1. The basic steps
When did you last do a digital competitive analysis? Was it when you developed your current digital marketing strategy? Or maybe you haven’t conducted one yet?
If so, you’re are missing out on a lot of knowledge and insights that could boost your brand positioning and your business.
This guide will take you through the basic steps of conducting a digital competitive analysis, but let’s start with a thorough definition of the term.
What does digital competitive analysis mean?
A digital competitive analysis should be a critical part of every company’s marketing plan. It’s the art of identifying your competitors and investigate, evaluate and determine their digital strengths and weaknesses relative to those of your own products or services.
The primary purpose of a digital competitive strategy is to gain market shares over your competitors, meaning that you attack their target audience pool thus earning more clicks and leads.
Who are your competitors?
The primary digital competitors are the ones that fight for the same keyword rankings on Google’s page 1. But the field is more complex than that, and the group of competitors can be divided into three sections:
– Direct competitors: Direct competitors are any company that offer the same product or services as you, and who sells them in the same way as you. Example: McDonalds (Fast Food) vs. Burger King (Fast Food).
– Secondary competitors: Secondary competitors are companies that offer the same products or services as you but sell them in a different way. Example: Starbucks (coffee) vs. McDonalds (coffee).
– Tertiary competitors: Tertiary competitors are also called indirect competitors. These are companies that offer different things than you do, but whose products or services could potentially satisfy the same needs for the same target groups, as yours. Their products are often in different categories from yours, but they are still alternative purchase choices. Example: Starbucks (coffee) vs. Evian (mineral water).
2. The benefits of digital competitive analysis
A thoroughly conducted digital competitive analysis will answer a lot of questions, and provide you with benchmark data and knowledge against which you can measure your own growth:
– Who are your competitors?
Identify your competitors and investigate what they are doing right. This information is critical for staying relevant and ensuring both your product and your marketing campaigns are outperforming industry standards.
– What products or services do they sell?
Identify your competitors’ products and their value positions and compare them to your products. What makes them different, and how can this benefit your future marketing efforts?
– What is each competitor’s market share?
– What are their past strategies?
– What are their current strategies?
– What type of media are used to market their products or services?
– What are each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses?
Identify the potential threats your competitors pose, and the potential opportunities they make available for you.
– Which of your competitors are falling short?
This helps you identify areas of opportunities in the marketplace, and test out new, unique marketing strategies they haven’t taken advantage of.
– What’s missing in a competitor’s product?
Learn this through customer reviews and consider how you might add features to your own product to meet those needs.
3. A simple guide to a digital competitive analysis
A digital competitive analysis often includes a SWOT analysis, and the vital parts of a SWOT analysis are inherent in the questions above, which will be answered by following the steps below.
To conduct a thorough competitive SEO analysis using the Compare Top10 Tool, read Competitors, markets and customer behavior. As you can see when using the tool, the analysis of each competitor is divided into three parts: a content analysis (keywords), a technical analysis (subpage-indexing, etc.) and a link building analysis (inbound, outbound, etc.), but in terms of SEO, this guide focusses on keywords.
Competitive keyword analysis using the Compare Top10 Tool
If other companies are outranking you in organic search, they are getting more clicks, generating more leads, and gaining more revenue, it’s as simple as that.
With the Compare Top10 tool, you can monitor your own and your top 10 target websites and their keyword rankings. Here’s an example with apple.com, the keyword “Iphone” and Denmark as the target market:
As you can see, Apple is to no surprise on the number 1 spot, followed by Elgiganten, Pricerunner and Yousee.
Scroll down to the bottom and click “What else do they rank for”, to see the top 30 keywords Apple is also ranking for in Denmark, what the keyword rankings are, and how much volume each keyword has:
Scroll to the right and click the same link for the first competitor (Elgiganten) to see the top 30 other keywords Elgiganten is ranking for, what their keyword rank is, and the keyword volume:
If you click on one of these keywords, you get a new search of your website ranking for that keyword, compared to the top 10 competitors.
That way, you can get into more detail on your rivals’ keywords compared to your own, and:
– Discover their most successful keywords.
– Get an idea of consumer behavior based on search frequency.
– Outline initial ideas on how you can optimize your campaign to increase your rankings and conversions.
Web traffic & mapping
You should also look at your top competitors web traffic the last 12 months, and a tool like Semrush Traffic Analytics will help you a long way.
By using this tool, you find out:
– The fluctuations that have affected the competition in recent months.
– How each rival grew (or lost) its popularity over the observed time.
– Which digital marketing channels performed the best for them.
– Which countries proved to be lucrative in terms of traffic generation.
To get an overview of your market and generate data from more than 5-10 competitors, you might want to use Semrush Market Explorer as well. With this tool you can:
– Map out the competitive landscape in a comprehensible form of the Growth Quadrant.
– Qualify your competitors by their current audience size and market potential.
– Switch from “Industry Competitors” to “Organic Competitors” and reveal your closest rivals’ online market shares and research their digital marketing strategies further.
To get an overview of keyword gaps in your competitors’ content marketing strategy, Semrush comes to the rescue again. There’s a lot of SEO tools on the market, but a Keyword Gap tool isn’t something everyone can offer. Their Keyword Gap tool provides you with unprecedented knowledge, and allows you to perform a side-by-side competitor comparison in terms of keyword portfolios (be it organic, paid, or PLA) for up to five domains at once.
