It’s January. This is supposed to be your best month, but somehow the web traffic is just not where you predicted. You feel that pit in your stomach, is this your fault? The economy is changing, lots of experts are predicting a slowdown, is that affecting the web traffic?
SEO is a science, but also sometimes a witchcraft. The algorithmic gods at the search engines can be angered, or something else can be going on. How can you tell the difference? Below you’ll find some tools and techniques the pros use to make sure you’re getting your fair market share.
Competitor analysis! By taking a look at what your competitors are doing and experiencing, you can make some educated guesses about the market, your own strategy, and your performance. If your competitors’ traffic is down along with yours, well then maybe it’s something bigger. If their traffic is up while yours is down, well maybe you’ve made a mistake somewhere.
All of us, we are sharing a finite supply of clicks. In his TED talk, Kevin Kelly estimates there are about 100 billion clicks per day, which sounds like a lot, but they’re not all searching for you. There are only so many internet users searching for something every month, and all of us are trying to get our piece of that traffic pie. How can we get back some of that traffic from our competitors?
A good competitive analysis will involve some simple steps:
- Identify your top 3-5 competitors
- Use Tools to analyze their strategies
- Compare them to each other
- Use a classic SWOT analysis
- Identify your unique value proposition and market position
1. Identify your top 3-5 Competitors
Who are your top competition? This may be easy, or it may be difficult. You probably have some idea who is operating in your space, or in your local market. The thing is, those may not be the same people that you are competing against online. One quick and dirty way to see who you compete with is to do a google search for a product or service you provide. If I search for a handyman, I get two important pieces of data. First, is the map pack:
This shows some nearby handyman listings, and gives me some clue into who my local competitors are. Maybe I recognize these names, maybe I don’t, but at least I know what people see when they start a search for me.
The next important thing that comes out of this is the organic search engine results:
These are useful because now I can see which of my competition is working within the goog’s parameters. The top result is maybe not as relevant to me, so long as I’m on HomeAdvisor’s list. The next one, Danshandymanservices.com is my primary competitor. If I’m not the top second or third listing, then Dan is taking my traffic.
Next, just scroll down the list and see what other names come up. Lots of them will be review sites, like homeadvisor or thumbtack, but among those you’ll see your prime online competition. Jot a few notes of their web addresses, to be used in the next step.
2. Use Tools to analyze their strategies
Next, we need to find out what they are doing that is working. There are some great free and paid tools that can get you started. Keep in mind that these are just tools, and provide estimates more than exact figures. Actual hard data on website visits and so on isn’t available outside of the analytics installed on the site. (See below for one possible exception)
SEMRush.com is always my go to for a good all-around solution. If you register on their site, you can get 10 free requests, which is enough to get you started with your own research. Unlike others, their 10 free requests include all of the data you would get with a paid subscription. You can take a look at three or four of your closest competitors, and get a read on what they are doing well. SEMRush has so many features that it’s easy to get lost, but the homepage dashboard has most of what you need to get started on a competitor analysis.
- For increasing website traffic, SEMRush starts you off on a great dashboard that charts traffic to the site over time, with a different color line for paid or organic traffic. This is your initial estimate of how your competitors are doing. There are options for 6 months, one year, two years, and all time. This is a great feature to show how they have been doing on cornering the market over time. You should go there and check your own traffic.
- For Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you can see what keywords they are being found for, and how they rank for each of those keywords. Right on the front page they have a list of your top organic competitors, and an estimate of how they are doing. They have a domain vs domain tool that you can use to compare your keyword reach against your competitors. In the tool, you can find out what they are ranking for that you are not. This should be your starting point for a serious SEO campaign.
- For Paid Search Advertising, you can take a look at how your competitors are using google ads (or pay per click advertising), an estimate of their budget, and see their ad copy. This is a really helpful tool to see how your ads stack up against your competitors, because you can see what keywords they are paying for, along with an estimate of how many searchers click on their ads.
- If you’re serious, a paid subscription starts around $100 per month
SpyFu.com is another great tool for competitor research, because they offer so much right on the first page. SpyFu’s paid version is much lower cost than SEMRush, and you do lose some functionality. However, it’s still a great data point for what is working for your competitors. I often use it for a sanity check on SEMRush. One big advantage of SpyFu is the endless scroll page layout—this makes it simple to navigate and find what you’re looking for.
- For estimating website traffic, SpyFu greets you with a dashboard showing your competitors traffic in a line graph over time. Unlike SEMRush, SpyFu only goes back one year in the free version. I love how they display a pie graph over this that shows how much traffic is from paid search, and how much from organic search.
