Prior to the digital age, spying on competitors was difficult. You’d need to get your hands on physical brochures, or pose as a customer to extract important information like pricing, the sales process, and customer service. Without competitive analysis, it would be difficult to benchmark your business performance in the context of the market landscape.

Nowadays, it is simple to obtain data related to your competitor’s traffic, content, social media, and everything in between. You just need the right tech stack to get this information.

But, access to more data doesn’t always translate into better competitive analysis. Cue information overload, and too much noise. How do you know what to focus on, and how do you allocate time and resources? In this article, I’ll explore what you can ignore (to some extent!).

Traffic

High traffic doesn’t mean the right traffic. This is an important consideration when evaluating a competitor’s metrics with a tool like SimilarWeb. Traffic is only as good as its ability to meet goals. Traffic source in combination with target keywords is more meaningful; if the competitor gets lots of search traffic to core keyword posts and pages, they’re onto a winner.

Takeaway: “Ah, they get a lot of traffic!” doesn’t mean anything when analysing competitors.

Backlinks

You can ignore backlinks in three cases. Firstly, if you have no intention to utilise SEO as a key digital marketing approach. Secondly, if your competitor has so many authoritative links that it would be impossible to challenge them from scratch (see first point). Thirdly, don’t worry about the supposed “strength” of a backlink profile when research indicates spam tactics, link farming, and other bad practices. This competitor will eventually be caught red-handed by Google.

In all three cases, actions to beat the competitor on backlinks is unwarranted. Link-building is hard work and time-intensive. It’s only worth pursuing when it contributes to agreed goals and when it is feasible to succeed in your target timeframe.

Takeaway: There are multiple ways to challenge competitors. Link-building led SEO isn’t necessarily the route for you.

Media placements

For startups, it is intimidating to see competitors using huge media placements on TV, print media, and billboards. Sure, this is a powerful way to advertise a product or service. Indeed, for prior clients I have seen TV generate a higher lifetime value (LTV) than PPC or SEO.

However, you shouldn’t emulate this approach for the sake of it. Do you have access to the funds for this capital outlay, and is it the right medium for you and your target audience?

Oftentimes, digital is easier to iteratively scale and measure. Campaigns can be expanded or contracted based on budget, and digital channels enable easier direct tracking of ROI. Moreover, targeting is far more specific in digital advertising. To get a rough idea of the media placement impact, track spikes in direct and organic search traffic for the competitor.

Takeaway: The biggest issue here is startups trying to build a brand before uncovering the best channel for their audience and its need state. Whilst high-profile media placements are an indicator of funds, they are not necessarily generating a measurable return on investment. Treat them with a pinch of salt, and don’t blindly follow suit.

Ineffective campaigns

Lots of marketing campaigns generate hype. The use of branded hashtags, competitions, and other gimmicks are common across all industries. There’s a lot of noise. Never assume that every competitor campaign has been successful. Instead, dig deeper to uncover how impactful any given campaign has been in isolation.

Likes, comments, and engagement are solid metrics. So too is traffic to a landing page, which you can measure with various tools. If campaigns take users through to a destination page (e.g. a “thank you” page), you can track traffic hitting that page to judge conversions. A combination of data will give you a good idea of what’s working – albeit not exact numbers.

Takeaway: Every business has success and failure in their marketing campaigns. Be sure to take inspiration from the successes.

Summary

The use of competitive analysis is essential to benchmark against your competition. It will help determine what to do, and what not to do. But not all competitive research is created equal. What you benchmark depends on your audience, value proposition, and business goals. In the context of these, you need to focus on relevancy and track the metrics that matter.