Competitor Analysis

Competitor Analysis: The Step-by-Step Guide (2018 Edition)

SocialB Digital Marketing Blog Last modified: 16 Aug 2018 by Paul Hogg
Digital Strategy

The internet is a busy place.

With millions of businesses online all across the globe, competition is fierce.

Understanding the market is essential for competing online and becoming the go-to business in your niche.

To help make this process easier, we’ve put together this complete step-by-step guide that explains everything in plain English.

So, let’s get started:

Step-by-Step Competitor Analysis Template

  1. Overview
  2. E-Commerce
  3. SEO
  4. Email

This framework is suited for both B2B and B2C businesses, whether your goal is to generate leads, sell via e-commerce or otherwise.

Step 1: Overview

Before diving into the specifics of your competitors’ marketing efforts, we need to first assess who exactly your online competitors are. Many companies can name who they think are their competitors, which may well be correct in the physical market but the online landscape can be very different.

To find out who your online competitors are, you need to know your industry’s #1 keyword.

For example, ours at SocialB would be ‘digital marketing agency’ as this is what we are and what our customers are likely to search for to find our (or our competitors’) services.

A quick search using SEMrush (so that our location doesn’t skew the results) reveals some of our top competitors for the UK:

digital marketing agency SEMrush results

To gain a good overall picture, we would then follow these steps:

  1. Look at each website and check that they do offer the same services.
  2. Read their About Us, Services/Products and Careers pages to understand what makes them unique, both from a customer’s and employee’s point-of-view.
  3. Search for the companies on companycheck.co.uk to gain some financial insights.
  4. Use a brand mention tool (such as brandmentions.com or mention.com, both of which have free trials) to analyse conversations around their brand.
  5. Write down what you think are their top USPs, note how these compare to yours.

By following these steps, you can start to build a picture of their brand and USPs.

So, let’s break it down:

You can, of course, narrow this down further by searching for your services (e.g. ‘seo services’) or product categories (e.g. ‘buy matcha tea’) and use the same methods we’re going to look at, but using your industry’s #1 search term gives us a good foundation for this guide.

Step 2: E-Commerce

Assuming you’re in an E-commerce industry or have competitors that are, there are certain things to look for in terms of analysing your competitors.

To assess their strengths and weaknesses in terms of E-commerce, we would look at:

  • Product prices – This seems obvious, but here in the UK, we love a good bargain. Check if your competitors are offering the same or similar products at a lower price than you. Maybe consider a price comparison tool.
  • Delivery charges – If your prices are similar, are they offering any deals on delivery? If you spend over a certain amount, do you get it free? Delivery makes a big difference for a lot of buyers. Click & collect is also a great option if you can feasibly offer it.
  • Current/Previous special offers – While we can’t find out for certain if they were a success, what deals have they run recently? Or are they running any at the moment? Try and tie these offers in with keyword research (use Google Trends to find out search seasonality, e.g. that winter clothing offer your competitor ran in August, do customers in your industry like to buy in advance of the winter season? etc).
  • On-site search – This is especially important for larger E-commerce sites with hundreds (if not thousands) of products. Pick 3-5 products – can you easily find them using words your customers would likely use? Once you’ve searched, are there easy to use filters that help refine your results some more? How are these labelled?
  • Customer service – How easy is their customer service to get hold of? Do they use live chat? How responsive/helpful are they?
  • Returns policy – How do they deal with dissatisfied customers? Noone likes a damaged product. Fewer people like an unhelpful returns policy.
  • Basket/Checkout – How easy is their basket/checkout to navigate? Do they ask for an excessive amount of information? Are they easily accessible from anywhere in the shop?

These questions should help spark some ideas as to how you can improve on their offering, whether it be in terms of price, deals, customer service or other.

Step 3: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Rankings

To analyse your competitor’s performance in the search engines you need to have 2 things:

  1. A specific keyword you want to rank for (such as industry keyword as we used in Step 1), and;
  2. A way of tracking both yours and your competitors’ rankings for that keyword.

