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Competitor Research: Stay One Step Ahead of The Competition

When’s the last time you thought about how you stack up against your competitors? You may have been told not to worry about others or what they think, but this is a lie. You should always care what other people are thinking, especially when they’re your competition. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, so be sure to keep your eye on the competition. Otherwise, you might end up as lunchmeat.

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What Is A Competitive Analysis?

A competitive analysis is a way to see how you stack up against your competitors. There are many ways this can be done. The two most common approaches are a SWOT analysis or a more in-depth competitive analysis that includes creating a competitor array that compares different aspects of your businesses.

 

Within that analysis, you’ll want to look at various aspects of their business, including who their customers are, what services they offer, their pricing, and their marketing strategies. From this, you can begin to develop a sense of what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they compare to your business.

Competitor Research

In this section, you’ll learn how to identify competitors, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and evaluate their marketing techniques. By identifying and analyzing your competitors, you can gauge how you stack up against them, then create strategies to stand out.

How To Research Your Competitors

Step 1 - Pick a Method

Under our list of Competitive Research Tools, we’ve provided two templates for researching your competition that can be used separately or together: a Competitive Analysis Worksheet and a SWOT, or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis.


The competitive analysis worksheet takes a detailed look at how your business compares to competitors’ and is ideal for an in-depth analysis. The SWOT, meanwhile, is a more general overview and a good way to summarize your findings for a quick look at the competition.

Step 2 - Identify Your Competitors

The easiest way to identify your competition is typically performing a simple Google search. First, go Incognito on your browser so Google won’t provide personalized results based on your search history. Then, you’re going to type in your trade or the types of services you offer along with your location (e.g., “electrician Dallas”). Then pick 3+ competitors you believe are most relevant.

Competitive Analysis Worksheet

This worksheet outlines all the aspects of competitors’ businesses you should look at when making a competitive comparison. For each competitor, you’re going to give a quick overview of their company with details like its size, number of employees, and the quality of its customer service.

 

Then, you’ll want to identify its primary customers, what services are offered, and how the business is marketing itself. When that’s done, you can summarize the business’s general strengths and weaknesses at the bottom of the Competitive Analysis Worksheet.

 

You can use the tips below under What To Include In A Competitive Analysis for ideas or to learn where specifically you can pinpoint this information. Then, once you’ve flushed out all of these sections, you’ll be ready to put them up against each other for a high-level view in a SWOT analysis.

The Competitive Analysis Worksheet

SWOT

SWOT is an abbreviation for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In a SWOT analysis you create a table with four boxes with each of these headings and list out ways you compare to your competitors. While it’s pretty easy to set up a SWOT table on your own, we’ve gone ahead and created a template for you with prompts to guide you.

The SWOT Template

While listing out your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, be sure to get feedback from your employees and customers – or even future customers about the existing market.

 

With these resources to guide you, you’ll be able to easily draw solutions to the problems presented, and have an opportunity to address some of the areas you may need to work on.

What to Include in a Competitive Analysis

What you decide to include in your competitive analysis is ultimately up to you. Even though we’ve attached a template with a list of areas we feel are most important to cover, you’re free to add and take away as suits your needs.

 

In general though, you’ll want to come away from a competitive analysis with a sense of who your competitors are, including their value propositions, target markets, what services they offer and/or lack, their pricing, where and how they’re marketing, and the success or failure of their overall efforts.

Competitor Information

First, you need a basic overview and understanding of your competitors’ business. How long have they been around? What are their office hours? What locations do they serve? How many employees do they have? What’s their value position, or how they’re positioning themselves in the marketplace?

 

A business’s value proposition is essentially its pitch to customers, highlighting what the business believes sets it apart from the competition. Often, this quality provides the basis for their tagline. For example, Stella Electric’s value proposition is that it brings its customers outstanding service for a great price. They then go into detail about how they do that, such as providing emergency repairs and fair pricing. You can usually get a good sense of this from a business’s website, social media, flyers, or interviews with the owner.

 

All other relevant competitor information can usually be found on the company’s website, social media or other listings like Angi and Linkedin. For all other information, you might need to go digging by looking at job openings to learn more about their company structure, or ask around. You can even try hiring employees away from competitors or teaming up with their partners to learn more about how these companies operate.

Target Market

Ask yourself: Is there any specific group of people my competition seems to be trying to attract? You’ll want to ask yourself questions like:

 

  • What age group might they be addressing?
  • Do they talk about any specific milestones in their customers’ lives such as becoming parents or moving into a new home?
  • What languages are displayed on their website?
  • Does anything point to their customers being more affluent or price-conscious?
  • Which of their customers’ values are they highlighting? The ability to save time and simplify their lives? Being family-focused?
  • What might you gather about their ideal customer from their photos?

 

Stella Electric’s website targets busy, middle-class, and price-conscious parents. Children are featured heavily in the site photos. The site emphasizes inspections designed to keep people safe and electric remodeling to add a new room for an expanding family. It even talks about affordable, flat-rate pricing and financing so families can budget electrical services into their expenses.

 

If you want to do a deeper analysis, we have an in-depth tutorial about how to do customer research here.

Customer Sentiment

Sometimes it’s easy to get a sense of how customers feel about a company. You can simply check their reviews and comments on a business’s social media page or it’s widely known they’re notorious for poor business practices.