We don’t link lightly, especially not to our competitors, but there’s a reason why Semrush is a market leader: their tools are pretty damn good.
Ad monitoring & landing pages
It’s also a good idea to monitor your competitors’ online advertisement strategies, but this is an extensive field (surprise!), so start focusing on a particular aspect of it, like Google Shopping or display ads. No matter what aspect of ads you focus on, they almost always lead back to a landing page. Look at the actual landing pages from your competitors’ campaigns and analyze important specifics like:
– Do the ads fit with the landing pages aesthetically? Are they alike, or are there differences in their digital expressions?
This is a good way to find out how they understand their target audience.
– How are their landing page setups? Do they meet the customers’ expectations in terms of content and CTA?
– Which ads pointed to each landing page on their site at a particular time?
This is a good way to discover your rivals’ focus items, and it can encourage you to start a dedicated competitive product analysis.
Brand & PR monitoring
Some companies are very good at corporate branding, and at getting the right stories in the right medias thus connecting with the right audiences. Looking into competitors who are good at that is also vital, because you can find relevant topics and respected media that can mention you or place your backlink, and this could potentially connect you to new target audiences.
Track online mentions of any word or phrase related to your rival’s brand name, product name, product category, motto, or anything else. You can research all of these with the Brand Monitoring tool from Semrush. The report can help you:
– Find mentions on the web, forums, Twitter, or Instagram.
– Estimate reach for each mention and determine the platform with the largest coverage.
– Highlight the strength and popularity of the mentioner’s domain (Authority Score) and website traffic (Traffic: Low/Medium/High in the tool).
This will also help you discover any new products, strategies or plans regarding markets, customers, or corporation expansions your competitors are about to launch.
Check your competitors on social medias
Competitive analysis also includes monitoring your competitors on social media, and there’s some vital knowledge to gain that way, that you can use in your social media strategy. Here’s a short to-do list:
– Find who has been active on social media.
– Determine which platforms they have been using and why.
Maybe they have found a particular target audience that only interact on one particular social media?
– See if their audience has increased or decreased.
– Learn what type of content they have been posting (are there any non-promotional posts?) and how often. Are their focusing on organic or paid marketing?
– See if there is anything extraordinary in their audience engagement and communication.
Maybe they use a good tone of voice when communicating with customers?
– Highlight your own opportunities on social media.
Read customer reviews
For those in the know, it might be obvious what distinguishes your product from your competitors and vice versa, but sometimes it might not be that obvious, and this is where customer reviews come in handy. They can tell you what to optimize in a product very quickly, and there’s often a pattern in the reviews: a specific feature that a lot of customers are missing, or some kind of hurdle in the user manual, that prevents customers from using the product to it’s full potential.
If you don’t have your own customer reviews feature on your website, you can select some customers and ask them for reviews via email, blog, etc. And there’s of course also sites like Trustpilot that can provide important information.
Customers are always a great source of knowledge, especially regarding how to detect the flaws in the competitors’ products and how you can use that info to your advantage, so don’t take them for granted!
Review all the findings
When all the data and knowledge has been gathered, it’s time for evaluation and reviewing. Take your current digital marketing strategy into account, and:
– Assess how competing businesses’ actions and your marketing ideas correlate with your initial strategy.
You may find out that a long-term campaign that you started six months ago doesn’t correspond to the current market trends and needs. It is better to find out now than another six months later.
– Filter out any ideas that don’t comply with your company’s offering, positioning, ultimate goals, and strategy.
No matter what brilliant insights you have found by looking at your competition, if they don’t align with your brand idea or roadmap, it is better to push them to the back burner. And this is when the next point becomes crucial:
– Communicate competitive intelligence data to other departments.
If you work in a big corporation, there are several departments and co-workers who would benefit from your findings, and this needs to be communicated to the right stake holders.
For example: Competitor analysis can reveal insights that are not yet actionable for the marketing team but will be appreciated in the sales department, for example. Any intelligence is invaluable for executives.
Think of those colleagues who could benefit from your findings and don’t hesitate to share your digital competitive analysis with them.
– Encourage and initiate changes in your marketing plans and strategy (if needed)
If you are halfway through your marketing campaign, and, compared to rivals, it isn’t producing great results, don’t be afraid of making tweaks or even rethinking the entire strategy. This is why you do competitor research: — to discover greener fields and move to them as quickly as possible.
4. Competitive analysis tools and insights
In conclusion: competitive analysis is a broad and extensive field that can take you places, but that also requires time and effort. How often you should do it and how much time and energy you should devote, depends on the line of business you are in, and the fierceness of the competition, but we recommend doing it at least every six months. It’s better to find out which market shares you are about to lose when it happens, than six months after the fact.
The trial and error -approach is always a good way to get going but advise, better practices and the right tools is the best way to get started.
And there are a lot of companies and organizations that offer insights.
Sproutsocial has made a top 13 competitor analysis tools list here, and if you are a webshop owner, and you want to do an in-depth ecommerce focused competitive analysis, there’s plenty of options to choose from. One of them is bigcommerce.com, who offers a thorough guide incl. template.
If you are interested in general know-how and knowledge about the field in a broad sense, the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) organization is interesting. It’s is a global non-profit best practice sharing community for experts from industry, academia, government, and non-profits.