Building advantages with competitive intelligence.

If you’re always looking out of the window then you’re likely to miss what’s going on right in front of you. Your bowl of Coco Pops is popping away like a party you’ve attended but you’re sat in the corner, completely oblivious to what’s going on around you. Even if Gary’s doing a headstand while eating a soft taco infused with ghost peppers, you’re in another world entirely while everyone else cheers him on. 

Competitive intelligence can become something of an unhealthy obsession; a distraction. You may have noticed online, you’re scrolling through LinkedIn feeling inadequate as every post is about how great people are doing. I’d recommend you ignore it at all costs, it’s nonsense. Stunting wealth that probably doesn’t even exist, it’s not worth your time. In my experience, the ones that are doing well aren’t bragging about it while the ones that aren’t want you to pat them on the head or they’re trying to sell you something. I don’t buy it. 

The kind of competitive intelligence I’m about to show you, will open your mind and inform your content strategy. This is what we do as part of our integrated marketing services and you can automate most of the process so it’s on autopilot (we love marketing automation.) I’m not going to show you the dark side of competitive intelligence, none of that information war stuff or negative marketing, I’m going to show you the clean way to gather intelligence to build your strategy. The nasty stuff can wait for another day. 

Benefits of competitive intelligence.

Why do you need to look at other people or businesses? You’re a big deal, right? Maybe you are, but competitive intelligence can give you a leg up and polish that shiny crown of yours. As part of my company, I set triggers based on anything our intelligence monitors pick up. This is then sent to our CRM and task management platform where we take a closer look and assign new tasks from there.

Content marketing: automate your efforts and build an advantage.
SEO: understand backlink profiles and prioritise content efforts.
Social media: know what engages audiences in your industry and why, so you can build a strategy with insight.
Product development: make sure your product is as good as the competition, learn from their mistakes and win the customers they churn.

And a ton more. The purpose of this approach isn’t to copy, plagiarise and scrape but to understand and take an informed approach yourself, seeking to be better and more visible than the competition. As a rule, I’d never encourage anyone to copy and paste or mimic too closely as you need your own brand voice.

Lurking in search engines.

When someone says they’re fantastic at SEO, they don’t realise how vulnerable of a statement that is. When they brag about traffic and enquiries through search engines, they’re exposed. Someone with basic SEO knowledge can get visibility of their rankings and most importantly, see if they’re even telling the truth. 

Here’s a competitive search we’ve run for a company website. As you can see it’s produced a list of search terms, we were hungry at the time so this is burger related. We can understand the strength of their domain and which search terms we could compete for which means we know what to do next.

A list of search terms that a website is ranking for. These are the results of using a search engine competition tool.

Translation - what the columns mean.

Search term – what the query is that they’re ranking for.
Difficulty – how hard it is to rank for that query, the lower the better.
Search vol – how many searches that term is getting per month.
Position – their position in search engines.
Competition – advertising competition.
CPC – average cost per click if you’re advertising for that term.

There are more columns but I’ve removed them so you can’t see the domain that this is targeting. 

It helps us to understand how much work is involved in getting a particular result. In this example there are 30 pages they’re ranking for and we could compete for all of them so that’s 30 pages we need to build already as part of the project. Keep in mind we’ll be looking at other competitors too, the list can be massive by the end of it.

When I’m putting together a strategy for a start-up or an established business that’s fully engaged in content marketing, competitor analysis forms the first few steps. Who is this company up against and where is the opportunity? This is great for informing business decisions and tapping into a target audience. Having a clear picture of your competitive environment is more useful than you might think.

In the right circumstances, we could take most of their rankings and set up a website to compete with everything they have. Mean? Perhaps, but this is business, it’s supposed to be competitive and I can spot and respond to leverage faster than a cat does to the rustle of a packet of Dreamies. It’s my job to give you an advantage and make the most of your business investment.

Sites mapped.

Most websites will have something known as a sitemap. We can actually import these and a lot of people don’t realise it. It’s usually quite easy to find a sitemap as they have default names and if they’re not a default we can check something called Robots.txt as it will usually point to the sitemap. Your site will usually have one too. 

A sitemap will give us a list of all of the page URLs on a website. Why would we need this? Well, come closer…a little more: I can analyse each page for search engine rankings and see which ones are doing well. You can understand the structure of their website and compare it to yours.

I’ve crudely covered the domain name using a digital pen because I don’t want anyone to feel targeted by this article and I didn’t have my crayons handy. They have multiple sitemaps and we can focus on the important ones to build a big picture.

Then we take these sitemaps and import the xml to generate a list of every page on the site.

A list of website URLs that were contained in the sitemap.

As you can see there’s a bunch of utility pages to filter out, they’re not really relevant for what we’re doing. We want to hone in on service pages, blogs and categories not contact pages or anything pointless.

Sitemaps can be monitored for updates and this informs our marketing strategy. If you spot a competitor that’s dropping content that’s being devoured like Yum Yums at family gatherings, it’s a great idea to set a sitemap monitor so you can see their next pieces before they even announce them.

This can be done through tools like Hexowatch or even with AppScript and Google Sheets and you can analyse them for search terms. At weAreMonumental, we go one further. Once our monitors spot a sitemap change, one of the team will take a closer look at the new pages to decide if there’s an action we should take for our customers. This way, we’re always one step ahead. We use tools we’ve actually built in-house to bring this all together as one slick, automated process. It sounds complex but it saves so much time and effort.

