Exemplary companies continuously examine, refine, and evolve their key operations to stay ahead of their competition. To do so, a business must conduct ongoing competitive analysis to identify opportunities for improvement and gaps to provide a seamless customer experience. This enables your business to learn what your competition is doing, and what can be improved.
You want to be the best at what you do, and you want your customers to perceive your business as the ideal choice. This requires being seen as an expert in your field and a voice of authority. This is where competitive analysis can set you apart from the rest.
Competitive analysis often requires an investment of time, money, and resources. But fortunately, you don’t need to invest in a competitive intelligence firm or hire a professional to gain the knowledge you need to get ahead. You can do advanced analysis on your own by conducting some simple research with the steps we’ll outline below.
First, let’s explore why you should conduct ongoing analysis to further your competitive strategies.
Why perform a competitive analysis?
We often have an underlying bias when it comes to our business. We think we’re the best at what we do so our clients and potential customers should think that as well, right?
As great as your organization likely is, there’s always room for improvement in every facet of your business. There are also likely unique advantages your organization isn’t aware of that can surface from performing a competitive analysis.
You may also have preconceived notions about your competitors which may be unfounded or outdated. The fact is that data, products, and strategy change over time. You don’t want to wait for your direct competitors to launch a new product or revise their entire marketing strategy to take action.
By being proactive, rather than reactive, you can better set your business on the path to growth and improve your market share.
What is a marketing competitive analysis?
There are a multitude of types of competitive analyses your business can conduct. For example, you can perform an assessment of your competition’s products, sales strategy, or services. For the purpose of this post, however, we will focus solely on how to perform a comprehensive marketing competitive analysis.
This post will focus primarily on how to analyze and assess your competitor’s content quality, evaluating both their strengths and weaknesses relative to your own.
As Google itself focuses consistently on optimizing its search ranking algorithm to surface better content for searchers in the search engine results pages, your business must also continue to focus on content quality and strategy to drive more organic traffic and qualified leads.
Performing a marketing competitive analysis entails looking at your direct competitors’ content quality, content value, topic clusters, and internal linking. Let’s explore how to evaluate each of these.
How to assess content quality
The content world is a vast and competitive landscape. Conduct a Google search for any query and you’ll have thousands of results at your fingertips. However, not every piece of content will be high-quality and match your search intent. This is when it’s time for your business to shine when competitor keywords aren’t fulfilling prospective customers’ search intent.
To evaluate content quality, consider the following questions:
- Does this page answer this intent?
- What landing pages receive the most traffic and what are they doing differently on these pages?
- What landing pages aren’t receiving traffic, and what can you learn from those pages?
- What topics are they targeting?
- What are their target keywords?
- Where are there content gaps that you can fill, or existing content they have that you can write better?
Having a firm understanding of where there are content gaps, which search terms they’re targeting, and what’s unique about their winners or losers can help you better improve your content experience for your target customers.
Competitor keyword research example via SEMrush
How to assess content inventory
You’ll also want to understand your closest competitors’ content inventory and how it differs or aligns with yours. Their content inventory can tell you more about the customer base they’re targeting, who their ideal customer is, and the type of content they produce for prospective buyers. This level of intelligence can better inform your content strategy and help you identify target keywords.
First, look to see if your direct competition has a sitemap. Having a sitemap isn’t required, but it does help search engines find and index new websites or updated web pages quicker, so there’s a good chance they’ll have one.
To find a sitemap, a common method is to try different common URLs. The most common sitemap location for any domain is atsitemap.xml. Adding this to the end of the domain name enables you to see if a sitemap exists. See the example below:
If this doesn’t work, alternate sitemap locations to try include:
If your direct competition does have a sitemap, assess the following:
- Look at all of their pages.
- Look at the total number of pages they have.
- Understand the structure of their site including the URL structure, navigational structure, and internal linking structure.
- Learn what CMS is used or what web development platform your competitors’ sites are built with.
- Check how consistently and frequently search terms are used compared to your own site.
- See if their target keywords are present in the page title, meta description, headers, image alt attributes, Google Business profile, and more.
How to assess content types
Content marketing encompasses a variety of content types. Some of these content types include e-books, whitepapers, POVs, case studies, videos, infographics, e-mails, and more. Each of these types of content serve different purposes, yet they all have the same end goal: to help prospective buyers make a purchase decision.
By examining the different content types your competitors are currently leveraging, you can identify your content gaps and where you may need to shift your efforts. Tools such as SEMrush and Ahrefs can help you easily explore their content. Consider the following when you’re reviewing your competitor’s content:
- What content types do they write?
- What types of web pages do they have? (think product pages, for example)
- How many product pages do they have?
- How many blog pages do they have?
How to determine the value of each page
Your competition may be producing 20 blog posts a month, but the quantity doesn’t matter if they don’t add value for prospective and current customers. This is why it’s essential to determine the value of each page. Since reviewing each page takes time, it’s worthwhile to start with a review of the top-performing pages first. Consider the following when assessing the value of a page:
- How many words is a typical blog post?
- How many pages are high quality vs. low quality?
- Where do they have thin content?
- How frequently are they updating content?
- How often are they publishing content?
- How has their site changed over time? (You can use a tool like Wayback Machine to assess this)
- Are they ranking for pages that don’t match intent?
View of Google.com on January 7, 2010
How to assess topic clusters
Topic clusters are a content organization strategy that help searchers and search engines find the content they’re seeking on your site. Typically, you’ll have multiple pieces of content grouped by a shared topic, and then related subtopics. They are all inextricably linked through:
- Pillar content: A comprehensive, broadly-covered topic. Prospective customers should be able to find all the information they need about the topic here.
- Cluster content: Subtopics that take the pillar content in-depth to explore more niche details. These pieces usually address certain search terms related to the pillar content.
- Link building: Cluster content typically links back to pillar content to build natural internal links.
To assess the topic clusters your competition is covering (and how you can do it better) consider:
- What pages would you build based on their topic cluster structure?
- Where are the best next steps to take prospective buyers to?
- If I were an expert in this concept, and if it were a book, what chapters would I have?
- How are they building their link profile?
- Do they link naturally?
- Are they link building in some sort of scheme?
- Are they linking internally?
How to assess who your competitors are targeting
To have a comprehensive view of your competitive environment, you must know who your ideal customer is and who your competitors are targeting. Many products and services can be used by multiple types of customers, so truly understanding what motivates purchase intent for each is crucial. You’ve likely already defined the personas you want to target, but what about your competition?
- Who is their primary persona?
- Are they only targeting one persona?
- Do they have content for customers throughout the marketing funnel? What do their early-stage customers look like?
- Where are their target market and intent gaps?
Now that you have a better understanding of how to perform a marketing competitive analysis, it’s time to move forward with strategy. The above is how to do a manual review of your competition to better inform your business decisions.
If you have the budget to move forward with a competitive analysis tool or vendor, such as MarketMuse, this can help take the work out of examining your competitive landscape for you.
However, if you’ll be moving forward with a manual review, do the following homework:
- Open a new spreadsheet to create your list of competitors and include two separate tabs. One tab will be for your direct competitors and the second will be for your indirect competitors.
- Start with picking one direct competitor. We recommend starting with a site that’s similar to yours but perhaps has a little more market share/maturity than your business.
- Perform the above analysis.
- Once your analysis is complete, you’ll be able to better identify opportunities for advancement and how to improve your overall business strategy moving forward.
- Stay ahead with competitive differentiation – bring more value, and set the standard for content quality to raise your market position and share.