We’ve seen and heard many people just throwing their business online, many times with great products, and failed at it. One of the reasons they failed was because they didn’t have a well structured marketing plan before they started the journey and were missing out on competitive intelligence data. In today’s article we wish to address that issue by presenting the tools made available by Google and going through some concepts and ideas that can be extracted with their use.
An idea is basically as good as you can market it, and to market it effectively, you need to have an up to par research.
The research in itself can be gathered from many sources. It can be primary research, done by your marketing team, which requires large amounts of resources, or it can be secondary research, the desk kind, which requires time, a keen eye and tools to study the market. Today we’ll talk about the tools made available for you by the one and only Google, tools that cost nothing and can offer you enough information to gain a sense of the market you’re about to jump into.
Arsenal of Tools
First thing’s first, the weapons you have at your disposal. We’re sure you know that Google offers a wide variety of tools, all free of charge (we’ll repeat that today), that help you gather information about the market and, more importantly, competitors information. So we have the following: Google Alerts, Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends and last but not least Google Display Planner.
The Free Google Tools can be used to study your competitors instead of and not only your site or generic niche.
All the tools mentioned above can be used to benchmark your own website, but also you can use them to keep track, measure and research any other site you desire. Google doesn’t limit their use in any shape or form, so why not use them to get ahead in your market?
The first and easiest tool in our arsenal is the Google Alerts tool. We could be wrong, but we’re sure most of you are already using this already. You enter your business name in the alerts box, set up the options to get notified once a week and forget about it. But the tool offers so much more utility to keep track of what your competitors are doing. What if instead of your business you’d put in your competitors’ name, set it up to notify you instantly and only from the region you’re interested in, and you won’t be surprised in the future. It’s true, you’ll get tons of emails but if you’re willing to pay that price to keep track of your opponents’ moves, then it is worth it.
Google Keyword Planner
Next weapon in the arsenal is the Google Keywords Planner. Now it’s not what it used to be. We miss you “Google keyword tool”! But it does bring a lot of value to the table. In terms of finding out what keywords to go for, the cost and so on. Great! But it does bring a lot of value to the table in terms of finding out what keywords to go for, the cost and so on. Great! But if you want some juicy competitive information, consumer search behavior, than this tool is for you. Take a look at the screenshot below.
Now we’re not here to make a tutorial on how to use this tool. There are plenty of those at one Google search away. We just want to show you how we, as marketers, look at what’s available here. It’s just tons and tons of free marketing data, showing what people are searching for, how they are searching for it, and where they are searching for it. Languages, dates, volumes of searches as well as the bidding competition that’s going on over at adwords.
All of this with just entering the keywords of the business you’re interested in. The next step the pros do is to filter all that noise that comes with the tool, and we believe that’s what most people are complaining about this tool, the noise. What’s left after some advanced filtering action are keywords that you want for your business. Especially the keywords with a high search volume, low competition with really low bidding war going on. We’ll get into that later on, let’s move on to the next weapon.
Next one up is the Google Trends tool. This one is by far our favorite tool when studying markets. It basically shows the search interest of people for certain keywords. What you should use it for is to study the market you want to tackle.
And the search interest over time is not the only thing that Google Trends provides. It’s also a great way to study the market from different regions. In the example we’ve taken, we compared the search interest for digital vs. online marketing. Below you can see which countries search for the words “digital marketing” and which one search for “online marketing”. Now if you look at the screenshots below what can you notice?
The “digital marketing” search phrase ranks really well in countries such as Ireland and India. The users have different search behaviors, that’s what we want to show with this. Let’s see in which countries the “online marketing” phrase is more searched for:
Kenya, India, Germany and even the US look more colored in this screenshot than the one for “digital marketing”. It even has the option to show these data for each city.
Now what you do with these data is up to you, but we suggest you consider it when making a digital marketing strategy to promote your business.
Google Trends even offers some of the Google Keyword Planner tool functions by suggesting related keywords for the one your just entered. You can use it to keep track of the keywords that are gaining ground rapidly (rising) and from those you can notice some opportunities for your business.
Google Display Planner
And last but not least of the Google’s Arsenal is the Display Planner tool. The Free Marketing Data tool as we call it. In theory, this tool provides you with placement ideas for your adwords campaign. What it shines at for us, is providing demographic information about the visitors of websites, about people who search for certain keywords (or phrases) and also it shows the influencers of certain markets. And influencers are the key to promoting a new business.
