Many companies, marketing teams, and entrepreneurs do competitor analysis to get a feel for what content is working and the tactics their competition employs to get visitors, leads, customers, and sales.
It is one of the first steps in developing a digital marketing strategy and part of an ongoing process.
Marketers need to remain up to speed on what their online rivals are doing to help adjust campaigns and enable them to perform better.
In this article, we will show you the main components of competitor analysis along the following:
- What Is Competitor Analysis?
- Who Should You Analyze as Your Competitors?
- Why Do You Need an Ongoing Competitor Analysis?
- How Often Should You Review Your Digital Marketing Strategy?
- How to Do Competitor Analysis Regularly: The Key Points for Digital Marketing
- i) Get Updates on Competitors’ Performances
- ii) Analyze Your Competitors’ SEO Efforts
- iii) Get Marketing Ideas from Rivals’ Online Ads
- iv) See What Your Competition Has Been Doing in Content Marketing and Public Relations
- v) Check Up on Your Competitors’ Tactics on Social Media
- vi) Review the Findings with Your Own Goals and General Strategy in Mind
We will give you the key metrics we recommend tracking for each digital marketing channel you have and show you how to get them within your analysis tool.
We personally use SEMrush for competitor research given its wide range of features, so we will use that tool throughout this article.
What Is Competitor Analysis?
Let’s start with the basics: what is the definition of competitor analysis?
Competitor analysis is the process of researching and analyzing the characteristics of other market players operating in a given market.
It entails understanding their marketing and business strategies as a way of gathering competitive intelligence.
Competitor analysis is usually done to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, define your company’s standing in relation to them, highlight gaps and where it would be hard to compete, and estimate your opportunities and potential to fulfill a market need.
Who Should You Analyze as Your Competitors?
Competitor analysis typically includes both direct and indirect competitors.
Direct competitors are those providing the same (or similar) products or services to the same (or similar) audiences or potential customers.
Pepsi and Coca-Cola are direct competitors, for example.
Indirect competitors are those in the same general line of business but do not directly compete with each other, though the tactics they employ may be similar.
Facebook and Twitter may be considered indirect competitors. They are both social media sites, but what they focus on are very different from each other.
Online competitor analysis should cover direct and indirect competitors in addition to your brand competitors that work to market to the same audience you do.
Brand competitors don’t necessarily want to sell users a similar product or service as you, but they definitely want to get the attention of these potential customers.
Why Do You Need an Ongoing Competitor Analysis?
Your main competitors are most likely to stay the same over time as when you developed your competitor analysis strategy.
Nonetheless, their positions in the search engine rankings pages (SERPs), social media tactics, and the general market situation may change. New competitors may also emerge.
Reasons to Check Up on Your Competitors
Below are the key reasons why any business should check up on other competitors in their space on a regular basis.
1) Stay Abreast of Industry and Market Trends
There are always seasonal trends that occur each year.
For example, if you have a website on baseball news, you will probably have more demand during the season and key parts of the off-season, but less during other parts of the calendar.
There are naturally peaks and drops in demand that you will be prepared for only if you keep tabs on the competitive landscape.
2) Understand Best Practices and What Mistakes to Avoid
Sometimes it may be better to let your competitors test new marketing channels than experimenting on your own to avoid expending budget with an unclear ROI.
Learn from other companies’ experiences and avoid costly mistakes.
3) Review Benchmarks
When monitoring your internal metrics, you will come to understand which channels perform best.
But what if your competitors are achieving even better results through those same channels?
You need to know and understand how you can optimize your own campaigns and results.
4) To Update Your Marketing Mix
Your competitors’ digital marketing campaigns will provide valuable information on channels, ads and creatives, and general product promotion strategies, which will help with your own company’s development.
5) Refining Tactics, Goals and Objectives
As the online market changes, you may need to adjust the tactics and objectives you previously set.
How Often Should You Review Your Digital Marketing Strategy?
