How To Analyze (and Surpass) Your Competitors’ Marketing Strategy
Competition is stiff these days. It can be hard just to catch up, let alone stay ahead. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Following a step-by-step competitor analysis process takes out all the questions about what to do next, and puts you ahead. Follow the strategies I outline and you’ll have created a crystal clear, well-defined marketing strategy helping you surpass your competition.
A Simple 2-Step Process To Developing A Winning Marketing Strategy By Running A Competitor Analysis
Step #1: Identify Your Competitors.
If you don’t already know who your competitors are, finding them is the first step. So, get out a pen and paper or spreadsheet!
To find your competitors, you must first ask yourself:
- What are your biggest industry keywords?
- Who are your customers?
For example, if you’re selling socks, your biggest industry keywords might be things like “socks”, “fun socks”, “Nike socks”, “men’s socks”, “women’s socks”, etc.
(By the way, I got these keywords from Google’s related searches tool: Just search something and scroll to the bottom of the results page.)
Your customers, if you’re selling socks, could be almost anyone.
However, let’s say your niche is dress socks with funny sayings. If so, your customer might be a cool, classy college professor (or people who might buy him socks as a gift, like his students, wife, or family).
How do I know this? Well, I had a college professor who wore socks like that. However, here’s another way to find out:
Look at your competitors and see who they’re targeting!
For example, if you type “funny dress socks” in Google, one of the top organic results is “BoldSocks.com”.
If you visit the Bold Socks website and start poking around, you can find out some key information about their target customers.
In fact, scroll down their page and you’ll find out they have a strong Twitter and Facebook engagement generating user-generated content (UGC) for them:
You can take away two key pieces of information from this one discovery:
- You should target weddings.
- You should be on Facebook.
But before you can perform an analysis like I just did above, you first need a list of your competitors and a spreadsheet to keep track of that key information.
I created a Google spreadsheet to track everything I mention in this article, which you can download for free here.
Use your answers to the two questions I posed above (major keywords and target customers) to help you find your competition. Take that spreadsheet or a pen and paper, and make a list of:
- Competitors you’re already aware of.
- Stores you find in Google who rank for your important keywords.
- Retailers buying pay-per-click ads targeting those keywords.
- Retailers advertising in industry-related publications.
- Brands tweeting about your industry on Twitter or posting on Facebook. (Search “[Industry Keyword] + sale”).
- Any competition you spot on Amazon or eBay.
If you took all those steps, you should have a fairly comprehensive list.
Now, what do you do with this list?
Step #2: Identify And Surpass Their Marketing Strategies.
Once you’ve identified your competitors, it’s time to analyze their website and marketing strategies.
I asked Chris Kilbourn, a growth marketing expert seen on HubSpot and Entrepreneur, for his advice about how to spy on your competitor’s marketing strategies. Here’s what he told me:
“Analyzing your competitor’s eCommerce marketing strategy is an all-encompassing approach. I like to start at the core of the strategy: the product. Starting there leads you to questions like, “What’s their value proposition?” “How are they positioning their product?”, “What’s their end-to-end customer experience?” From there, you work your way down through analyzing their tactics, such as paid ads, SEO, social media, email marketing, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, etc.”
Identifying your competitor’s marketing strategy starts with figuring out what their overall strategy is; What is their company is about?
The easiest way to figure this out is by visiting their about page. You’ll also get an idea for this as you explore their website and social media efforts.
From there, answer the following questions in your spreadsheet:
How Does Their Website Look And Function?
What’s good or bad about it? How can it be improved and what can you take away from it to add to your own site?
Let’s say you sell clothes. One of your competitors is Forever 21. Let’s take a look at their site:
- They offer free shipping over $21.
- Their search bar is very visible and functions well.
- They have a tab for new arrivals, a “want list”, and sales.
- They’re currently running a Pre-Black Friday sale.
So what can we take away from this?
- Consider offering free shipping on all orders, instead of just over $21.
- Include a great search bar in your site.
- Consider reorganizing your search tabs.
- You should also capitalize on the holiday.
Also, notice they don’t have their customer support information anywhere *above the fold. You could consider adding your phone number, support email, live chat, or a “contact us” tab to improve your website in comparison.
*Above the fold means the information that can be seen without scrolling down the page.
If you want to know more ways you can improve your website to get ahead of the competition, check out these 10 eCommerce website redesign tips.
What Kind Of Content Do They Produce?
Do they have a blog, post videos, or even run a podcast? Is the content good, or is it just content for content’s sake?
Forever 21 doesn’t have any kind of content like that. Sincerely Jules, however, has a blog posting several times per week.
The blog content she produces helps drive traffic to her website as well as sales. It also helps her to rank higher in search engines.
