Competitor research is a key foundational element of a company’s marketing strategy. It can help inform messaging, provide indications of channels that work well and give you time-saving insights on what to avoid.
If you’ve ever wondered how to do competitor research, you’re not alone. With so many places to get started, it can be overwhelming to get started after you’ve determined your top 3-10 competitors. We’re breaking down five types of competitor research to conduct, so that you know exactly what to look for and where to find it.
Before We Get Started
Before we break down our research recommendations, I want to clarify that competitor research is meant to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your competition to find gaps in how and where your company can best compete. While it may provide context on content or channels, it should not be used to take a competitor’s messaging, steal their designs or repurpose their work.
When reviewing your competitors’ websites, it’s important to look at the content structure and user experience. This data can provide clues into the types of content to include on your site, where to place key information and the path users may take from finding your website to making a purchase.
Content structure/user experience
The content structure is a key component to analyze. Take note of the following:
- Where buttons are placed
- Where social media links live on the site
- The navigation organization
- What’s included in the footer
- What type of imagery is used
This can help you better organize your content in a way that makes sense for your potential customers.
Where lead data is collected
Do they only collect lead data through a quote request form, or do they have multiple touchpoints to capturing email addresses? By looking for where your competition requests contact information from website visitors, it can clue you in to your audience’s willingness to share data with you.
For example, if every website has an email newsletter sign-up form but none have a gated content offer, it might be a sign that they aren’t willing to provide info for a downloadable PDF. If they do all have an email sign-up form, make sure to jot down that an email newsletter might be worth considering.
In addition to determining where lead data is collected, it’s important to pay attention to what the sales funnel looks like. When doing this, jot down content by its point in the buyer’s journey. For example, your notes might resemble this:
- Awareness stage: Blogs. White papers.
- Consideration stage: Case studies. Pricing page.
- Decision stage: Request a quote form. Free trial. Product demo.
Write down how the sales process is laid out by your competition, so you can see if there are any key components you’re missing.
Take time to look at if your competitors are following SEO best practices. Not only does this show you what your competitors think their audience is searching for, but it can uncover opportunities to rank against them.
While there are SEO tools such as SEMrush or Moz that can help make auditing researching your competitors easier, there are still ways to look at a website’s SEO without them. Look at the following:
- Meta description. The meta description isn’t easy to find on a company’s website unless you’re familiar with looking at a page’s source code. An easier way to find this for those who don’t code is by Googling the webpage. For example, if I want to see the meta description for Simple Machines’ About page, I’d Google “Simple Machines Marketing About Us.” The copy that comes up under the page title and URL is the meta description.
- Title tags. There are two easy ways to see this. First, if you used the Google method above for the meta description, the main hyperlinked headline copy is the page title. If you’re already on the competitor’s website, however, hover over the browser tab. The text that pops up is the page’s title tag. Does it include a page specific keyword? Is it well organized?
- Image alt text. Like the meta descriptions, image alt text doesn’t show up directly on a webpage. Instead, you must do a little digging. If you’re comfortable with source code, you can right click on an image and hit “inspect.” This will pull up the source code for the image where you can find the alt text – just look for where it it says “alt=” in pop-up window.
- If they have a blog.
- What blog topics they are writing about. If they do have a blog, take note of the topics they cover and the headlines they use. Do they seem optimized for industry-related keywords? If so, this means they’re betting that their audience is searching for these terms.
Social Media Research
Looking at your competitors’ social media can help you decide where the best places are to reach your audience. Plus, it can give ideas on what types of content to post. Create a document that includes the following:
List all the channels that your competitors use and watch for opportunities for ones that may have little competition to reach your audience. If you find that only one of five competitors use specific channel, but they have very high engagement on that channel, it may present an opportunity to dominate on that social media platform. On the contrary, if you find that all of your competitors are active on the same channels, looking at which channels consistently have the best engagement may tell you where to maximize your efforts first.
When looking at profile setup, there are a few things to consider. For each competitor, look at the profile for each social media channel they own. In addition to finding trends across competitors, it’s important to note any differences across a single competitor’s different channels. For example, do they use a different profile picture on Facebook than they do on Twitter and Instagram? Check each channel’s:
- Profile picture used
- Cover photo
- Bio copy
- URL used for their main link
- About copy
- Company category
Take note of how large the company’s following is. This can help you identify which channels have the most opportunity to reach your target audience.
There are a few things to pay attention to when it comes to content. Consider the following:
- Post type: do they use photos, illustrations, videos or carousel posts?
- Content themes: what are the general themes that they stick to in their posts?
- Posting frequency: how often do they post?
- Highest engaged posts: which post types and content themes perform best?
- Hashtag usage: what hashtags are they using on their different post types?