Each niche is different. Some industries are more mature and change less while some are newer and changing rapidly. Accordingly, you may need to update your digital marketing strategy more or less often as needed.
Competitor analysis should formally be done monthly to help understand trends and what campaigns are performing best in the industry.
Making larger scale changes to your digital marketing strategy might realistically run on quarterly intervals.
A tool like SEMrush can help you check and analyze other competitors (or companies in any industry) frequently.
Once you understand their metrics and what they’re doing to achieve them you can begin to make adjustments in your campaigns.
How to Perform Competitor Analysis on a Regular Basis
Competitive analysis may seem like a daunting task to marketers and entrepreneurs who are already loaded with tasks.
To help you simply the process, we’ll take you through the main components, and cover insights from the core digital marketing channels.
I. Get Up-to-Date on Your Competitors’ Performances
If you want your digital marketing strategy to stand out and beat your rivals, you need to stay keep up to speed on their latest digital marketing tactics and how your own performance stacks up in comparison.
A common approach is to analyze website traffic. All digital channels rely on traffic, so this is the common starting point for a competitive assessment.
Naturally when you log on to an online tool like SEMrush, traffic analysis will be the default screen.
If we were, for example, trying to compete in the home furnishings and decor space, we would take a look at the digital performance of rivals by including them in our competitor analysis.
With five competitor sites entered into SEMrush Traffic Analytics, we are able to see:
- The relative rankings of competitors (in this case, Home Depot has remained the top one in the list, with Wayfair in a distant second, with the other three clustered together with a few percent of the traffic of their rivals).
- Any changes that have recently affected the competition and how this has trended over time.
- How each rival grew (or lost) visitors over the observed timeframe.
It’s also of importance to understand how other websites in your industry attracted their audience:
- Which digital marketing channels performed the best for them (e.g., organic search, social, email, referral, etc.).
- Which countries proved to be best in terms of getting them traffic. Naturally some sites will be more influential in certain countries than others because of the language, product or service, among other reasons.
In the examples below, you can see how websites are broken down by direct traffic, referral, search, social, and paid traffic. At the bottom, you can see that some sites might have a bigger presence in the US and other countries than others.
Also take note of any seasonal and other trends during your digital campaign research. This is dependent on the niche. Some players are also more concentrated in one traffic source than another.
A site with more direct traffic tends to have a lot of repeat visitors and/or buyers. Those that rely more on a single channel and are less diversified based on the traffic source are more at risk.
For a better understanding of the industry or particular market, you may want to look at more than five sites in the niche.
In SEMrush Market Explorer, you need to enter in only one website in the search field, and the tool will complete the competitor mapping for you.
With this tool, you can:
- Map out the competitive landscape using SEMrush’s Growth Quadrant tool. Looking at the Growth Quadrant helps you evaluate the market and your competition. This is important both during the expansion of your business into a new competitive market and then to monitor the growth of competitors.
- Understand your competitors based on the current size of their audience and the market potential.
- Go from from “Industry Competitors” to “Organic Competitors” to understand your closest competitors’ online market shares and research their digital marketing strategies in more depth.
II. Analyze Your Competition’s SEO Efforts
If your competitors are outranking you in the search engines, they may also be getting more visitors, generating more leads, and obtaining more revenue.
SEO is largely a winner-take-all game at the individual results page level.
The top spot tends to gain slightly more than one-third of all the clicks. Those in the second spot get only half the top spot and those in the #3 spot, just one-third.
With the Organic Research tool, you can observe a target website’s organic search visibility.
We can continue on with our home decor example and observe how Home Depot is doing in organic search.
On basic observation, you can see:
- The target website’s total number of keywords with organic positions (in the Google top 100), presented visually.
- A breakdown of where those keywords rank: Top 3, 4-10, 11-20, 21-50, 51-100, and Total.
- Ongoing/expected organic traffic (monthly) from those keywords.
- Estimated cost of how much it would take to acquire that traffic Google Ads (can also be used as a proxy for site value for pure online businesses).
- Estimated traffic between branded and non-branded sources.
