It is easy for search marketers to get caught up in the wrong types of competitive analysis or interpret them the wrong way. The ultimate goal of a competitive analysis is not to follow what your competitors are doing, but rather to discover opportunities that competitors haven't yet found. Follow the steps below to find opportunities to outperform your competition using free analysis tools.
1. Define the nature and scope of your industry niche.
Any marketing department worth its salt has this information on file. However, these values can easily be lost if they're not kept in the front of marketers' minds. For example, examine that pet keyword ranking that a key executive insists on maintaining at position one. Is it really true to your purpose, or would another keyword generate more conversion-ready traffic? Creating an honest definition of your specific industry niche will provide the necessary information to determine what keywords you should really be chasing.
2. Determine who your real competitors are.
Forget traditional competitors or even the shop across the street. Your only competitors online are those who are digitally relevant to keywords and concepts within the nature and scope of your industry niche. If the business you've been competing with for the last 40 years isn't showing up in search, then they are not a competitor in the world of digital marketing.
So who are your digital competitors? Measure organic search visibility by searching phrases that fall in the categories that define your industry niche. What organizations consistently rank in the top 5-10 positions for these terms? These organizations are your true online competitors. The free and easy-to-use tool by Compete.com provides a good estimation of your top 5 online competitors. Spyfu also gives estimations of PPC spend for any given domain. The idea of an efficient market would suggest that a high spend for a keyword would generate a high return, so pay attention to high spend keywords. However, these organizations may not be the most efficient PPC spenders, so don't put too much weight on this information. Compare Spyfu information for your organization with your actual PPC spend to get a sense of the tool's accuracy in your market.
The best way to define competitors is through the hard work of analyzing digital relevance through observing which organizations dominate organic search visibility for topics that define your industry niche. A solid investment in this step is crucial to the structure and success of your digital marketing strategy.
3. Define your customers and their expectations.
Start with your customer personae and determine if this matches your target audience. Are your competitors attracting this target demographic? Use the free tool Quantcast to generate an audience demographic analysis. This tool is great for estimating not only the demographics of the audience that visits any given domain, but also the estimated traffic to the domain on a monthly basis.
Next, analyze the content on competitor websites that are successfully attracting your target demographic. Does this content serve the needs of your target demographic?
4. Clear out internal "competitors."
Internal competitors may include an uncooperative development team, a restrictive compliance department or departmental KPIs that aren't in line with real inbound marketing goals. These types of "competitors" tend to generate much heavier downward pressure on your success than any other outside organization could achieve. Consider these competitors to be as real as external competition when developing your strategy.
Combine the findings from each of the three steps to generate deep insights on opportunities within your industry. For example, combine a competitor's Quantcast demographics (Step 3) with their keyword portfolio (Step 1) to determine keyword value and to get a sense for conversions through demographical data. You may find that the top rankings your competitor holds may not be generating the right audience, which would be important information to consider before deciding to target the same keyword categories.
You also may consider taking Step 3 further by analyzing the content on your competitor's websites. Look for opportunities to offer resources that your competitors don't have in their content arsenal. Then use these ideas to generate value-add content that attracts visitors to your website. Finally, ensure that you are first to market by promoting your value-add content on social media platforms and industry websites.
Use these steps to generate a strong competitor analysis, but don't get caught up in worrying about your competitor's keywords, where they are getting links, or chasing their rankings. Focus on finding the areas of opportunity that fall in line with what your organization does best. Then crush your competition on these fronts!