Competitor research is nothing new to the business world. In fact, businesses have been keeping a watchful eye on their competition since Thag realized he was losing customers to Grog once he started selling his Mammoth steaks “fire-roasted.”
There’s an old adage that says there’s nothing new under the sun. Everything has been done, we just find new ways to do them.
But if you aren’t watching your online competitors, you may be doing the same things the old way, while others have found more successful ways of doing them.
When it comes to creating your online marketing plan, your competition can be a wealth of knowledge. In fact, building a marketing plan without taking advantage of your competitor’s successes and mistakes is almost criminal. That’s like passing up on free food, but if the food was made of money.
But before you jump in and steal everything your competitors are doing, there are a few things you need to know.
I’ve outlined five critical knowledge points when it comes to assessing your competition so you can take the knowledge you gained and use it to become their worst online enemy. Competitively speaking, of course.
1. Know Who Your (Online) Competitors Are
The companies you compete against in the offline space can be, and often are, different from those you compete against online.
It’s common for many different types of websites to rank for both short- and long-tail phrases that you want to rank for. Some of those may be direct competitors, and some may just be informational and DIY sites or blogs, or random people who are filling the “knowledge space” online.
The fact that your online competitors may not truly be your business competitors creates unique advantages and disadvantages when trying to improve your online presence. A lot of business leaders like to pretend that those entities are not a factor, but they are. And ignoring them won’t make them go away.
To gain share in the online space, you have to overcome anyone and everyone who’s currently occupying the digital space you want. The unfortunate reality of that means more work for your marketing team to get you where you want to be. But knowing who and what you’re up against is the first step toward achieving the goals ahead of you.
2. Know Where Your Competitors Are Engaged
While everyone occupying a space you want is to be considered a competitor, it’s also important to understand where your true competitors are focusing their own efforts. That is, those businesses that compete on a product/service level.
Knowing where your competitors are or aren’t actively engaged can tell you a lot about the spaces in which you should be engaged.
Start by looking for places where your competitors aren’t currently engaged. This can often be an opportunity to grab some low-hanging fruit that will bring easy results.
Be careful, however, that you don’t follow any competitor off a cliff. If they aren’t in a space, there may be a reason.
Then again, it may just be an oversight on their part. A costly one at that!
3. Analyze What Your Competitors Do That Works
Once you know where your competitors are engaged, you need to analyze what is or isn’t working.
Seeing that a competitor is killing it in their organic search marketing may lead you to conclude that organic is where you also should focus your efforts. But before you jump in feet first, you need to ask yourself how and why their organic optimization is working.
It’s entirely possible that their organic optimization actually sucks, but that they’re performing well due to other things that are having a residual effect on their organic success.
For example, a strong social media presence can work wonders with organic rankings, even for a site that isn’t all that optimized. Now you may be able to overcome them organically by focusing on organic optimization alone, but you’re most likely going to need to compete on the social level. Or find some other way to build up your site authority.
Bottom line: you need to get the full picture of your competitor’s efforts before you jump into any one thing believing that’s the magic bullet you’re looking for.
Online success is often the result of several things working together. Rarely is it just the one thing that looks the most obvious.
Take some time to assess what your competitors are doing truly is improving their efforts. Then, use that as a jump-off point. You don’t want to duplicate their efforts, but instead, use them as a way to generate ideas of your own.
4. Find out What Your Competitors Do That Doesn’t Work
You also want to make sure you know what isn’t working. Just because your competitors are investing in something doesn’t mean that it’s working for them.
Even successful companies do things wrong. If you take everything they do at face value, you’ll end up spending time and money you don’t have for something that won’t even benefit you in the slightest.
Spare yourself the trouble of making the same costly mistakes. Heck, if you look hard enough, you’ll likely see the mistakes they are making before they even see them for themselves. And that’s a strategic advantage!
5. Understand Your Competitors’ Level of Investment
If your competitors are heavily engaged in online marketing, you aren’t likely to overcome them with a half-hearted investment.
In the business world, it’s rare for David to defeat the Goliaths they go up against. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but it certainly doesn’t happen by accident.
You’ll never defeat an opponent whom you fail to adequately understand.
You may not have to – or be able to – outspend your competition, but you’ll have to work harder and smarter to beat them.
Beating your competition is never about being equal. It’s about being better.
I often tell my clients: It’s not enough to match what your competitors are doing. That only keeps you from falling behind. If you want to overtake them, you have to do it better.
Whatever they do well, you need to do great. Whatever they get good results from, you need to get stellar results from.
Matching your competitor’s speed only gets you around the track as fast as them, it never gets you caught up or puts you in the lead!
Your competition can be a wealth of knowledge. And while you may not be able to know everything that you want, there is plenty that you can glean from a bit of time and research. Spending a couple dozen hours looking into your competitor’s online marketing efforts can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.
You may not be able – or want – to do everything your competitors do online, but the knowledge alone is useful for strategic goal planning and setting your expectations for success. Both of which are critical for knowing how and when you have truly achieved online success.
More Competitor Research Resources Here:
Featured Image and In-post Photos: Created by Stoney deGeyter, October 2017.