A Guide to Basic Competitive Research
One of the most exciting and difficult aspects of digital marketing is the constant change that is happening in the market. What used to be standard and new a few months ago could be completely obsolete today. This makes it difficult to stay ahead of the industry and means that in the long run, only the innovative survive in digital marketing.
As such, this guide will cover many different important aspects of competitive research. Some of these aspects will need to be changed depending on the industry. Many of these factors will also need to be tweaked as time goes on; it is always important to be up to date with the industry and know what tools give the best information, as well as what signals lead to success in any aspect of digital marketing.
Before going into the specifics of competitive research I want to stress the importance of taking a manual look at all of the data. It is easy to get caught up in data and tools and to ignore the best tool at your disposal, which is your brain. At the end of the audit go through each of your competitors’ websites and campaigns manually, you’ll be surprised at the extra things you may find.
The first thing you’ll want to look at are what areas your competitors are putting their money into. I suggest getting a Google sheet ready so that you can keep track of all information and easily look back at observations.
Bring up your competitor’s website and take a brief look at where they put their money. Do they have a blog that they are constantly updating? Do they share their new pieces on social media? Does it look like they’re paying for more ads on social media? Make note of where they seem to be focusing, almost every industry will be different. This is important since it will allow you to decide where you want to focus your audit. If you are trying to look at content marketing in your industry, focusing on a competitor who has not updated their blog in two years will be worthless. Likewise, if you’re researching SEO yet your competitor has done nothing to optimize their site will yield very little valuable information. This first step can save you many hours of future work.
Next take your competitor's’ website and head over to archive.org. Using archive.org you will be able to see how their website has changed over time. Have they done a site redesign? If so, what landing pages did they change? Are they targeting the marketing in the same way you are? Do their landing pages correspond to keywords that get many searches? How many searches do they get in comparison to your landing pages? This should be looked at from both an SEO and a PPC perspective. Keep all of your numbers in your spreadsheet.
If your competitor is not doing any push towards content marketing, you can safely ignore this step; however, if they have a blog, news or articles section I would suggest gathering this data.
Go to your competitor’s blog and take a look at each article, pull all of their social data and keep them all in the spreadsheet. Note if they have switched to SSL from non-secured in the past. If they have, chances are they have lost a lot of social data since the change, keep that in mind while you look at various social signals.
Once you have the data, first organize it by the most shared content. Analyzing a few competitors at once will most likely yield a few patterns in the data. Next, divide the content by year and once again look at the data by the most shared in each year. This will allow you to control for any seasonal changes in your industry. Take note of any patterns or content ideas that could push your marketing efforts forward. After all, why reinvent the wheel when you can build upon it?
An easy way to gather this data is to pull every single blog post using a program such as import.io and using URL profiler to pull social shares—another tool that you may use is Ahrefs content explorer. If you do not have access to any of these programs I would suggest pulling every blog post into a spreadsheet and using social count to pull all information.
Link Velocity and Quality
Link velocity is an important metric and will show you how much effort your competitors are putting into SEO. Pulling the total number of links, link quality and link velocity as well will show you the approximate authority your competitors have in Google’s eyes as well as their growth moving forward.
Link velocity is fairly simple and can easily be seen through Ahrefs or Majestic SEO. If your competitors are constantly growing at an increasing rate in link velocity, chances are they are focusing their efforts on SEO. Check their newest backlinks to ensure that this is an actual focus on SEO and not spam links.
Next, pull their backlink data and then average out the metrics. The metrics you decide to use are up to you, when I pull reports I like to average out the data Ahrefs gives me as well as Moz. This gives me a good look at the overall backlink data of a website. Doing the same thing with your own website will give you a good comparison to your competitors, and allow you to see which competitors you can easily compete with, and which ones you need to catch up with.
Organic Keywords and Keyword Growth
This next step can set you far above your competitors and show you easy ways to improve in terms of your focus on content marketing or SEO online. Using either Ahrefs Position Explorer or SEMrush, pull your competitors keywords as well as their keyword growth.
Both tools will show you if the websites are growing in their presence on Google or if they are shrinking over time. They will both also show you the average amount of traffic growth as well as the average amount of keyword growth.
Go ahead and pull all of your competitors’ keywords. Organize them in two ways, first organize them by the most amount of estimated traffic provided to the website, then organize them by their average position in Google. This will show you where their SEO efforts are most likely focused on, as well as their top keywords.
Take the top keywords provided by the data and use Google Keyword Planner to pull the CPC for each of the keywords. Multiplying the CPC with the average volume will show you which of these top keywords will be most profitable for you to go after. You will quickly be able to see what areas of opportunity there are in your industry.
Then use Ahrefs to pull their top pages in terms of organic traffic. Organize by highest ranking pages and take note of any patterns—this step should be similar to the above step on pulling pages with the highest number of social shares. Look for any patterns between competitors, also look for pages that are ranking well for keywords but are not fully optimized for those specific keywords—these are areas of opportunity. Comparing this data with your social share data will most likely reveal a lot of patterns. Using these two sheets of data will yield content marketing topics that will be perfect for a viral marketing strategy that will work with a long term organic marketing strategy as well.
Title tags are a great way to look at what your competitors are going after. Pull each of their pages using a tool such as Screaming Frog and take a look at their title tags. These title tags generally correspond with target keywords that they have in their PPC and organic marketing campaigns.
Take each of these keywords and pull their keyword volume data as well as CPC data. If you can pull Moz difficulty or Ahrefs difficulty do so as well. Look for the best opportunities out of these keywords and then see how your opponents are ranking for the keywords. If you found earlier that your website has more authority than your competitors take note of keywords that they are currently ranking for. These are keywords that you can most likely outrank them for as long as you implement the proper optimization.
A Manual Look
As I mentioned earlier, taking a manual walk through your competitor’s website will give you a lot of information you may have missed. Look at their sales funnel, their website design and any announcements of future campaigns they may have on their website. A manual check through your competitor’s website will also ensure you do not miss any data your tools may have missed. Look for anything you can improve on for your own website, or any areas of opportunity where your competitors seem to be lacking. Make sure you record all information, doing this step on a few competitors at the same time may yield certain patterns, and will help you see what you may be missing in the industry.
This competitor audit is rather basic and may miss a few things that are important in your industry. The purpose of this blog is to give you an idea of the things you should be looking for; great ways to pull the data so you can analyze it. Adding to this process when needed will only yield more information and results.
It is always important to keep tabs on what is going on in your industry online, what the trends are, as well as what has worked in the past. Analyzing competitors’ websites will give you an idea for future marketing campaigns as well as areas where you may be lacking, or where your market is currently headed. The internet is a fast moving place, with this information you will be able to see holes in the market, which will allow you to become the leader in your industry and keep you from ever falling behind.