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Tutorial: Researching your competitor’s marketing strategy

1. Type your competitor’s domain into SpyFu.

The first thing you will see is an overview page. This is a simple, easy place to start for your early steps in this process. Generally, SEO stats are on the left, and PPC info is on the right.

Overview of SEO and PPC research in SpyFu

Here’s what to watch for:

  • Note the ratios SEO vs PPC.
  • Review the core keywords — This helps you gut check them as a key competitor and tells you the direction of their marketing plan.
  • See the keywords that they buy/rank on that you don’t.
  • Browse their top Keyword Groups.
Don’t pay a ridiculous amounts of attention to raw numbers just yet. That will come, but for now you should be assessing where they stand.

Those raw numbers will help you more if you remember estimates and watch for any lopsided or inflated figures. Use them for relative comparisons to other domains. This will prove especially helpful when you move on to Step 2.

2. Search your own domain in SpyFu.

Scroll down the page to your organic and paid competitors. Is the competitor you’re researching actually in this list? If not, keep tabs on them but don’t discount the others. In fact, competitors that aren’t “top of mind” could be bigger threats than the first one you searched.

02 Competitor Section

Take note of the competitors that are holding ground in a fight for market share.

Use your own figures to calibrate your competitors’ raw number estimates based on what we say about you.

SpyFu combines actual objective data (ads, search terms, rankings and position) with rounded data and estimates (cost per click, total budget, etc.). If you see that we’ve estimated your own budget too high, you can adjust down when you look at what we say your competitor is spending. The idea is to gauge who’s spending more, or where are they getting their clicks–SEO or PPC?

3. Dig in Deeper

Use more specialized features inside of SpyFu to help you understand the nuances inside your competitor’s strategy.

Learn about their AdWords

Start with Ad History where you can find your competitor’s most trusted keywords at the top of the chart. Your competitor might experiment with other terms, but you can easily see where they invest their time and money.

Don’t leave that page without reviewing the ad copy that they run with their top keywords. It reveals their most dominant messaging–insights that help you understand their strategy better.

03 Ad History

Next, run an AdWords Advisor report. This special domain analysis report puts you in their shoes, getting an analysis of improvements they could make in their PPC campaign. Any weaknesses like wasting budget on weak terms or neglecting important keywords will stand out in this report.

Look for the “reports” section of SpyFu. Choose the PPC report and enter a domain. We can finish the report from there, or you can customize it further with specific competitors or keywords to focus on.

Assess their SEO Performance

Much like what you did with Ad History, use Ranking History to track their SEO performance and find notable events. Since it’s set alongside Google updates, the history will show you how penalties and updates affected the site’s rankings.

You can spot growth areas across certain keywords and microniches, too.

Review their backlink profile. Treat it twofold: reach out to these same authors and site owners to link to you. Plus, learn how your competitors are perceived as an authority on a topic.

04 Backlink List

Top Ranked Pages

These pages create the dominant impression of your competitor’s brand content.

  • Type your competitor’s domain into the SpyFu search bar and select the SEO Research section.
  • Choose the SEO Keywords tab and change the drop down to “Page One Keywords.”
  • The results will list searches that include your competitor on the first page of results, along with the URL of their content that ranks.
  • Alternatively,  choose the “Reports” tab in the top right. Choose the SEO report and enter the competitor’s domain.
  • When the report is ready, scroll to the Top Site Sections part of the report to see the dominant, high-ranking categories.
Review a site's top ranked pages

Review their social profile

See how they connect with customers. Get a sense for their reputation and how others talk about them. Also, run these social profiles in SpyFu (in addition to their domain) to find out if those pages send traffic their way from relevant searches.

4. Triangulate your findings.

Some tools reach their findings differently than how SpyFu does. Try some other angles to validate the conclusions that you got through SpyFu in the earlier steps.

Alexa

Find analytics about how much traffic your competitors get to their site.

Compete

Monitor your competition and compare their visitor and page view performance to your own.

SimilarWeb

See traffic by country and a site’s referrals. Their suggestions include similar sites to find new competitors.

Quantcast

Learn deep details about audience demographics and interests.

BuzzSumo

See your competitor’s most shared content.

5. Try Expert-Level Research. (Read: Get creative!)

Pick up extra details through apps and tools

LinkedIn

Search the domain for their employees. That can tell you their rough size and location, also experience level of their team. (What are they bringing to the table?)

Google Drive-by

Basic, but still insightful. You will have already searched them in Google (making it to the second page, I hope), so this is a matter of checking out location, images and news.

After your first review of the results, switch your search results timing to the past year (or past month) so that newer (and less dominant) results pop up.

BuiltWith

Knowing the technology that your competitors use helps you understand what they are trying to accomplish and what’s important to them. You wouldn’t expect A/B testing and CRM investment from a business that isn’t playing to win.

Stay on top of the changes

Conferences and Trade Show Spying

Find out which industry trade shows they attend. We stumbled across this handy trick. The link has detailed instructions, but here’s a summary.

Search for their company in Google Images.
Right click the company logo and choose “search Google for image.”
Add an additional filter in the pre-loaded search bar like “+conference” or “+exhibitor”, etc.
Review the results for conferences where they will be attending or listed as a sponsor/exhibitor.

Track their Display Ads

Use sites like WhatRunsWhere and Adbeat to see the display ads that they run on other sites.

Get alerts on their brand.

  • Google Alert — Get an email whenever new results about the brand pop up in Google. Warning: it’s been very sporadic in recent years.
  • Mention — This service does a great job of monitoring brand mentions in comments and blog posts. You can set up your competitor’s name and decide if you want to join in on the comments.
  • IFTTT — Set up automatic actions for when your brand is mentioned in places that other services might miss. “If someone mentions my competitor in Reddit, then send me a notification in my Slack channel.”

Watch their hiring process

Your alerts might pick up job posts. Don’t ignore them. Not only are you seeing how they are expanding (hiring more salespeople, hiring on the West Coast, etc.), but you also can pick up details about the technology and systems they rely on. (Must be proficient in…)

And finally, go undercover

Sign up for their newsletters.

You can usually do this easily from their site or from their blog. It gives you a front row seat to their marketing messaging and frequency that they send emails to their customers.

Become a lead, then a customer.

Take your time to convert to see first if they send retargeting messages or follow you with special offers. Once you buy/sign up, watch for the welcome and onboarding details.
Finish the cycle when you cancel to find how they handle customers who leave. Keep in mind that these same customers could be leaving for your services. What kind of “come back” message will they get at the same time that you would be trying to welcome them aboard?