Do you need new and better ideas for your blogging or online efforts in general, and find new ways to develop a sharper competitive edge for your presence on the Internet?
One thing that can help you greatly with that is analyzing what your competitors are doing online. Trust me, if you go through 100+ websites of your competitors and buy 10+ products from them, ideas will start flowing.
A few ideas that you’ll get with competitor analysis will be only copycats; a few ideas will be small improvements of what you are already doing; some ideas will come up based on merging different competitors’ tactics; but most importantly your own unique ideas will start flowing in abundance.
With extensive competitor analysis, you build a map of the landscape you are competing on and that enables you better navigation and faster innovation. Even more, besides opening you mind to a flow of completely new ideas, you will also gain the following:
- Understand your online market landscape better
- Know better how to uniquely position yourpage online
- Get new branding and marketing ideas
- Find where your competitors are weak and get ideas for how you can beat them
- Be additionally motivated to become the market leader
- It’s a great exercise to train your analytical mind
In this article, you will first learn the general basics of performing a market analysis, and in the second part how to extensively analyze what your competitors are doing online.
Knowing what your competitors are doing online is extremely important. If a business is not active online in some way, it’s probably not a business with a bright future (a few sectors are a rare exemption). And if a business is doing really well online, it makes sense to analyze what they're doing.
Before we start, a word of caution. While analyzing competitors will definitely give you many insights, be careful of any potential copyright infringement.
You want to get an overview of what is happening on the market and gather many new ideas, but the point of the analysis is to help you innovate and even further improve what you or your competitors are doing.
Simple copy-pasting and directly stealing ideas is not the way to do it (except for rare exceptions), and you always have to respect the copyright.
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Traditional frameworks for competitive analysis
Before we go to how to analyze what your competitors are doing online, let’s look at some basics of performing competitive analysis.
The main point of competitive research is to better understand the industry, sharpen your core competencies and differentiators, and better understand general trends and paradigms. The research should present an input for your strategic and marketing business decisions.
The process of conducting traditional market research is the following:
- Defining a research problem
- Selecting research tools and frameworks
- Gathering, cleaning and arranging the data
- Analyzing data
- Conclusions and insights for better strategic decisions
There are several ways you can gather the data and where you can go for informational resources:
- Desk Research – all the data you gather behind your desk on your computer
- Field Research – gathering data outside of your office (interviews etc.)
- Internal Resources – resources that are available in your company
- External Resources – external research like annual reports, statistic reports etc.
- Primary data – the data you gather on your own (focus groups, test, experiments, interviews)
- Secondary data – research made by other people and organizations (annual reports, NGO reports, market research companies reports, academic papers etc.).
If you spend enough time behind search engines, you can find a lot of data about the market and competitors. In traditional market and competitior analysis, several standard frameworks are in use:
- PESTLE Analysis for macroeconomic stability
- Porter’s Five Forces for an industry’s attractiveness
- TAM, SAM, SOM for the market size, including market types and trends
- Market landscape (the petal diagram) with the list of main competitors
- Market segmentation and personas for market segments
- SWOT analysis and other specific analyses
- Online competitive analysis
The information from all these analyses should help a company to strategically develop competences and differentiators and uniquely position itself on the market.
Online competitive analysis – the basics
If we move to the online business, the goal of online competitor analysis is to understand the online strategy of your competitors really well.
To perform such an analysis, you can use a typical framework that evaluates all the important data when it comes to an online estate (website) and the presence on other Internet sites.
You can gather all the data you need with desk research. Luckily, in most cases there is no need to go out on the field. Information resources are most often external (if you aren’t analyzing your own site) and the analysis consists of a combination of primary data (browsing sites and using search engines) and secondary data (online research tools).
You can basically know your competitors’ every step
If you are active online as a blogger or in any other way, you probably know that gathering information from your competitors is extremely easy. You can basically know every single step they make. But that’s also a big downside for you, since everybody can copy your moves.
It’s what makes the online world so much more competitive and thus you must constantly innovate. If you frequently get inspiration from other bloggers, don’t get mad if somebody is inspired by your blog. That only means you’re doing good work.
