How to Learn From Your Competition
Typically, when two sports teams come together for a match - a ton of research is done prior to the final showdown. Research around team tactics and individual player’s traits are intensively analyzed. The research is crucial so that teams arrive in their best form, and are aware of their opponent’s every move. Of course, all resulting in a much-anticipated showdown.
Similarly, as a business owner, you can learn a lot from studying your competition. Whether you’re working on a new business or improving your business, there’s plenty to learn from companies in your niche. In the business world, it may not win you a particular game but will certainly position you to capitalize on resources and have a serious advantage in your vertical.
At WebLime, when we decide to take on a new client, the very first task we tackle is research. Heavy research. The journey starts with a simple Google search and leads on to an exciting adventure of new findings and knowledge. We learn about both the competitor landscape as well as our new client’s niche. In this article, we’ll walk you through an example of our research process, and share tips and resources to help you conduct similar research and gain valuable insight from competitors.
For the purpose of this scenario, we’ll assume we have a new client in the insurance industry. We’ll call this client Erie Insurance. Let’s see what we can gather about this new client!
First thing first, let's run a few Google searches.
The first search will be simply to Google “Erie Insurance”. Here’s what that looks like:
At first glance, it appears we’re in a competitive landscape. Without using additional tools we can already tell that Google has over 33 million results for our query. The organic side, the main section a user typically glances at initially, is bombarded with Google Ads. Something else that catches the eye right away, is the lack of social profiles in the business listing (on the right). For such a competitive landscape, to only have Twitter and Linkedin as your way of reaching clients is selling yourself short. The actual organic results are the ones below the ads on the left. That section looks like this:
As for the organic results, it appears half of the results on the first page are neither owned nor controlled by Erie Insurance. Let’s dive deeper to develop a better understanding.
The next step is to start learning about the overall landscape. Essentially, we start to look at what Erie is doing and what their competitors are doing. Here’s where we begin to build on the sports analogy and improve our study case.
Finding competitors can come from both asking your client, and you guessed it, asking Google. Your client will share some of their struggles as to who they lose business to the most. Google will give you even more insight into that thought process. In fact, they sometimes will provide you with more than what the client is aware of.
My favorite search for this approach is to simply start typing into Google the company name and adding “vs”. Stop right after. Don’t actually finish the search. Let Google recommend what it thinks we're looking for. Typically, this will lead you to some comparisons and searches that, in this particular case, millions of people are searching. In essence, we’re utilizing Google’s machine learning to our advantage.
Lets see what this would look like according to Dr. Google:
Viola! From such a simple Google search, we now have a general idea of competitors in our niche. At this point, we don’t know who’s more relevant than not but we can start to compile a list for insight. This will give us the foundation to be productive both with our work and insight to share with our client.
The next step is to dive into a few of the recommendations. We want to understand who’s more relevant to what we’re working on. For this example, we’ll assume that Google hit the nail on the head. And with that understanding, we’ll stick with the top four recommendations: Geico, State Farm, USAA, Allstate.
Note: we highly recommend to review every result and not assume anything! :)
Now, let’s see what our first step would look like for the competitors we found:
To make our life easier, let’s compare one of the competitors to our client, side by side:
As previously mentioned, the first thing that strikes negatively for Erie is the social profiles. Either they don’t exist, or Google doesn’t recognize them; either way this isn’t good. And regardless of the social profiles existing or not, there’s work to do to fix the issue. Something else that surfaces is the Sales Service number. One assumption could be that many clients are dropped right there, with the phone number being so much more accessible for Geico than Erie. Without diving too deep into this, it’s clear Geico has set the groundwork for a prospect to convert.
Another step to take when trying to learn from your competition is dissecting the actual online presence and not just what Google shows us. That can be diving into websites, social profiles, or even external tools that can give us more insight into the situation at hand.
Some questions to keep in mind:
- What do they do that we don’t and vice versa?
- How’s the UI/UX?
- How good is their website?
- How good are their social profiles?
- What tech stack are they using? Can we understand why they chose that tech stack?
- What seems to be working?
- What seems to not be working?
Since our focus is SEO and online presence, let's continue with our on-the-surface analysis, but this time utilize other tools at our disposal. One of my personal favorites is SimilarWeb. Taken directly from their website, here’s the basic description of what their platform is all about:
We empower you with the insights you need to win your market. SimilarWeb gives you global multi-device market intelligence.
