in Data & Insights

The Beginner’s Guide to Competitor Research

By Sean Kilcullen

How much time do you spend researching your competitors? Does your business have a research strategy in place? Do you know your strengths and weaknesses compared to your business rivals’?

Unfortunately, for many businesses both big and small, competitor research is rarely given the attention it deserves, and that’s often detrimental to your company’s long-term growth.

While there’s never been a better time to start and grow your business, there’s also never been more competition.

With so many products, services, and pieces of content vying for our attention, it’s more important than ever to give you and your business the best chance to succeed — and that starts with knowing everything you can about your competition.

Maybe your media company has been growing year after year and, all of a sudden, your growth stalls.

Maybe you’ve recently discovered your most loyal customers are suddenly jumping ship.

Or maybe you’ve just launched your ecommerce store and are looking for ways to get traction and increase exposure.

Regardless of the stage your business is currently in or the challenges you face, competitor research can help you grow your brand, improve customer retention, and deliver the best product and service possible.

In this post, you’ll learn the importance of competitor research, how to get started, the common mistakes to avoid, and how to use Quantcast to help you stay up to date.

The benefits of competitive research

By now, it goes without saying — to stay relevant in your industry, you must constantly innovate. And innovation costs both time and resources. It also requires staying on top of the most effective industry trends, strategies, and tactics; ensuring your products improve; and meeting customer requests for new features. It can be overwhelming at best.

But when competitor research is done properly, it’s a great resource that helps you understand and implement what’s working so you can focus on what you do best.

With a well-executed competitor research plan, you can:

  • Highlight your competition’s weak points so you can successfully position yourself as a better alternative
  • Stay up to date with the latest macro trends in your industry so you can plan an effective long-term business strategy
  • Learn the best practices for SEO, marketing, and social media
  • Use your research to formulate, execute, and test new ideas, products, and services
  • Determine common pain points of the customers and readers in your industry
  • Help better define your target markets and opportunities for growth

Step 1 – The SWOT analysis

The first step in competitive research is the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. Running a SWOT analysis gives you a foundation to base your competitor research on, helps you stay focused on the most essential parts of your business, and gives you a holistic view of where your company currently stands.

You can run a SWOT analysis internally or externally. It’s incredibly useful for researching your competitors, and though you should perform SWOT analyses both internally and externally for maximum results, this blog focuses on the benefits of using it to analyze your specific business.

To get a running start on your competitor analysis, set aside a few hours to answer the SWOT analysis questions below. Be as accurate and honest as possible so you can use this information to develop a realistic approach to your future strategy. You may also want to include other decision makers as well to get the most accurate possible view of your company.

SWOT analysis

Internal – Things you can control

Strengths:

  • What does your company do better than your competitors? For example, do you have better customer service, higher-quality products, services that get better results?
  • What unique assets does your company have? Include things like your IP, technology, company culture, team, and overall reputation.
  • What are some positive attributes your customers and clients would use to describe your company? Would they use words like trustworthy and reliable? Are they happy with your service?

Weaknesses:

  • Where is your company lacking? Is it in financial capital, culture, teams, or efficiency?
  • What do your competitors perform better at? Do they have more locations, faster turnaround times, or a big marketing budget?
  • Which assets does your company lack that your competitors have? Do they have bigger networks, perhaps, or more reputable investors?
  • Where do your customers and clients say you could improve? Are you constantly out of stock or slow to respond to mistakes within your business?

External – Things that are out of your control

Opportunities:

  • How is your business uniquely positioned to succeed? Do you have a strong technology infrastructure or a strong team to scale and grow?
  • What trends can you take advantage of today and in the future?
  • Where can you capitalize on errors your competition has made?
  • Do you have opportunities to improve your systems and processes based on future projections?

Threats:

  • Are the demographics of your customers and clients rapidly changing?
  • Are there any current events affecting your ability to do business?
  • Is the global market affecting your ability to sell and deliver value?
  • Are there new laws or legislation impacting your business model?

Running your SWOT analysis helps put you and your company on the right track as you start researching your competition and shows you where your company stands. This will deepen the insights you gain as you continue to research.

Of course, you can start your competitive research without doing a SWOT analysis, but we don’t recommend it. Its benefits increase as you research — and you can replicate it for some of your biggest competition, compare it to your SWOT analysis, then strategize.

Step 2 – List your competitors

Make a list of all your competitors. Include every competitor you can think of, and then do some online research, include others in your brainstorming, and see if you can discover any up-and-coming competitors or companies you haven’t heard of.

Here are a few tips for creating your competitor list:

  • Take your time and be thorough. The more time you invest in this process up front, the better your results and learnings will be.
  • Don’t stop after the first three or four competitors spring to mind. Remember to include up-and-coming or lesser-known companies.
  • When searching online for additional competitors, use the keywords, products, and services related to your industry and niche.
  • Once your list includes five to 10 companies, you’re ready for more in-depth research.

Step 3 – Deepen your research

One of the biggest roadblocks holding businesses back from doing competitive research is a lack of direction. What metrics should you look for? Where should you spend your time and effort?

Here’s where you should focus as you research your competition.

SEO

Take a hard look at your competitors’ SEO efforts to understand where they stand in the marketplace and to give your company a baseline for improvement.