You won’t have any problems with the interface. Just as the keyword planner tool, you insert the keywords that you’re interested in and click the “Get placement ideas” to proceed. What you end up with is the following:
There you have it. The demographics data for the people who search for “digital marketing” and “online marketing”. It also displays the volume of searches as well as the device people use to Google it. In the example given it’s pretty straight forward that you have to focus a large part of the marketing efforts on mobile devices. But as a full disclaimer you might want to filter the data a bit (remember the noise we were mentioning in the last chapter?) Well there is a lot of noise (useless & irrelevant data), that needs some good filtering.
The influencers can be extracted from the placement ideas section in the Display Planner. Google does a fine job in selecting the influencers and ordering them by relevance and by the number of cookies per week. Now in theory you have to select each website and place your adds there, but marketers use it just to compile a list of websites, find contacts and start a conversation with the influencers and present them with their product. It doesn’t always work, but if your product is great and if it provides value to the readers of the influencers, an outreach campaign could provide some useful results without any money spent on adwords.
Google Display Planner provides much more than websites for you to target. The tool also shows mobile apps, as well as youtube channels that your audience is currently using. Now regardless of your needs, of your market and your product, this information is precious to any marketer.
In this day and age you can’t expect the customer to find your product, you have to go where they’re hanging out and show them this new awesome product that you have and let them know how it can help them.
Your Market’s Behavior
Now that you’re familiar with the tools and what we are going to use them for, let’s take a real market example and see how we use it. We chose to take the music streaming market to explain an in-depth use of Google’s arsenal. The first thing when trying to enter a market is trying to learn the behavior of the consumers. When researching we are going to focus on the following:
- What do consumers search for?
- What are the consumers expectations?
- How are the competitors taking advantage of the consumers search behavior?
- Which are the overall market trends?
- What is the brand power of my competitors?
- Can we find any hidden opportunities?
Customer Behavior Unlocking
The first tool we go to in our analysis of the music streaming market is the Google Keyword Planner. This tool will answer the first two questions (What are consumers searching for? & What are their expectations?) and maybe give us a hint for the last question (Hidden opportunities). To get to the answers we inserted the landing pages of our future competitors in the keyword planner and began to read what it provides. The competitors we considered for our analysis were Spotify, Pandora and Grooveshark. There are plenty more to study in order to make a complete analysis, but for the purpose of presenting how to do a competitive analysis information, we consider this to be sufficient to start with.
We must mention that for all the keyword ideas presented below, we added filters and removed the noise. All that is left are relevant keywords that the users search for to get to the pages.
By entering the landing page for Spotify, Google Keywords Tools shows us what it believes this page is about and recommends us keywords that fit its description.
If we look at the keywords suggested by Google, an overwhelming amount contain the word “free“.
We can already start to figure out some expectations for the future users of our tool. Potential users don’t want to pay for it, they expect it to be free. Let’s study the other two competitors to see if this behavior fits all the users.
For Pandora the situation is basically the same. The difference here is that Google suggests the word “radio” more often. Their SEO efforts could have focused on promoting the service as an online radio in order to gather more visitors from Google who search for this kind of service.
We can already start painting the persona for the user who searches for online music streaming.
Let’s check the last competitor to see if our theory is valid.
Grooveshark validates our theory. For online music streaming services, people search for online music, radio and expect it to be free. We still need some more data about the users; the volume of searches per month is the next one.
We have some keywords that stand out for each competitor: “ Free online streaming” “free online music” and “online Radio”. Lets study them to find out the potential market.
What you see in the chart above could seem too encouraging at first but these results are filled with noise (useless keywords, irrelevant for the music streaming business). Almost 60 million searches each month for keywords related to the what we placed in the input. Let’s start filtering to get to the reliable numbers.
After the filters were added (average monthly searches > 1000; removed other keywords), we get some realistic numbers about the volume of searches. The overall number of monthly searches for keywords related to online music streaming is about 200.000. This is encouraging since that could be considered potential traffic for your new business. The numbers for the exact keywords are a bit low, free online music gaining 27k monthly searches, free online radios just above 18k, while free online streaming is about 4.4k searches.
So what do we know until now?
The market has about 200k monthly searches with a potential of over 50 million, people are looking for online radio and online music and expect it to be free.
Also to mention is the fact that there is a drop in search volume during the summer. Let’s see how the other tools can help us build a complete user profile and market trends.
Where Are they Looking for Your Business?
Let’s complete our users profile by studying the demographics offered by the display planner tool.
