Competitive Research: How to Spy on Competitors

Competition is good for business. It is indicative of an industry’s power and potential. From the local greengrocer to the multinational corporate, every successful business will be challenged by competitive forces in a capitalist society. As such, competitive analysis is a must-do.

The precise mechanics of competitive analysis will depend on your business, but you will need to dig into various aspects to develop a rounded picture. To get the best insights, you’ll need to go undercover. Here are four secret ways to spy on your competitors.

1. Use technology

When it comes to competitive analysis, you can also take advantage of tools to gather data. These are some of the tools you need to consider:

BuzzSumo: This tool offers great insight into the performance of a website, especially on social. You can see stats on shares, mentions, and also backlinks. It allows you to see which content is performing well, and which influencers are making a mark on any topic.

SimilarWeb: This tool provides great data on a competitor’s website, including traffic and engagement stats. It is a robust intelligence tool that helps benchmark where you measure up.

SEMrush: This is another website intelligence tool, helping you see competitor activity on paid and organic channels. You can monitor top advertisers, strongest backlinks, and much more.

Ahrefs: One of our favourites, Ahrefs is the essential SEO tool. You can track competitor backlinks, keywords, rankings, and a heck of a lot more.

WhatRunsWhere: This tool gives you an accurate vision of the digital advertising ecosystem. Its analysis will uncover where competitors are spending their ad budget.

Google Alerts: Enter your competitor’s brand keywords and leadership names, and track when and where they appear in the SERPs.

Also read: The ultimate tech stack for competitive analysis 

2. Scrape social stats

Public information can tell you a lot about competitors, but you need automation tools to get the data. Use software such as SocialBakers, Simply Measured, or Social Blade to scrape your competitor’s social following for multiple channels, and develop a picture of the volume and nature of their audience. But what to do with this information thereafter?

Firstly, if competitors have a substantial following, you know there’s an active community. This means that you have potential to grow engagement on said social channel. If they don’t have a following, these tools will allow you to research other non-competitor interest pages and profiles. If these non-competitor hubs are strong, you still have an opportunity. If there is low following across the board, it seems that your audience is elsewhere. Try another channel.

The most straightforward element to this practice is to benchmark against competitors.

3. Go undercover

Slip under the radar by pretending to be a customer. User experience is integral to the success of a product, along with the broader customer experience. You can get direct insight into each aspect of a competitor by going undercover.

Most products offer free demos or trial periods. Subscription services tend to run on a monthly basis, without long-term commitment. It’s worth the investment to sign up and get stuck into the features, customer service, and more. This provides valuable insight on where to improve your own product, onboarding, support, and other areas.

4. Qualitative website analysis

The tools will help you get the data, but qualitative manual analysis musn’t be abandoned. If you know what to look for, this perfectly complements the quantitative insights. But what should you focus on when evaluating a competitor’s website?

About page: Where is their emphasis in terms of explaining the product, service, or the brand? This is often one of the most important pages for visitors, so what does your competitor say?

Pricing: Don’t limit analysis to prices themselves, but also the method of displaying pricing. Are they explicit or ambiguous about pricing structures?

Copy: Relaxed yet professional? Quirky and left-field? Straightforward, jargon-heavy, minimal, or lengthy? Investigate the competitor’s copy and how they structure words on the page.

Case studies: How prominent are case studies? Which ones do they feature and what does this mean about their selection of clients and/or customers?

The most compelling pages might look great, but not receive any traffic. They might have the flashiest design on the planet, with a huge exit rate. Use SimilarWeb to determine which pages are the most popular, and which are driving the most engagement on a competitor website.

Look beyond face-value and ask “why?” rather than settling for “what?” when conducting this type of research. Bear in mind that a conclusion will have been made about every aspect of the website, based on discussion and conversation. Why did the competitor settle for that decision?

Wrapping up

Competitive analysis isn’t about stealing ideas, although this isn’t always off limits(!). It will highlight key threats, and highlight where your audience is, what works, and what doesn’t. Your campaigns will benefit from better ROI and less risk. Brand positioning is also important. By getting a handle on other brands, you can establish a unique identity and value proposition.