21 Mar The Marketer’s Guide to a Digital Competitor Audit (8 Steps)
Given a choice of superpowers, wouldn’t you choose invisibility?
Imagine a closed, high-stakes meeting at the offices of your fiercest professional competitor. Your invisibility allows you to be a fly on the wall. Suddenly, you have access to their entire marketing strategy – what tools they’re using, how each one is working out, and what they’re planning to do next.
If you’ve ever had the urge to spy on your competitors, here’s the good news. These days, invisibility cloaks aren’t required. The internet is your superpower when it comes to competitive analysis.
There are so many confusing, generic posts online about competitive analysis:
- The One Big Secret To Outsmarting Your Competitors!
- How To Conduct A Competitive Analysis
- 10 Tools You Need To Conduct A Competitor Audit
Most of these posts are written on behalf of companies that specialize in one analytics tool or platform. More often than not, these posts will be a soft sell for that tool.
So instead, let’s walk through the specific steps you need to take in order to conduct a competitive analysis. Online tools are certainly a part of it, but you need a larger strategy too.
There’s a lot to think about, from key opportunity areas to organic search to email to budgeting and prioritization. My goal is not to overwhelm you, but to show you an easy step-by-step process for getting a read on your competition.
With the steps mentioned below, you might see in days what it took your competitors months or even years to realize. You can learn about where and why your competitors outrank you, how they’re using social media, and what their content marketing looks like.
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Step 1: Plot Your End Goals
There are many benefits to understanding your competition.
You might be looking to:
- Save time testing keywords, distribution channels, or content strategies
- Save money by avoiding tactics that won’t deliver insight
- Save frustration when you’re shooting in the dark
- Take a shortcut to valuable insight from a competitor’s winning marketing campaigns or SEO results
What are you looking to save – time, money, energy? What are the burning questions that need to be answered before you can move forward?
You might discover an entirely new marketing channel or two from looking at your competitors. You might get one key insight into what customers in your industry really want. You also might figure out a way to make your unique selling proposition (USP) really sharp.
Figure out the scope of your competitor analysis in advance, so you can filter out unwanted data and clutter. Write the goals down, and make them SMART.
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Step 2: Identify Competitors
You can’t analyze your competitors until you know who they are. Identify them on both a general and a granular level.
Get Googlin’. If you’re an influencer marketing agency based in Los Angeles, Google “influencer marketing agency Los Angeles” and “boutique marketing agency Los Angeles.” Who comes up first? They’re your competitors, and they’re doing a great job ranking on Google. Take notes. You may also want to Google core industry terms and keywords to understand how brands are positioning themselves. The “influencer marketing” agencies will rank differently than “digital marketing” agencies, which will rank differently from “SEO specialists.” But they all fall under the umbrella category of marketing agencies. Find your core keywords so that you can understand your industry’s sub-sectors and the major players within them.
Get more technical about exploring your industry. That means finding direct competitors and looking into how you compare, when given an overview of their position. Which marketing channels are they driving traffic from? What are their top sources of referring traffic? Who are your competitors’ competitors?
Get started with: SimilarWeb and its partner site, SimilarSites. SimilarWeb can be used as a Chrome plugin that will give you a website’s traffic and engagement statistics. You can see the sources that are bringing users to that site. You can also see direct competitors by choosing your industry, and find the list of websites that are getting the most traffic.
SimilarSites works in the same way and is more straightforward. You simply enter your own website, and it will dredge up similar websites by traffic source, visits, searches, and topics (make sure you scroll all the way for a complete breakdown):
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Step 3: Join Your Competitor’s Audience
Opt-in to all of your competitors’ emails, social channels, and websites. Look through their case studies and get familiar with their brand voice. Even feel free to engage with their Facebook ads and make a purchase.
Special stats to look out for:
- Social networks they’re on
- How often they post
- How big their following is (and how fast it grows)
- What their engagement is like
- What their email nurturing strategy looks like
- What types of content they post and send out through email
- What their path to purchase is (in other words, how do they nurture you by audience persona over time and what they promote when to get you deeper into their funnel).
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Step 4: Understand Your Competitor’s Reputation
Page authority and domain authority can help you sort out how credible a competitor website is. Sites with lots of high-quality links will have higher domain authority. You can use them for all sorts of purposes, like understanding whether a partnership would be a waste of time. If a competitor’s domain authority is particularly high, you can take further steps to explore why and how (that’s to come).
Get started with: The MozBar. The Mozbar is a Chrome plugin that will tell you a page’s authority rank when you visit it. You’ll get an overlay on the page that will tell you all sorts of instant metrics about that page, and it’s free.
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Step 5: Dissect the Makeup of Your Competitor’s Website
If your competitor is using tools you may not know about, now is your chance to find out what they are. Specifically, you can get information about their:
- Nameserver providers
- Email services
- SEO plugins
- Hosting providers
- Content management systems
- Advertising systems
- SSL Certificates
- Analytics and tracking
…The list goes on! If it seems like a lot of information, that’s because it is. You can stay up to speed with the latest tools and industry developments by knowing what your competitors are doing.