We can notice that there is little difference between males and females regarding the search behavior. Males search more for online music than females, but not much more. The major age group that this market attracts is formed by the 18-34 year old. Another important factor to consider in the competitive analysis is the device used by the users. The majority of the people search for online music on their mobile devices; 52% search on mobile phones, 12% on tablets and only 36% of users search for on desktop devices. This is a crucial factor since launching a product only available on desktop would limit the market significantly.
Another thing we can get from the display planner tool is the reach and visitors for each of the websites. We have the main influencers who can reach up to 30-35 million viewers each week whom we can target to promote the new service.
The persona for our marketing efforts is more or less complete now. We have young people in the 18-34 age group, both males and females, using mobile devices to search for online music. They desire a product that is free and available on all devices (desktop, mobile and tablets). We have a basic idea of the websites that the potential users are frequenting, their monthly visitors and the cost of promoting on them.
In What Development Stage is Your Market
Google Trends is great at studying the stage of the market. We can insert the keywords that we believe to describe a certain market, and by studying the results we may conclude if a industry is gaining traction, if it was or is interesting to the average user. Let’s take a look below:
We can see that the overall trend and the search interest for “free online music”, “music streaming” and “free online radio” is in a downward trend. It peaked somewhere around 2010 and since then the interest is going down. Now, we have to be extra careful when drawing conclusions here because there could be some errors. The downward trend could indicate the fact that people just aren’t interested in online music streaming, or it could just as well indicate that the market has matured, and that people became loyal to a competitor.
*Full disclaimer here; while we said in the beginning of the article that Google’s tools aren’t enough to make a complete marketing strategy, we feel that we should mention it again throughout the article. Do use other tools and data for a complete marketing strategy, use Google just as a starting point to get an overall image of the market.
Uncovering Your Competitors’ Secrets
From our last chapter we can say that we gathered a lot of data from the market. The fact that the online music streaming industry is maturing, that users have become loyal to certain brands, the personae of 18-34 year old who want free online music and spend their time on mobile devices are great assets in making a marketing strategy. Let’s now study the competitors, benchmark them and see their strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s move on with the analysis then, and the first thing to study is “Brand Power”
Benchmark Every Metric to Your Competitor and Figure out Your Brand Power
Brand power is the interest in Google Trends over time. We inserted the brand of the three competitors we are studying into Google trends and we got the following result:
From the analysis we can see that Pandora has the greatest brand power among the competitors. It did have a larger lead in later years but Spotify has gained a lot of ground. Grooveshark’s brand power seems to be going down starting from 2013.
It’s also worth mentioning that Pandora’s trend could be affected by the launch of the movie Avatar in 2009.
The planet the movie takes place is called Pandora and Google doesn’t differentiate that in the search behavior of users. Though I don’t suspect it made large impact in the overall trend for Pandora, some spikes from the year 2009/2010 could be attributed to the movie. And right here we have our first limitation of the Google Trends tool; if your competitors have common names, we don’t really suggest using Google Trends to study their brand power.
Let’s check with the Google Keywords Tool to see if the brand power is similar.
Indeed the number of searches for Pandora is almost double of the number for Spotify. With over 16 mil searches each month we can note that Pandora holds the biggest market share for online music streaming.
Keep Up with Every Move your Competitors Make
Now that we have a clear impression of the competitors’ rankings it’s time to keep track of their every move. Fortunately Google doesn’t set a limit on the amount of alerts you can keep track of every month, so our advice is to set alarms for everyone, including alarms for the industry as a whole and alarms for each influencer in the business.
Always Compare Yourself to Your Competitors
This is a constant process for all businesses.
Comparing to competitors is an ongoing activity of the marketing department, or in the case of a small company, the marketing guy.
What you need to keep track of here is the brand power. This is one of the most important metrics you can extract from the tools offered by Google. It’s how you can attach a measurable number to the marketing efforts that are hard to track (content marketing). Seeing each month that the volume of searches is increasing for your brand is in a great part attributed to a great content marketing strategy, and it’s encouraging to see that people are actually searching for your brand and not only for your services.
Google just announced on their social media platform that they will be updating their Keywords Planner tool to include a comparing option:
This makes things so much easier for you to study the market since you can now review the add impressions of different competitors to see exactly who is most successful.
You can even concentrate on keywords with lower competition and suggested bids where you can more easily rank in top ad positions.
We eagerly await this update from Google since it will make the competitive analysis so much easier and it will provide the exact data needed to improve your future campaigns performance.
