When it comes to any kind of marketing, it pays to know who your competitors are if you’re to be effective. It’s necessary for carrying out keyword research and for understanding why other businesses are performing better in the SERPs than your site might be (and indeed if they are outperforming you in any way). It’s also something that should be carried out on an ongoing basis so that you can constantly monitor what your competitors are doing and how they are ranking for keywords that you might want to compete for.
You’re never going to win against the big brands that have a huge advertising budget if you’re a small business, but by knowing what they’re doing and what keywords they’re ranking for will help you to adjust your strategy so that you can compete in other ways. For example, have you ever studied the blog content of your competitors, no matter how big they may be? It’s a useful exercise to do so as you can then understand what content your audience enjoys just by looking at the comments and social shares content gets on other sites to determine what’s popular.
#1: Get Googling
Your first port of call should be Google as this is the easiest way to discover what businesses are offering similar products or services to your own. To do this, you should think carefully first about what keywords define your business and what potential customers will be typing into search.
If you’re a local business and you’re already aware of who your closest competitors are, then you should Google these too to see where they appear in search and using what terms. Once you’ve identified these and any other competitors, then you can use SEO tools to study backlinks and keywords that they’re using. SEMRush is a nice tooll for doing this as it lists both paid for and organic keywords for your competitors. You can also use a tool such as Monitor Backlinks or Open Site Explorer to look in more detail at the backlinks that your competitors are generating. By monitoring backlinks you can see if your competitors are guest posting for SEO and where possible, submit a post yourself or better, target sites that are more authoritative to gain a competitive edge.
Google can also be used to set up alerts for whenever a competitor site is mentioned so that you can monitor what people are saying about their brand and if possible, maximise on it.
#2: Use the Telephone
I know, it’s an oldie but calling your competitors up and asking them what they do, how their products are priced, about deliveries and returns policies and more can return so much valuable information that it’s definitely worth considering. It’s surprising how much information you can discover over the phone, most businesses are willing to tell you all sorts of things that you could never find out by searching on the net, so give it a try.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that you ask them about their marketing strategy or if they use AdWords, this is highly likely to give the game away!
#3: Perform a Site Audit
Have you ever carried out a site audit on your own or client sites? Then why not do so with a competitor site too, it’s a great way to discover what they may or may not be doing better than you. When carrying out a site audit, you want to look at both the SEO aspect and the content.
You’re looking for:
- Site performance – does it load quickly, if not why not?
- Site architecture – has the site been well set up, does it have two sitemaps?
- Meta information – does the site contain all of the relevant meta information such as titles and descriptions? Do images have titles, a description and alt tags?
- Content – does each page have written content of 300 words or more? Does it have a blog and if so, how often is it updated and how does it perform socially?
- CTAs – does the site have a newsletter sign up form and a contact form?
- Places – is the site listed on Google and Bing Places and appear in maps in search results?
- UX design – does the site provide a good user experience in that it contains clear navigation elements, for example? Does it look good and is it easy and a pleasure to use?
All of this can identify areas where you can improve on your own site and outperform your competitors. There are several tools out that can help you to do all of the above, such as GTMetrix for performance and Woorank which gives you a good overall view on all aspects of a site, including social media.
#4: Social Media
You should also look carefully at social media when performing competitor research and check which sites your competitors are most popular on. Again, Woorank can provide you with a good overview on this but you should also manually go to each social presence and study how much engagement your competitors are getting.
You can also use social listening tools to see how often your competitors are mentioned and whether it’s positive or negative. This can also help you to identify influencers in your niche who you can connect with and who may help to boost your presence too.
When performing competitor research, there’s a lot to look at overall which can help you to ensure that what you’re offering – whether that be product or in the user experience of your site – is better than what they are. As I said, you’re not going to beat the big brands, but studying them can give you plenty of ideas when it comes to what you should be doing to remain competitive.