We often get asked to find out what your competitors are doing. Competitor analysis has always been essential when doing business planning, sales and marketing.

When researching your competitors, you need to start by knowing what you are looking for. What you are going to do with the information, and how it will help you.

It’s not stealing stuff from them. You don’t need to do anything suspicious to find their strengths and weaknesses. Or to isolate your competitive advantage. Only separating what makes your brand unique will reduce customer churn and growth.

Yes, of course, we will find out more information than you. And use our analysis to provide you with an excellent picture. Why? Because it’s what we do most days. But with time and patience, you can do some yourself. So, if you want to find out what your competitors are doing, this article will help you think more strategically.

What is Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the finding, sorting and critical analysis of information. To make sense of what’s happening and why. Predict what’s going to happen and give the options to help you control the outcome. Competitive intelligence offers certainty, competitive advantage, insight, growth & security.
But before you fire up your Google machine, it’s important to understand:

What to look for
What questions do you need to answer
How will you know you have found the answers?
Why you need to know the answer
When should you look (a constant watch or yearly check?)
Where to find the answers
Here we focus on the where. There are countless places to find the information you need to answer the questions. If you can’t define a set of questions, you aren’t very likely to find any answers. You may get lots of information but few answers. Here are eight ways of finding out what my competitors are doing:

1. Look at their website.
Above the hood
Take a look at your competitor’s website to see what they are saying. To see:

How they describe their products or services
How they present their pricing
What their customers say about them
What statements they are coming out with about their offering
The features and benefits they focus on
Their tone of voice
How they present their brand? Is it cool, professional or dated?
Also, most importantly, what are they not saying.
Below the hood
Now, this part of finding out what competitors are doing is often hijacked by SEO consultants. Proclaiming they are THE Competitive Intelligence solution you need. Google Competitive Intelligence or Competitor Analysis and see paid advertising for SEO tools. SEMrush, Spyflu etc. Excellent platforms like Klue, Intelligence2day, Kompyte and Crayon.

2. SEO is NOT Competitive Intelligence
Now, don’t get us wrong, SEO tools are a really important tool for Competitive Intelligence. They can reveal some good stuff. But that’s what they are. A good tool. One of many. SEO software is NOT Competitive Intelligence.

That said, under the hood website competitor analysis can be very revealing. This sort of activity can reveal several pieces of insight. Such as isolating hidden pages and documents by smart use of a Google search. Like, using search strings like:

file type: .doc company name

file type: .doc octopusintelligence.com

file type: .xls site; company name

file type: .xls site; octopusintelligence.com

file type: .pdf site; company name

file type: .pdf site; octopusintelligence.com

You may not find anything, but you may find something of interest. Something which could join a dot or two. You are likely to be surprised by what you may find.

Now use these SEO tools to look at the state of a competitors website. You may find a webpage with a brand new product ready to be launched. Some press “save draft” while others press “publish”. Find out which keyword strings are doing well for them and how they manage SEO. It will reveal gaps in their marketing.

You can use tools like:
Google Analytics: Great for your website and theirs
Ubersuggest: An all-round great tool. Check their website quality, speed, keywords and backlinks.
Google Trends: Stay ahead top of the trends in your industry. And what your competitors are up to.
Google Alerts: Set alerts for your own company to find out who is talking about you. Add alerts on your competitors too. We do this, but we get many articles on how intelligent Octopuses are. So you may need to tweak the alerts.
SpyFu: Offers keyword insight into and what your competitors are buying
Semrush: An all-in-one tool suite for improving online visibility and discovering marketing insights.
Ahrefs: A toolset for backlinks and SEO analysis.
SERP Checker: A tool to check your SERPs.
SiteWorthTraffic: Site traffic tool
Website Authority Checker: To check their Domain Authority. Ranked between 0 and 100.
Out of interest we use Ubersuggest and Ahrefs most. We are not affiliated with any of them.

3. Competitor content marketing strategy
Content marketing is becoming a significant differentiator between you and your competitors. Hard to measure, but what is for sure, the more content you offer, the more traffic you will get. Once you have content, it’s essential to increase its quality. Content marketing takes time, but, it’s likely, your competitor isn’t doing it right. Or they publish an article every month or so.

Analysing your competitor’s market content helps determine where they are outperforming you. Look at how often they publish content and offer free tools.

What does their website copy tell you?
What are they blogging about?
What can you download from their website?
Do they offer ebooks?
What’s missing in your market that you can advantage of?
Subscribe to their newsletter to work out their scheduling. And look at what they are saying and how they say it. Understand what audience do they think they are talking to with their content. Once you have a picture of each of your competitors, you’ll know the baseline. Time to create even better content and become more relevant than your competitors. Once you receive their email, look how often it’s sent. And assess the quality, branding, optimisation and spam score. If they are making mistakes, then you will know how to avoid them. Also:

Who’s looking at their content?
Determine who’s connected with them.
Who’s commenting on their articles and following them.
What’s their most popular content? Why is that?
Is their subscriber list available online? It’s unlikely, but you may be lucky.
4. Recruitment
Recruit people from competitor organisations. And depending on their signed confidentiality clauses, they could reveal some golden nuggets. Get their opinion on their future direction.

Keep an eye on whom your competitors are recruiting. What they are recruiting for, and where will they be located. See what they are saying in their advertising and job descriptions. Do they reveal anything new? New skill requirements or the use of a new type of tech?

5. Conduct surveys
Approach your competitor’s customers, suppliers, partners, and employees. Offer them an opportunity to answer your survey. With a view to improving the industry or their thoughts on a new product.

6. Conferences and tradeshows
Create a better picture by going to conferences and trade shows. You can speak to them on neutral ground. And understand how they are presenting their offering. Visit them in their booths and listening to what they are saying to potential customers. Isolate what is attracting visitors to their booth. What benefits and features are the presenting? Determine how these differ from your product and marketing approach.

7. Reports
If your competitor is listed, they will need to present more than their annual accounts. The bigger the competitor, the more independent analyst reports will be available. Also, search for new patents, environmental inspections and building and planning applications.

8. Social media
It is straightforward to track and engage with your competitors on social media. It can give you many intentional and unintended insights into your competitor’s performance. Insight into what they do well and what they do poorly. Ask yourself these questions:

Which platforms are they on?
Which platforms are the busiest on?
Do they interact with their customers?
Are there any customer complaints? If so, what are they usually about?
What are viewers saying about their products and services?
Are they consistently sharing posts?
What posts are they sharing, and when?
Who is following them? Are their followers you would like to have?
What offers and products do they promote more? Why are they promoting these products? It could be that they are excited by their own offering or struggling to sell them?

Is their content hitting the spot with customers? How?
Is their content more relevant to your customers?
Do they portray themselves as thought leaders?
Do they get any response to their messaging?
How quickly do they respond to comments? Do they respond?
And why not ask them?
This may sound crazy. But ringing them up and asking a specific question can pay dividends. Depending on who answers and what time of day will determine the quality of the answer. But you will be amazed at the answers you may get. It will take a few goes but keep at it. A single snippet of information could be the missing piece of the jigsaw. You are not dishonest if they don’t ask the name of the company you are calling from. It’s down to them to find that out.

Find out what your competitors are doing
We often get asked to find out what your competitors are doing. Hopefully, we have shown that researching your competitors can be a beneficial exercise. But remember, what’s true today and yesterday is not likely to be true tomorrow. It’s an ongoing forward-looking process.

Author's Bio: 

| Octopus is a Competitive Intelligence and Strategy consulting firm focused on creating certainty, insight, competitive advantage and significant growth for clients operating in disruptive and traditional sectors. #octopusintell