Check Which Competitors Target Certain Keywords
Now that we have the brand power of the competitors and we follow their every move with the alerts tools, let’s find a glimpse of the keywords targeted by the competitors. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it that, since what the Display Planner tool does is show you the targets which seem the best in Google’s eyes, not their complete SEO Strategy. It’s still a great tool to figure out what each landing page is optimized for, so let’s move on with the analysis.
Once you’ve entered the landing page for each competitor, Google will firstly show you what the potential market is for such a website. In the case of Pandora, Google shows the potential for online music streaming, which reaches over 500 million searches each month (data not filtered).
Google also does a great job in segmenting the audience in age groups and shows from which device the search was made from.
What’s important to get from here is the “Ad group” segment which is displayed at the bottom. This is the target for Pandora’s landing page, each of these targets (Folk & Traditional Music, Software, iOS Apps…) have the potential of reaching an incredible amount of people in weeks. The next step from this is doing the same analysis for the other two competitors, compiling a list of all the results and try to optimize your landing page for the same keyword groups.
Identify New Market Opportunities
So we went through the market, we looked at each competitor, now it’s time to figure out how to get ahead by finding new keywords that the competitors might not have yet discovered. For this there are a couple of tricks using the Google Keyword Planner tool. We’ll try to present some ways to target keywords that will generate traction and could bring Google traffic to your website.
Low Competition High Search Volume
The first trick to get to those juicy keywords starts once again with entering the competitors landing page into the Google Keyword Planner. Google recognizes the website type of Pandora and begins to list out keyword ideas for it.
The following filter types were added:
- Average monthly searches > 1000
- Suggested bid < 1.00$
- Various negative keywords (keywords that were not relevant) to remove the noise: download, downloads, movie, video, mp3
What we’re left with are very relevant keywords for your business that have a high average monthly search and a very low bids. This is exactly what you should target with your SEO Strategy.
Keywords not yet Targeted
The product category search of Keyword planner is a great way to find “untapped” niches. Just select the product category that your product fits in, or you can select a category similar to yours, that you believe it holds some potential customers and begin the analysis.
We continue with the online music streaming example and select the “Music Streams & Downloads” product category.
This is what you get.
Tons of keyword ideas that you can target with the SEO Strategy, be it through content marketing or adwords.
Again don’t take them all as Google displays it to you, filter the data. Even if it greatly reduces the potential reach and search volume why would you want to spend resources on irrelevant keywords to your business.
Always go for the high search volume keywords with low bid numbers, since your competitors aren’t really tackling them.
Using Forecasts to Your Advantage
After you’ve extracted the keywords you believe to be relevant, the next step is to make sure they are trending and will still have a high search volume in the future. Enter the Google Trends Tool to forecast the interest for your chosen keywords over time. For this example we chose the following key phrases: “music streaming”, “online radio” and “online music”.
The trends for these keywords aren’t looking so good.
The keywords seem to be on a downward trend and losing ground.
In order to see if we’re going to leave these keywords, or won’t prioritize them we should check the volume of searches with the Google Keyword Planner.
It’s true that they seem to be going down comparing them to the last year, but looking at the volume of searches, these keywords are way too important not to prioritize them in the SEO Strategy.
Outreach to Influencers Before your Clients Do
And once again we return to the Display Planner Tool. We feel like we’ve talked about it more than a couple of times today. But it’s such a great tool to figure out where your audience is going to.
We mentioned it in more detail in the first chapter of the article. The core thing to get here is that by inserting the key words for the industry you wish to tackle (the online music streaming service for this example), the tool will automatically suggest where to place you adds. Those websites suggested by Google could be used for an outreach campaign, target the owners, present your product and if it’s a great one we’re sure they will be willing to write about you and give you a precious link to your business.
Firstly and most importantly, what we want you to gain from this post is that using only Google’s tools to make a competitive analysis is not enough. But it’s a great start, you get tons of relevant information in such a short time. Information that you might not find anywhere else, juicy keywords with Google Keyword Planner, industry trends and market behavior using the Google Trends Tools, constant monitoring of your competitors using Google Alerts and demographic, behavior and influencers data from the Google Display Planner.
The second most important thing we wish you would remember from this article is the fact that the majority of the data needs to be filtered and taken in with a grain of salt. Google offers us both in the Keyword and the Display Planner tools rich filters to get to the information we really need and the one that is relevant to our industry only.
How often do you use the Google Tools in your competitive analysis?