There is a simple process (or the framewrok) how to analyze your online competition:
- Identify your competitors
- Gather data from your competitors
- Analyze their business model
- General site and content analysis
- Email marketing tactics
- Analysis of different website metrics and pages
- Approximate traffic volume and trends
- General SEO Metrics
- Best performing posts & pages
- Best performing keywords
- Link profile
- Social Media Profiles
- Paid Advertising
I will give a little bit more emphasis on the process of analyzing a blog’s competition, but you can more or less use the same framework for any website. To be as practical as possible, I will give you examples along the way. In the analysis, I will use some of the blogs that I like and regularly read:
- Steve Pavlina for what I consider quality content and great writing style
- Ramit Sethi for having the best online products
- Tai Lopez for publishing engaging video and audio content
- James Altucher for brutal honesty in his articles
- James Clear for overall presence on the internet (in media, guest blog posts etc.)
Their strategies are very different, but every one of them dominates one kind of channel in combination with a monetization strategy.
Discovering online competitors
First of all, you need to discover your main online competitors. You probably already know your main competitors, since we are all interested in the competition club. If by chance you don’t, there are several ways how to identify them.
Most of them require some manual work, but it’s not that hard to do it. Here are the main ideas for finding your online competition:
- Find competition based on the keywords you want to rank for (enter keywords in search engines)
- Blog or website directories – directories like alltop and many others
- Blog awards, rankings and blogrolls (search top blogs [in your industry])
- Niche aggregators, similar site recommendation engines etc.
- Different SEO Tools
If you are using search engines by entering keywords to discover your competitors, make sure you’re browsing in incognito with appropriate regional settings. And if you want to help yourself with different SEO tools to discover your competitors, they are listed at the end of this article.
Analyze their business model – how they make money
There are two major reasons why people have blogs – one is for branding purposes, and the other is to make money. You should know what the primary aim of your competitor’s blog is (or any other site for that matter), and even more what their business model is.
Thus, it makes sense to click around a website a little bit and determine their micro- (leads, followers etc.) and macro- (sales) conversion goals.
If the blog is not purely for branding purposes, you want to know how they are making money. There are some pretty standard ways how bloggers make money:
- Affiliate income
- Services – consulting, freelancing
- Managing communities and subscriptions
- Selling physical products
- Other uncommon ways
Based on standard revenue models, you are interested in things like: The main revenue source, best‑selling products, topics of the products, advertisers and sponsors of the blog, affiliate links in the posts and specific ads on pages, and so on. This should give you good ideas for how you can make additional income with your blog in your niche.
Besides getting an idea of how competitors are making money, there are two other very important things you should analyze – how competitors drive traffic from their blog to landing pages and how they gather new leads.
The usual mechanism are banners, mailings, internal links, and so on. Analyze the traffic flow and the quality of landing pages and lead magnets (including freebies they offer to their readers).
General site and content analysis
After you understand the competitor’s business model, you want to analyze their overall website. You are interested in the following website elements:
- Age of site (domain registration date)
- Technologies used – Build With Techology Lookup and WP Theme Detector
- Overall layout and design
- Frequency of publishing
- Structure of a single blog post
- On-site optimization efforts
- Internal linking strategy
- Outbound links
- Preferred media
- Free goodies for readers
- Number of indexed pages
- Topic authority
First you want to get a feeling of the overall layout and design of your competitor’s website. What things are emphasized the most, navigation, fonts, colors and what catches your eye first.
You should pay special attention to widgets, lead capturing mechanisms and different cool ideas you can use yourself. You can get a general feeling about the website only by clicking around.
Then you are interested in the structure of a single blog post – what is the length of an average article, the use of sub-headlines, text formatting, style, language and use of words.
Very useful info is also which media types are dominant in blog posts (text, video, quotes, infographics etc.) and most importantly, what kind of free digital goods are available to readers. Also pay attention to internal linking and potential outbound links for SEO and partnership purposes.
