How to do an effective competitor analysis in 6 simple steps

John Websell avatar
John Websell

Jul 26, 2022

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Diverse team sat around a desk discussing a recent competitor analysis

Before going into battle, a good general scouts their opponent. They look at things like equipment, troop deployment, and even the terrain to build a clear picture of the opponent’s strategy and adapt theirs accordingly.

A competitor analysis works on the same principle.

An effective competitor analysis highlights areas to improve, reveals opportunities, and gives you a better understanding of your market. And this, in turn, helps you refine your inbound marketing strategy.

So, how do you run an effective competitor analysis?

Identify your competitors

This is the first stage of any competitor analysis.

There are several ways to approach this, but we recommend starting on LinkedIn. A quick search of relevant industry groups and hashtags will provide plenty of valuable, high-level insights about your competitors. You can then use more data-led solutions to build a clearer picture of the market.

For example, the Ahrefs content gap tool lists all the competitors that have similar pages and rank for the same keywords as your website. While more advanced tools like Similarweb, allow you to gather detailed information about your competitors, including website sessions and content type.

Do your research

Once you’ve identified your competitors, it’s time to dig a little deeper. The more thorough you are, the better. To build a broad picture of your main competitors, focus on these 6 areas.

  1. SEO
  2. Content
  3. Organic and paid social
  4. Paid search
  5. Technical performance
  6. Market research

1. SEO

If you want to know why a competitor’s website is more successful at generating traffic and leads, the first thing to look at is search engine optimisation (SEO) performance.

This begins with a keyword gap analysis. Ahrefs' content gap tool identifies the commercial or informational keywords your competitors rank for, and you don’t (and vice versa). You can then use this information to optimise your website and create content around relevant, high-value keywords.

For deeper insights, run an inbound comparison between you and some of your main competitors. Depending on your market, 3-5 should be enough.

An effective inbound comparison covers:

  • Organic search traffic: website traffic from organic search engines, like Google.
  • Paid search traffic: website traffic from paid channels, like pay-per-click (PPC) ads.
  • Keywords: the number of keywords you and your competitors rank for.
  • Referring domains: the number of backlinks your website receives from external domains.
  • Domain authority: how likely and how well your website will rank in search engines.

Read our Introduction to B2B Inbound Marketing to understand what inbound is,  what it means to you, and the opportunities it offers.

2. Content

A content comparison is an integral part of your competitor analysis. It measures the quality and effectiveness of your content relative to your biggest competitors. It considers both quantitative and qualitative metrics, so you can get maximum value from your content marketing efforts.

Quantitative metrics you should consider:

  • Page performance: traffic, conversions etc. on your commercial pages, blogs, and landing pages.
  • Keyword performance: how your website ranks for commercial and informational keywords, relative to your competitors.
  • Content type: the range of content on your website. Blogs, eBooks, infographics, etc.
  • Content topic: which topic cluster or campaign the content supports.
  • Posting frequency: how often you and your competitors post or repost content.

Qualitative metrics tend to be more subjective. They include things like the structure, readability, and accessibility of your content, as well as consistency and tone of voice.

Ahrefs offers a range of content comparison tools, including Site Explorer and Content Explorer.

3. Organic and paid social

A social analysis evaluates the performance of your and your competitors’ social media platforms across organic and paid channels.

Organic social

For organic social, it’s best to adapt your analysis for each platform. Profile views will be more important for LinkedIn than Twitter, for instance.

That said, there are a handful of universal metrics you should track across all your platforms:

  • Number of followers
  • Posting frequency
  • Type of post
  • Topics covered

A thorough analysis can also reveal opportunities to improve organic social performance.

You might discover that visual content performs better on LinkedIn than standard text posts. This tells you that you should focus more of your efforts on carousels, infographics, and videos. Or perhaps you find that many of your ideal customers use online social forums, like Reddit, in their research.

Paid social

Paid social analysis covers everything from LinkedIn single image ads and Facebook carousels to PPC.

