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Your business is shaped, in part, by the competitive landscape in which it operates.
Here’s a fun way to think about it: Your business is a band, and your competitive landscape is its historical context. Joy Division—one of the most celebrated post-punk bands to come out of the UK—was shaped, in part, by trailblazers like The Stooges. In turn, when you listen to the early work of The Cure, Joy Division’s influence is clear.
A simple snapshot of a hypothetical competitive landscape.
If you want to understand a legendary musical act, you have to take a long, hard look at the other artists around them. And if you want to understand your business—your strengths, your weaknesses, your opportunities for differentiation and growth—you have to pay close attention to your competitors. Failure to engage in what’s known as competitive analysis may result in poor decision-making, missed opportunities for revenue, and reduced market share.
This is an introductory guide to conducting competitive analysis across search and social. Once we’ve defined competitive analysis, we’ll discuss the basics of evaluating your competitors through the lenses of PPC, SEO, and social media marketing.
A marketing competitive analysis is the ongoing process of scrutinizing your competitors in relation to your own business. It’s the act of examining each company in your market and determining how you stack up in terms of product, marketing, sales, copy, and more.
The goal is to draw conclusions that simplify the decision-making process. If your analysis of Competitor A leads you to the conclusion that you have a clear advantage in organic search, you may decide — for the time being — to focus on making improvements to your paid media strategy. Had you not taken the time to draw this conclusion, you may have invested limited marketing resources in suboptimal fashion.
The SWOT format is one way to organize insights gleaned from a competitive analysis.
Competitive analysis can (and should) be applied to every facet of your business, but for now, we’re going to focus exclusively on digital marketing. Hopefully, if you’re able to take the ideas shared below and formalize them with processes and templates, folks from other parts of your organization will have a head start.
PPC and SEO each have their own benefits and drawbacks; generally speaking, it behooves you to strike a balance between the two. Plus, I’m willing to bet that each of your competitors is, to some extent, investing in one of these channels—if not both.
Our PPC competitive analysis consists of three key focus areas: keywords, positioning, and offers.
Your closest competitor is your closest competitor because they sell a product or service that’s similar to yours. It follows, then, that they’re probably bidding on many of the same keywords that you’re bidding on. (And if you’re in a particularly competitive market, they may even be bidding on your brand name.)
Always good to be on the lookout for stuff like this.
To get your competitive analysis started, there are a few questions to consider:
Beating your closest competitor in the paid search results for all the best keywords is pointless if you’re unable to position your product or service effectively. Plus, if your lackluster messaging translates into poor click-through rates, it won’t be long before your top impression share begins to decline.
Top impression share = Top impressions / Opportunities for top impressions
Here are some questions to consider during the positioning portion of your competitive analysis:
Positioning, though important, isn’t the only factor your prospects consider when evaluating the paid search results. If you want to turn those impressions into clicks—and direct clicks away from your competitor—you need to create valuable and differentiated offers.
Consider the following:
Our SEO competitive analysis also consists of three key focus areas: keywords, backlinks, and SERP features.
Although, mechanically speaking, PPC and SEO are different, keywords essentially play the same role across these two disciplines: we target them in hopes of driving traffic to our sites.
As such, our three basic questions for getting your competitive wheels spinning are the same:
There’s more to SEO than keyword targeting. If you want to be the leader in your market in the organic search results, you need a strong profile of links pointing to your site from high-quality sources (i.e., trusted websites in related or adjacent markets).
An overview of Wikipedia’s backlink profile, according to SEMrush.
That’s why backlinks are the second focus area in our SEO competitive analysis. Keeping in mind that you’ll need a third-party SEO tool to answer the following questions, ask yourself:
As satisfying as it is to outrank your competitor on high-value keywords, winning special features on the SERP—most notably the featured snippet, among others—is another way to gain a competitive advantage in your market (and an increasingly prevalent one, I might add).
To wrap up the SEO section of our competitive analysis, consider the following:
Congratulations! Thanks to the power of competitive analysis, you are now better positioned to go head-to-head with your rival in the search results—both paid and organic.
Search engine marketing is powerful because it enables you to provide value to your prospects when they’re using the internet with intent (whether it’s educational intent, commercial intent, or something in between). But, what about those times when your prospects are using the internet without any kind of intent?
Facebook & Twitter are among the most trafficked sites in the US, per Ahrefs.
That’s where social media marketing comes into play. The value of social media marketing is a subject worthy of its own blog post—perhaps its own blog—but for now we’ll focus on one central concern:
Because you have limited time to optimize your social media marketing strategy, you need to understand what your competitor is and is not doing — as well as what these insights reveal in terms of opportunities for differentiation and growth.
Your guide to conducting a basic social media marketing competitive analysis is broken, unsurprisingly, into three key focus areas: channels, paid content, and organic content.
Throughout the PPC and SEO sections of our competitive analysis guide, it was safe to assume we were talking about Google and Bing; the vast majority of internet search activity is, after all, handled by these two companies.
Social media is a different story. Yes, Instagram’s parent company Facebook is a tech giant on par with the likes of Google and Microsoft (which owns Bing). Nevertheless, the range of social media channels available to digital marketers is far greater than the range of (worthwhile) search engines available to digital marketers.
So, even if you’re a B2B marketer who could not care less about Snapchat or TikTok, let’s begin our competitive analysis with a few considerations related to channels:
There’s more than one way to get value out of a social media channel—quite a few, actually. But, in the most general sense, marketers have two (non-mutually exclusive) options: paid content and organic content.
Paid content on LinkedIn.
Regarding the former, here are three questions to mull over:
As effective as social ads can be, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re overlooking organic content entirely. You can only throw around a certain amount of money per month, and non-paid content typically gives businesses greater flexibility to engage their audiences in unique and creative ways.
Organic content on Twitter.
With that in mind, let’s wrap up our competitive analysis with three final questions to consider:
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ll say it one more time: Competitive analysis, whether you’re focused on PPC, SEO, social media marketing, or some combination thereof, is an ongoing process. Can one-off insights here and there be helpful? Of course. But when you make it a habit to regularly conduct competitive analysis over time, you begin to pick up on patterns, trends, strategic shifts—the kinds of insights that can truly make an impact.
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