Since you want to always write the best piece of content on a specific topic (using the skyscraper technique), you can already think of ideas for making the posts better when analyzing a specific competitive blog post.
On-site SEO quality
In the next step, on-site SEO efforts come into play. You can quickly get a good impression of how well a site is optimized for search engines.
Just pay attention to the URL structure, titles, meta tags, headings, internal links, broken links, SSL certificate, responsive design, AMP pages, site speed, image optimization, rich snippets, custom 404 page, XML sitemap and robots.txt. If these things are present, then the site is very well optimized from the on-site perspective.
You want to know the number of indexed pages of the site. You can check that with different tools or by entering site:www.domain.com into Google.
More posts usually mean more content, and more content means more potential keywords to rank (it depends on the length and quality, of course). The last thing you can check is niche authority. It’s a metric that you can find in SEMRush.
You can use the most popular SEO suits to get the info about the number of indexed pages, the quality of on-site SEO and a lot of similar information. The most popular tools for such an analysis are MOZ OSE, SemRush, DeepCrawl, WooRank, Screaming Frog, Raven Tools and others.
Also don’t forget to check how the site of your competitors looked like in the past (redesign, updates) with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Tools like HTTrack also enable you to archive entire pages of your competitors on a certain date.
Best performing posts & pages
Of all the blog posts and pages, you are of course interested in which are the best performing ones. Those are the blog posts that either:
- Drive the most organic traffic (keywords)
- Drive the most referral traffic or bring authority to domain (quality links)
- Are the most shared (social networks)
- Readers are most engaged with (comments)
- Bring the most leads or drive the most sales (conversions)
Best performing keywords and top ranked pages
Some of the best data you can get are the keywords that are driving the most traffic to your competitor’s site. You can easily connect best performing keywords to specific blog posts and landing pages.
When performing keyword analysis, you are interested in two things:
- Keywords that drive the most traffic
- The pages linked to the best performing keywords
- Ranking over time for specific keywords
You can use different SEO tools that will do keyword research for you. SEMRush is very popular for online keyword research, but it’s a paid tool (after a free one-month trial). Ahrefs is also a good alternative, even though it’s more recommended for analyzing links.
As a free alternative, you can enter your competitor’s URL in the Google Keyword Planner and you will get some keyword ideas.
When you are analyzing top-positioned pages always ask yourself – what are the reasons the page is ranking so well?
Most shared posts & pages
The next good measurement of blog post performance is the most shared content on social media. You can check the most shared content with the Buzzsumo tool.
The tool shows you the most shared content on main social networks for a specific site or on a specific topic. The latter is a great way to find a few additional competitors of yours. Buzzsumo is also a great tool for connecting with other influencers.
We will talk soon a little bit more about social media presence analysis.
The most commented posts
If you want to analyze how commented different blog posts are on your competitor’s site, you first need a list of all the pages. You can extract all the pages with a tool like Screaming Frog (primarily used for on‑site SEO purposes as discussed).
To get only the blog posts, you need to exclude all other pages. You can achieve that by properly configuring spider (uncheck images, CSS etc.) and by listing pages you want to exclude (.*wp-content.*, .*login.*, .*page.*, .*images.*).
In the next step, you copy the links from Screaming Frog to an URL Profiler. In the URL Profiler, you enter Regex data (regular expressions) under custom scraper or copy Xpath to comments. Then you have to export results in a spreadsheet and clean the data. You can then further analyze which posts got the most comments and why.
Email marketing tactics
The goal of almost every single blogger is to build a huge and healthy email list. Although email marketing is losing a little bit on its strength because of all the saturation (popup assault you encounter on almost every site), it’s still an important part of customer retention.
The things that you are interested in are:
- The size of the email list (if publicly disclosed anywhere)
- Tactics to gather emails from visitors (popups, freebies etc.)
- Automation flow after you subscribe to their newsletter
- Frequency of emails
- Design and types of emails they are sending
If you analyze email marketing tactics for a few of your competitors, you will definitely get many ideas on how to improve your own campaigns.