- For SEO, SpyFu also has a great keyword research tool. They show your top organic competitors just below the fold on the front page, with a bar showing how many keywords you and they overlap. There’s a speedometer that shows what percentage of your keywords made it to the first search engine results page, and which did not, as well as an estimate of how many keywords total you are ranking for. Scroll down the page a bit and you’ll see a tool called Kombat, this is a Venn diagram that shows graphically how many keywords you share with the competition.
- For Google Adwords, SpyFu has the same graphs and tools as they do for SEO, and they display them side by side. This makes understanding the data very simple and intuitive, and gives you some insight into their ad campaigns. They keep the paid traffic in blue throughout the site, which further simplifies the presentation.
- The biggest draw for SpyFu is a tool called Nacho Analytics. With this you’re able to get immediate, real time data from a competitor’s google analytics. The data is hit and miss with this, the nature of the tool prevents them from getting real analytics from all websites, but if your competitor is there this can be a gold mine. You can see what pages your competitor is converting with, and how those pages have performed over time. You can see how they are A/B testing, and some real time results from those tests. Nacho Analytics is a separate tool, which will set you back at least $39 per month to read one website.
- SpyFu’s free version really limits you on the keyword data you can pull, with only 10 or so entries in each category, organic and paid. Still, for a quick swag, it’s tough to beat. A full paid subscription to unlock all of that data is pretty affordable too, starting at only $33 per month.
ahrefs.com has no free version, but they have a lot of the same tools as SEMRush and SpyFu. They crawl websites in the same way, and they provide a lot of the SEO and Paid search data as above. They offer a seven day trial for only $7, which is plenty of time to see what is working for the competition and to plan your next move.
3. Compare them to each other
Using the tools we’ve outlined above, take some time and look at how each of your competitors stacks up. What are they doing well? What are they failing at? This step actually takes more time than the previous step. This is really where you compile all of the data you’ve already gathered. If you skip this step, it will be much harder to find patterns and really put together a good analysis. Really the best way to do this is to chart out your competitors strengths side by side. Domain vs domain and kombat are both tools shown above that can simplify parts of this analysis, but that won’t get you everything you need. I like to take a screen shot of key parts of the analysis, and put them all together on a slide. That makes it a lot easier to look for patterns and clues.
Here’s an example I recently produced:
There’s a traffic estimate, keyword overlap, keyword research, and some ad copy there, really putting the competitor’s overall strategy in one place.
This sets us up for the next step, the SWOT analysis.
4. Use a SWOT analysis
SWOT is a classic tool in business analysis. Lucidchart says that “SWOT analysis was invented in the 1960s by a management consultant named Albert Humphrey at the Stanford Research Institute.” You need to identify
- Strengths: Where is your company succeeding? What do you provide that the competition doesn’t?
- Weaknesses: Where are your competitors succeeding?
- Opportunities: What changes or trends could you take advantage of that will set you up for success in the long run?
- Threats: Which of those changes or trends could cause a problem for you if you fail to adapt?
Wordstream.com made this great infographic on SWOT:
SWOT is one of those business school, tried and true methods that doesn’t get enough attention from small businesses. A company of any size can benefit from rigorous analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, so don’t be shy when it comes to actually taking these steps.
One thing I’ve seen time and time again, people read the list, swag an answer, and then move on. DON’T DO THIS! If you actually take some time and overcome your mind’s natural tendency to be lazy, you’ll almost certainly find some insights that will make a difference for you. It’s the companies that don’t take SWOT seriously that are surprised by changes in the market.
5. Identify your unique value proposition and market position
You’ve been succeeding in business this long, what has been working for you? What key differences between your company and theirs are responsible for where you are at now? Is it your customer service? Your social media presence? Using your competitor profiles and SWOT analysis, now is where you identify what gaps you need to fill, what vulnerabilities you need to shore up, and where you need to really focus your efforts in order to outshine the competition. This can be a unique product, line of service, or even an offer which you provide that they don’t.
No marketing campaign can exist in a bubble. What your competitors are doing and what is working for them is a critical component to what you need to consider. If your best customers are looking for you, and finding your competition instead, that’s the beginning of the end for your company. Competitor analysis should be a key tool in your online marketing strategy.
At WSI, we produce quality competitor analysis every day. Our team of trained experts can help you to see the hard data of how your competitors are doing, and how you stack up against them. Email me today for a free internet business analysis, to see how you stack up against your competition.