In the image below, which is a screenshot of a monitoring solution I use, you can see the full list and new additions to the sitemap. It’s the new ones we want to take a quick look at to see if they’re relevant and whether or not we fancy dropping better versions of their content

Competitive intelligence on social media.

This is slightly more manual of a task. You might have noticed that the same messages hit home on social media channels.

You’re right, they do and although they get engagement it doesn’t mean they’re converting to sales. For this task, I usually sift through the mountain that is their page feed and take a closer look at which pieces of content get engagement and why that might be. I’ll often create banks of screenshots as ideas and see if we can build on their successes. I also examine whether the engagement is actually legitimate, it can be purchased, believe it or not.

Now, it’s important to note that there are a wide range of reasons that someone might be getting engagement. Take Instagram as a great example. Posts of half-naked humans tend to get a lot of engagement, probably more than their fair share. 

Before you whack on your finest mankini, it’s a great idea to think about it a little more carefully. I’m not saying that the human body isn’t a wonderful thing that should be celebrated in all its shapes and sizes (you go gurrrrl,) but what I am saying is that might not be a good reason for someone to like your business content.

And here lies the important, modestly-clad message; think about the impact of that content. People may engage with it but why? Because they like your hiney? Due to the fact you have the most beautiful biceps in Brighton? Sex might sell but that’s probably not going to help you sell your bookkeeping services and if it is, you’ll end up wasting your time with the wrong kind of enquiries. Attention is nice but steady cash flow is what you really need and competitor analysis can be a great way to build a plan and tone of voice for your social media account (s).

Industrial espionage.

I always wanted to be a spy, actually it was a Power Ranger but a spy would be fun too. Corporate espionage is quite a dramatic phrase for ‘market research.’ It can give you an understanding of your market by being a customer and testing a competitor’s product. Makes sense, right? It’s important, why wouldn’t you get a closer look for yourself?

If you’re in ecommerce, for example, you can take a closer look at their packaging, the quality, the sell-by dates and materials, how eco-friendly their product is… a long list that can help you perfect your offering so it’s in the best shape possible for product launches.

For SaaS product development .

If you happen to be a business in the SaaS space, taking a look at other platforms is an amazing way to gather ideas. Some companies publish their development roadmaps which can give you competitive insights into the demand for a new product features. You can also assess their UX and UI and find out what’s lacking, what clunks there are in the process and what technologies they’re using.

It’s probably best to use an external UX design agency because when you look at something from your perspective, you’ll be naturally biased in favour of your product. The worst SaaS businesses are the ones that have decided their tool is perfect already and despite a lack of sales, they’re not interested in hearing feedback even though it stares them in the face every day.

Public relations.

The digital footprint is something we can never get away from. Privacy in 2021 is like a toilet with glass walls and when something is out there, it’s out there short of legal intervention. That includes PR. When I build company websites (see monthly web design packages), provided that the budget is there, I’ll build them an advantage from the starting line. You can scan websites for backlinks to give an initial impression of what public relations a company has engaged in.

There may be opportunities to displace their content and win the backlinks for yourself. You could also use this to identify journalists that write about your industry and pitch stories to them to start building your own backlink profile. That’s another thing we do over here, see ‘public relations services.’

From this backlink analysis you can see there are very limited results to pick off. They don’t have many so in a month or two, I could generate a ton of backlinks with a PR strategy and build a huge advantage, while scooping up any opportunities in this list. The list itself is much longer than on the screenshot, 98 long so it’s not the greatest but still gives a few clues.

Informed business plans.

Competitive analysis can help you understand what you’re up against and it’s a fundamental part of research, what a boring sentence but it’s true. Market research shouldn’t be a one-off where you set up focus groups and offer Barry a twenty note to give you his opinion of your gran’s brownies but an ongoing cycle of customer feedback. Just so you’re aware, focus groups can be awesome for consumer insight but don’t rely on them as a single source.

This is critical to any strategic plan to increase market share and so that you’re always ahead of the curve. If you understand where you’re losing customers, what features they’re after, why they’re going and to whom, you can build a plan to minimise the competitive threat to your business. Bring that churn down.

Enhanced sales processes.

Easy. If you know all the flaws that a competitive solution has you can give your sales team information about how you’re better. They can then feed this directly to prospects while you’re trying to win them over. 

I’m not saying that people at Tesco should be saying how terrible Asda is but if you know that their service is lacking in some way, and that this prospect used to be their customer, you can reinforce the benefits of your service instead without even mentioning their name.

I’m not a fan of negative marketing, embarrassing or attacking competitors but I am a fan of winning their unsatisfied customers so I can do a good job for them myself. It’s a fair way to increase market share and keep your sales team busy.

Sales enabled.

Competitive intelligence is a sales enablement tool, as much as I can’t stand that phrase that’s exactly what it is. It can feed the content that you send to your mailing lists, give you a wide variety of use cases for your services and help you to build a fuller picture of the market you’re trying to make ground in. It will also help you understand industry trends and present you with actionable insight.

It takes time, effort and investment but the crown sits most comfortably when it’s earned. There is valuable insight to be gained from competitive analysis and if you need help with this, click the button below to book directly into my diary.

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