Digital marketing sometimes seems downright labyrinthian. There are so many buzzwords acronyms and technical terms and, according to marketing experts, they’re all important.
With this blog post, I want to address one of those terms you may be ignoring. You may just be putting it off until a future time, or you may just have your doubts that it’s a good use of your time.
So, with that in mind, just how important is competitor research? In my opinion, competitor analysis is essential. And I’m sure most long time marketers agree with me on that point. It’s a practice as old as business and marketing itself. In the digital marketing age, there’s such a wealth of data (much of it free) available to you that there’s no excuse for ignoring competitor research.
But before we even start, I want to drive home another point– there’s such a thing as too much competitor research.
If you get so bogged down with what your competitors are doing that you ignore your own, internal data and metrics, you’re in trouble. So I’ll be addressing that concept as well.
But first, let’s address the real benefits of competitor research.
Competitor Research: The Benefits
What can competitor research do for you?
It can help you:
- Understand your market more fully
- Understand where your market is headed
- Successfully target your ideal customer
- Understand your competitor’s product or service, and how it compares to yours
- Understand your competitors strengths and weaknesses
- Find untapped corners of your market
- Understand what your customers actually want
I know I’m making it sound easy.
“Just research your competitors and you’ll immediately gain all of these benefits!”
But, like anything else in the marketing world, it’s not that simple. You have to find informative data, analyze that data, and pull practical action points from it.
But it’s worth the trouble.
Here’s a couple highlights from Inc.com’s great piece on competitor research:
“There are a series of business benefits you can gain by having insight into the competitive landscape, particularly if you track products, prices, staffing, research and development, and other aspects of the competition on an ongoing basis. “This is so a business can understand the external and internal environments they’re operating in,” says Ken Garrison, chief executive officer of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)…
… The promise is that by gathering competitive research over time and in a systematic way you will be able to track trends and/or scenarios and be about to act on the research. “You want to take this research and do it in an organized and systematic way so that you can create an actionable strategy or actionable intelligence from it,” Garrison says. “Most every company gathers competitive intelligence, even though they may not define it as such. We’re all aware of the business environment we’re selling into, how our operations are functioning, where we can sell in the future, our profitable areas.”
If you’re just getting started with competitor research, I recommend tracking the following items:
- Product Features
- R&D (particularly press releases)
- Search Engine Visibility
- Social Media
- Online Reviews
There are dozens more data points you can analyze than the ones I listed above, but I believe those are a great starting point. After all, there is definitely such a thing as sinking too much time into competitor research– especially if you have a limited marketing budget.
How Much Time Should You Spend on Competitor Research?
So, how much time do you delegate to this task? You want to make sure you’re getting some actionable data, but you don’t want to research your competitors so much that you’re ignoring your own company.
Honestly, it’s a pretty tough question to answer.
- Every business is different, and you’ll need to form your own competitor analysis plan. But my general recommendations are:
- Identify your top 5-10 competitors (depending on how much time you have to allocate)
- Spend some initial time researching their pricing and product/service features, and conduct follow up research every six months or so
- Set up a Google Alert for each competitor, so you know when they do something newsworthy, such as release a new product or service
- Each month, see how each competitor ranks in the search engine results for your chosen keywords– especially in Google’s local three pack
- Each week, dedicate some time to browsing their social media– see if their customers are engaging them, and see what people are saying about them
- Each week, browse their reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook, and any industry-specific sites you use
You can dig much deeper than that, as well. But that routine should be doable, even if you’re strapped for time.
But, as you probably noticed, I still haven’t answered your question. How much time should you actually spend on competitor research?
There are no hard and fast rules, but let’s look at some advice from a successful entrepreneur. Richard Mendis, Co-Founder of nanoscale.io, says he spends 25% of his total research time on competitor analysis. Meanwhile, research makes up a total of 10% of his total work time.
Spend less time on competitor research than you spend researching your overall market and your customers. Spend more time analyzing your internal data than you do on analyzing your competitors.
But don’t ignore competitor research altogether, or you’ll be losing out on valuable insights.
Before You Jump In
I want to drive one of my previous points home again.
Competitor analysis is vital, especially if you’re a new company, or if you’re just getting started with your digital marketing efforts. It can help show you what your target customers respond to, and even show you what works and doesn’t work in your market. But competitor analysis can’t tell you everything.
If you simply try to replicate what your competitors are doing, be it in marketing, content, SEO, product, social media, or anything else, you’ll lose sight of your own business and your own successes.
Learn from what your competitors do, but don’t try to copy them outright. You never know if what they’re doing in marketing or social media is actually getting them more customers, or if their product is just better than yours.
That’s why I put such an emphasis on spending more time on internal metrics than on external metrics.
One final note– reviews are essential for competitor analysis. Customer service is what differentiates a decent business from a great business, and reviews provide great insight into the minds of real people in your market. Take your competitors’ reviews seriously.
Now, hopefully I’ve convinced you to begin some competitor research of your own. So here are some additional resources to help you get started:
- How to Write a Competitive Analysis by Michael Knowles
- 15 Awesome Tools for SEO Competitor Analysis from Mention.com
- How To Carry Out A Detailed Competitive Analysis (With Only 2 Tools) from Ahrefs
- Why Your Competitors Are Winning from Duct Tape Marketing
- How to Write a Competitive Analysis (with 3 free templates) from Marketing Sherpa
Thanks for reading!