Digital marketing competitor analysis of is one of the main services that business owners outsource to digital marketing experts. Competitor analysis is simply a way to research your competition and analyze what their strengths and weaknesses are. You can then use this information to build a strategy that makes sense for you. Furthermore, you can then visualize a way for your business to stand out.
We will explore digital marketing competitor analysis to answer:
- How does it work?
- Why is it important?
- Why do we make sure to do it for every single one of our clients?
If you’re trying to decide whether to outsource this vital service, it’s important to understand what you can easily do yourself versus what you should best leave to the experts.
A 30,000-Foot View of Competitor Analysis
Competitor analysis means gaining an understanding of:
- The competitive landscape in general.
- Who your direct competitors are.
- What exactly they’re doing.
- How they’re doing it.
- What they’re doing well.
- What they’re not doing well.
It’s a way to measure up against your competitors — whether locally or nationally — depending on your type of business.
Why Use Digital Marketing Tools?
We can use analytic tools to:
- Check competitor statistics.
- Use search engines to look up what your competitors are doing.
- Visualize the different strategies already out there.
- Get an idea of where your competitors are spending their ad money.
Beginner’s Guide to Spying on Your Competition
The biggest factor behind why people get frustrated or why they don’t understand effective competitor research is simple — they don’t have an end goal in mind. Digital marketing experts understand that you must begin with the end in mind, then work backwards to find the path.
Without an end goal, you’re going to be doing research for nothing. You’re not going to get the data you need. You will just be looking, looking, and looking. And even though you collect the data, you’re not going to be able to use it in a meaningful way.
To get you started down the right track, we’re going to clarify our own in-house process. Read on for some insights and actionable steps that you can borrow from digital marketing experts to help with your own business.
Step 1: Pull Out a Pen and a Piece of Paper
Yes, it’s old school, but it works. Start with a blank sheet of paper and figure out your end goal. Ask yourself:
- Why are we making a website in the first place?
- What is the intent behind it?
- What’s its fundamental purpose?
- Is it to inform people?
- Persuade them to buy something?
- Get them to engage with a platform?
Narrow down your answers to these questions until you can state your end goal in a single sentence: “We are making a website with the end goal of ____________________.” Now keep this goal in mind before making any decisions about your website design.
Step 2: Create a Spreadsheet
Next, create a spreadsheet with Excel or Google Sheets, and keep a list that answers the following questions:
- What is our target demographic?
- Who is our audience?
- Within our target audience, which subset are we trying to reach?
- Exactly how do we plan to reach them?
- What keywords are they already searching for?
In later steps, you can then take your spreadsheet and filter things out based on your findings to get a clearer picture. You can outline any noticeable attributes you find from the research and move on from there.
Step 3: Create a Gallery
Next, create a document in Word or Google Docs (or use an app like Evernote) to store images in a gallery. Paste screenshots here to capture the images, fonts, and messaging of your competitors. You might paste in a competitor’s ad that you see often or that you believe works well.
Most digital marketing experts understand the importance of capturing digital images about the competition. The goal here is to create a type of “mood board” for inspiration and reference.
Over time, you can remove some elements that are no longer relevant or update the gallery as styles change. But if you keep adding to it, you will have a wide range of references that could be useful down the road. You will start to see patterns appear in your competitive landscape.
You can then refer to those patterns as ones that work just as they are, or you can decide to change something about the messaging — something different to stand out.
Step 4: Research Current Keyword Rankings
One of the easiest places to start with keyword and competitive research is to type into a web browser search bar whatever you think you want to rank for and see what shows up. You will see what types of ads your competitors are running and what type of ad copy they have. You can go to their landing pages and see:
- What do they all have in common?
- Do they all have forms?
- Do they have popups?
- Are they using specific colors?
Look for the Patterns
Keep documenting this, and you will start to see patterns. If everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right, but you should at least be aware of what’s out there. You can then consider it as part of your strategy, rather than overlooking it.
For example, if you see that every competitor has a contact form at the bottom, you’re going to want to make sure you have a contact form too. If there are specific themes used, you’re going to want to at least consider the same theme as a possibility.
Once you’re done outlining your competitor analysis:
- Compare it to your end goal.
- See which elements you could integrate to make it your own.
- Test against what your competitors are doing.
- Make further adjustments as needed over time.
Remember that digital marketing experts understand the importance of tracking this visual data as it changes over time.
