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Six Quick Ways To Spy On Your Competition

I promised to talk about how to conduct a competitive analysis, so here’s a quick snapshot.

You first need to know your competitors.

You might have an idea, but you have to do a bit of digging first. 

Some competitors may not truly compete with you on the search engines. But they probably do better than you in other ways. Other competitors are siphoning traffic away from you, and they may not offer the same thing at all.

So the goal is to identify your direct competitors, which are the ones that offer the same thing you do or are probably located in the same geographical area, and target the exact same audience or solve the same problems you do.

Also, know your indirect competitors. They're competing with you only to the degree that they may “steal” traffic, leads, or clients away from you but without competing with you in a direct or purposeful sense. For example:

  • Indirect competitors may offer similar but different services than you. 
  • They may solve the same problems you do but in a different way.
  • They may target the same audience based on the same topics or serve the same search intent.
  • Or they may offer the same or similar services but target a different audience altogether.

Identifying these competitors is important. There are a few ways to do this. But let me share with you my favourite go-to method.

1. Google Autocomplete and Suggestions

Google is often the easiest and most effective source to determine who your competitors are. After all, Google is telling you right there in the SERPs (or search engine results pages) other websites that are vying for the same eyeballs.

Once you’ve identified the key topics that people in your market are interested in (including the search intent you want to match content with, and the kinds of questions they ask that you can answer), search them on Google.

Look at the first page: what are the results and what are they telling you? 

Other results are either direct or indirect competitors. Direct competitors are siphoning clients away from you, while indirect ones are stealing traffic.

Remember, there are five areas that can provide some great insights:

  1. The search results themselves.
  2. Autocomplete suggestions in the search bar.
  3. “People also search for” section further down.
  4. Related searches at the bottom of the page.
  5. Local pack suggestions (i.e., map and business listings).
  6. Search ads (paid ads) appearing at the top of SERPs.

Here's a quick video I recorded to give you an idea.

Make a note of these results. 

Of course, there are other tools out there that can provide information about your competitors. I use tools like SEMRush, Moz, Ahrefs, Buzzsumo, SpyFu, and others. But after Google, SEMRush is my second favourite tool.

Also, don’t forget other, more traditional ways of discovering your competitors, such as industry newsletters, trade journals, associations, social media profiles, discussion forums, and your own prospects and clients.

2. Analyze Traffic and Clout

Next, you want to determine how well they’re doing. By punching in your competitors’ websites in a tool like SEMRush, you can get a quick, at-a-glance look at their traffic history, their top keywords, and their search activity.

SEMRush has a section called “competitive research.” In it, you will get an idea of their rankings, their domain score, their traffic (and traffic trend, which might indicate spikes or pivots that can give you some extra insights), and more.

But you don't need to signup for premium tools if you prefer not to. The goal is to get an idea of their traffic and clout so you can try to reverse engineer them.

There are plenty of free tools that can give you a lot of the most important data. For example, do they have a lot of backlinks? Is their domain authority higher than yours? Are they vying for the same keywords? 

I also use a tool like ScreamingFrog to determine their number of pages and website structure. For example, they may have 200 articles while you only have 10. They may have a better content architecture or a more optimized site than yours (e.g., meta-tags, headers, text-to-html ratio, etc).

3. Branded vs. Non-Branded Traffic

You might be getting a lot of traffic from searches that include names, such as your name, or the name of your business, product, service, productized service (like a course), or process you’ve pioneered or trademarked, etc.

Competitors may compete with you on non-branded terms, but they might have branded traffic, too. Other than stealing your branded traffic (which is something to look out for), their own branded traffic comes from somewhere.

Branded traffic only comes from people who have heard about your business other than the search engine. So Google is a “second exposure,” if you will. The key is to identify the first exposure. Where did people hear about you first?

Do the same from a competitive analysis standpoint. Discovering where people heard about your competitors is a great indicator of how they drive their branded traffic, and how you can replicate their efforts or discover any gaps.

  • Perhaps it’s from a review site or a blog that talked about them.
  • Perhaps it’s from a discussion forum or an active social media presence.
  • Perhaps it’s from Google knowledge graphs or featured snippets.
  • Or perhaps it’s from Google My Business or other business listings.

These give clues as to where your competitors are gaining clout.

4. Google Alerts and Google Trends

Then, I recommend setting up Google Alerts. You want to be notified every time someone online mentions you. But you also want to do the same for your competitors. This offers a glimpse into those primary sources of exposure.

Google Trends shows the popularity and volatility of a topic, search term, and related topics and terms. It can be helpful for keyword research, but it can also provide you with insights into your competitor's audience.

Using the keywords your competitors are ranking well for, you can learn about their searchers' demographics and even psychographics. In other words, you can see traffic trends, where traffic is located, what type of traffic it is, and what are they interested in.

It can also be a useful tool to show you where traffic is heading, too.

Other than Google Alerts, you might want to set up other “listening” tools (such as for social mentions, keyword rankings, competitor position tracking, backlinks, etc), to get an idea of not only where people are talking about you or your competitors, but how they do so

5. Experience Indicators and Insights

If your competitors have less content than you, maybe even fewer backlinks than you, but they are getting more traffic, it might be a UX issue. If their website has a better user experience than yours, you will want to fix that.

Simply go to Google's Web.dev to analyze your site. Do the same with your competitors’ URLs to see how well they are doing, and then compare. Are their websites loading faster than yours? Are they easier to navigate? Are their pages more easily discoverable?

Then take a look at their messaging and copy. Is it clearer, stronger, more compelling, and easier to read? What about their design, layout, and supporting visuals? Do they offer a newsletter or any free resources such as tools, white papers, and downloads?

Remember, SEO relies on two things: the quality of your content and the quality of the user's experience. So when conducting your competitive analysis, you need to look at both of these areas and compare them with yours.

6. Content and Experience Gap Analyses

Speaking of these two things (i.e., content and user experience), the next step is at the heart of all good competitive analyses. What a gap analysis means is, you want to discover any gaps between your competitors and your website that you can take advantage of.

All the above are good indicators of what your competitors are doing that you are not, and what you need to improve. But there might be plenty of missed opportunities you can exploit to get a leg up on your competition.

Some of the tools I mentioned earlier provide some of this functionality with advanced insights. However, you can do a simple gap analysis, too.

The goal is to look at the content your audience is looking for that neither you nor your competitors are offering, or that either one of you is offering but doing a poor job at (e.g., outdated or hard-to-understand content).

After you’ve identified your topics and your users' search intent, you want to see where your competitors are failing to properly answer them.

  • Sometimes, it can be a lack of content on their end.
  • Sometimes, it can be poor content, which you can offer better.
  • And sometimes, it can be good content but your competitors are failing to help them further, whether it's the lack of a good UX, a lead capturing mechanism, or simply a chance to read further on the topic.

If you have content already, a gap might indicate the need to refresh your content to fill in gaps or outclass existing content from your competitors.

Finally, keep in mind that competitive analyses provide clues and ideas on how to dominate your space in more ways than one. While most of these tips above provide digital insights, the information can also be helpful for external marketing activities, too.

They can show you what your competitors are up to, what they see as important, how active they are outside of their operations, any strategic alliances, their pricing, their business philosophy, interviews they’re giving, etc.

Remember, the greatest killer of business is not competition.

It’s complacency. 

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