A 5 Step Method to Knowing What Your Competitors are Up To In Social And Digital

In the physical world of business everyone checks out what their competitors are doing, right? But what about getting a clear understanding about what they’re doing online? In my experience, many businesses either forget that part, or are so random about it, that there isn’t any strategic benefit from the exercise.

Dave Chaffey, the UK-based digital marketing expert and author of the excellent book “Emarketing Excellence: Planning and Optimizing your Digital Marketing” says, “The purpose (of analysing your competitors online) is to gain a level of insight that allows you to evolve your digital marketing strategy based on competitor insight. It’s not that you should be dictated by what you learn about competitors, since being very reactive to that can be worse than doing nothing. Yet common sense tells us that knowledge is power”.

Here is my 5 step method to knowing what your competitors are up to in Social and Digital

1. Start with a spreadsheet or whichever recording tool you prefer

Note the date of your analysis, the name of your company and the name of the person who is doing the analysis. The reason for this is that you are going to continue to do this over time, so you want a good record. Put column headings in your spreadsheet and include the following columns:

  • Competitor URL
  • Website observations/opportunities
  • Blog observations/opportunities
  • Positioning words
  • Email
  • Social (you can choose to have a column for each social channel: Facebook; Google+; You Tube; LinkedIn; Instagram; Twitter)

2. Choose four competitors to analyse

Two of those should be direct competitors, and two indirect competitors that are outside of your specific industry, but similar.

For example, for car dealerships it is appropriate to look at real estate sites and boat sale sites. In some industries, a few website supply companies or digital marketing companies serve most of the businesses and even when that is not case the digital marketing practice of particular industries can start to look very similar. This is the reason to look at sites outside your own industry.

3. Start with a manual process

Go to the competitor websites and look at the structure, design, content, positioning keywords and the way the website is generating leads. Do the same with the blog and ask the following:

  • Does the blog add value to the prospect/customer?
  • Is it customer focused or product focused?
  • What are the keywords?
  • What is the frequency of publishing?
  • What content opportunities are there for us?
  • What can we learn?
  • What are they doing that looks great that we are not?

Be critical and granular in your analysis. For email/newsletter analysis, simply sign up to any email program and, while you are signing up to things, “like” their Facebook page and follow their Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +. Subscribe to their You Tube. Analyse these for the content topics and types, the level of engagement, and frequency of publishing.

4. Use some online tools for a different perspective

There are a number of free online tools that are useful

  • Rob Hammond’s SEO crawler (http://robhammond.co/tools/seo-crawler)is great for analysing your competitors’ pages, keywords and titles
  • spyfu.com will show you which keywords a site ranks for, if they are moving up or down in search, how many keywords are unique and how many are shared across competitor sites and the value of search engine optimisation to the site (expressed as a dollar amount). This tool will also tell you if your competitor is using Google Adwords, or paid search links in Google and for which keywords and what the bid is for that keyword (how much they are paying for a click through on that link). Note that www.spyfu.com data won’t be perfect but will offer some insights in a comparison, only if the website you are performing the check on has enough data for the tool’s analysis.
  • For an overview of your own site and competitor sites there is a handy free tool called similarweb.com It provides site ranking, traffic overview and traffic sources (both of which track volume) for your site and competitor sites. Yes, you can see how much traffic your competitor gets and where it is coming from! You can see how they are performing against you in search, if they are doing display, how they are tracking with referral sites. Very cool and useful! For very small sites, however, there may not be enough data to get the full analysis.

Go to competitor websites and look at the structure, design, content, positioning keywords and the way the website is generating leads

  • A useful site to evaluate digital marketing technology investment is www.builtwith.com. This site allows you to input any web address or URL and it provides information on the technology the site is using. You will be able to understand from here what advertising systems the competitor is using, what technology they are using for email distribution, for analytics, and for their website. At the very least you will learn how much investment your competitor is putting into digital marketing and over time you will be able to evaluate continuing investment.
  • For a catch-all, regardless of the size of the site, use Hubspot’s marketing.grader.com. Here you will get an overview of social, mobile, SEO, blog activity and a handy score. It’s really useful for a strengths and weaknesses analysis.
  • For Facebook, Meltwater has made a tool called likealyzer.com This tool analyses any Facebook URL and provides information on engagement, time and frequency of publishing and response, use of hashtags and an overall score.

A note on the site-focused competitive intelligence tools – these tools are sometimes not very accurate but as Avinash Kaushik, author of the Occam’s Razor blog and the book Web Analytics 2.0, says, “You are comparing ‘bruised apples’ with ‘bruised apples'” . There are many competitive intelligence tools available, so choose the one you like to use and stick to using that one for your analysis. That way you are always comparing the same bruised apples.

5. Draw some conclusions and apply the “So what?” test

Ask yourself: What did we learn? What actions can we take?

It’s useful to benchmark the data you gather about direct competitors against your own data. You can then take the data analysis an extra step. Ask yourself – “why does this matter?” and then ask the same question of the answer you get. This process will result in one of two responses, either: “okay, this is just an interesting observation” or “we can act on that and this is what we are going to do”. In analytics, the second response is the only correct one (more on that in another blog post) but in competitor analysis, so long as we observe and learn from the process, I think the first response is okay also. For indirect competitors ask yourself, what are they doing that seems to be working that we are not doing? How could we implement and test that to make sure it works for us?

How regularly you schedule time to revisit the five step process depends what industry you are in and how competitive it is. For some of my clients every 6 months is fine, for others monthly review is important. The main thing, though, is to decide your suitable time frame and schedule it. If you don’t it is unlikely to happen until the time comes for some massive review because you find you have a P76 (car metaphor there – tell me in the comments below who gets it?).

These are my methods to understanding what competitors are up to with their digital marketing. What methods do you use? We’d love to hear in the comments!


Beth-Powell-Leaders-in-HeelsBeth Powell
Beth Powell is the founder of Digital Marketing Club, a coaching and support program that provides direct answers to your questions about your own digital marketing. She created the first social media and digital marketing training programs in Australia and has become known as the go-to person for clear explanations about how digital marketing can grow your business. Beth is a sought after conference speaker and author of the soon to be published book “Drive More Business: A 5 step Guide to Digital Marketing for Auto Dealers”. For more information, contact her at info@digitalmarketingclub.com.au