Stop Chasing Perfection
Too often, people put too much effort into how they’re going to create their ads or how they’re going to create their website, that the research ends up not being useful. Your competitor research should be thorough and in depth, but it shouldn’t take too long. Remember that it’s an iterative process. It’s not something you just do once.
You need to constantly update your data based on what your competitors are doing. When new ad formats come out, or when new website features become popular, you should understand what’s working and what customers are doing so you can track changes over time.
Step 5: Make a List of Your Competitors
Now compile your list of competitors and the keywords and keyword phrases you want to research. You need to see if you’re on par, because if you find that certain keywords or phrases are on your competitors’ websites but not on yours, that’s the first place to begin to evaluate. Ask yourself if similar keywords are important to you. Will they provide value? If so, you need to find a way to get them incorporated into your website or marketing strategy.
Starting with a list of keywords:
- Check their monthly traffic.
- Find out if there are other competitors in the landscape who you don’t even know about yet.
Perform competitor research to be able to report on several areas of our competitors’ websites:
- Start by taking a screenshot of what their homepages look like.
- Get an idea of the assorted styles and themes across a variety of websites.
- Find a dozen or two dozen keyword phrases associated with the competitors’ main keyword.
- Figure out who is ranking the highest for specific keywords.
Do You Know Who Your Competitors Are?
You might think that because there’s another restaurant down the street, or another architect or another doctor who does exactly what you’re doing in the same building, then that’s your competitor. But it’s not really.
Digital marketing experts know that your true competitor is whoever Google is ranking you against. Google’s algorithm is built in such a way that it’s going to show similar pages grouped together. So, even if someone’s not your idea of a competitor, if they’re showing up on the first page of Google or next to your listing, then Google is evaluating them as your competition.
Therefore, you need to determine whether that is your actual competition or not. If it’s not, you need to find a way to get your site to be more in line with who you want to be able to compete against.
What Are Your Competitors Ranking For?
If you take those 20 pages of search results and figure out why your competition is ranking for that keyword phrase, you can reverse your way back and find a way to make sure you’re able to get rankings for those specific keywords.
For example, if we want to be ranked for “Las Vegas website design agency,” we would research who’s ranking for it now and how are they ranking for it. Then we would decide from there how to increase our own rankings in comparison.
What the Experts Look For
From an agency standpoint, if we have a client who we’re doing content or SEO work for, we’ll go in and open the source code of their website and see:
- How is it tagged?
- Where are they putting their alt text?
- What is the placement of their URL structure?
Then, from there, we’ll be able to get an idea of why they’re ranking the way they are. Their competitors might have very in-depth content guides or some blog posts that are relevant to certain subjects. Maybe their competitors’ sites are categorized in a way that we’re going to want to replicate for our own strategy.
Warning: Do Not Plagiarize!
A huge point that we can’t stress enough is that you do not want to copy what your competition is doing word for word. You can use it as a reference point, but then you need to find a way to incorporate it on your own.
If you do take what your competition’s using, Google is smart enough to understand how long they’ve had that text on their website, and when they see the exact same thing later from you, they’re going to know it was copied.
Best case scenario, Google just doesn’t count. Worst case scenario, Google decides to de-index you because of duplicate content, or you get a Google penalty, which means you might as well be de-indexed because you just won’t show up anymore.
Just Look for the Meta Details
To be very clear, we’re interested in getting meta details. This is an especially important point. Digital marketing experts often do this via SEO META, for example, the tool we talked about above. Or, we they use the “Inspect Element” in Chrome with certain steps.
The point here is that we want to be able to see what the competition is doing and then glean from that some information that could help us. So, as we review their websites and landing pages, we want to ask:
- What type of headlines are they using?
- What are they focusing on?
- What’s important to them?
- What’s important to your company?
Use the Meta Details for Your Own Website
Then, we find a way to incorporate that info into your website. For instance, we examine:
- What’s in their navigation? Do they have a lot of resources? Do they offer education guides? Recipes? Could your company offer some of these resources as well?
- What are their calls to action? How are they structured? What are they trying to get the user to do? Whether it’s a download or a phone call or sign up for a webinar, see how that could be applied to your business.
- What are they doing on social media?
- What’s going on with respect to their ad spending? Are they directing traffic to their homepage or elsewhere? What kind of landing pages are they using?
The landing page is an interesting way to do keyword research, because you get to see how they’re marketing to the customer. Now, you might not be able to see the precise keyword they trigger to get someone to click. However, if you see that everyone in your industry has noticeably short landing pages, having a long landing page might not be beneficial.
