So often I hear that people think competitor research is about ‘spying’ and ‘stealing ideas’ but it really isn’t. It is about research, analysis and then developing your own ideas. Copying someone else never works as you’ll only ever be second best (at best!) to the original.
Competitor research is a fundamental part of running a small business. You need to know what other businesses similar to yours are doing in order to grow. And taking note of their content is particularly important. You need to know what social media channels are on. How often they update their website. Whether they blog or podcast or vlog. Do you think Pepsi don’t follow and ‘stalk’ everything Coca-cola do?! If it’s good enough for the multi-nationals, then it is good enough for us small businesses.
How to do competitor research
First stop – set up a spreadsheet. Most importantly, take some time to consider all of the information you want to capture, because the last thing you want to do is have to go trawling back through websites and social media sites again and again. Think about all that you want to know about competitors and save as much information as possible. Remember to hyperlink as much as you can too so that you can revisit any sites or pages at the click of a button.
Remember competitors don’t have to be just local – you can look nationally, even internationally. This is fantastic for growing your understanding of your market and your profession. Looking at a wide variety of competitors means you’ll be looking at a wide variety of content and, like any research, this will sink in and then ‘come out’ when you are coming up with your own content strategy and trying to think of new ideas.
What Google can tell you
The first port of call for most competitor research is good old Google. If you don’t know your direct competitor’s name, the first thing you will need to do is put into a search engine your profession and location, e.g. Digital Marketing Services in Hampshire.
The results of this search actually tell you a lot of things about your competitors without even visiting their website. For example, which company is at the top of the list? Is it what you were expecting What is it about their site that makes them top of the list? Is it a good use of keywords and search engine optimisation (SEO)? Have they paid for the listing? If so, why are they doing that? Do you need to consider doing that?
What a website can tell you
Now take a look at the website of a competitor. What does the homepage look like? What do they say about their products and services? How many do they offer? What is their range? How much do they charge or prices even listed? Is the copy well written? Does the webpage look inviting? Professional? Is it easy to navigate?
Then do a little digging! Take notice – do they have a Facebook page or other social media profiles? Do they have a blog hosted on the website? Are their location and/or contact details easy to obtain?
If they blog, what are the posts like? How regularly do they post? What are they writing and talking about?
Now visit the social media pages. Are they active? What types of posts do they offer? How often?
As I said above, gathering all of this information is not about copying it, it’s about evaluating and reviewing your own content in comparison to theirs. …then keeping note of it all for aiding the improvement to your own offering.
Time to evaluate
It is really important that if you are going to take the time to do some competitor research (and I recommend at least 20-30) that you use the information. Try to identify your unique selling points (USP). What do you offer that your competitors don’t? What do you differently? What truly makes you unique? I promise every small business has a USP. What’s so great about a small business is that it is usually so personal to the individual who first set it up that it has a ‘quirk’ or set of offerings that you just can’t find anywhere else! The most unique element of your business is YOU! So try a bit of self-reflection and consider what makes you (yes, your actual self!) help your business stand out from the competitors. And then make utterly sure this is reflected in your content – website, blog, newsletters, social media profiles, etc.
Think about what you have not told people about! I often identify gaps in my own content when looking at competitors! I think “hang on I can do that” or “I do that” or “I have that expertise” … but then realise I haven’t told anyone, either on my website or social media, for example. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own businesses, it’s essential to evaluate others in order to help ourselves.
I know we are all very busy, but this sort of thing is important once in a while – even when business is booming! Take a look around…you’ll be amazed at what you will find! Once you have done the ‘big first time’ set of research then checking back in and doing the odd Google search to look for new competitors is much easier. And I repeat do not feel like you are spying. All marketing is public – social media pages, websites, blogs – they are all visible not private! It’s ok to be impressed by others’ innovation, because I bet they look at yours and feel the way about something you are offering. There is no need to copy but there is also no need to pretend to be blind to what competitors are doing!
If you want some support with competitor research, as part of your content strategy, do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org