You will need to conduct keyword research to know what keyword you want to rank for before tracking where you and your competitors’ websites rank currently. Once you know what you want to outrank your competitors for, it’s time to find out where you appear in the search engines:

We can use Serpfox for this (which is a simple ranking tracker with a great free version and a modestly priced paid plan). Simply sign up for a free account, enter your website’s domain and your chosen keyword, then enter each of your competitors’ domains also with the chosen keyword. After a few minutes, Serpfox will pull through where each site ranks for that keyword:

URLs Serpfox

Make a habit of checking this at least weekly to see how your website is progressing.

On-Page

High rankings are the result of both on-page and off-page SEO work.

On-page work consists of technical SEO (optimising website speed, ensuring search engines can read your website, etc) and writing amazing content.

Technical SEO

While technical SEO can be overwhelming at first, thankfully there are tools to make analysing it easier, one of our favourites being Woorank.

Simply navigate to your website and click the icon in your browser’s dashboard to bring up the technical SEO score:

Woorank Moz Example

This not only gives you a useful score to compare with your competitors, it also has a bunch of useful recommendations to help improve it. Use this tool to ensure your website is optimised as well as, if not better than your competitors.

Website Speed

Our favourite tool for comparison website speed is GTmetrix. Simply sign up for a free account to use the search from location, enter your website’s address, then enter your competitors’ addresses:

GTMetrix Comparison Report

This is a great way to see how your website compares to others in terms of load speed.

For recommendations on improving this speed, we recommend using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool:

PageSpeed Insights

Mobile-Friendliness

Businesses that haven’t optimised their websites for mobile visitors are set to fall behind due to Google giving a large ranking boost to mobile-friendly websites.

Find out if your competitors’ websites are mobile-friendly by using Google’s Mobile-Friendliness tool:

Mobile Friendly Test SocialB

Content

Content is the 2nd biggest ranking factor (after links, which we’ll come on to in a second under Off-Page SEO).

To discover what content performs best on your competitors’ website, simply plug a competitor’s website into SEMrush’s organic research report, then click on ‘Pages’ on the left-hand menu:

SEMrush searchengineland com Organic Research

This report lists your competitor’s top ranking pages in the search engines. This is a fantastic way of seeing what content is working for them and can be a great way of finding content you can write your own, better version of.

Off-Page

Off-page SEO consists of putting links to your website on other, high-quality, relevant websites in your niche.

The simplest way of assessing how your website ranks in terms of links (also know as backlink quality scoring) is using the MozBar Chrome Extension. Simply install the bar, create a free Moz account and navigate to your website. You’ll see something like this:

SocialB MozBar Example

The numbers in the bar relate to the number and quality of links to the page (PA) and website overall (DA). The higher the numbers, the better the website’s links.

Once you’ve discovered your website’s PA and DA stats, navigate to your competitors’ websites and make a note of both their PA and DA numbers – the difference between their’s and your’s plays a big role in who Google will prefer to rank.

While this isn’t the be all and end all of off-page SEO, it’s a good baseline to work from for analysing your competitors.

For further information on your competitors’ link profiles, we recommend using Moz’s Link Explorer (10 free audits per day with a free account), SEMrush’s Backlink Audit (10 free audits per day with a free account) or Ahrefs (paid).

Step 4: Email

Gaining insights into your competitors’ email efforts is as simple as spending time exploring their site to see at what points they encourage you to sign-up, then sign up and wait for them to appear in your inbox. Aim to sign-up for at least 5 competitors’ newsletters to give you some variety of messaging and approach.

Tip: Use details that won’t give away that you are a competitor of theirs in case they decide to delete you from their database and you’re left wondering why the next newsletter hasn’t turned up.

Some things to look for include:

  • Delivery time/date Is there a specific day of the week they send on? A specific time? Are they every week? 2 weeks? Monthly?
  • Design – Does every email look the same or is each tailored to the theme of the content?
  • The subject line – How long are they? What format do they use (e.g. question/statement, conversational/formal, etc)?
  • Call-to-action – What are they trying to promote? Do they go right in for the hard sell or is there an easier user journey?
  • Analytics – If you click on a link, do you see ‘utm’ in the URL? If so, then they are probably tracking their campaigns using Google Analytics. This shows they are potentially taking a data-driven approach to their email marketing.

Next Steps

Too busy to carry out this analysis yourself? Ask about our marketing strategy services – we love doing this stuff and already have paid access to many of the tools mentioned above.

Found this guide useful? Have any questions still? Let us know in the comments below.

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