If you are competing against someone big, established in the industry, they have probably invested thousands of dollars into testing and that should give you a basic idea of what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, never stop testing on your own.
Here is the process you should follow:
- Subscribe to your competitor's newsletters
- Collect their data (you can IFTTT each of their emails to your Evernote)
- Date, time, format, CTA, subject, were you tempted to click?
- Get your own ideas and run your own tests
- Improve your email marketing strategy
Competitors’ traffic volume
The one thing that will probably interest you is the approximate traffic volume your competitors are enjoying and the general trends – is the traffic growing or declining?
In some cases, size (traffic volume) is an extremely important metric (for media sites), in other cases the quality of traffic matters more, since you want people to be buying from you, not just visiting your site (niche site).
Nevertheless, traffic volume usually is something we are all interested in. There are a few ways you can analyze the volume and trends:
Alexa and SimilarWeb show you traffic estimations and trends in the free report. You can get even more detailed data like traffic by country, distribution of traffic sources, main referrals, most active social networks, audience interests, basic demographic information, bounce rate, pages per visit and average time per page.
These are all estimates and not data from any reliable analytics, but they can give you a nice general overview of the competitors’ sites.
Partnerships, links and basic off-site SEO metrics
All the way until now we have been analyzing what the competitors are doing on their own blog or website. The next big group of data is connected to your competitor’s offsite efforts. That means their main partnerships, fans, appearances on other sites, links and social media efforts.
First you want to check the basic SEO metrics that will give you an overall idea of how powerful your competitor’s site is from the off-SEO point of view (you can use Moz OSE and Majestic free features to check that, or you can use URLProfiler if you want to check more pages at once):
- Moz Domain Authority (DA)
- Moz Page Authority (PA)
- Moz spam score
- Majestic Citation Flow (CF)
- Majestic Trust Flow (TF)
- Majestic Trust Flow – Citation Flow Ratio
After getting a general overview, it’s time to further analyze incoming links, partnerships, and other important similar data.
Incoming links analysis
There are many benefits to links. They drive traffic, they are a sign that other people love a specific type of content and every (follow) link is like a vote that a website gets. More quality links to a website mean a more powerful and stable domain and better rankings.
Thus, one very important thing you are interested in is how well your competitor’s site attracts links and performs in other off-site ranking factors. By analyzing links, you can identify their partners, fans and most linked content. That should give you many ideas for where you can get links to your blog.
Things that you are most interested in:
- Quantity of links
- Quality of links
- The most linked pages or blog posts
- Sites that frequently link to your competitor
- Links from foreign sites (main foreign countries)
- Other link profile info: NoFollow Ratio, Anchor Text Distribution, TLD Distribution etc.
After analyzing backlinks, you should have a clear picture about the backlink profile, anchor distribution, online communities where competitors are active (and linking to their site), partners, fans, online news and PR about competitors, and other incoming links that might be competitors attracting.
These tools enable you to do many additional things like: Enable backlink alerts for all the new links from your competitors, analyze sites that are linking to several of your competitors (great link-building opportunity) and set up alerts for brand mentions.
Analyze where your competitors are guest blogging
Another very interesting piece of data is analyzing which other sites your competitors are appearing on. The appearances of your competitors on the other site are usually a form of guest blogging or writing for major news or media sites.
You can analyze where your competition is guest blogging in several different ways:
- Use search engines: “Author Name” + “Guest Post” -site: or “Author Name” + inurl:author
- Use reverse search on the author’s image
- Use the mentioned SEO tools for analyzing links
Tools like Scrapebox can help you automate that.
Mentions without links
Finally, you can find mentions of your competitor by searching for a phone number, email address, postal address or any other similar information that is associated with them.
You enter data in the search engine and analyze what comes up. Sometimes you might discover new sites or social media they or their agency operate to rank well in certain verticals.
And don’t forget to set up Google Alerts for mentions of your competitors.
Much like you can gather and analyze extensive data for organic, referred and social medial traffic, so you can do the same for paid traffic (AdWords).
