What you can learn from your online competitors to become a better marketer

social media

By Yulia Khansvyarova

No matter what type of business you manage – a small local craft shop, bike rental service or an SEO agency – sooner or later you’ll have to face the fact that you’re not the only one in your niche, and that you’ll have to fight for your place in the sun.

If you want to dominate your market, your challenge is not only to become successful, but to become more successful than your competitors. Analysing your competitors’ activities on the web is as important as tracking your own performance, because it allows you to learn what has worked for your rivals and benefit from both their successes and mistakes. Well-executed competitive analysis spares you from testing various strategies on your own company.

By monitoring your competitors, you can gain some significant advantages:

1. It helps to identify new opportunities that you might have overlooked

By analysing your competitors and their best practices, you will be able to determine what your strategy lacks and which effective ideas you’re missing. Do your competitors have a lively and engaged Facebook community, while your brand isn’t even present there? Do they publish guest posts on numerous niche blogs, half of which you’ve never heard about? By adapting your competitors’ best practices and filling in your gaps, you’ll take your efforts to a whole new level.

2. It allows you to anticipate your competitor’s next steps

By constantly tracking your competitors’ moves, you’ll get a better understanding of what direction they’re moving toward and how they’re developing their strategy, and you’ll be able to get ahead. For example, Alita Rodriguez shared her client’s case:

“He was sending his newsletters on Thursdays, but when he found out that his competitor’s newsletter was sent on Wednesdays, he switched his sending time to Tuesdays to be first to market. As a result, he saw an immediate increase in both his open rate and conversion rate.”

3. It helps you understand what your clients think

Your potential customers already pay attention to what your competitors are doing. Before making a decision, they compare you to your competitors, and by doing the same, you can find out why they choose one company over another. The better you understand what influences their choices, the higher your chances of attracting them and keeping them satisfied.

Here are the seven most important things you can do to benefit from your competitors strategies:

1. Know your online competitors

Your first step is to understand who your competitors are, and this might turn out to be more tricky than it seems. Basically, your business’ competitors are companies that offer similar goods or services at the same price point.

Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff offered some insight in their book Co-opetition:A company is your competitor if customers value your product less when they have the other company’s product than when they have your product alone.

But in the digital world the answer can be rather easy: your competitors are the domains that rank higher and appear in Google search engine results pages (SERPs) for the same keywords as you, because they might be stealing your potential customers. And the more keywords you share with a certain company, the higher the competition is.

2. Determine their organic strategy

After you’ve identified your main competitors, you need to evaluate their organic search strategies. The insights that you’ll gain will help you adjust your own strategy. For example, if your competitor is already ranking well for certain keywords, maybe you should focus on related keywords or variants that they’ve missed.

By answering these questions you’ll understand your competitors’ strong and weak points:

  1. Which keywords are they targeting? Pay particular attention to the following metrics: Search volume helps you understand how many people are looking the kinds of products or services you offer; competitiveness provides you with information on how many websites are trying to rank for these keywords; and rankings – compare your competitors’ positions by targeted keywords with your own positions and you’ll know how hard it will be to beat your competitors.
  2. Which pieces of content on their website bring them the largest amount of traffic?
  3. Are they using client reviews, testimonials or success stories on their website?
  4. Is their website optimised for mobile users? Does their site have a responsive design or a separate mobile version?

3. Estimate their paid strategy

Knowing how much money your competitors spend on paid traffic and what they get in return can provide with you valuable information: you will know if their ad spend is increasing or decreasing, what keywords they’re targeting, and which calls to action they use in ad texts. By analysing all of these aspects, you will be able to adapt your strategy. You can determine your required budget, and choose the right keywords to target for pay-per-click (PPC) and which ones to target for organic and so on.

Here’s how you can analyse the PPC strategy of your competitors:

  • Estimate their ad spend
  • Find out which keywords they’re targeting
  • Analyse their ad copies and product listing ads
  • Find out where they buy display advertising

Some advertising research software can estimate your competitor’s traffic as well as how much they spend on online advertising.

4. Analyse links pointing to their website

We all know that the number of links pointing to a website, as well as the quality of those links, has a huge influence on that website’s ranking in Google. Analysing links that refer to your competitors will help you uncover new backlink opportunities. Then you can create a relevant content plan and develop an outreach strategy in order to earn links coming from those sources.

By auditing your competitors’ backlinks, you can:

  • Discover new high-authority resources that aren’t linking to your website yet and try to get backlinks from them
  • Find new directories in which your website is not listed
  • Find new guest writing opportunities
  • Learn which of your competitors’ pages are the most popular. This is especially important for e-commerce websites – link-rich pages will most likely contain the most profitable and popular products

5. Monitor their brand mentions

Track your competitors’ mentions and monitor which influencers feature them in their posts or interviews, and in which context and what feedback they receive. Then you consider reaching out to those influencers and building relationships with them. You can offer them the opportunity to try out your product or service, and ask for a review. Just let them know about your business and initiate a collaboration.

6. Check their social media presence

Because social media is one of the most powerful and effective marketing tools of today, you definitely need to be aware of what your competitors are posting. After estimating the effectiveness of their strategies, you’ll know whether they’re worth learning from or not, and how you can beat your competitors overall.

Here are some examples of what you can analyse in your competitors’ social media activities:

  • Which networks they’re active on
  • What information they include in their social media profiles
  • Where they place links to their website and which calls to action they use
  • The size of their audience
  • What types of content they publish
  • Which types of content drives more engagement
  • What triggers they use to involve their audience in discussions
  • Their audience’s level of engagement (number of likes, shares, reposts and other interactions with their content)
  • If they frequently use branded hashtags
  • Their ratio of original content to curated content  
  • How their brand voice changes from network to network
  • Which social media campaigns they organise and what their results are

7. Study their email marketing campaigns

To investigate which approach your competitors use in their email marketing strategies, sign up for their newsletters and analyse how they’re generating leads.

Things to check in your competitors’ newsletters:

  • Sending frequency
  • Sending days and time
  • Subject lines
  • Content and design
  • Calls to action
  • Email length

By monitoring your competitors’ activities and analysing why a particular strategy was a success or a failure, you will learn more about your audience, your market and your own opportunities to improve your business. 

Yulia Khansvyarova is head of digital marketing at SEMrush


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