You may ask yourself why you need to do a competitive analysis for your marketing or how will competitive analysis helps you create a marketing plan. You kinda know which companies are direct or indirect competitors, but not much more than that.
You may be subscribed to the competitors' newsletter or even follow them on social media, but there's so much more to understand. You need to know what your competitors are doing and how they differ from you.
What's The Competition Up To?
This article is going to focus on the marketing aspect of the competitive analysis and how you can benefit from learning about what your competitors do online and find new opportunities.
Whether it's a website you can reach out to for a backlink or a way to get inspired for your next ad copy, it's important to always be on top of what your competitors are doing.
On a side note, I would add that one of the worst things an entrepreneur can declare, is that their company has no competition.
All Startups Have Competitors.
All startups operate in a very competitive and fast-paced environment. A competitor does not just do exactly what you do, where you do it, nor how your operation work.
If they target the same audience and solve the same problem, they’re a competitor.
It doesn’t matter if you have different features or user interface - you are competing with that company for the user’s time and attention to perform an identical activity.
For example, any company that offers a social component and focuses on business connections competes with LinkedIn.
Companies that gain strong knowledge about their competitors and their activities can make better decisions in their marketing strategies.
Prepare An Online Competitive Analysis
Before starting to create a marketing plan, prepare an online competitive analysis to act as an anchor and help build your marketing and sales strategy.
Here Are The Top 7 Tools
You may start using these 7 tools, right now for free, to get to know your competitors and keep an eye on what they’re doing online:
Moz’ Open Site Explorer
OSE is a comprehensive business intelligence tool. By entering your competitor’s URL, you can see their inbound links, which pages on their website are top performing ones, anchor text used to link to their website and overall SEO metrics of the URL. The free version provides you with the top results and if you need more, you can sign up for a 30-day trial.
By using OSE, you can get a plan which pages you should have on your website that would work best, see which websites link to your competitor and consider reaching out to them as well, see which anchor text they use (keywords linked to the website, which indicates and SEO strategy) and more.
BuiltWith gives you inside information on all the tools your competitor uses on their website. Entering your competitor’s URL, you can see A/B testing, and use the results to help your company. Do they use email marketing? Which analytics did they set up?
This inside information is both useful marketing-wise, (if your competitors use email marketing, maybe you should consider using it too), and can help you decide which technologies to implement on your website.
Look at Techcrunch, for example. You can see they’re using dozens of different analytics tools, advertising tools and more.
I sometimes like using BuiltWith when approached by a company for a partnership, just to see if the company uses its own product (you’d be surprised at how many times I have seen that companies are selling a product they do not use themselves). SumoMe, for example, which makes great traffic tools such as the welcome mat, I have on my website, uses its own product, as you can see below.
SEMrush is another competitive analysis tool which allows you to gain insights about your competitor’s online presence and SEO. The free version is pretty good and provides enough information to understand who links to your competitor, its traffic, whether they have display advertising in place and more.
This is a great tool to check out before starting to create your own SEO strategy and will help you build your list of keywords that you will want to focus on.
Wayback Machine is the internet archive. Using it, you can see when your competitors replaced their homepage and how long they had a certain version for. If your competitors are fairly new, this may not be of great service to you as there may not be enough data here.
If they are veterans, you can definitely use the information here.
The more reputable the website is, the more it’s being sampled. Look at CNN.com for example.
What Runs Where
WhatRunsWhere is your ad spy. It is a paid service, but if you run many display or text paid campaigns, it could be great intelligence tool for you. Their pricing is a bit steep for a startup but you can start with the free trial and see if it’s worth your budget to continue. The company scrapes the web and can show you the ads your competitors run on both mobile and desktop. Let’s just say that if you see a competitor running an ad for a long period, it’s probably an ad that works and from which you can gain value for planning your next ad.
Ahrefs is another tool that tracks backlinks, SEO keywords and mentions of your competitors. Their service is quite comprehensive and includes several services in 1 product. Unlike other tools on this list, you can’t really try Ahrefs for free -- you’ll be asked to your enter billing info before being able to see anything (there is a short free trial).
Because it’s so comprehensive, it can be a bit of an overkill if you don’t have a dedicated person on your team for SEO or marketing and you can make do with the other tools on the list.
Majestic shows you all the referring websites and backlinks your competitor has. It also has a unique feature of showing you Trust vs. Citation. Meaning, what is the ratio between the number of times your competitor has been cited and the number of trusted websites it has been cited it.
Why is this interesting you ask? Well, this way, you can tell if your competitor has links from reputable and “legit” websites or if it applies a spammy SEO strategy.
A Good Ratio Has To Be Smaller Than 1.2 (TF/CF).
As you can see below, Majestic itself should take a look at its SEO.
This is a great tool for you as well to check that you are not linked from spammy low-quality websites. If you see you are linked is ways you don't want to be known for, you can use Google’s Disavow Links tool (carefully!) and remove them.
** Bonus **
Spyfu is one of my all-time favorite tools. It shows you your competitor keywords. You can see the competitions AdWords history and which keywords they allocate valuable PPC money towards, and much more.
Their free plan is pretty generous so you are not forced to upgrade.
It can also show the organic keyword history the competition has used, as well as backlinks to their website.
Remember that all startups -- all businesses -- have competition. You need to know what they are up to so that you can continue to compete. Ever wonder why the fail rate of startups is so high? Could this "gleaning information" from your competition help your business or startup?