There’s this look that I see on entrepreneurs’ and marketers’ faces, and when I see it, it tears me up because it’s the look of being completely overwhelmed and lost. Frankly, we can do anything. We can do influencer campaigns, email marketing, SEO, content marketing, and trade shows. We hit the phones and do sales calls. We can do absolutely any strategy and tactic. So the question becomes “What do I do?” This is when people feel overwhelmed and lost because they couldn’t possibly do all of these things.
Even if we can do a handful of things very well, oftentimes, we don’t have the time, money, or resources. So you ask yourself, “What should I do? How do I know where to put the money? How do I know that it will work?” Whether it will work or not depends 100 percent on the details. There’s no universal approach to this. So you ask yourself, “If I have five grand, what should I do with it so that I will really get the most bang for my buck? How will I know that I’m not putting it at risk? If I could put five grand here, five grand here, and five grand here, which one should I do?” Well, frankly, there are 30 different ways to spend that $5,000. You have to be in a position where you’re not putting the money at risk. We’re taking calculated risks.
Before we even start talking about competitor analysis, we first have to decide what our goals are. We have to be clear on what winning looks like. What is your goal? How do you know whether or not you’re winning? Because if you can spend the money 30 different ways, well, surely, all 30 ways aren’t going to tie back to those goals. I’ll help you eliminate some stuff right off the bat and get really specific. Do you want more leads? Do you want to be able to win on Amazon? Do you want more phone calls? Do you want to increase your following on Instagram? Do you want to build your email list or get more white paper downloads? To be really specific, what is your actual goal?
If you are like most entrepreneurs (at least most entrepreneurs I know and work with), you want to grow your revenue. You want to grow your business. For most of the work we do, I always tie it back to leads. I always tie it back to sales. But whether you are focused on sales or not, these five steps that we’re going to walk through right now can be applied to any campaign, any tactic, or any market. Let’s dig in now to the five ways to approach a competitive analysis. Not only will you understand who you’re competing with, but you will also be able to outsell them. You can outperform them. You can crush them.
1. Identify your top 10 competitors.
You need to develop a list of the 10 people you think you’re competing with, and the easiest thing to do is to go to Google and type in a keyword. For example, we can just type in “video production company.” You can type in “marketing agency.” Just type in some keywords. Look at the top 10 companies on each of these keywords, and build a list of who you think your top 10 competitors are. If you’re selling on Amazon, you can go ahead and use a tool like SellerApp.com to find your real competitors. Your list of 10 competitors are the people you think are your competitors, but it doesn’t actually mean that they are real competitors. Firstly, you might not be competing against them for leads on different platforms (e.g., advertising platforms).
Secondly, they may not even be your competitors because maybe your prospects aren’t ever going to bump up against them. Maybe they’re not going to find these people and have you kind of compete for things. Maybe you’re not even really competing against them. The goal is to find your actual real competitors.
Don’t forget that the status quo can be a competitor. The lack of taking action, fears, or any of those things — those are all competing against people who are moving forward. However, for the purpose of this competitor analysis, we’re going to look at real companies. These steps kind of feel a little technical, but they’re actually not that technical.
2. Take this competitor list, and use a tool like SEMrush.
Drop the URLs of your top 10 competitors in there, and then export the list of top keywords that they rank for. Next, you’re going to take the same list of 10 competitors into SEMrush or something, and you’re going to export a list of top competitor keywords that overlap. All that’s really telling us is that we have a list of 10 competitors. We’ve put them here, and we have keywords now that SEMrush or Google thinks we’re competing for. Now we’re going to take them and those keywords, and we’re going to put those into the system. It’s going to spit out for us a list of our actual competitors, and we’re going to look. We have 10 competitors.
More often than not, our real competitors are actually four or five new companies that we’ve never even heard of. They are great new people that we’re not even aware of but could be crushing us. What you want to do is work through this multi-step process so that you can ultimately get to the list of your real competitors, not your perceived competitors. Coming out of this step, you also have a list of all these different competitors (real and perceived) and different keywords. That information will help you in the future if you decide that you want to do an SEO campaign, if you want to do content marketing, or if you want to start to crush people. But for now, the goal is just to get to that list of 10 real competitors.
3. Now’s the time to dig into the tactics.
If you want to beat your competitors, the real ones, you actually have to know what they’re doing. You have to know what works and what doesn’t work. What I’m going to do is I’m going to take your list of 10 real competitors. You can go to a tool like SEMrush, and you are going to look for traffic source breakdowns. Run the same thing 10 times the traffic source breakdown, and when you start to pull all this out for each competitor, you’re going to start to notice some things. Oh, this person has 200,000 visitors a month. This other person has 8,000 visitors a month. This other person has 1,500 visitors a month. This person has a million visitors a month. This one company has 90 percent organic traffic but has no social media engagement and no paid ads. This other company is 85 percent paid and has no organic traffic and no branding. You know all this information just by looking at their traffic source breakdown. This will actually start to tell you how they go about getting traffic.