Let’s look at another example:
Marcus Sheridan of River Pools and Spas wrote an amazing blog post around a phrase critical to his industry – the cost of a fiberglass pool.
It was so success that he landed the number one spot on Google for “fiberglass pool cost” (shown below) and Marcus was interviewed by the New York Times!
When first starting a blog for an eCommerce site, your best bet is to answer common customer questions with your posts.
Other ideas include telling your story to build trust with your audience, providing tutorials on using your products, and sharing industry news.
Do They Sell The Same Or Similar Products As You?
Take note of the things they sell. It could give you a good idea for products to add to your lineup as compliments to your main products.
How Is Their Pricing?
Higher, lower, or on par with your own?
When it comes to pricing, don’t blindly match or undercut your competitors.
You don’t know how they got their pricing strategy and competing on price is a loser’s game.
Simply take note of it for now, and I’ll expand upon it later. Be sure to note all your competitors’ prices so you can calculate an average.
How Is Their Social Media Presence?
Do they have a lot of followers? More importantly, are their followers engaged? What kind of posts are they engaging on, specifically?
By discovering which platforms and which specific posts get a lot of engagement, you accomplish three things:
- You learn more about your target market and their interests.
- You learn what kind of content or products your target market likes.
- You find out which social media channels your target market is on.
Let’s say you sell outdoor gear, for example. One of your competitors is Sierra Trading Post. If you head over to their Facebook page, this particular post got 112 likes and 30 shares in just 7 hours:
This post can teach you two very valuable things:
- Your audience enjoys consuming content about national parks and winter activities (so you should be blogging).
- They are on Facebook, so you should be on Facebook.
Do They Capture Visitors’ Email?
Do they have a popup or newsletter signup, for example? Sign up for their newsletter. What does their welcome email look like and offer?
Social media is great, but the “list” you build of followers isn’t really your list.
If Facebook decides to make a major change (like their recent change requiring you to pay if you want your followers to see your posts), there’s nothing you can do about it.
Email, on the other hand, is a list owned by you, not Facebook or Twitter. You control when and how your audience receives your emails.
Capturing your visitors’ email address should be among your top priorities as an eCommerce professional. The bigger your list, the faster you’ll grow and the more money you’ll make.
How High Do They Rank In Search Results, And For Which Keywords?
Search engine optimization (SEO) will have a huge impact on the traffic you get from Google and other search engines. The higher you rank in Google, the more traffic you’ll get to your website.
Basically, SEO revolves around choosing keywords you want to rank for on Google, then putting those keywords into your heading tags (<h1>, <h2>, etc.), your URL, your image alt tags, and your metadescription.
It also involves getting sites with high domain authority to link back to your site (called a “backlink”), linking your pages to one another (called “internal links”), linking to outside authoritative sites (called “external links”), and covering the topics you want to rank for with in-depth content, just to give a very brief overview.
If that all sounds like foreign language to you, don’t worry: You can learn the basics of SEO very quickly, and even having a base understanding will drastically improve your results.
KISSmetrics has an amazing guide to SEO for eCommerce you should check out to learn more.
Now then, back to your competition; You can use a tool like SEMrush to find out which keywords your competitors are ranking for. It will also tell you crucial information like the keywords monthly search traffic, how difficult it is to rank for it, and related keywords you may be able to rank for.
(Note: You get 10 free searches on SEMrush if you sign up for an account, then you have to pay.)
Let’s go back to our “funny dress socks” keyword:
As you can see, this keyword gets 480 monthly searches and has a competition of 1.00 (the higher this number, the more difficult it will be to rank, on a scale of 0 to 1.00).
Pro Tip: Don’t count out a keyword just because it has a low monthly search volume. Keywords with as low as 50 monthly searches can add up quickly. That’s 50 chances to be seen by a potential customer!
If you scroll further down the page, you’ll also see related keywords, organic search results, and ad copy, which is all incredibly useful information!
Be sure to keep a list of all these keywords. (If you downloaded the free spreadsheet, there is a separate tab called “keywords” you can use to track them.)
Do They Have Any Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads?
PPC means displaying ads using Google AdWords or Facebook ads and you pay every time someone clicks on your ad.
Advertising in this way is a crucial part of any marketing strategy. Advertising organically through content marketing and influencer marketing can take a long time to ramp up, whereas paid advertising can bring immediate results.
You can use SEMrush to find your competitors keywords as well. Going back to Bold Socks:
It even shows you the traffic they get from their keywords and how they rank compared to their competition (which is another way to find competitors, by the way).
What I really love is the sample ads it shows you at the bottom. It gives you an idea of how they’re leveraging their products and the ad copy they’re using.