 

Other times, you may need to go digging and do more extensive, hands-on research. You can try conducting a survey among your competitors’ customers, suppliers, or even their employees. Or you can call and get a general sense of what a customer’s impression would be. Do they respond quickly? Do they seem prepared, professional?

Services

What services do your competitors offer? Are there any ways you and your competitors’ services differ? For example, even if your competitor provides the same service, it doesn’t mean they’re targeting the same audience.

 

Say you and your competitor both offer tile flooring services. Their focus might be on quick and affordable solutions, while yours might be durability and a wide range of customization options. Or there might be certain discounts and perks you can offer to give you an edge over your competition.

 

This research can also help you pinpoint services you’re capable of performing but might not have thought about showcasing. Maybe you discover another plumber in your area who offers to install water purifiers. Now, when you build your website, you can mention you offer this in your list of services or know to mention it to customers as an upsell option.

 

While it’s important to price your services competitively, you should never differentiate yourself on price alone. There’s almost always someone who will do the work cheaper. Instead, highlight the value of the service you offer and what makes you the best choice. Customers aren’t always “buying” something as much as considering their purchase an investment.

 

Pro-Tip: See if there is an opportunity to specialize your services. Businesses who specialize can often charge more due to stronger expertise and higher-quality service.

Competitor Awareness

What is your competition doing to market their business? A quick Google search can tell you a lot about what your competitors are doing online. Still, it can often be difficult to know what competitors are doing locally – especially if they serve a large area.

 

This is where your customers come in. Customers love sharing their opinion and feeling like a part of your success. Periodically ask customers if they considered anyone else before choosing you. Then ask about how they found out about your competitors. Or simply inquire if there’s anything they believe you could do better to get the word out about your business.

 

When researching your audience, you’ll generally want to look at four areas:

Website

Consult an SEO specialist when analyzing your competitors’ websites. With a professional, you’ll get better results and all the necessary tools to take a deep-dive into your competitors’ keywords so you can begin outranking them on Google.

 

An SEO specialist will help you discover which websites are linking to your competitors so you know where to advertise or can reach out to those websites to link your own. They’ll also be able to tell which keywords your competitors are ranking for, which can open up a world of possibilities about which services you should highlight.

Social Media

Next, you’ll want to look at your competitors’ social media presence and pinpoint which social media platforms your competitors are most active on. Using their page likes and followers you’ll be able to see how popular the account is. Generally, 300-400 followers is considered good for a local business, but the real indication of the page’s success depends on how popular their posts are and whether posts are getting likes, comments, and shares. This shows genuine engagement from followers. From here, you can also make a note of how often the business posts and the top five topics their content covers, like maintenance tips or discounts.

Business Directories

Are your competitors listed in any local directories? This includes everything from lead purchasing websites like Angi and HomeAdvisor to business listings like Yelp and Google My Business. How many reviews do they have? The reviews on your Google Business page are particularly important as this helps boost your business’s credibility in Google’s eyes. Business directories, meanwhile, often make it easy to see which certifications, awards, badges, and licensing other businesses may have.

Local Marketing

When pinpointing your competitors’ local activities, it’s a good idea to consult others. You’ll want to ask whether they’ve seen any of your competitors’ signage around town, like business cards, vehicle wraps, yard signs, stickers, uniforms, or even received flyers from competitors in the mail. You can also see if competitors have been published in any local newspapers or show up when you search for them on Google News. A Google search might also be able to reveal whether they were part of any local events or are active with a non-profit in the area.

Competitive Research Tools

Below, we’ve outlined a few of our favorite tools to help assist you in researching your competitors. For tools specifically to help you research customers and their demographics, check our list here.

Brand Monitoring

Google News/ Google Alerts

Google Alerts allows you to keep tabs on competitors’ brand name – as well as your own. Every time a new Google News story appears, you’ll get an alert inside your inbox.

BoardReader searches through popular online forums, message boards, and blogs to compile a list of where people are talking about your brand online

Social Media/Paid Advertising

In the interest of transparency, Facebook now allows its users to see what ads specific users are running on Facebook as well as when they were launched. Using this information, you can spy on competitors’ ad copy, landing pages, and even search through their ads for specific keywords.
Social Mention is a real-time social media monitoring app you can use to see mentions of you and your competitors’ brand across the web.
For $33/month, this tool helps you see which keywords your competitors are bidding on. You can also get a rough estimate of how many PPC clicks they get a month and see their top paid keywords for free.

SEO

With this website, you can see a list of all the websites that link to your competitors’ website – free! Use this tool to pinpoint which websites you should list your site on and who to reach out to for a listing.
If you can’t afford to hire an SEO specialist, this guide will walk you through how to do an SEO competitor analysis in detail with a handy template you can download to help you along the way. Note: In order to use this guide, you’ll need ahrefs.com’s SEO tool, which offers a week-long $7 trial.

If you don’t want to purchase Ahrefs, Moz offers a free tool that can help you discover your website competitors’ domain authority, linking domains, and top ranking keywords.

Industry

Here, you’ll find a great collection of industry profiles that describe how industries are growing and changing, who their customers are, typical start up costs, and much more. There’s also a list of market research resources, sorted by industry here.

Now that you’re armed with all the tools you need, you can finally dive into researching your competitors. Remember: At the end of the day, this comparison is aimed at pinpointing your business’ specific strengths and weaknesses so you can start making smart marketing decisions, so don’t get caught up in the details of learning the ins and outs of another company.

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