Get started with: Builtwith. The first time I found Builtwith, I was amazed. You can find out what the website you’re visiting is doing, in great detail. Builtwith detects a site’s profile, and then lists the components and capabilities of that site. From widgets to publishing to advertising and hosting software, it’s all in there.
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Step 6: Find Those Keywords!
Knowing about a competitor’s keywords can be one of the most telling parts of a competitive analysis. A competitor’s keywords open up a lot of information about their overall marketing strategy and success.
Knowing which organic and paid keywords your competition is trying to rank for gives you insight into:
- Their keyword strategy: which keywords they’re banking on and which ones they’re not
- By process of elimination, the keywords they’re not ranking for
- Their content strategy
- Lessons for how you optimize your content
Keyword research can help you turn all of these numbers and data into actionable insights and strategies. Many tools allow you to do keyword research in real time, so you can get accurate information.
Get started with: SEMRush. SEMRush is a vital tool for all serious digital marketers. You’ve probably come across it at some point in your work. It’s a suite that shows live updates of how a competitor is doing, based on organic and paid keywords, internal and external search traffic, position tracking and keyword grouping.
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Step 7: Check Out Backlinks
Backlinks are links that come from another website and direct a reader or customer over to your website.
Understanding your competitor backlink data can be key to knowing why they have a high domain authority, and how they got there. Backlinks are crucial in SEO and are one of the main building blocks of a healthy SEO strategy. There’s nothing better than a good, high-quality backlink to boost your credibility.
Get started with: Ahrefs. Ahrefs is an amazing tool. Their backlink checker crawls billions of web pages every hour, updating their index. All you have to do is enter a URL into their site explorer tool, and you’ll get an overview of all of that website’s backlinks, plus some other useful SEO metrics. You can experiment with the tools, reports, and filters to gain a deep understanding of your competitor website.
How do you use this information? When you’re seeing backlinks, you can see the places your competitors have published content, and what that content looks like. You probably have a similar product or write similar content. Now, you know where to pitch; the same websites, blogs and media platforms where your competitors have successfully been linked. You can greatly expand your reach using this info as inspiration.
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Step 8: Run a Complete SEO Audit
Once you’ve gotten your head around some of the more granular details of your industry and its players, it’s time for an SEO deep-dive. There are many different tools you can use for this, and they have varying degrees of usability.
Go this route if you’re looking into things like:
- Title tags, meta descriptions, URLs, headings, etc.
- Duplicate content and URLs that need rewriting
- Image file sizes and alt text on a particular page
- Conducting redirect audits
- Robots.txt file functionality
- Google Analytics code
- Anchor text used for internal linking
- Broken links and link-cleaning
Get started with: Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog is a go-to tool for many SEO professionals. It’s not exactly easy-on-the-eyes, and you have to download it because it is software. But once you’ve got it, you can scan competitor backlinks and view all on-page SEO tactics.
This spider desktop program can crawl everything on a website – links, CSS, images, script, and apps. It will give you a full-on evaluation of that page’s SEO. You’ll have to know a thing or two about SEO – otherwise, it’s gibberish. But it’s worth taking the time to understand all of the valuable information this tool can give you.
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So there you have it. A competitor audit can be as easy as eight steps. It’s contained, it’s straightforward, and it’s one way to use a few tools while not being overwhelmed by software, new websites, and data fatigue.
You don’t need to be a digital marketing genius or a data whiz to gain insight (besides, there are some all-star digital marketers that will take care of that for you)! 😛
Still looking for more? Here are four extra credit bonus tools for you:
- Pingdom – for checking speed-test on your site, which can affect abandonment and therefore conversion rates
- Straight North – for generating a quick and free SEO audit
- BuzzSumo – for finding the most shareable content about a given subject on social media
- Moz – an SEO powerhouse to find critical SEO issues
Your competitor analysis is just eight steps long:
- Plot your end goals (and make them SMART)
- Identify your competitors
- Join their audience for the inside scoop
- Check out their domain and page authority
- Dissect their website
- Find their keywords (and think about how they inform strategy – both yours and theirs)
- Check out their backlinks
- Dive into a full SEO audit
There’s no shortcut to building a successful organic traffic pipeline. You’re going to have to put in the work. But you can take queues from your competitors on how they’re building brand visibility and using the right tools to do it. You could see competitors as enemies, but it’s smarter to see them as opportunities.
If you want to make sure you’re gaining insights as quickly as possible, a smart digital marketer can help you. The right agency can bring expertise beyond what a generalist consultant can provide. The discrepancy between a specialized agency and a general marketer lies in uncovering opportunities you would never have thought of. Want to discuss your growth goals and gain actionable insights from your competitors?
Let us know what tools you’ve used when researching industry competitors. How did they work out?
Zaki Hussain is CEO of Clutchgrowth. Zaki provides digital marketing consulting to Fortune 500, SaaS, and E-commerce companies interested in improving marketing speed, sales alignment, and driving leads and sales.