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How smart competitive analysis can teach you big lessons

With these essential tools, learn how to improve your own business with lessons from your competition.

If you run a business in any sector, it’s guaranteed that somewhere out there is a competing firm, organization or agency vying for your customers and revenue. You may feel that your own business should get your undivided attention, but there are many lessons you can learn from other companies in the market – which might give you a competitive advantage.

This may sound like a big project, but luckily there are tools to help you keep track of your competitors’ efforts. These will help raise your awareness of changing trends, new technologies, audience behaviours, and activities happening in your market that can teach you how to stay competitive and relevant.

Here are ways to gain valuable insights into what the competition is doing, how they’re doing it and if it will work for you.

Go beyond a Google search

These days, researching your competition usually starts with a standard Google search and a visit to your competitor’s website. But there are a variety of advanced Google search functions and tools that work with Google’s AdWords campaigns. 

● Google Alerts: Set up Google Alerts to notify you whenever your competitors are mentioned online. This is an easy way to keep track of any media mentions, campaigns, interviews and articles that appear online. Plus, setting this up for your own business lets you stay on top of what other people are saying about your company.

● SpyFu: This tool searches keywords and ads paid for by your competitors. It scrapes Google’s AdWords platform and will present the most popular and successful keywords being used in paid and organic searches.

Monitor social mentions

If you want to take things a bit further, try signing up for a service like Social Mention, which will notify you when blogs, videos and other immersive content mentions your competitor online.

Social Mention

It’s easy to use – just enter a search term, which can be a keyword or a company name, and SocialMention will display in-depth information about where the term or business name is being discussed on social networks and blogs. You can see how many times a business has been mentioned, which will help you get a better understanding of how their business is engaging with those audiences.

 Related: "Can you drive revenue from social media?

See where they're posting on social media

Tracking your competitors on social media isn’t just a great way to discover what’s working for your competition; it’s also a great way to identify strategies that may be used to market your own business as well.

If you’re not sure which social media platforms are right for your business, take a look at the social networks your competitors are using. Are they using the basic social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or are they delving into more niche networks like Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn, for example?

Content, frequency and response times

It's not just about where competitors are posting, but how frequent they publish as well.

Research how often your competitors are posting fresh content to each their social networks, and dive deep into the days and times they post. This could give you great insight into improving engagement with your prospects. Track what kind of content they’re posting (links, videos, etc.) and make note of how successful these efforts seem to be. Make sure to pay attention to the content that’s receiving the highest levels of engagement, as you may want to adopt a similar strategy for your own business.

Additionally, check to see how long their average response time is. Most businesses reply within 24 hours, but if your competitors are setting the standard by replying within a shorter period of time, it may be something you should consider doing, too.

Sign up for their newsletter

One of the best ways to get an “inside scoop” into competitive offers and campaigns is subscribing to their newsletter. You'll get a great view of their email marketing strategy, including the tone and message they use with customers, images that resonate with audiences and frequency of delivery. Whenever you receive an email from a competitor, make sure to note a few key things:

● The content: What are they discussing in their emails? Is their tone formal or informal? Do they include images, links or embedded videos in their newsletters?

● Frequency: How often are your competitors sending out emails to their customer base?

● Mobile optimization: We live in a world where smartphone usage is so widespread, which means everything should be optimized for mobile. If your competitors aren’t taking this step, then you may have an advantage over them.

● The sender score: Are their emails winding up in your spam folder? Then this will give you insight into how many of their subscribers are actually opening their emails.

By using the right tools to monitor your competition, not only can you learn more about how other businesses in your industry are going to market, you can also gain valuable insight into how to adjust your online business, keep up with shifting trends and reach as many of your customers as possible.

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Alyson Shane

Alyson Shane is a writer and business owner from Winnipeg, Manitoba who has been publishing content online for 16+ years. She runs Starling Social, an agency which develops digital marketing strategies that combine social media, paid advertising and content strategy to keep businesses growing and engaged with their customers. Outside the office, Alyson is a passionate urbanist who loves gardening, riding her bike and thinking about the public spaces that bring us together. She can be reached on social media at @alysonshane.

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