How to perform competitive research that gives you actionable insights

Now that you’ve gotten to know your customers just as well as you know your product or service, it’s time to get a deep understanding of someone just as important: your competitors. Though studying the people who take business away from you may not sound like the most intriguing way to spend your time, it’s an extremely important step.

Competitive research allows you to figure out which content strategies work and which don’t do so well for a target market similar to yours in your industry. It also helps you to understand where you stand right now in the online world and what you have to achieve to surpass your competition.

The most important thing to recognize is that competitive analysis isn’t just a one-time thing. You need to continue to keep track of your competitors’ actions and online presence in order to stay on top of their new strategies and keep track of your position in the online space.

Here are the most important steps in conducting competitive research and analysis the right way.

Compile a List of Your Direct Competitors And Add To It

If you haven’t already, compile a list of your direct competitors. These should be the first competitors that come to your mind. Add to your competitor list by searching for websites that rank for your target keywords. You can use Google Search and SERPs Rank Checker to do this. Continue to pile more competitors into your list by identifying the top influencers in your industry or topic with BuzzSumo. After all, there’s nothing like looking at a long list of your competitors to pump you up in the morning.

But really, by identifying your competition, you know where to start looking to find marketing solutions that work and ones that don’t work in your industry. This way, you won’t make the same mistakes your competition has. Competitive research also allows you to measure the success of your efforts against your competition.

Now It’s Time to Add Keyword Data To Your List

Observe where your competitors stand against you in keyword rankings by using a tool such as AuthorityLabs, or by manually searching for each keyword. Write down both you and your competitors’ keyword rankings for your primary keywords. From there, you should be able to see which keywords need the most attention, and which you are already ranking well for. Make sure to keep track of your change in rankings over time by using a tool such as Moz Analytics.

Keep The Data Comin’

Don’t stop with keywords. Use Moz Open Site Explorer to find out more about your competitors, including their backlink profile, top pages, social activity data, and their anchor text. This will further help you figure out where you should put your efforts to best improve your online presence.

Analyze Your Competitors’ Website Content

Take a look at the content on your competitors’ homepages, individual subpages and metadata. Take note of what type of content they are publishing on their website and identify how successful that content is by looking at any social widgets or using Buzzsumo. Notice where they are placing their keywords and what type of language and visual content they are using. Then, adjust the content on your own website accordingly to stay competitive.

Identify Your Competitors’ Site Structures

A logical and keyword-optimized site structure is crucial to online success. The easier your website is to navigate, the better the user experience will be and the more Google will reward your website. Take a look at your competitors’ site structures to see how they organize their website and keywords. The top layer of pages will include more general keywords, and each subsequent layer should target more specific long-tail keywords. Check out what keywords your competitors target on their website and see if you can find a niche of keywords that they haven’t built content around yet. Also, make sure that each page on your site can be reached within 2 to 3 clicks and that the categories on your website make logical sense.

Check Out Your Competitors’ Emails

Next up, it’s time to subscribe to your competitors’ emails to understand their email marketing strategy. Identify the import data in the emails when you begin receiving them, including the date and time they are sent out, calls to action, headers, and subject lines. This will help you develop your own email marketing strategy.

Let’s Get Social

Now it’s time to see what your competitors are up to in the social realm. Identify each of your competitors’ social properties and link to them in a spreadsheet. Search for your competitors on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even Snapchat. (Yes, it’s your job to be a stalker.) Many companies link to their social profiles on their website, so that’s a good place to start.

Once you’ve identified all of your competitors’ social properties, take note of how many followers and fans they have and then analyze what type of content they publish on each platform. Take a look at likes, favorites, shares, retweets, comments, replies, etc. to see what type of content performs best and take note of it. Look for any holes in your competitors’ social media strategies that you can fill to offer your followers something unique.

Observe Your Competitors’ Social Interactions

Now that you know what type of content they post, take a look at when and how your competitors interact with their followers, including the tone of voice they use. Observe how they respond to customers who have issues with them, who praise them, and who are engaging in discussion with them. Then, take a look at how your competitors’ followers and fans interact with them on social media. By analyzing what works for your competitors and what you can improve on, you will be well prepared you for social interactions.

Discover Social Influencers In Your Industry

Find out who’s sharing your competitors’ social content most. Use Topsy to discover social media influencers on Twitter. Focus on making content that will appeal to those influencers and make sure that content reaches them. Mention the influencers in your content when applicable.

Review Your Competitors’ Reviews

Check out your competitors’ reviews on Yelp, Google+, Facebook and other popular review sites in your industry. Do they reply to bad reviews? Do they thank their fans for good reviews? What do reviewers think they can improve on? Is their business information consistent and complete? This will help you to not only better manage your reviews, but should also aid you run in running a better business for your customers, which will lead to positive reviews.

Knowing your competition will help you stay a step ahead of them at all times. It will also help you to better interact with your audience and convert them.