Spend some time manually reviewing your competitors' ads as part of your research. Focus on:

  • Post type: do your competitors use paid social to promote new products and services, upcoming webinars, content, industry news, or events?
  • Demographics: what’s the average age, role, industry etc. of the people who engage with paid social ads in your market?
  • Topics: do your competitors cover a broad range of topics or focus on one or two key areas?
  • Format: what form do competitor ads take? Single image? Carousel? Video?
  • Goals: what are your competitors trying to achieve with their ads. Brand awareness? Education? Conversion?

This treasure trove of information can help you optimise your paid social strategy.

If you want to measure campaign or ad performance over time, consider investing in social monitoring tools like Sprout Social.

4. Paid search

As the world’s most popular search engine, most businesses concentrate on Google when it comes to paid search.

This is great news for competitor analysis since the Google ads platform has all the tools you need to measure performance.

The Google Ads Auction Insights report lists the companies that are bidding on the same keywords as you. It also shows you the value of their bids, who they’re targeting, and which landing pages they connect to.

Auction Insights also provides more granular information, such as:

  • Impression share: the percentage of impressions your ads receive.
  • Overlap rate: how often you and a competitor receive an impression in the same search.
  • Position above rate: how often a competitor’s ad appears above yours in search.
  • Top of page rate: the number of times your ad appears at the top of search (above the organic results).
  • Outranking share: how often your ad ranks higher than a competitor’s in an auction or when your ad appeared in a search and theirs didn’t.

You can learn more about your competitors’ campaign goals by manually entering your target keywords on Google. Click on the top ad and see where it takes you. Is the landing page designed to convert visitors or raise brand awareness?

A manual search will even show you if one of your competitors is bidding on keywords associated with your brand. For example, some companies create a landing page for every competitor to highlight the differences between their products or services.

In addition to Google's suite of tools, Ahrefs recently launched Ads 2.0 in Site Explorer. These new features are great for analysing competitor keywords, SERP ranking, and ad history.

5. Technical performance

Since Google launched its Core Web Vitals update in 2020, user experience and technical performance have become important ranking factors for websites. It’s simple. The better your website performs, the better the user experience and the higher your website appears on Google.

A thorough technical comparison of your competitors’ websites can reveal what you’re doing right in terms of technical SEO and, crucially, where you can improve. These improvements don’t necessarily have to be huge changes to your site architecture. It’s often the little tweaks that have the biggest impact on your position on search engine results pages (SERP).

If you’re not sure where to start, consider using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool. Simply enter a domain and Google gives you an overall Core Web Vitals score for both the desktop and mobile versions of the website.

Google calculates the score from a range of factors, including:

  • Largest Contentful Paint: the time it takes for pages to load the main content.
  • First Delay Input: how responsive your pages are.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: how often users experience unexpected layout shifts, such as moving buttons.

6. Market research

To round off your competitor analysis, you need to review your market positioning. How do prospective customers perceive your brand? And how do those perceptions differ from your main competitors?

Answering questions like this can tell you how to differentiate your brand and stay top of mind with your ideal buyers. Focus on these key areas:

  • Solutions: Review the products or services your competitors offer. Are there any features that stand out? How do they promote them? You can find this information by searching the competitor's website.
  • USP: Analyse your competitors' offerings. What makes their products or services unique? Which keywords do they target and how do their main pages perform on Google?
  • Target market: Take a closer look at the content your competitors produce. What kind of language do they use? Is it aspirational, educational, or candid? Do they have pages clearly targeted for specific verticals? This will tell you who they're targeting and how.
  • Strengths and weaknesses: Think of this as a mini SWOT analysis. Review your competitors' websites to identify the main strengths and weaknesses of their offerings. Consider how these differ from yours to work out where you should focus your efforts for the best results.

You don't need expensive or complex tools to conduct thorough market research. A simple search of your competitors' websites can uncover plenty of useful information. But tools like Google Trends, Buzzsumo, and Mintel can reveal even more powerful insights.

Level up your competitor analyses in 6 simple steps

To recap, an effective competitor analysis covers:

  1. SEO
  2. Content
  3. Organic and paid social
  4. Paid search
  5. Technical performance

That might seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. A competitor analysis shows you where the biggest opportunities lie and how to capitalise on them.

You can then use all this rich data to create a compelling business case that can drive your future inbound marketing strategy.

Inbound Marketing

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