Being competitive in the digital space requires a thoughtful strategy, the right unique value proposition, and a continued focus on growth. But as a company, having a solid understanding of your competitors’ efforts online can give you valuable intel to stay one step ahead of the competition. We outlined a few ways you can leverage competitive research within your digital marketing strategy.

1. Competitive SEO Research

It’s rare to come across a business owner or marketer that doesn’t want to crush their competition when it comes to showing up in search engines. The reality is ranking ahead of every competitor for every keyword shouldn’t be the focus. It should be outranking competitors for the right keywords. There are two ways to look at this:

Focus on core keywords

Let’s face it, a small retailer of athletic apparel is never going to outrank Dick’s Sporting Goods for certain keywords. Yes, they’re likely competitors, but the small retailer shouldn’t be trying to compete on broad keywords like “shoes” or “athletic apparel.” Their focus should instead be local and long-tail keywords.

From a local perspective, focusing on keywords like “Cleveland athletic apparel store” will help the retailer get more specific and competitive. Long-tail keywords focus on more specific keywords and phrases. In this case, if this retailer specialized in little league softball equipment, they could tailor their research and SEO efforts toward keywords like “little league softball equipment.”

Focus on intent-based keywords

Almost all websites we come across rank in search engines for a mix of intent-based keywords and research-based keywords. Here’s how we differentiate these:

  • Intent-based keywords show some action behind them, such as a purchase, signing up for a course or event, request a quote or proposal, etc. Think of keywords like “spinning classes near me,” “business consultant in Cleveland,” or “new 2019 Honda Accord.” All of these keywords have action intent behind them.
  • Research-based keywords are much higher in the “funnel” and are focused on information. They often include words like “how,” “when,” what,” etc. These searches are more focused on gaining information. For organizations with a complete digital marketing strategy, they can be important, but for beginners it’s more important to focus on intent when comparing with competitors.

2. Competitive Digital Advertising Research

Knowing how much your competitors are spending, where they’re spending it, and what kind of performance they’re seeing is an important step to understanding your place within your industry or niche online.

Analyzing Competitors’ Digital Advertising Budgets

You may not be able to get a detailed look into your competitors’ annual budgets, but some thorough research or auditing can give you a good sense of how much your competitors are investing into digital advertising. This will give you a sense of where you stand comparatively. If your competitors are spending $5,000 on digital advertising every month while you’re not actively advertising, you’re likely going to suffer a huge deficit in terms of attention, traffic, awareness, and even lead generation and sales.

Evaluating Competitors’ Digital Advertising Channels

With so many digital advertising channels to choose from, picking the right channel(s) requires a deep understanding of your audience and messaging strategy. Oftentimes, simply looking at where your competitors are advertising can point you in the right direction. It can also open up opportunities if you find that most of your competitors are advertising on one channel but not others, as you may be able to take advantage of the gap in the market.

Assessing Competitors’ Digital Advertising Performance

While you won’t be able to access your competitors’ analytics platform of choice and pinpoint their performance, you can get a sense of performance through research or auditing. For example, if you understand where competitors are advertising, the average cost-per-click for their ads, and the volume for the keywords or audience they’re targeting, you can estimate the volume of traffic or activity they may be receiving from a particular digital advertising effort.

3. Competitive Content Research

One of the biggest challenges most organizations have is content. The most common struggles are generating new ideas, finding the time or resources to write and publish content, and identifying ways to maximize content exposure.

Idea Generation through Competitive Research

While there are a slew of tools and strategies that allow organizations to generate ideas for new or recurring content, one of the easiest tactics is to simply identify what your competitors are publishing. Not all competitors will be publishing good content, but you’ll quickly identify the ones that are. There are two specific actions you can take with this research:

Content Planning

Doing some quick competitive research on your competitors’ websites can often yield a year or more of content topics. Think about it this way: If you’re able to identify 25 topics between all of your competitors’ sites, and you publish new content twice a month, you’re set for a whole year!

Skyscraper Content

Let’s be clear: It’s never a good idea to simply copy your competitors’ ideas. On the other hand, you can often find great opportunities where your competitors have identified a great topic, but produced a shallow or poorly-written piece of content. The skyscraper technique for content essentially has two steps: 1) identify a piece of content focused on a relevant, good idea, and 2) make something better.

Most of the time, you can find competitor content that is 500 words or less and does a mediocre job of covering the topic at hand. Taking that topic and going more in-depth, adding visuals or media, and referencing more/better sources can immediately be an improvement upon their approach.

Finding Your Sweet Spot with Content

As mentioned above, many organizations struggle with the resources needed to produce content on a regular basis. By doing some competitive research, you can get a sense of how often and what types of content your competitors are publishing. Your only focus is to do better.

In some cases, this means publishing more quality content than them. If they’re publishing once a month, find a way to publish twice a month. In other cases, this simply means publishing better content than them. If you find that your competitors are publishing once a week, but their content is really shallow, often 500 words or less and doesn’t do a good job of covering the topics about which they’re writing, simply publish better content. Consider publishing once or twice a month, but publish content that is well-researched, includes high-quality images, infographics, or video, and thoroughly answers any user questions about the topic at hand.

Maximize Content Exposure

One final opportunity to compete in the digital marketing space is to identify ways to maximize exposure. From a research standpoint, this often starts with identifying sites that are linking back to your competitors’ websites. These can be good opportunities to try to gain links from those sites as well.

You can also look at your competitors' social media accounts to understand their followers as well as the type and frequency of content they’re publishing. Once again, if you’re able to leverage this research to grow your audience, you can gain a competitive advantage.

Competitor Audits

If you’re ready to understand your place in your competitive online landscape, Aztek offers a Competitor Audit that will uncover all of the items addressed in this post. We can also focus on Search Engine Optimization and Content. Whether you’re just getting started with digital marketing or ready to get a leg up on the competition, understanding your competitors is a key component to a successful digital marketing strategy.

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