Developing a robust digital marketing strategy begins with analyzing your marketplace and the activity of your competitors.
Before you enter the market, or perhaps at a time of growth or rebuild, look at competitor activity to see what’s working in the marketplace and where there’s room for you to improve on what others are already doing.
Of course, look at what your competitors are doing but don't assume they're doing everything right. The success of their activity can be often quite hard to measure, so always come into a research task like this thinking about ways you can improve your own activity. If a competitor is spending time on a failing marketing strategy, you don't want to fall into that same trap.
There are plenty of free online tools to help you track the competition and this, alongside some internet detective work, can tell you a surprising amount while helping inform your own activities. Here’s what you should be looking at.
If you already know who you’re competing against, look at their social media for clues as to where they stand and how they market to their audience. Ask yourself these questions:
What are their goals?
Who are they working with?
What links are they posting and why?
Are they working with influencers
Are they guest posting on blogs?
Are they posting graphics?
Are people engaging with their content? How do they engage with their followers?
What tone do they use?
Is their branding consistent?
Beyond their output, you’ll also want to seek out their stats, which will tell you if their social activity is working. Look at the following:
Follower growth - Don’t just look at the numbers but at the percentage growth of their followers over a period.
Engagement - Are people liking, sharing and commenting. If yes, why? If not, why not?
Follower demographics - What kind of people follow your competitors? Are these the kind of people you’re targeting, too?
Online press mentions
Google your competitors and look at where they’re being mentioned online. Consistent coverage would suggest a content, PR, or SEO strategy. Once you start to dig deeper, you may be able to see the details of this begin to unfold. Your competitors might be using guest posting, thought leadership, or traditional PR to secure this coverage.
It’s also worth looking at why they’re getting this coverage and their reasons for wanting it. Look at the kind of stories written about them and think about whether it was placed for sales, awareness, or search engine optimization.
For ongoing monitoring, set up a Google alert for competitor brands and any relevant keywords within your marketplace. It’s good practice to set up a Google alert for your own brand, too.
If press mentions include links, you can be sure that there is some SEO effort behind your competitors' strategies. To dive deeper into this, you can use free tools such as Moz.com and SEMrush to get an idea of where the majority of these links are coming from as well as other information such as top-ranked keywords.
Link building comes from building relationships so think about how they’re building theirs and with whom they are building relationships. Is it with advertising departments for paid links? With influencers for competitions? By engaging journalists with an exciting story? Or by linking up with like-minded partners?
Online reach, discoverable via those backlinks, will directly affect SEO stats, which is how Google feels they perform online and thus their ‘correct’ place in search results.
Know where your strongest performing competitors’ links go to and come from, and you can then target the same (or their own equivalent competitor). Again, SEMrush and Moz.com are good for this.
It’s also worth doing a search for the keywords you know your competitors use, as well as those that your business targets, too. Take note of where your competitors rank and with what kind of content.
Analyze their blog
Corporate blogs have come a long way since their introduction (and misuse) solely as an SEO tool. Customers now demand to be intelligently engaged and are turned off by awkward, self-serving copy that’s stuffed full of keywords. Get it right and they’ll keep returning for your take on the current trends in your field and will follow your lead when seeking fresh ideas.
Looking at your competitors’ blogs first can give you an idea of their content marketing activity. Ask yourself these questions:
Do the posts rank for their target keywords?
Is the brand voice consistent across the blog and social media?
What are the goals of each post?
Are the posts getting commented on and shared by customers?
Is there a consistency that hints to a robust strategy?
What if they have no online presence?
If you start your sleuthing and realize your main competitors don't have much of an online presence, you can still learn a lot from this. Firstly, think about why they don't. Is it because they don't need it? Is it because they don't have the skills? Are they purposefully trying to keep their work private? A lack of online presence can be frustrating but it presents you with a fantastic opportunity to reach potential customers in a way that your competitors cannot.
Take your time with your detective work. In most cases, your competitors’ online presence is a window into their office. Welcome to their budgets, strategies, and goals. To win online has never been easier.