If it’s really high-branded traffic, they must have a brand name that people know, and people must be going and googling the name, which means they must be doing offline stuff or they’ve existed for a long time. That’s one indicator of how they built their brand and their business. If someone else is heavy on organic traffic, they must have an amazing content marketing strategy. They’re getting all this organic traffic, and it’s not coming through paid ads. If it’s through paid ads, then obviously, they’re doing advertising. If it’s through social media, then they must be doing a lot of social media stuff.
The traffic source breakdown will actually tell you a lot about the tactics that each company is taking. If you run all 10, and they’re all doing similar tactics, it means you have a bit of an industry trend, and you can start to put this in your back pocket for when you develop your plan.
You’re looking for consistencies and the outliers, and this will start to show you how and where your competitors are putting their money, time, and resources, as well as how they’re going about their sales.
4. Review everything they do.
So there are a few tools that you can use to find out a lot about what your 10 competitors are actually doing. I’m going to run through a few of them real quick, but you can find your own tools. There are lots of them out there. These are just some that we use.
First, you can use a tool like builtwith.com to see how your competitors’ sites are built and what tools they’re using. If you drop in their URL, it might say, “Hey, this is built on Squarespace.” That tells you something about their customers. They might be using all kinds of different tools. It’ll give you a little insight into what they’re doing, how they build it, and how much money they spend on it.
You can also use a tool like MailCharts to get a sense of the email marketing tactics they may be doing. This is a cool little tool that will show you the email marketing of your competitors if they’re listed in there. So you get a sense of the messaging, how often the frequency is, and things like that.
Next, you definitely want to sign up for everyone’s emails. If they’re doing email marketing, sign up for it. Get all of it. Get a sense of frequency, what they’re offering, how much they spend, how good they are, or how bad they are. It also reveals what they’re doing on social media and what they’re doing on content marketing. Sign up for their email. Here’s a bonus tip: In their emails, they send you coupons. Do some secret shopping. Buy some stuff. See how it shifts. See the time, get it, open it up, and try returning it. Get a sense of their customer services. If you can do all this stuff, it’ll tell you so much about how others run their company.
Here’s one more little tip: Thanks to the whole Facebook Russia scandal and transparency, you can now see what people are doing to advertise on Facebook.
So what you want to do is log in to Facebook, go to your competitor’s page, and then down on the bottom right, click on “See more” in the “Page Transparency” section. It is going to open up a new page that’ll show you whether they’re advertising or not based on the country. Then you can click “Go to ad library.” You can now see all the ads that they are running on the Facebook platform and what they’re saying. You can see their calls to action. You can see what their creativity is like. You can see everything they’re doing based on the country and their advertising. This is huge.
Here’s the last little bonus tip in this section: Go to each of their websites, and then over the next week or two, see if they’re remarketing to you. See if you’re seeing display ads or banner ads from being on that site. If you take screen captures of it, it’ll show you what they’re doing to advertise to you off of the Google Display Network or off of other platforms.
I know this all sounds super technical and super detailed, but it’s actually not really that hard. It’s just about going and finding the places where they’re doing stuff and then taking pictures of it. That way, you can save it for later when you’re doing your analysis. If you know that they go to industry, trade shows, literally just take pictures of their booth. Go talk to someone. Get a sense of how they speak to you. Pick up their marketing collateral. Get a sense of what they’re doing, not so that you can copy them but so that way you can find holes in what they’re doing. Do it better than them.
5. Develop your tactics for the win.
At this point, you know your competitors, their traffic sources, their messaging, and what they’re spending on people. Now that you have so much information about them, you need to decide what you are going to do to get the win. How are you going to beat them if, looking at all of this data, you see they are absolutely crushing it on organic traffic, on SEO, and content marketing because they’ve been around for longer and they have more money and resources? It doesn’t make sense for you to try to compete against that. You’re going to get a paid-campaign approach. You’re going to go ahead and buy the awareness.
You’re going to buy the traffic. You are going to circumvent their content marketing strategy. Because it takes too long and too much money to try to beat them at their game, you’re going to beat them at your game. If they’re doing a ton of search ads, PPC, Google, or whatever you want to call it, then you’re going to beat them for the click. You’re going to write better ads. You’re going to have stronger landing pages. You’re going to offer better deals. You’re going to have a better conversion or customer service process. You will literally work to beat them at every step to steal their clicks, to steal their leads, and to steal their closes.
If they’re super heavy on social media (e.g., Facebook) or on building up communities, then you are going to go out, build a better community, and advertise against their community. You’re going to start to leech and take things away because, again, you have a better offering and better creativity. You have more focus on it. You can use this information to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and where they’re winning, and then you can decide if it’s a game you want to play and beat them at or if you want to go a different direction.
This is the real value of the competitor analysis. Yes, you can cherry-pick the things that you like to do, but more than copying people, it’s actually about finding out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it so that you can decide whether you want to play the same game or do it better.
Do you want to invent brand-new rules and nip at their heels by stealing their traffic, their customers, or their leads through other means? If your goal is to steal the traffic, to build awareness, and to close more sales, the only way to do that is to know who you’re competing against and what they’re doing. Come up with a plan to win.