In business, there are winners, and there are most certainly losers. Some businesses fail. Others flourish.
My guess is that you want to be among the winners.
But to win at the game of business, you must develop a certain set of skills. You must educate yourself on a wide array of topics.
One of the most important topics that you need to understand is your competitors.
Understanding who your competitors are, what they are doing, the methods and tactics that work for them, the ones that don’t, and their plans for the future will give you a tremendous advantage.
In this article, we are going to take a deep dive into the art of learning about your competition.
Now only will you discover your top five competitors, but you’ll also gain deep intelligence on how their business operates, how they conduct marketing, and the strategies they use to succeed.
The strategies I’ve outlined in this article will work for any type of business, regardless of location, size, and niche. Some of the tips work best for local businesses.
Step 1: Google It
While we will get into a number of steps that are significantly less obvious, this step is worth mentioning simply because so many people fail to do it.
For some reason, many small business owners and online marketers feel that Google is a beginner’s tool and not something that should waste time with, but quite frankly, using a simple Google search is one of the easiest ways to understand the quality of the companies and websites that you are up against, and understand how you can dominate local SEO.
For example, if you’re an online marketing company in Denver Colorado who specializes in SEO optimization, then a simple google search of “Online marketing companies, Denver Colorado” would yield results that would look something like this:
Before you even start investing money into research tools, analytics reports, and other online tactical goodies, you can already see who the top dogs in your industry are.
You can then go on to review their websites and office locations, gaining a better understanding about what they are offering and an estimate of their revenue streams.
This company is clearly not new to the game, in fact, quickly checking out the site shows that they have been around since 2006, have dozens of employees and offer a large variety of services.
You will also notice that they do not share their prices, which would suggest that they are charging a premium rate for their services (which you can find out by using tip #5).
Google is the number one tool for competitor research.
Plus, it’s the easiest thing in the world to use. Simply input your keyword plus your city/state, and presto, there are your competitors.
Want to take an even deeper dive? Here are 5 advanced Google search techniques that will allow you to instantly understand your competitor’s SEO strength.
Several Google queries will give you deep intel on any website. I’ll show you what these queries are, and why they are important:
Query (this is what you would type into Google): site:www.example.com
This query shows you how many pages your competitor’s website has. Let me show you an example.
When (hypothetically) research my competition for “software companies Greenville SC,” I see that Worthwhile, a company I help with, is at the top of the list.
Okay, that’s cool.
But I want to find out about the company in the number #3 organic position — Kopis.
Here’s what I do:
- Copy their URL
- Type into Google “site:www.kopisusa.com”
Here’s what I get:
Why is this important?
Because I know instantly how large the website is. There are 59 results indexed by Google.
A glance at their images tells me a few things, including (mwhahaha!) some of their clients and the fact that they are a Microsoft Partner Gold in application development.
Content, whether it’s images or pages, matters for a lot of reasons.
Here are two reasons. Lots of content influences the website’s ability to 1) rank for certain keywords, and 2) possess a strong showing in the local SERPs for general search terms.
I know that Worthwhile website has a far larger website (more content), which suggests one reason why they outrank Kopis locally.
But website size alone isn’t the determinative factor in gauging a business’s ranking.
There’s also keyword presence involved.
Query (this is what you would type into Google): site:www.example.com “keyword”
Most businesses know they are trying to rank for certain keywords. That’s one of the fundamental building blocks of SEO.
So how do you find out about your competitor’s keyword presence?
By entering the same query you did in the section above, plus your target keyword.
Let me show you how it’s done. I’ll use the Worthwhile website as an example. They offer “custom software” solutions, so locally ranking for “custom software is important to them.”
You can find out exactly how many pages on their website use this term.
You can perform this search on any keyword that you deem important.
Query: Site:www.example.com [Search Tools → Any Time → Past Week, Month, Year, etc.]
Are your competitors blogging? Changing their website? Adding new content?
It’s important to know this kind of stuff. One of Google’s ranking factors involves grading a website’s freshness.
What does this mean?
Basically, websites with new content receive preferential treatment in the SERPs. This is one reason for the “new kid on the block syndrome” that happens in Google.
An upstart competitor launches a website, and begins to outrank established websites in that niche. Why did this happen, even when the website lacks authoritative link profile or a limited amount of pages?
Freshness. The website is new, shiny, and releasing content on a regular basis, and therefore flags the search engines for higher SERP presence.
You can find out how frequently your competitors are changing their content, and what pages get changed with a simple Google query.
Let me show you how it’s done.
Start with the simple “site:” query I demonstrated above. Then click “Search tools.”
You’ll see six options, plus a custom range.
I’m going to select “Past week.”
Sure enough! have evidence that Worthwhile has changed their homepage (smart!) and added blog content in the past week. This tells me that Worthwhile is running active content marketing efforts.
There’s more to Google than meets the eye.
Step 2: Dive Deeper Using These Tools
After doing a basic Google search, you should be able to come up with a list of the top 3-5 competitors.
You can review their websites to get a general idea of how things operate, and get a sense of their SEO capabilities.
Now, it’s time to go deeper with your search and start using more advanced tools to aid in your competitive reconnaissance mission.
The first tool that you should use is Google Alerts.
Google Alerts is a free tool that tells you when your competitor is mentioned online.
Google Alerts has everything you need and will deliver it straight to your inbox every time there is a new mention, backlink, etc.
