They say that in order to succeed in business, you need to be either the first, the best, or different. All of those characterizations have one thing in common: they hinge on the competition. To beat your competition, you've got to know them. To help you do just that, here's a list of awesome free competitive research tools.
First, what is competition, anyways?
Here's what Google has to say:
Really, Google? You can give me 8.7 billion results in .38 seconds and that's your best shot at a meaningful definition of "competition"?
Fine, we'll go it alone.
From a business perspective, competition is impossible to ignore and essential to understand. Even if you don't have competition today, you can rest assured that if your business is profitable and visible, you will eventually.
Competition keeps you on your toes. It demands that you provide something exceptional. It's kind of like an overzealous parent, never pleased with your A- and insatiable in the quest to make you work harder.
Competing for business in the modern era is distinct from yesteryear. With the tidal wave of online content and data that's just a click away, it's easier than ever to get a pulse on what your competitors are implementing and developing.
Being a Gen-Yer, I'm no stranger to creeping. No, I don't mean the kind that leads to the purchasing of expensive binoculars and late night lurking in trees. I'm talking about the infamous act of online stalking:
Facebook creeping? I'm a pro.
Instagram stalking? Got it down.
Twitter monitoring? Consider it done.
I've spent more time than I'll ever admit partaking in these behaviors late at night, but I also make a living channeling them into productive competitive research for clients.
Of course, online competitive research is less about checking out your ex's latest tagged pictures and more about uncovering legitimately valuable business insights. And I'm happy to report, it can be done!
Marketers are only as good as their tools, and there are a handful of services I rely on throughout the competitive research process. Here are a few of my favorite forces to deploy when I embark on a competitive research battle:
Your website is your central hub, so it makes sense to start your research with your competitor's site.
Similar web gives you an absolute goldmine of performance and content info, all for free. Just type in your competitor's URL, and check out their traffic, audience demographics, SEO performance and referring keywords, and more.
You probably already knew HootSuite is great for managing your social presence. But did you know it's also easily transformable into a powerful eavesdropping tool?
We're not going all NSA here, we're just creating an easier way to see what's being said to and about your competitors in public spaces.
Just create a keyword stream, and set the keyword as your competitor's name. Easy as can be! Here's a more detailed explanation on setting up streams, if you're new to HootSuite.
Remember how much fun it sounded like to get all those website insights from SimilarWeb? FanPage Karma does the same thing, but with a social media focus.
Pop your competitor's name into the search box, and check out everything from their highest performing social posts to their category rank and historical page growth.
Want to see a side by side comparisson of your SEO versus your competitors?
Open Site Explorer is a free tool which allows your to compare your site with up to four others and see metrics like page authority and total inbound links. You can also click through to each competitor's info to see every website that's linking to them.
See a site you like? Consider a reach out to earn a link of your own!
Good Old Fashioned Page Source Creepin'
When all else fails, I like to go back to the basics. Whether you've exhausted all your other resources or you're looking for a simple place to begin research, do this:
1 - Go to your competititor's homepage
2 - Right click anywhere on the page, select "View Page Source"
3 - Search the code for "meta" and find their page title and description
This information isn't by any means on lock down, it's the same copy you see when the page comes up in a search engine result. But you can also use this technique accross specific pages on their site, to see how they're positioning their offer and what keywords they're (hopefully) including in page descriptions and titles.
One More Thing...
With so many ways to get a pulse on your competitor's presence, information overload is common in competitive research. Generally, this translates to a handicap in your ability to turn all that data into actionable strategy.
To combat this unfortunate side effect, consider creating a set of KPIs or metrics that will be focused on in your research. Obviously, these should be determined based on your overall goals (do you want more traffic? Check out your competitor's social and SEO performance. Do you want more sales? Check out your competitor's sales process and CRO tactics).