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What is the objective of competitor research?

Firstly, let’s expel the myth that competitors are ‘evil’ or that competitor research is spying! The objective of competitor research is always about knowledge building. Knowing your competitors is simply part of knowing your overall market.

By doing competitor research, you are able to analyse what you find out and then developing your own ideas. Copying someone else never works, as you’ll only ever by second best (at best!) to the original. However, it is still important to do for your small business and for your marketing activity.

Competitors = sellers in your market

You market is where you business sits within a profession or industry. It is very much about who your ‘buyers’ are …but just like an actual market…it’s also about your fellow stall holder, aka your competitors.

They can be direct competitors selling the same or very similar things to you (which includes products and services). They can also be indirect competitors selling quite different things but vying for a similar spend from similar customers (or target audience). For example, a bookkeeper and a virtual assistant are often indirect competitors in the world of small business owners. The spend is likely to come under similar scrutiny when we decide what to spend our money on. Equally, in the corner shop, both the producer of a magazine and a box of chocolate become competitors, as they vie for that all important £5 you have in your pocket when you are deciding what to treat yourself to.

3 objectives for competitor research

Competitor research is a fundamental part of running a small business. You need to know what other businesses similar to yours are doing. It will help you grow and enhance your knowledge of your profession and area of business.

Here are three objectives that you can look to gain specifically when doing competitor research

Competitor research objective 1 – identity who is doing SEO well and being really visible locally

Google your competitors

The first port of call for most research is good old Google. If you don’t know your direct competitor’s names, the first thing you will need to do is put into a search engine your profession and location, e.g. If you are a hairdresser, search ‘Hairdresser in Hampshire’. You can also do the same on a social media platform. This should identify local direct competitors.

The initial search results actually tell you a lot of things about your competitors without even visiting their webpage. For example, which company is at the top of the list? Who appears in the Google Map/Google Business section? What is their proximity?

For others in the list, what do you think it is 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?

Competitor research objective 2 – learn from competitors, what they offer and their marketing activity, especially big brands

Now, take a look at the website of some of your competitors. To find more national (or international, if relevant) and bigger competitors, you can widen your search by removing location from your search.

Take a look at any array of competitor content. It’s not about copying marketing ideas remember, this is just about finding out about their business through what they say publicly.

It is ok to have gut reactions to:

  • 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 are prices even listed?
  • Is the copy well written?
  • Do the pages look inviting and professional?
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • If they blog, what are they posting about?
  • Do they have an email sign up/mailing list?
  • What other platforms are they active on?

All of this should be inspiring for you – it’s not about comparing yourself (or despairing). Remember that the size, resources and so much more could be entirely different to yours. Remember the objective is research and analysis …not self criticism.

Competitor research objective 3 – Be inspired by what other industries, professions and business types are doing

As mentioned above, you can also identify some indirect competitors – locally, nationally and even internationally. Take a moment to consider the mindset of your target audience or ideal clients. Who else could they decide to spend their money with when evaluating spending money on you instead? Take a look at their websites and social media activity. Evaluate as above.

If you are really struggling write in a service you provide or your industry and add ‘vs’ in the Google search bar, and Google will soon give you a list!

The best thing about looking at indirect competitors is that sometimes they do marketing (and even business) really differently. They adopt different strategies. They try different marketing methods. They use different technologies even.

Be inspired! You could be the first in your industry to adopt these and it might just work.

Remember to evaluate and review what you find

As I said above, gathering all of this information is not about copying it, it’s about evaluating and reviewing your own stuff in comparison to these competitors and the knowledge you have garnered.

Importantly, try to identify your unique selling points (USP) by comparison.

What do you offer that your competitors don’t? 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 passionate individual who first set it up that you will have a ‘quirk’ or set of offerings that you just can’t find anywhere else! Remember, the most unique element of your business is YOU! What makes you (yes, your actual self!) help your business stand out from the competitors? And are you making the most of this?

Set up your competitor research spreadsheet today

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!

If you have a spreadsheet or a way of recording basic information about the competitors you identify, then checking in on a regular basis and refreshing your knowledge also becomes much easier over time. It is a big task to start with but once done becomes a quick check to see if there are new competitors, and a quick update to those you have identified before.

Inspired to do your competitor research? Learn more about competitor research and how to link it to your marketing activity here:

One last thing…Useful competitor research tools

If you want to get a bit more detail on a competitor website, you can explore these:

Spyfu – (hate the use of the word ‘spy’!)

Similar Web –

Ubersuggest –

You can also use these to analyse your own website (and see what your competitors will see)

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  1. Louise Mason on April 10, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    I find the USP of most small businesses is the business owner which often means copying another business doesn’t work but taking inspiration and applying it to your business or personal style can have a bigger impact!

    I also love collaboration, collaborating with a competitor can help create an even better product or service.

    Checking out competitors social media can help you choose which platforms to use for your business – either see which platform has the most users or see where there is a gap for you to lead on a social platform.

    • editorialservicesconsultant on April 10, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      I think the idea of collaborating with competitors is a really interesting one and hopefully beneficial for all!

  2. Juliet Powell on April 10, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Very interesting Kate. I am so busy trying out different types of events, it would be hard to copy me! I do take inspiration from others and put a different slant on my events.

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