For example, let’s say you wanted to research SEO competitors in Charlotte, NC.
Go to Google Alerts, and type in your alert.
You can then choose the specifics of when you want to be notified, what kind of mentions you want to see, where they are mentioned, and the quality of the mentions.
This allows you to see who is mentioning your competitors, but also allows you to see why. For example, a competitor may release a new article or product on xyz, and this causes a number of mentions from companies in a similar but non competitive niche.
This is something you can use to your advantage when creating your next product or piece of content.
Brand mentions are a powerful force in Google’s algorithm. Even without links, more brand mentions — the quantity and quality of sites mentioning your brand name — a brand can improve in search rankings.
This is one of the best tools in the industry for spying on your competitors and understanding their keyword performance and expenses.
It allows you to see everything from their organic keywords, to their monthly SEO click value, to the amount of traffic they receive that is paid vs. organic.
So let’s say that you are in the personal finance and online business niche, and one of your main competitors is the website iwillteachyoutoberich.com.
Plugging the URL into spyfu.com will yield the following results.
By using this tool, you can discover just about everything you need to know about your competitor, including who their primary competition is (which, by extension makes them your primary competition).
You can use this data to determine where you should be focusing your keyword efforts to improve your ranking over your competition.
Here are some additional helpful tools:
Step 3: Get Social
Now that you have spent some serious time researching keywords, mentions, SEO rankings, and all of that other good stuff, you should have a pretty good idea of who your competitors are and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
The next step to rising to the top of your field and leaving your competitors in the dust is to master social media research.
While Google tools, and services like Spyfu are great, they do not do the job you need them to do when it comes to tracking your competitors social media presence, successes, and failures.
With the power of social media, you can have competitors that do not even show up in first pages of Google, yet they are absolutely dominating the industry. Why? Because they are jamming on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms.
One great option for social media competition research is Social Mentions, which allows you to track the mentions that your competitors are getting across several different platforms.
Furthermore, this tool allows you to analyze the strength of your competitor as well as their perceived public perception i.e. whether the public likes or dislikes them.
Here’s the report I generated for Upcity.
A 10-second glance at this report shows me that:
- UpCity’s overall social media sentiment is positive. People like UpCity. Nice.
- Our last online mention happened three minutes ago. People are talking about UpCity. Yay.
- Reddit is exploding on our SEO Audit. Sweet.
As you can see above, social mentions lets you see who is mentioning your competitor and in what ways.
Social Mentions produces in seconds what could take hours to research on your own (if you even knew where to look).
Do not neglect a social examination of your competitors. While your competition may not be on Google’s radar, they are most definitely on someone’s social radar.
The more you know, the better off you’ll be.
Step 4: Talk To Your Customers
Often times in our efforts to discover who our competitors are and what they are doing, we forget one of our most valuable tools — our customers.
No one knows who the competition is better than you customers, and no ones knows why someone would opt for your competitors service instead of yours better than your customers.
Your customers know some things about you that you may not know yourself — your public perception, reputation, and general mood towards you and your company.
Depending on the scale and type of your business, this means that you may want to make a phone call, send out an email survey, or bring it up in your next face to face meeting.
Whatever the case, do not overlook the power of the customer in gaining knowledge of your competition.
Bonus Step 5: Simply Ask Questions
Don’t overlook the obvious.
When you have questions, the best way to get answers is to ask.
Of course, you need to ask the right people.
If you follow the above pieces of advice, you will be able to quickly identify your top competitors and uncover their standing within your niche.
Now that you know who you are up against, it is time to know exactly what you are up against.
So, in this step, you’re going to pick up your smartphone, dial a number, and talk to someone.
So for example, let’s say that you are in the business consulting niche, focusing on SEO and internet marketing consulting.
After you have used the above steps and you know who your primary 5 competitors are, it’s time to get them all on the phone and start asking away.
According to Jordan Harbinger, the co founder of one of the biggest podcasts on iTunes, The Art of Charm, “The best way to research competition is to call them and ask whatever you like.”
Let’s say that you wanted to know exactly how much your competitor was charging for a 6-month consulting package, but they didn’t release that information on the website.
You could call them up and easily find out that information.
If they don’t tell you right away, you’ll at least find out what kinds of questions they ask, or how they want to qualify you into their sales funnel.
If you do get an answer to your rate question, you could take things a step farther by asking more questions:
- “This sounds great but I am wondering if I’ll get sufficient face time with the consultant. How many other customers is he/she taking care of right now?”
- “The offer sounds amazing, but it’s just not in the budget right now. Do you have any other packages that you could offer?”
- “I like what I am hearing, but I would feel better about the whole thing if I could speak to some previous or current customers of yours. Do you have any references?
- “You know, I am impressed with how quickly I was taken care of. You guys must have a pretty large team to offer this sort of customer service. How many employees do you have?”
- “I saw your ad on Facebook, and I really liked what I saw. Are you guys seeing a lot of customers from Facebook?”
The bolder you get and the more open the employee is, the more questions you can ask, and the more intel you can gain.
If you want to be a top player, then you need to be sure that you equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible.
Understand your competition inside and out. It’s possible by taking some time, using some tools, and maybe even getting on the phone.
No matter what your budget (or lack thereof) there are plenty of creative and free ways that you can find out everything you need to know to take your company to the top.