Do you have the drive to know details about your competition? Maybe you feel like if you knew a little bit more about them, you’d also know a little bit more about yourself. And...maybe you feel like you just don’t know where to start.
You’re not alone.
Customer insights firm Conductor discovered in a recent study that 74% of marketing professionals affirmed a competitive analysis to be ‘important or very important,’ but nearly six out of 10 (57 percent) admitted they weren’t very good at it. Only 40 percent of marketers integrate competitive analysis insight into strategy.”
Creating—or updating—your understanding and analysis of your competition is an essential step before planning marketing efforts or defining the marketing budget for the next product release or quarter.
When you know the plays run by your competition, you are better able to plan and execute. You also gain a deeper understanding of your own company’s strengths and areas for improvement.
Step 1: Clear the Misconceptions and Get Down to Reality
The first step in completing a competitive analysis is actually coming to terms with the fact your business needs one. While it may feel like one of those “extra steps” that can prevent you from tackling the projects you want to, it will pay big dividends. The following misconceptions are most common in the B2B tech space:
Misconception: “Our product is so unique, there isn’t a competitor for it.”
Reality: While that statement may be true about you, you can find competitors filling the same need your product fulfills. These companies are your true competition.
Misconception: “We know our competition. We don’t need to invest the time in an analysis.”
Reality: Sure, you know who they are, but have you answered detailed questions about your competition? You may have a general feel for how your competition is doing, but if you don’t know the stats, you don’t know how and where to compete with them.
Misconception: “Look at all the things we do better than them.”
Reality: You can always learn something. Steve Jobs learned from Bill Gates and vice versa. Sam Walton always walked through the competitor’s store when he opened a new Walmart location. You can do the same by examining your own competition.
Step 2: Identify Your Competition
What are the four companies that offer similar products and services to your customers?
You probably already have a good sense of who your top competitors are, but take the time to hunt around a little bit to find any underdogs or outliers. Use conversational searches online to ask search engines the primary questions your customers ask you. By using the pain points you’ve learned about your existing clients to create search strings, you may come across content that leads you to a company you didn’t know about before.
Download Golden Spiral’s B2B Competitive Analysis Template
Our clients and website visitors have made this Excel spreadsheet one of our most often downloaded resources. It’s an excellent framework to ask the questions that matter. Work to fill in each blank about your top competitors and you’ll have a great snapshot. I’ve referred to key questions from the template throughout this post.
Step 3: View Your Competitor’s Website as a Whole
Visit your competitor's homepage as someone who is unfamiliar with them. You want to experience what a customer does. Plus, if you come in with your guard up, you’ll miss important observations.
- What is your first impression of the site on both desktop and mobile? Dig around the site from both vantage points.
- Do you know what they do within five seconds of landing on the homepage?
- Is the navigation intuitive to follow?
- How do you feel about the graphic design?
- What is your impression of the user experience?
- How long does the website take to load? As you begin to evaluate websites, consider downloading Ghostery, a quick reference tool for load speed and some of the other data points you’ll look at below. It works as an extension for every major browser.
Now Look Under the Hood of their Website
There are several fields in our template concerning your competitor’s website. You may be able to pick out this information by looking at the page itself but I encourage you to go “under the hood” and use the Developer menu in your browser. This will help you see what they’re doing to attract the web crawlers.
- Navigate to your competitor’s homepage
- View the source code. In Chrome, click on View > Developer > View Source
- Use the Find feature (or Command - F) to open a search window
- Search for <meta and then look through results to find “description.” Depending on the style sheet, the words may not be together.
- Enter either <H1 or <Title in order to find the page title
- Enter <H2 and <H3 to look for subheadings. Depending on the website, your competitor may not use these codes in the style sheet.
Step 4: Look at Your Competition from External Sources
Now, gather some background information about each competitor. Below is a list of questions to ask during your search and some valuable resources to tap into for intelligence.
Questions to ask about each competitor:
- How much revenue did they bring in last year?
- Are they currently hiring?
- How many employees do they have?
- What are the sources of their funding?
- What do others say about the company?
- Do they have a good reputation?
- How often do they update their software/product/service?
- How many trade shows do they attend each year? How large is their booth?
Find the answers here:
What does your CRM say about your competition? Dig down into the company data your CRM has provided as part of its service to you. There may be helpful information about revenue, number of employees, mission statement, unique selling proposition, and more. Plus, you’ll see how many of their employees are connected with your inbound marketing content. (In HubSpot, click on a contact’s name, scroll down to the contact’s company information, and select “View all properties.”)
Business Info Sites
Subscription information like Dun & Bradstreet and others can give you deep information, but free resources like the Better Business Bureau and Buzzfile might give you the big picture data you need now. Also, check out Crunchbase to monitor funding rounds to better understand how your financial resources may stack against your competition.
