Do it quarterly or at least annually to ensure you’re not blindsided by a new contender in your industry or competitor’s new tactics. The more experienced you get, the better your findings will be.
If you wish to get some expert eyes on your competitor analysis, we’d love to help. Simply get in touch and we’ll get the wheels turning.