You can also wade into more detail on your rivals’ keywords to find their top positions in organic search:
- Find the most successful keywords.
- Get an idea of what consumers want and demand based on the search frequency of these keywords.
- Observe the most popular pages that users found with organic search.
- Generate ideas on how you can optimize your campaigns and strategies to boost your rankings and overall conversion.
There are also more ways to gain a better understanding of competition’s SEO:
- Figure out the gaps in your competitors coverage with the Backlink Gap tool. This tool enables you to analyze the root domains, subdomains, or URLs. The way many digital marketers use this tool is to reach out to the site’s that are linking to your competitors, but not to you.
- Enhance your content marketing strategy with the Keyword Gap tool. This enables you to perform a competitor comparison analysis in terms of broader keyword portfolios. This may entail organic, paid, or product listing ads (PLAs). You can do this for up to five domains at one time.
3. Get Marketing Insights by Looking at Rivals’ Online Ads
There is no magic formula for success in advertising.
But there is always something to learn from looking (some call it “spying”) at your competition’s strategies.
Generally, if your competitors are spending money and using a certain creative or marketing channel consistently, it is probably making them money.
This helps you know what to adopt, what to avoid, and what you may be overlooking.
To check out and analyze any advertiser, use the Advertising Research tool.
This helps you reveal:
- The number of keywords the domain is bidding on.
- How much estimated traffic is coming from these keywords.
- The cost estimation of paid traffic.
- Other sites your target rival competes with in paid advertising.
- Historical data to understand how your competitors compete on a seasonal basis in their advertising. How an e-commerce company markets in Q4 during the holiday rush may be quite a bit different than in Q1, for example.
In our research of the Home Depot, we can go ahead click on a blue cell within the Ad History report. We are able to see an actual ad of Home Depot’s, run at a specific point in time. We could then adapt this ad to fit our business, allow it to run, and observe how it performs.
Within the Ad Research tool, you can focus on Google Shopping or product display ads in your competitor analysis.
You can use PLA Research and Display Advertising accordingly.
In PLA Research, you can see the product listing ads you competitors’ promoted in different countries.
In Display Advertising, you can analyze the distribution of a company’s Google Display Network (GDN) ads globally. You can measure your competition’s advertising activity to understand which markets you should be targeting and how you can tactically achieve them.
As well, you can analyze actual Landing Pages from your rivals’ campaigns. This allows you to analyze important specifics like which ads went to each landing page on their site at a particular time or time range.
This is a good way to discover what your competition is focusing on. It can also incentivize you to start a dedicated competitive product analysis.
With this step of competitor analysis, you will be able to analyze the pricing in the target segment by product listing ads and help optimize your ad creatives (i.e., through keywords, titles, and images).
It will also help determine the appropriate level of ad spend for maximum ROI.
4. Observe What Your Rivals Are Up to with Content Marketing and PR
This step will let you look for respected media sites that can mention you or place a backlink to your site. This will in turn better your competitive positioning and potentially increase referral traffic.
Here you can track online mentions of any word or phrase related to your competition’s brand name, product or service name, product or service category, or anything else related to them.
You can research these with the Brand Monitoring tool.
The report can help you:
- Find mentions of your brand on other websites, forums, and/or other social media channels like Twitter or Instagram.
- Estimate the reach for each mention and help determine the platform with the largest coverage.
- Understand the popularity and trust of the mentioner’s domain (Authority Score) and their relative level of site traffic (labeled as Low, Medium, or High within the tool).
Like in previous sections, we researched each of these components for The Home Depot. We’ll do so again here.
If you are interested in referral traffic, go to Traffic Analytics for research insights.
- Study your competitions’s backlink profile in detail and observe what backlinks they’re receiving and which ones have “rolled off” (i.e., disappeared).
Use Backlink Analytics reports to check out the the pages that link to your rivals’ (i.e., source URLs) and the pages that received traffic directly as a result of these backlinks (i.e., target URLs).
You can also consider Authority Score in your analysis.
