The last post in the series described how to develop your core marketing message by…
1. Treating your customer like a hero.
2. Acting as their guide.
3. And rising above the noise through clarity.
I also told you to review the landscape and take a close look at your competition. Today’s post is taking a deeper dive into that “closer look” part.
In order to grow your business and beat your competition in the process, ongoing competitive research has to be a part of your marketing. And a fact-finding mission is not just how you stay ahead of the competition, it’s how you grow your marketing by learning as much as you can about the competitors you want to beat.
Competitive research is core to your success, but some clients push back on this concept, because, well, it’s yet another thing to add to the list. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult of a process.
Why is competitive research crucial to your marketing?
Because you’ll learn some or all of the following…
- You’ll see how much (or how little) your competition is doing.
- You might discover that your competitors are repeating the same boring message, giving you a clear opportunity to shine.
- You’ll gather precious intel – learning all about your competitors’ strengths AND weaknesses.
- You’ll understand why a competitor’s site is ranking higher than yours.
- You’ll discover new ways to better serve your ideal customer.
- It’s a necessary process to spot new opportunities.
- You will most definitely have a brainstorm or two on how to improve your marketing.
- And ongoing research is how you beat the competition AND grow your business!
The not-so-secret formula is to make competitive research a habitual practice, with a clear set of steps and the right tools.
Routine builds familiarity. You learn. Your business grows. And the process becomes easier with each step.
So today’s post outlines a basic seven-step competitive research strategy, along with the tips and tools needed to do this on your own…
What are the core marketing areas to focus on when researching your competition?
Their brand – Do they have a strong brand presence? Is it clear what they do, who they do it for, and what makes them stand out? Are the words and images they use consistent across all online touch-points?
Their hub – A website should be your content hub that helps drive your marketing machine. It should be well designed, and speak to the right audience with clear messaging, easy navigation, and educational content.
Their content – In Step 4 I told you why I think copy is more important than design. Great content should do the following…
- Clearly and concisely describe exactly what a business does.
- Speak to your ideal customer by showing them how you will help them.
- And make it crystal clear what you want site visitors to do to get the process started.
This is content across all channels (not just the website) and it should become a stream of continual content crafted to educate your audience.
What are the primary areas to pay attention to when researching your competition?
SEO – SEO is no longer just a tactic. I think SEO is now like a fully-fledged branding and marketing medium. Good SEO improves credibility, helps the search engines clearly understand your business, and brings in customers. It’s crucial to your success, and because of this, you need to know how your competition is ranking.
Online advertising – To up your online ad game, you need to target the right keywords and have a clear message. And utilize tools built to help you see what your competition is doing and discover what keywords and messages deliver the most bang for the buck.
Content – Modern content marketing is blogging, social media posts, podcasts, email marketing, paid ads, video, customer stories, white papers, eBooks, and more. Businesses that know this and act do much better than businesses that don’t. A constant stream of quality content focused on helping your ideal customer is how people come to know, like, and trust you, and eventually buy from you. It’s critical to your business growth and you MUST pay attention to the content your competitors are producing.
Competitive research basics (your outline)
1. Make a list of your three biggest competitors
If you haven’t, create a list of your main competitors – businesses that offer a very similar product and/or service with the same ideal customer. Keep the list short. Three is ideal.
2. Take a close look at each competitor website
Pay close attention to design, usability, and content. Their site should speak to the right people and have crystal clear messaging…
Do they? If so, pay attention. If not, there’s a clear opportunity for your brand to stand out.
Do they have a blog? Are they publishing white papers? Producing video? If they’re creating this type of educational content, do the following…
3. Sign up for their email newsletter and subscribe to their blogs
If they have email signup forms on their site, get on those lists.
If they’ve published eBooks or white papers, download and read them. The easiest way to do this, if you can’t easily find them is to do an advanced Google search command. Simply type in: filetype:PDF [competitor domain]
You can use a tool like Feedly to monitor their blog posts.
If your competitors have produced webcasts, workshops, or video series enroll in them and study what they’re producing. If they have a YouTube channel, subscribe to it.
4. Take a close look at their social media activity
Get a feel for what they post, how they engage with their audience, and how often they do this.
Find out what channels they are on, and pay attention to the following…
- The look, feel, and language of their posts.
- The frequency of their post.
- The number of followers they have on each channel.
- Are they engaging with their audience? If so, how often?
- And take some time researching what they’re doing using a tool like SocialMention. Sprout Social has a great list of social media monitoring tools.
5. Research their online advertising
A tool like SpyFu is a great way to spy on the competition. As is SEMrush. Here you can perform a detailed search of your competitors, and study their keywords and ads. You can also use Google’s own AdWords Auction Insights to unveil your competitor’s online ad strategies.
6. Pay close attention to their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts
If you haven’t done your own keyword research and chosen ideal keywords for your business, read post 6 in this series detailing My 7-step Modern SEO Strategy and come back here.
Go through the key steps in post 6…
- Find the keywords your customers search for
- Take a deeper dive into keyword research
- Refine your keyword list
- Go back to your brand
- Go back to your keyword list
- Think about all the pages on your website
…if you haven’t done this, go back and go through the process.
Now to do a bit of SEO sleuthing, you could use a great paid tool like ahrefs or simply go manual…
In this oldie but goodie gem of a post on competitive keyword research from WordStream, I like Jordan Kasteler’s short, sweet advice…
“I use the Google query allintitle: “keyphrase” to get a rough estimate on how many people use that keyphrase in their title tag. This will roughly let you know how many people have deliberately or not have minimally optimized their page for that keyphrase. After using the query look at the upper-right corner and see how many results were returned.
For example, simply searching for SEO Firm returns 1,990,000 sites but searching allintitle: “SEO Firm” returns 70,900 sites. This provides a much clearer idea.”
This is another Google search operator command. Simply type in: allintitle:[key phrase] to learn how many people use that key phrase in their title tag.
For example, say you run a Yoga studio in Fort Collins, CO. You’ve gone through your own keyword steps and simply want to find out which businesses use the term “Fort Collins Yoga” on their web page titles.
You simply type in “allintitle: fort collins yoga” and you’ll see those results.
This is a great way to start your competitive keyword research, and see how people are optimizing or not optimizing a critical part of their site SEO – their title tags.
John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing has a great post called the ultimate guide to small business keyword research, if you want to take a deeper dive.
7. Setup alerts and monitor them
Whatever you use, setup a “listening station” for alerts on your competition.
a. Know the core areas to focus on. Your competitor’s brand, hub (website), and content.
b. Focus on three primary arenas – SEO, online advertising, and content.
c. Go through the 7-step process.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Do you want to bring your brand to life? Taking a few minutes to complete our brand audit will help you think about your current marketing efforts and what might need to change. It will also help me suggest several ways to improve your branding and marketing now: Brand audit.
After you complete the form, we’ll contact you to schedule a time to go over the results and see how we can help.