Using this information, you’re able to generate ideas for your own ad copy and which keywords to purchase ads for.
Important Note: Google AdWords can be a very time-consuming and expensive endeavor. If you’re not big enough to spend the money on Google, I highly recommend starting instead with Facebook PPC ads. Facebook has much more precise targeting capabilities, often has higher conversion rates, and costs less than AdWords.
WordStream wrote an excellent guide to PPC for beginners if you’re ready for AdWords. Alternatively, Shopify wrote an introduction to Facebook ads for eCommerce stores.
Do They Have Influencers Backing Their Campaigns?
When analysing your competitors’ stores, look out to see if they’re working with any influential people.
An influencer could be a celebrity, another company, or even just someone with a large social following or high level of authority in your niche.
Here’s a fun example:
Whisky creating company Malts wanted to promote their Lagavulin whiskey to the younger drinking crowd. To do that, they elicited the help of Nick Offerman to sit in front of a yule fireplace and drink Lagavulin… for 45 minutes… without saying a word.
(Someone actually watched the entire 45 minute video and documented every significant thing Offerman did in the comments. Crazy, but this stuff works.)
Now let me give you a more practical example of how influencers can help you:
I recently wrote a post on HootSuite about how to repurpose your content. While writing this post, I reached out to several influencers in the content marketing field: Niel Patel, Sujan Patel, Sam Hurley, Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, and Erika Heald of Spin Sucks, to ask for their expert input into the article.
After it was finished, I reached out to them again to ask them to share it. Sujan, Sam, and Erika all shared it to their combined audiences of over 200,000 people!
It makes sense: Why wouldn’t they share it? They contributed to it!
By repeatedly including influencers and building relationships with them, you’re able to increase your reach, traffic, and influence…
…Which ultimately means more sales!
Tools To Help You Spy On Your Competition.
Unfortunately, you can’t get all the answers to the questions above just by looking at a competitor’s website. Fortunately, there are some great tools you can use to get them pretty easily!
Chris Kilbourn (who gave the quote at the beginning of the last section) created a full list of marketing spy tools you can check out. However, here are four I recommend getting started with:
SEMRush, as I mentioned above, is a tool that helps you see what keywords your competitor is ranking for organically as well as any ads they’re running. It’s a great tool to spy on your competition, and you get a few searches for free, so it’s worth trying out.
2. Moz Open Site Explorer
Moz Open Site Explorer (OSE) is a great tool to analyze your competitors’ marketing strategies.
OSE will reveal all the sites who linked to your competitor’s site. Knowing this information will help you find guest posting opportunities (writing a post on their blog in exchange for a link to your website). This info could also help you find influencers to share your business.
I asked Moz‘s creator, Rand Fishkin (@RandFish), his thoughts about how to analyze a competitor’s marketing strategy in the eCommerce field:
“My recommendation is to look at the customers, potential future customers, and influencers you’re trying to attract as three separate groups, then see how you can provide unique value to each over what your competition’s doing. Analyzing only the traffic sources and marketing channels of your competitors means you’ll forever be chasing them, rather than leading the pack. Focusing on the audience, seeing where they go, what they do, and what they wish they had online is a way to stay ahead.”
SpyFu, like SEMRush, is a nifty little tool that allows you to see what keywords your competitor ranks for on Google, as well as what kind of ads they’re running.
You can use SpyFu if you run out of free searches with SEMRush.
Moat may only be useful if your competitors are fairly well-known. If they are, you’ll get some great insight from this tool. If not, you probably won’t even find them on here.
Basically, Moat collects ads that it finds from your competition and shows them to you. I couldn’t find BOLD Socks on here, but I did find Happy Socks:
It’s a good practice to see what ads your competitor is running and get some ideas for what to make your own ads look like.
Final Tips To Analyze The Results And Adopt Winning Strategies
I covered what to do with the information as we discussed how to gather it, so I won’t repeat myself here. However, drill this one thing into your brain:
Having a spreadsheet with all this information won’t do you any good unless you act on it! Action always beats intention.
Here are a few things you can do to effectively beat your competitors’ eCommerce marketing strategies, based on your new list of information:
- Create content based on competitor’s keywords
- Improve upon content your competitor got a lot of engagement on
- Improve the parts of your website where competitors’ websites are lacking
- Reach out to the influencers promoting your competitors
- Borrow some of their email copy to see if it converts better than your own
- Consider testing different pricing and shipping options based on your competitors’ pricing and shipping (test, don’t commit! Remember that they may not have good strategies in these areas. Testing them helps you to find the best price points.)
- Try some of their social media marketing strategies
Here we are, three thousand words later. I hope you’ve found this article useful.
What are your marketing strategies? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!
article written by Bill Widmer for the Photoslurp Blog.