How Do Your Competitors Use Ads?
Usually, if a brand has been running ads for a while and you’re tracking them in your Excel spreadsheet, you can watch:
- The type of ads that they continue to run.
- The type of text formatting and copy they use.
- The calls to action within the ad.
- The landing pages they’re taking customers to.
Now again, just because they’re doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be profitable for you. But digital marketing experts recommend that if everyone’s doing a specific thing, you might want to consider trying to find a way to implement that into your own business.
What Digital Marketing Experts Know About Ads
A lot of people waste a lot of money on Google Ads. We see it all the time when someone comes to us and they want some work done. We see the existing campaign structure, and it’s just a waterhole. Just because someone’s spending money, it doesn’t mean it’s profitable.
But at least you can get a sign of a general direction because most prudent businesses have some grasp on their digital advertising dollars. They’re not going to continue spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on ads if they’re not profitable.
Analysis Tools Recommended by Digital Marketing Experts
As an agency we use many competitive analysis tools that could be a good fit for you. Many digital marketing experts recommend:
SEMrush is an amazing tool for competitive analysis that will give you tons of aggregated data. How do they gather the data? Well, no one’s making “free” tools for end users. All the so-called free apps and games that people download on their phones — all those browser extensions and free widgets that people engage with — might not cost the user any outlay. However, all these tools end up making money for their creators by capturing user data and selling it.
All the data is gathered and sent to a data warehouse. SEMrush then takes all these data points and aggregates them over millions and millions of users. It’s not accurate 100% of the time, but it gives you a very good indication percentagewise on how many people are searching for specific search terms and who the competitors are.
It’s a very versatile tool. For example:
- You might see that a user typed in “divorce attorney,” and that this is the exact ad they ended up clicking on. Thus, if a user is searching and they click on an organic listing because of “xyz” search term, SEMrush is going to know about it.
- If a user searched for a specific website and they also clicked on these three other websites, you can extract that data.
- You can see organic listing performance and social stats.
- You can type in what you believe your top keyword is, and pull up a list of all the companies who are ranking better for that particular keyword in your area to answer: Who is doing better than I am at this moment? Why are they doing better?
You could easily spend days on end taking the metrics out of there and learning how to apply it to your business.
“SEO META” in 1 Click
This is a free extension you can download on Chrome. Anyone can use it, and you won’t need any technical knowledge. It’s very versatile. You can upload your website and find out:
- Are your headers properly tagged?
- Do all the images have alt text?
- Social links?
- Broken links?
- Where is your site ranking?
- Which back-end technical tags does Google look for?
It’s a handy tool that gives you an overview of your website design. Now, as a beginner you’re not going to make any changes yourself, but you can send the information to your developer or to other digital marketing experts you’re outsourcing to. It’s an awesome tool for gathering information.
This is a great tool that shows you the index pages from Google. You can use it to see where your competitors’ sites hold specific keywords. It’s a wonderful tool to be able to see where your competitors are typing in keywords. Are they in blog posts? Are they in product pages? It’s going to take everything that Google has about a specific website, then when you type in a specific word it will show you every single occurrence of that word or phrase within the site. For example, you might type in “site:cnn.com” and then “umbrella.” It will return search results of every occurrence of the word “umbrella” on the CNN website.
When it comes to designing your website, ads, etc., is there a right or wrong answer? The answer is, yes, there is. And the only way to know the right answer is by testing it. Digital marketing experts often use A/B testing to let the right answer emerge naturally, instead of just guessing.
If you were to take two distinctive styles of ads and split-test them, then you would quickly see what’s working. For example, you could run two ads but change the copy, the photos, or the colors. Then watch to see which one wins the race by bringing in more traffic. You could save you a lot of time and money by letting the data decide instead of going off “intuition.”
Other Tools Digital Marketing Experts Use
- “Moz” is an open site explorer with free domain SEO metrics. You can use it to look at links and back links to get a better idea of what’s happening with your site.
- “Ahrefs” is an awesome tool for organic listing positions and tracking keywords.
- “Google Search Console” is a terrific tool that lets you see how your pages are ranking compared to your competitors. Google ads has a keyword explorer, which gives you the ability to see the advertising price of specific keywords and approximate costs.
- “Am I Responsive” is a free tool which allows you to see your website in multiple screen resolutions. What does your website look like on desktop, mobile, laptop, etc.? Use this tool to see what your users see and to find out if Google is reading it as a mobile-friendly site.