When starting a new business venture, it’s essential that you understand the market, the types of existing products and your competition. Knowing how others fare provides some guidelines that ensure your business doesn’t sink before it sails.
It’s impossible to create a comprehensive business plan or marketing strategy if you don’t know what you’re up against. There are many things your business needs when going online; knowing what other brands already have in your target market gives you a scale to determine whether your product or service is market-ready. It’s also easy and inexpensive to set up (especially with the help of automated tools).
Furthermore, it’s a great way to find potential outlets that might work with you, identify your target market and find new ways to improve your brand awareness, your reach and marketing strategies.
What to look for when spying on your competitors:
Who are your competitors?
A thorough analysis of your market using online directories, related terms, review sites and social media accounts should give you an idea of who your closest competitors are in your niche.
How are they advertising?
Look into their advertising campaigns to learn both the tricks that work and the errors that are costing them leads and conversion. Find out how they reach a wider audience. Is it by display advertising, paid per click (PPC), content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing or a combination of some of these digital tools?
Does your performance compare to theirs?
Once you know what works best for your competitors, you can compare it with your own online performance. If yours doesn’t match up, it‘s time to tweak your campaign.
How to legally spy on your competitors like a trained spy
1. Use the right tools to monitor their social media activity
Performing a generic search on Google only brings up results from the top websites within your niche. While this might give you a few pointers, it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, as you won’t receive actionable feedback or have any real direction. Two online tools you should use include:
BuzzSumo: This is a great tool to find specific information by examining keywords. From the results gleaned, you’ll be able to see the number of social shares, their best content and people who shared that content. You can use their top-performing content as a guide to creating even better content that blows their effort away. Your content has a chance to rank higher than the competition and you’ll have fresh, engaging content to share with your followers.
Hootsuite Streams: If you’re looking for a tool that allows you to keep tabs of your competitors in real-time and in one place, Hootsuite Streams helps you monitor your competitors’ social media accounts, including retweets, likes, comments and shares. This ensures you have a decent stream of inspiration for new content and can see what’s trending in your niche.
2. Use Google Alerts to monitor their mentions
It might seem strange spying on the competitors ‘brand mentions’, but this is a smart way to identify and access their backlinks, as well as keep track of top-performing keywords and find new ways to create content that helps unsatisfied clients (of your competitors). Google Alert is a free tool to get you started.
3. Use Twitter lists
There are some benefits in using Twitter to spy on your competitors. You’ll gain ideas for fresh content on your blog, keep up with product prices, know the best performing topics and determine what your competitors often tweet about. A rookie mistake is to create a list and follow your competitor’s account.
When you create a list on Twitter, select ‘private, not ‘public’. To follow a competitor’s account, don’t click the ‘follow’ button. Instead, click the gear icon beside the ‘follow’ button and tap ‘add or remove from lists’ to add the account to your list.
4. Go ‘old school’ with newspapers
Many online brands reveal a lot of information when writing in a weekly or daily newspaper. According to Robert Rolls, Head of Online Business at Umbrellar Cloud, his company has sourced information by reading regular articles in newspapers targeted at smaller, local audiences.
Rolls also says that it’s not a bad idea to talk to your suppliers and vendors – especially if you have a good rapport with them. Don’t be pushy or they’ll more than likely become apprehensive. Keep it casual and hear what they spill about your competitors.
5. Use iSpionage to find the keywords that work for your competitors
There’s no doubt that your competitor uses AdWords campaigns to acquire customers. Knowing the keywords that perform best for them gives you a rough estimate of cost and an idea for cheaper keywords that might be just as effective.
With iSpionage, you’ll get an overview of your competitors landing pages, as well as their main competitors and keywords. There is also a freeware and premium version for exporting lists of keywords.
6. Compare performance with Marketing Grader
Marketing Grader is a free HubSpot tool for assessing websites in areas such as mobile, SEO, social media, blogging and lead generation. This is one of the best tools for analysing areas where your competitors are doing well or performing poorly. If you have a decent ad budget, Simply Measured goes a step further; it combines several tools to provide information on brands, influencers, competitors, traffic, trends and more.
7. Compare traffic with Alexa
If you want to know who’s doing better than the rest (beyond search and keywords), you should look at overall traffic. Websites with incredible traffic stats have engaging content, simple graphics and mobile friendliness. Alexa is the go-to for checking traffic statistics. Other websites include comScore, Compete and Nielsen. You can also look at your competitors’ popularity to see if anyone is gaining or losing ground.
The most important tab you really want to focus on is the ‘features and content’ comparison. This is where you’ll learn about what makes a site popular, as it affects other areas such as traffic and inlinks.
Now that you know what you’re up against, you can create incredible content that fits your target market and incorporates areas of your competitors’ strategy that works well in your digital marketing campaign with the help of top tech tools.