As this tool becomes more and more powerful, you can learn much about your competition by viewing both the company profile and the profiles of employees.
You’ll be surprised what people post on Google, Yelp!, Angie’s List, and others—even about B2B tech companies.
A general search engine query will turn up some media mentions. Go through the first three pages of results. Also check out prweb.com. Search for the company by name and then each C-suite member by name.
Step 5: Study their Content
Ask two sets of questions about each competitor’s content. You are looking not only for what they say but how they say it. Both will give you clues to how they are using content to drive traffic. This is the most important piece of your competitor analysis, so spend some time here.
1. What do they say about the product that competes directly with yours?
Look at the product page specifically and the content pages generally. Conduct an on-site search for the product name to see all of the mentions (e.g., blog posts, rich content resources, or videos). What is the feature-to-feature comparison? Do they list pricing? What jargon do they use? Are the pages visually engaging? Do they blog about software updates?
2. How do they use content to conduct inbound marketing for themselves in general and the product specifically?
Are they writing the same type of content you do? How does their frequency compare to yours? How wide is the variety of offerings? How often do they blog? What are the lengths of their posts? What is the mix between gated and free content?
Step 6: Spy on their Analytics
You could get lost looking at the wide variety of analytics available to you. Remember: this is a big picture research project. You’ll have ample opportunity to dive deeper later.
We recommend using a tool like SEM Rush, WooRank, or SpyFu to compare “apples to apples” among your competitors. Choose one tool—either the free resources or paid subscription—to complete your template. We will use SEM Rush as an example to find the fields in the template.
Note: the data may not be exact. These screen scraper programs are pulling information from a number of sources. However, if you use the same one to examine each competitor—and yourself—you will at least be comparing data pulled from the same sources and compiled using the same metrics.
We believe these metrics are most important:
Top Organic Keywords
You’ll find the list of the top five under the two circle graphs on the left-hand side of the dashboard. In addition to the actual words, you want to note the volume and the cost-per-click (CPC) listed. Add extra columns to your spreadsheet or just include the figures as text like this: semrush (40,500/$4.34)
Scroll down past the red line and you’ll find the paid section. Enter the top PPC competitor’s name in the template.
Approximate Ad Spend per Month
This information lives at the top of the page in the second column.
On SEM Rush, these are called the Top Paid Keywords are are listed right above the PPC Competitor.
If you scroll down below the fold, you’ll see a strip of sample ads to choose from.
Step 7: Create Email Alerts
It’s one thing to take this snapshot of their businesses on a specific day. It’s another thing to see them in action over time. Consider setting up email alerts to measure:
- Frequency of blog and social posts
- Mentions in the news media
- How often others talk about your competitors (and are thus creating backlinks)
The most often used and versatile tool is Google Alerts, which allows you to set up and customize as many search strings as you desire. You can adjust the frequency of alerts, sources, and depth of results.
Bonus Step: Set Up Your Competitor Tool
Many CRMs, including HubSpot and Pardot, have a competitor tool included with premium memberships. This tool pulls data from many internal sources and helps you create a dashboard to look at certain factors. The CRM tool updates the dashboard on an ongoing basis.
The research you conduct to fill in the Competitive Analysis Template will prepare you to set up your CRM’s competitor tool and get the most out of it. Take the time to set it up completely, then monitor it monthly.
Now that You Have the Data, Analyze.
- Download our template (if you haven’t already).
- This data means nothing if you haven’t examined yourself, too. Add a column for your company to the spreadsheet and repeat the exercise for your company, your leadership, and your website. You need to have the same facts and figures from the same sources to truly compare yourself to your competition.
- Are they ranking better than you in search for certain keywords? Because content marketing is essential for brand awareness, if they are beating you in common searches, the chances are they’re getting more website traffic than you (even if you know your product is better).
- Don’t make a knee-jerk decision. Think about your purpose for compiling the competitive analysis to begin with.
- Identify the two areas where you are strongest and the two where you are weakest. Take at least one minute and remind yourself of your victories before moving on.
- Based on your purpose, create a small handful of KPIs for next quarter based on the data. Then, track yourself against your competition. Capture the data points using the same methodology once a week to track movement.
- Talk with your leadership about taking the time to do a deep dive into your competition. Your top SEM staff members can take this work and go deeper and broader with their tools and return a more focused set of recommendations for PPC spending, growing organic keyword reach, increasing backlinks, and more. Your top content creators can take the information and recommend changes to your website copy and where to enhance blog posts and pillar content.
Analyzing and monitoring your competition reveals behavior, trends, strengths, and weaknesses—about you and them. You will know where your company stands compared to your competition—statistic for statistic. You’ll be able to anticipate next moves—like a pitcher who has studied the statistics and film of the opposing team's batters. You will have a solid data set from which to plan future strategy, goals, and KPIs. Plus, you’ll have the basics for deeper research before your next product launch or major initiative.