For marketers and startup founders, measurements provide a map to success, with every KPI acting like a signpost. Without measurements, you have no reference points for success and/or failure. It’s imperative to measure what matters to ensure tactics are having an impact and driving growth.
It’s beneficial to peek at your competitors’ success maps, to understand their trajectory, their obstacles, and their time and budget investments. This could inform your route to success, and help you spot gaps along the way.
By following a few simple ideas, you can gain an understanding of where your competitors are winning and losing.
Keeping an eye on your competition is one thing, but it all comes to nothing if you’re not measuring how their efforts are affecting their overall business growth. After all, they’re likely not just shooting blindly in the dark, and you can be sure that they’re focusing firmly on the bottom-line, measuring what matters and using analysis to inform their wider strategy.
Of course, measuring your competitors isn’t easy. Unless you’re competing with yourself then it’s unlikely you’ll be given access to Google Search Console, website analytics, sales reports and profit margins, so you’re going to have to improvise and find some hacks or workarounds. Luckily, there’s plenty to monitor, from search engine rankings to social media followers – together with qualitative anecdotal research.
The statistics gleaned from competitor analysis will help set a benchmark, especially if seen as elements within the broader context of business growth.
Metrics to measure
You can look at a number of different metrics in all sorts of areas. The key is to decide upon a focus area, and to commit to acting upon what you learn by comparing the metrics you’re measuring with competitor activity, to inform strategic decisions within your own startup.
When it comes to honing in on the metrics that you want to measure, determine what’s pertinent to your business and its market. For example, if you’re planning to target search engine traffic as a major source of leads, you’ll need to know how your competitor ranks organically for key terms, in order to adjust your own strategy accordingly. Alternatively, your research will tell you if they’re investing significant budget in Google AdWords (PPC). Discover what’s working for them, probe the weak spots, and then make a concentrated effort in those areas to maximise fast results.
Of course, it’s not just marketing metrics that you’ll want to take a look at. Depending upon the structure of your competitors’ businesses, you may be able to access additional information – if they’re publically traded and listed on the stock exchange, for example, then you can keep an eye on share prices.
Furthermore, the number of staff employed can also be an indicator for success, as can their office location, and salaries advertised for current job vacancies. However, this information can easily mask the truth so must be taken with a pinch of salt. Investigate past investment pitches, and track the online conversations of your competitors’ leading executives to see which circles they’re moving in.
The above research is somewhat cloak and dagger, and much of it will provide nothing but anecdotal evidence to support your assumptions. Accessible data-led metrics to monitor regularly include the following;
Social media metrics
Social media metrics include the following:
- Follower count
- Conversation share (i.e. how often consumers mention you versus your competitor)
- Engagement rate (i.e. what percentage of their followers is regularly interacting with them)
- Individual activity metrics (i.e. number of comments, likes, shares, etc.)
- Frequency of activity and number of updates
Search engine metrics
Search engine metrics include the following:
- Search engine rankings
- Alexa rank
- Domain authority
- Page authority
- Number of backlinks
- Frequency of content updates
- Number of mentions in the press
- Number of trade show appearances
- Frequency of new product launches
Tools for measuring competitor performance
There are so many tools on the market that no list could ever contain them all, but these should be enough to act as a starting point.
Social media metrics
- Brandwatch: Sentiment analysis
- Followerwonk: Twitter follower demographics
- Social Studio: Conversation share
- TweetDeck: Social listening
Search engine measurement tools
- AWR Cloud: Rankings
- BuzzStream: Outreach and influencers
- Keyword Planner: Analysis of keywords
- Screaming Frog or Ahrefs: Backlinks
- SearchMetrics: Volume
- SimilarWeb: Performance comparison
Additional tools (online and offline)
- Google Alerts: Mentions of almost everything
- Signal: Newspaper/press clippings
Remember that metrics can sometimes be misleading. Measurement is only as useful as the analysis that you apply to it, but one piece of data can tell two stories – it’s like that old adage about a glass being half empty or half full. There’s always interpretation.
In addition, many of the stats that are publically available are so-called “vanity” metrics – things you can measure that appear important, when in fact they’re less than critical. A million followers on Twitter is great, but there must be value associated to this fact. Does it generate significantly more amplification for your content? Can you leverage this following for more efficient Twitter Ads, leading to increased sales or signups? Consider these metrics in the context of real-world value.
Some startups will buy fake followers in the hope that the size of their social following will enhance their reputation in the industry. You can use tools like TwitterAudit.com to run a check on anyone you suspect of having fake followers. They’re usually easy to spot by comparing the number of followers they have to the amount of interaction/engagement they receive on updates.
A million followers with minimal engagement to posts will signal that something’s amiss. Don’t be tempted to fall into a similar trap – it appears unprofessional and can undermine trust.
Applying your competitor analysis
In their article for McKinsey, authors Hugh Courtney, John T. Horn and Jayanti Kar talk about the competitor-insight loop, in which gathering intelligence is just the start. That intelligence must be interpreted first through the eyes of the competitor’s analysts and then through the eyes of its senior management. Only then can you accurately predict their next move, but knowing their next move will allow you to anticipate and preempt them.
These days, the international marketplace is so saturated that no startup is an island. You’ll want to look for wider trends amongst multiple competitors, as well as focusing on them as individuals. If one competitor ramps up the frequency of their blog posts then you can measure their search engine metrics over time and see if it works out for them.
When pitching your insights to the wider team, especially when trying to encourage senior management to invest resources or to adjust their strategy, it can help to include screenshots and comments from your competitor’s consumers. For instance, if you notice an increase in engagement on social networking sites, back that up with a few examples of updates that worked well. If a competitor’s new feature is picking up press coverage, include a round-up of the publications and headlines.
And remember, while it’s tempting to simply reproduce your competitors’ successes, it’s smarter to learn from their mistakes and make an impact in areas that are left under-exploited.
Ultimately, deciding what to measure can be hard, and deciding how to measure it can be even harder. But by closely monitoring competitors, your startup can grow to dominate the marketplace. It all comes back to your business goals – where do you want to be, and how do you want to get there? Who can get in your way? And how can you assess whether you’re outperforming them?
Act like a consumer. Do some mystery shopping, signup to mailing lists and follow your competitors on social media. Interact, complain, engage. Remain anonymous – watch, learn, and apply what knowledge and experience to your own startup, whether it’s in the negative or positive assessment of a competitor. Gather soft insights, but cross-analyse with the data gleaned from tools mentioned previously in this article.
By measuring competitor success, you set a benchmark. Whilst it’s tough to directly track sales and revenue, use projection software to plug in what you can and to predict the future with a higher degree of accuracy than has previously been possible. Take regular measurements and examine the way that your competitors’ measurements are changing over time.
Look at it like another tool in your toolkit. You need to know how to use it to fine-tune your startup into the well-oiled machine that it’s destined to be.