Tools like SpyFu, Keyword Spy and WhatRunsWhere show you the most profitable keywords and ads of your competitors. Such an analysis can help you get many new ideas for profitable keywords and inspiration for your creatives (ads) if you decide to go for paid traffic anywhere in the future.
General social media analysis
The last major group of data you want to analyze are your competitor’s efforts on social media. Social media have become a very important part of almost every website, since they present a great way for connecting with readers and promoting content.
You are interested in the following facts:
- On which social media is a competitor focused (the three main ones)
- Number of followers
- What kind of content do they post on social media
- What is their most shared content on social media
- People who most frequently share the content
- Other data
Just visiting and skimming major social networks will give you a very good idea of how active your competitors are on social networks and which tactics really work. Additionally, you can use different tools like Buzzsumo, Simply Measured, Mention.net or Followerwonk to gather even more data about your competitor’s presence on social media.
Last but not least, you can check if your competitors are present on Reddit. Reddit has a feature that enables you to see where a domain was shared in a subreddit with all other data (upvotes, comments, etc.). You simply enter https://www.reddit.com/domain/yourdomain.com in the browser and you get all the data.
You can use that to analyze your site or your competitor’s sites. You can also add ?sort=top&t=all at the end of the URL to sort the posts by the most upvotes. By using this tactic, you can find new subreddits to share and influencers to connect with.
List of all the mentioned tools for online competitive analysis
Several tools were mentioned in this blog post. To make things easier for you, I decided to put all of them in one place. Many of them offer a free trial, which is enough to gather data about your competitors, but you need many of these tools anyway if you are serious about blogging.
The tools to use to analyze your competitors are:
Traffic and general information
- Alexa (free) – Traffic information in free report
- SimilarWeb (free) – Traffic information in free report
- Google Alerts (free) – A free tool for monitoring brand mentions
- URL Profiler (free trial) – A tool that enables you to analyze many domains at the same time
- ScrapeBox (paid) – The Swiss army knife of SEO for advanced SEO users
- SEMRush (paid) – A popular and general SEO tool that enables you to analyze competitors from all perspectives, but their organic keyword research tool is the best.
- Keyword Spy (free trial) – A tool focused on researching the competitor’s keywords. There is a free trial with limited reports you can use.
- Google Keyword Planner (free) – Enter your competitor’s website to get keyword ideas, completely free.
- Screaming Frog (limited free edition) – The most popular on-site SEO analysis tool
- DeepCrawl (free trial) – Also a very nice and powerful on-site SEO analysis tool
- WooRank (free trial) – A pretty nice on-site SEO analysis tool
- Raven Tools (free trial) – SEO analytics tool
- Seo Tools for Excel (limited free edition) – A very powerful tool if you are an Excel fan
- Siteliner (free) – find duplicate content, broken links, and more
- Ahrefs (free trial) – The most popular tool for backing analysis with many other features
- Majestic SEO (paid) – Also a very popular SEO tool with many features and the biggest link database
- Moz Open Site Explorer (free trial) – One of the most popular SEO tools with many features
- SEO PowerSuite (limited free edition) – Tool with limited functionalities in the forever free version
- Cognitive SEO (free trial) – Another quite popular general SEO Tool
- Open Link Profiler (free) – free link analysis tool
Site History & Architecture
- InterNet Archive (free) – Check previous versions of your competitor’s website
- HTTrack (free) – Save the whole page of your competitor website
- Built With (free) – Find out what websites are build with
- WordPress Theme Detector (free) – What WordPress theme is a site using
- SpyFu (paid) – A great tool for keyword research in paid advertising
- WhatRunsWhere (free trial) – Very powerful display advertising analysis tool
Social Media Tools
- Buzzsumo (free trial) – Analyze the most shared content and do influencer outreach
- Simply Measured (some free tools) – General social analytics and monitoring platform. They have a few free tools you can use.
- Mention.net (free trial) – Very powerful real-time media monitoring
- Followerwonk (limited free edition) – Twitter analytics with bio research from Moz
I suggest you take advantage of the free trials from different tools and then choose the ones that work best for you, if you’re on a budget.