You can filter mentions by the link type (follow or nofollow, sponsored or user-generated content (UGC)), link format (e.g., text, image, form, frame).
You can also see if the backlink is new or recently lost.
You should also look at content performance through the Content Analyzer tool.
Connect your Google Analytics to Post Tracking to stay up to speed with how the metrics are changing:
- How much traffic did a particular article or piece of content get?
- What kind of social popularity does it have? How many shares and mentions did it receive?
As can be seen in the above image, two metrics are not observable for The Home Depot research example: Referral Traffic and Estimated Reach.
Referral Traffic is only available when you connect your Google Analytics to the Content Analyzer tool.
Estimated Reach is directly from SEMrush Traffic Analytics. When “n/a” is seen, it means there is not sufficient data to calculate the metric.
5. See What Your Rivals’ Are Up to on Social Media
Social media is a different digital space altogether.
It requires an approach and digital marketing strategy of its own.
Generating such a social media strategy can be intimidating at first. But similar to a pervading theme in this article, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel with everything.
You may see plenty of good, quality ideas by just viewing what your competitors are doing on their own social media accounts. It suggests that there’s demand for that type of content.
A basic to-do list:
- See who has been active on social media channels.
- Determine which platforms they’ve been using and the general breakdown of use on each.
- Check out if their audience is increasing or decreasing.
- Observe what type of content they’ve been posting and how often. Are these posts mostly non-promotional or non-promotional?
- Check out if there is anything new in how their audience is engaging or communicating.
- Determine your own opportunities with respect to social media posting and ads.
Social Media Tracker will help you in this part of competitor analysis. This can help you can understand your own opportunities pertaining to social media.
6. Review Findings of Your Competitor Analysis -> Align Them with Your Own Goals and Overall Strategy
After moving through the above the key steps of competitor analysis, you need to make sense of what you found.
Evaluate how your competitors actions and tactics and your marketing ideas work in with your initial strategy.
You may find that a long-term campaign that you began many months ago doesn’t fit in with the current way the market is going in terms of customer demand.
It is better to find out this information now than down the road when the ramifications (e.g., time and money spent) could be worse.
Weed out any tactics or ideas that don’t fit in well with your company’s products or services, positioning, goals, and overarching strategy.
No matter what insights you were able to draw through your competitor analysis, if they don’t align with your brand or your overall roadmap, it is better to de-prioritize them.
As a marketer, it is important to communicate your findings to your colleagues.
Competitive intelligence data should be provided to other departments.
Competitor analysis may reveal insights that are not something the marketing team may find actionable but may be actionable to the sales department or even the product team.
Managers and executives also appreciate any competitive intelligence as it helps with strategizing and understanding where the company needs to be and where it may need to go in the future.
SEMrush enables you to create competitive analysis reports that you can share with colleagues.
If necessary, encourage and initiate changes in your marketing ideas, tactics, and strategy.
If something isn’t producing great results, it may be necessary to make slightly changes (ideally isolating one variable at a time to understand what is working and what isn’t) or even rethinking what kind of marketing tactics you’re using.
This is ultimately why you do competitor analysis and research. To help discover “white space” where you could be moving to and get them as quickly and efficiently as you can to grow your visitors, leads, and revenues.
Competitor Analysis: Appendix
Throughout this article, we used SEMrush as our competitive intelligence tool.
SEMrush offers solutions for SEO, app store optimization (ASO), pay-per-click (PPC), content ideas, social media, marketing automation tasks, and competitor research.
The SEMrush platform is perhaps best known for shedding value-additive insights on your competitors’ SEO tactics.
With SEMrush, marketers can find insights on:
- domain analytics
- keyword analytics
- topic research
- gap analysis
- SEO position tracking
- content templates
- writing assistants
- lead generation
- CPC map
- Traffic Jet (ad automation solution)
- marketing calendar
- project dashboards
- custom reports, and more
SEMrush is trusted by over 6 million marketers worldwide. SEMrush offers a Free Trial.