While noting the website and social media content can help provide considerations for those channels specifically, it’s also beneficial to take a step back and see where else marketing dollars are spent.
Are your competitors advertising on Google? Knowing what they’re bidding on and where those ads are taking people can shed light on how you should be bidding.
iSpionage is a great tool for finding out if your competition is bidding on keywords. While you can only see a handful of the keywords they’re bidding on with the free version, it will show you whether they use the channel along with one or two ad samples.
Another way to see if a brand uses Google Ads (though not always as accurate) is by searching their company name or key products/services in Google and see if they’re bidding on it. There are some limitations to this method, for example you’ll only see an ad if they are bidding on that specific keyword and outbid their competition for the ad space. Plus, unlike paid services such as iSpoinage, you’ll only see the keyword results that you took the time to Google search and not a comprehensive list.
It’s also helpful to see if your competition is using display ads. If they are, pay attention to the imagery and messaging on the ads to see what content is important to your audience. If you need help finding if your competitors use display ads, try using this free tool from Moat.
Is your competition splurging on a professional video? This can be a good clue that visuals are critical for your audience. If you do see professional quality videos on their site, pay attention to the following:
- Visual style (live video or animation)
- Where it’s used
- Messaging theme
- What part of the buyer’s journey it speaks to
Lead Engagement Research
Along with determining where and how your competition is getting in front of your audience online, it’s critical to find how they develop a more personal connection with them.
Look at their website and social channels to see if what in-person (or video conference) touchpoints they have with their audience.
What types of events, if any, do they host? This can include lunch and learns, digital presentations, happy hours or group presentations, just to name a few. Be mindful of what types of events they host, the format of the event, if there is a cost to attend, what type of contact information they require to register and the days of week and times of day that the events take place.
If you sell a software or product, look for if your competition promotes product demos. A demo can be a beneficial way for a salesperson to get to know a lead, allowing them to more closely work with them throughout the sales process.
If all your competitors offer a product demo, it’s a good sign that you should have one, too.
Trade shows can be a great way to meet your potential customers, but only if your audience is attending them. Look at which trade shows your competitors are posting about attending. If a vast majority go to the same shows, you might want to consider getting a booth so that you don’t lose visibility. At the same time, if there’s a niche trade show for your audience you’ve been watching and none of your competitors are marketing attending, it may present the chance to attend and meet new leads without your competition present.
Key Messaging Research
It’s imperative that you pay attention to the messaging used during all your competitive research. Look for trends in the following:
How do your competitor’s market themselves? Understanding the way each company is positioning themselves in the market allows you to find the market gaps where you can compete and set yourself apart in the industry.
Overarching messaging themes at different points of the buyer’s journey
The main messaging themes also provide insights into what copy draws your audience through the buyer’s journey. Examine the language used on different ads, website pages, and social posts. By reviewing the messaging themes, you can identify gaps, similarly to gaps in positioning. These can help your find ways to stand out within your tone and personality, content structure, and sales process.
Key sales support points
Don’t just focus on the main themes, but also review the support points that your competitors are using. If every competitor mentions their product quality, your audience likely cares about quality, as an example.
The sales support points review should not be used to steal the support of your competitors. Once you’ve created your company’s set of support, you can see where overlaps and gaps are. This will help inform which of your support points are the most critical to promote and at what stage of the buyer’s journey. It will also help you find which support points are unique to your company, helping to strengthen your differentiators and set yourself apart.
CTAs, or calls-to-action, are a crucial part of the sales process. They direct your potential customer on how to contact you, get a quote, download a flyer, go to a new page on your site and work their way closer to a purchase.
Watch out for any trends in the copy your competitors use for the CTAs as they can help you to refine your buyer’s journey. While many CTAs appear on a competitor’s website, it’s not the only place to look. Make sure to examine:
- Website button copy
- Website hyperlinks
- Website quote/purchase buttons
- Digital advertising CTAs
- Social post engagement CTAs
- Contact lines on downloads or mailers
- Newsletter subscribe copy
Industry jargon used
Lastly, make sure to keep an eye out for industry jargon. You want to give your audience confidence that you understand their industry and their needs, so it’s essential to use language that they use. Check for abbreviations or industry terms so that you can be aware of what to say or not to say in your copy.
Take Inspiration, But Don’t Steal Content
As a reminder, make sure that you’re using the data collected as inspiration but not as your content. This is meant to provide ideas on where to market yourself, key themes to consider and to help pinpoint market gaps, but not as a basis for stealing messaging or ad content. You must make it your own.
If you’re struggling to complete your competitive research, or you’ve finished the research but aren’t sure how to analyze it and turn it into something actionable, we can help.