- Benchmark against your competitors and industry
- Reveal your competition's analytics & online strategy
- Discover new opportunities - partners, leads, or affiliates
- Identify emerging trends and new players
- Understand consumer intent and journey
Their free version is incredibly useful!
Be sure not to limit your process to one tool, as there are plenty of free tools out there! (i.e Moz, Alexa, Neil Patel). For the sake of this post, we’ll stick with SimilarWeb. Now, back to Geico. From a quick SimilarWeb query, we can gain additional insight into our competitors and niche research.
Here’s a few snapshots of the query for Geico themselves:
A lot more is available on their site; To not overwhelm this post, I’ll display just a few of the metrics available.
So, what can we learn from this?
For one, with only 1.44% of their traffic coming from social platforms, it’s fair to assume their success is with Google Search. 56% of Geico’s visitors are direct traffic, typing in “Geico”, or Geico.com. The other visitors may be searching more generic terms such as “car insurance”. So if the client’s marketing budget is limited, this might be an enormous point to dissect further with the client. You want to focus on where your potential customers already are—in this case they’re in the Google search results.
If you do want to include a bit of social activity as well, it’s clear that Facebook and Youtube would be your main winners. From the 1.44% of overall traffic, 72% comes from Facebook and 20% comes from YouTube. Of course, more should be looked into to make these decisions and these quick assumptions we make are to help spark thoughts and directions in your research.
Another useful finding that stands out is the Audience Interests. Having this to start off with is immensful. There are cases where building a marketing funnel can get tricky. Similarweb’s tool is essentially providing us a very robust foundation to begin our deeper understanding of what the potential customers are interested in, what the competitors are doing, and in some cases what they’re not doing.
The icing on the cake?
The competitors & Similar sites section! Without doing any prior research, this alone is giving us an incredible list to consider when working in this niche. Without lifting a finger, we have a list of 10 competitors that are in our prospect’s landscape.
We can easily browse through these sites and take note of what they’re doing well, and what might be missing. Is the website easy to navigate? Are the calls to action compelling? What type of content are they using? (blog posts, how-to guides, videos, etc.)
To carry on with our research, let’s take one more step. Something I like to look at is how active the competitor really is. What are they advertising on social pages? In the SimilarWeb check, we learned Geico was not too crazy about social platforms but they were relatively active in a select few. Let’s take a look at what seemed to be their top choice for social activity: Facebook.
In recent privacy chaos that Facebook experienced, one of the outcomes they had to adopt was to provide Business Page transparency. Hence, Facebook allows you to view every single Ad that’s run across their network - and that’s gigantic for so many reasons. You can easily understand what one’s target is, what their message is, and most importantly what is working best. To view all of this check out the Facebook Ad Library.
Utilizing the search bar, you can pull up any business page you want to explore. In our case, we’ll stick with Geico.
Like magic, you can view everything their marketing team has put together and where they’re pushing it most.
For example, in these boxes we can learn that Geico is actually active not just on Facebook, but also Instagram. Scrolling further down reveals some messages are geared only to Facebook while others are sent to both. This can reveal tremendous insight. Typically, a lot of work and thought goes into these ads. From research to whom to guide the message to, to our compeittor’s design and content departments all coming together to put these ads to work. At the time of this writing, Geico is running over a staggering 300 unique ads!
Chances are that you don’t have an ad budget anywhere close to Geico. But you can gain valuable insight by looking at their ads.
Of course, this example shows our client at hand - or their competitor Geico. In a similar approach to our competitor research, pulling up some competitors in Facebook's Ad Library can’t hurt. The methodology to gather insights on a prospect and their competitors should remain dynamic. You don’t want to use only one tool and miss what else is out there. And at the same time, it’s important to remain focused. So while I stick to a somewhat known methodology, it’s important to allow yourself some freedom during your research.
The most important element to research is to have a structure. There’s no secret recipe or a set blueprint, but rather a combination of tactics and tools to adopt and utilize. While in our case Geico had over 300 ads on Facebook, another niche or competitor may have led us to a completely different outcome; and therefore a completely different journey and set of tools.
The purpose of this writing is to show how much insight can be garnered on a particular prospect and their competitors - without paying a single penny. Researching your competitors isn’t a substitute for spending time and investing in a marketing plan. And it won’t 10x your business overnight. However, understanding your competition and learning what works and doesn’t work will save you time and effort.
As we’ve shown, there are plenty of free and paid tools to form your unique approach to all of this. But oftentimes a lot of what you’d like to know is out for grabs, you just need to learn how to find it and apply it.