No matter what type of business you have, there is always going to be competition. Even if you’re a leader in your domain or you’re just a start-up, you should always keep a close eye on the competitors. In the online world, some may argue that this task is easier since everything is just a click away. But if you don’t know what to look for and more importantly who to look for, everything is in vain.

Keep Calm and Spy On

There is a common business saying that states you should focus more of your energy on improving your own business and less on watching others. While this is true when it comes to the offline actions, I believe it’s essential for the online presence. Think only at the fact that if you’re not in top 10 SERP for your most important keywords, you’re chances are pretty slim to interact with potential customers. And if you are in those top 10, who are the other 9 appearing for the same keywords as you. What strategies are they using and what strategies have they deployed in the past to get there. It may give you some insights regarding what works and what doesn’t in your industry.

1. Identify and Classify your Competitors

Who are your competitors ? this is the first question you should seek answers to. Without this vital information you can’t go any further with your analysis. There are a couple of things that you should keep in mind – you don’t have to create a comprehensive list with all the competition. You just need to select the most important competitors that you are interested in monitoring.

It’s also important, depending on the industry, to classify your competitors. You should split them into two main categories:

  • Direct competitors – here you’ll place the most important competitors that are in the same category as you. ( they are also called brand competitors ). Usually they have products that are similar to yours.
  • Indirect competitors – companies that develop products/services that can substitute yours. They are also important because you’re competing at fulfilling a need, not selling a product. Don’t look at what product/service you provide, but the problem that you solve for the customer.

You shouldn’t focus on your keyword competitors. You don’t want to slide on this slippery slope, because you’ll end up in an endless pursuit of happiness that will cost your company a lot of resources. You may end up competing with hundreds of websites. In the end you should have a list of maximum 10 competitors that are relevant to your niche.

Keep in mind, the process of selecting your competitors is not through SEO. You need to use your knowledge and expertise in your niche to identify them.

2. Understand Your Competitors Past Evolution

Usually, you find possible strategies for the future by looking at past evolutions. The data from previous online interactions is the most important starting point. Understanding their previous decisions regarding their strategies sheds some light on what gave them an advantage or what backfired. You can look for all sorts of data. How people talked about your competitors. What were the tipping points of your competitors in time and how people linked to them.

You can also see what your competitors were most focused on. To do this you should quickly run a few backlink explorer reports and check their link velocity. I always do this in order to understand if a site is still trending or has lost it’s interest to its users. The monthly link velocity can be read like a trend for a site. If for one reason or another, people stop linking to your site it might mean your business, or your competitor’s business, is not that “interesting” anymore.

Example Link Velocity

Another good tool to perform these tasks would be Alexa. You can see the evolution in time of your competitors and what are their strong areas. On what keywords they focus on for ranking. Lastly, you can see from where their traffic comes and what they prefer to visit.

Alexa Website Search Engine

3. Be a Competitor Stalker!

Don’t be shy in stalking your competitors! Monitoring their site and their offers means you want to come prepared to the fight and … be sure … they are doing it too. Leaving aside the unjustified shame, you should go, try to experience their promotional offers every time they appear.

Competitor Stalker Cat

Create a fake persona and sign up for their updates and newsletters to learn about their communication style and their promotions. How are their offers different from yours and how are they trying to add value to their product/service. Create various accounts on their system to understand their user flow. See how intuitive is their system compared to yours. Another things that you need to do is to contact their support to understand how they treating the customers.

4. Dissect Your Competitors’ Social Media Strategy

Social media strategies are something definitely worth watching closely. If they’ve applied successful strategies it’s definitely worth figuring out on what platforms they are very popular. Finding the right social network on which your target audience is the most receptive is essential so you’ll know where to direct your efforts. You need to know that knowing the right channel of communication via social media is done through trial and error most of the time. So why not assimilate this information from your competitors past experiences. You might find out some insights that even they didn’t observed in the first place.

Social Visibility Module Competition

The valuable data that you get from dissecting your competitors social media strategies can help you a lot. You can skip through the “trial and error” part of the process. You need to understand the networks and the important metrics. See what is the most shared content and what type of content works on that certain social network. This is another important aspect of your inquiry, as it will tell you if you should focus on text, photo, link or video type of content. Take your time and understand who their followers are and where are they coming from. It’s essential for your success, because in the end you share almost the same target audience.

5. What is Your Competitors SEO Strategy?

After you’ve pinpointed your competitors and you’ve done the research about their offers and their social media strategies you need to enquire about their SEO approach. You should start with a full backlink audit on their site and extract the most vital information. In order to understand their link building strategies you need to take everything into account from the provenance of the links to the anchor texts.

It’s also worth checking into their SEO strategy to understand their penalty risk in Google due to bad practices. You can understand if they have some sort of shady SEO campaign going on. Once you know that the site’s links profile is shady it’s only a matter of time until Google catches and penalizes them. A major source of information are the links pointing to their site. Get some data regarding the categories of websites that point to that site. And you should also inquire on what type of link it is. If it’s from a forum comment, if it’s in content or if they are site-wide.

Unnatural Link Detection Tool

One last thing would be the content they have on the site. You’re going to gain knowledge about what content marketing strategy works best for them. It might work as well for your site. Search for the most engaging content and what’s interesting for the visitors.

6. Monitor Your Competitors Continuously

What I’ve presented in the points above are not one time processes. You should continuously check and monitor your competition to stay up to date with their strategies and how they work. You need to know that you have to be on top of your game every time. You may never know when a competitor may start a campaign that will get them straight on the number one place.

Since there are no perfect strategies on tracking and analyzing competitors, I’ve compiled a quick list. You should try to check every point in this list every time you want to create a complete analysis on your competition.

  • Track their site structure updates.
  • Track their social profile evolution.
  • Track their product updates and new offers.
  • Track their new links.(you could use some e-mail alerts to be notified when this happens)
  • Track their rankings increases and decreases.(same e-mail alerts work here also)
  • Track their Alexa growth.

Conclusion

In a world that integrates better than ever, the traditional offline marketing with the omnipresent online marketing, companies should track their competition more than ever. The difference from one rank or another in the search engines can mean a lot of possible clients. It’s normal that in the online environment you should closely track & spy on your competitors. Competitive intelligence is incredibly important in order to improve your strategies. Use these processes and tools and stay on top of your game!

Photo credit: 1, 2
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