Look for the answers to these questions as you research:

  • When you search on industry-specific terms, do your competitors rank on the front page of the search results?
  • What can you learn from your competitors who have a strong SEO presence?
  • Is their content marketing helping them increase their market share?
  • Is their content typically in long form or shorter blog posts?
  • How do they format their content?
  • Do they publish a lot of guest posts?

These SEO tools can also help:

Content

Content marketing is one of the most effective ways to drive sales, increase engagement, and develop brand awareness. Understanding your competitors’ content marketing strategy will give you insight on where you can improve or tweak your company’s current strategy. (If you don’t have a content marketing strategy, you definitely should.)

Look for answers to these questions as you peruse your competitors’ content:

  • What are your competitor’s most popular posts about?
  • What do the least popular posts cover?
  • What is the company’s content distribution strategy?
  • Are readers engaged with the content? For example, are there reader comments posted at the ends of articles or posts? If so, which topics elicited the most commentary?

Here are some tools to get you started:

Website traffic

When you understand your competitors’ web traffic, you’ll have a better overall view of their businesses health. While high web traffic doesn’t automatically mean a thriving business, it’s a good indicator of positive momentum.

Look for answers to these questions in your research:

  • If a competitor’s traffic numbers made a big jump, what educated guesses can you make about what might have caused the increase?
  • Have their traffic numbers increased recently?
  • Do they have a high number of email subscribers?
  • Is their website professionally designed?
  • Do the pages on their website load quickly?
  • Do they consistently push content on their website and blog?
  • Do they have a lot of high-quality back links?

These tools can also help:

Demographic data

Knowing your competitors’ demographics can show you how to boost your marketing efforts and grow your business. They can also help you better understand your competitors’ overall marketing plan, especially their content marketing strategy.

Your research should answer the overall question, “Who consumes your competitors’ content, products, and services?” More specifically, you should discover:

  • Is the audience primarily male or female? Of what age?
  • What are their customers’ occupations and education levels?
  • What are their interests and shopping habits?
  • What are their political views?
  • Where do they live?
  • Is there an opportunity for you to take some of their market share by changing your marketing strategy?

Asking these questions will give you valuable insight into their overall brand strategy.

These tools can also help:

Step 4: Keep researching

Competitor research isn’t a one-time venture. To keep innovating and growing, you have to keep up the research. Here’s how.

Read your competitors’ content

It should be a company-wide habit to consume your competitor’s content on a regular basis. Not only will this keep you up to date with the latest in what’s working and what’s not, but it also gives you the opportunity to respond with high-quality content of your own based on the latest popular marketing trends.

Check out their social media channels

One of the best ways to keep track of your competitor’s social media content is to use a social media tool, such as Hootsuite. You’ll see your competitors’ latest posts so you can always have an eye on what they’re sharing.

Sign up for competitors’ mailing lists

If you are looking for free insight on what your competition is doing, sign up for their product mailing list or newsletter. This alone could provide numerous ways to improve your product or service.

Common competitor research mistakes

Make sure you don’t fall into these common pitfalls.

Copying your competitors

Stealing your competitor’s intellectual property and beyond is a surefire way to hurt your brand and potentially get you into legal trouble.

While it might be tempting to just tweak some of your competitor’s most popular content or service and call it your own, it will quickly crack the foundation of trust your business has worked so hard to build.

Instead, keep your brand unique. Let your competitors’ work inspire you to branch out, reach farther, and create something new.

Lack of commitment

Competitor research is a long-term strategy. You can’t just Google a few business rivals and call it a day, then expect lasting value.

If possible, get buy-in on your competitor research project from your entire company or at least the key decision makers. Having the resources you need to effectively research your competitors will help you make the most out of your efforts.

Think of competitor research as a never-ending process, and stay up to date with what your competitors are doing on a regular basis.

Tracking the wrong metrics

If you track the wrong metrics, you’ll lose time, and you could also put your company on the wrong path, costing significant capital in the long run.

Tracking the wrong metrics and drawing the wrong conclusions about the data you discover go hand in hand, so stay focused on what’s truly important. To avoid researching irrelevant data and metrics, reference your findings from the SWOT analysis and refer to your KPIs regularly.

Don’t get bogged down with details that aren’t relevant to your business goals. If one of your competitors is targeting a demographic you have no intention of marketing to, don’t spend time understanding that data set.

How to use Quantcast for competitive research

If all of this sounds overwhelming, consider letting Quantcast handle the legwork. While there are many tools you can choose for competitor research, Quantcast gives you all you need to understand your business rivals in simple formats. The work is done — all you have to do is put it to use.

With Quantcast’s search feature, you can quickly get a glimpse at the important metrics for most of your biggest competitors and then adjust your overall business strategy accordingly.

search bar

[Quantcast search feature]

We provide analytics and metrics in easy-to-understand visual charts that show you exactly where you stand compared to your competition.

For example, after researching your competitor on Quantcast Measure, you might discover interesting things about the devices its audience uses to view content.

Using that knowledge, you can improve your mobile and desktop sites.

traffic chart

[Simple graphs from Quantcast Measure showing website metrics]

Weathering the competitive business landscape is a constant difficulty without the proper knowledge and tools. Let competitor research help you stay relevant in the eyes of your customers, readers, and partners. Now more than ever, it’s important to stay on the top of the latest industry trends.

Learn more about how Quantcast Measure can lighten your workload.

 

 

Legal Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice nor a substitute for legal counsel. Please consult your legal advisor before doing competitor research and anytime you have questions with respect to intellectual property rights.