“Eavesdropping is rude,” they say. “It’s not eavesdropping – it’s research and it’s awesome!” I yell back, because I yell when I get excited.
Okay, so listening to your coworker’s private conversation with a family member? That’s bad. Don’t do that. But that’s not the kind of eavesdropping I’m excited about.
I’m talking about researching your competitors’ online marketing. Investigating, researching, and sleuthing.
You need to know your enemy, everyone knows that from The Art of War – whether or not they’ve read it. If you want to win – whether that’s winning a war or winning over a customer – you need to know who you’re up against.
Luckily, few things are private on social media. And the web in general, really. If your competitor is marketing online, you can probably find it. And analyze it. And figure out how to do it better yourself!
There are tons of different things to look at: their websites, social media profiles, paid ad campaigns, email marketing sends, PR coverage… it would take too long to list it all.
And if just listing it out takes a long time, can you imagine the work that would go into actually watching all those channels?
Not something I’d look forward to. But as with most things today, tools and software can make things easier. Don’t you love when that happens? For example, there’s iSpionage for PPC sleuthing. For social media, news, blogs, etc., there’s Mention.
That means you have no excuse not to monitor your competitors. If you still need to be convinced, sit back and grab a cup of coffee. I’ll have you geared up to go all Sherlock Holmes on investigating your competition in no time.
Why monitoring your competitors matters
As a marketer, you know the importance of awareness. You’re aware of your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, best opportunities, and worst mistakes. And you don’t just sit on that information, you use it moving forward to make data-driven decisions.
Figured out that SnapChat and your industry don’t mix? Fine. You’ve learned something from it and can go on to testing a different strategy. You won’t launch another SnapChat campaign.
You need to be just as aware of the tactics your competitors are trying out. Here’s why:
- If competitor A starts rocking at a strategy you’re struggling with, you can observe the differences between to see what you could do better.
- When competitor B discontinues a feature that you still offer, it’s a great time to start a marketing push for that feature to snatch up customers unhappy with the news.
- Every time competitor C gets written about in the trade press, you have one more journalist to add to your own list of targets.
- If customers of competitor D are raving like crazy about a certain feature, you can let your product team know it’s a well-liked and popular option.
That’s right. Your insights won’t even stay inside the marketing department. You’ll be able to help out sales, support, product – pretty much any team in your business. Competitive research will be a great way to impress your coworkers, too. See? I told you this would be worth it.
Want to get more specific? We can do that too. Here are some specific things you can do with your competitor insights:
1. Create a PR media list
The best way to build PR relationships is before you need them, right? Tracking your competitor’s PR coverage will tell you what journalists are worth adding to your media list.
The most time-consuming parts of building a press list isn’t finding possible outlets. Normally you find too many, and it’s overwhelming. The real challenge is finding outlets that want to write about your company, and then finding the right person to contact there.
For example, in Mention you can set up an alert for your competitor’s name to see all the different journalists covering them. If they’re writing about competitors, there’s a good chance they cover your industry regularly. That’s someone you want to get to know.
This is a great alternative to spending hours combing through a media database for different journalists in a given field, and then seeing if they write about your niche. Almost like reverse engineering – find the articles about your niche first, and then see who wrote them.
You could even focus on the “big fish” by using our influencers dashboard to view only the most influential sites mentioning them.
2. Crack their content marketing strategy
By watching a competitor’s blog, social media channels, etc., you can get a feel for how they’re using content. And not just the basic “what they’re publishing and when,” but also how they’re marketing it and whether or not that’s working.
First: what are they doing?
Do they have a blog? What are they writing about? How often? How long are the posts? What style do they take? How do they distribute them on social? What else do they share? How do they engage?
Lots of questions to ask yourself.
And then take a look at how that’s working. You may see that they’re getting a lot of traction from writing about a topic you haven’t considered, or from a different angle. Should you try that approach as well?
Or maybe you see a big gap in their content that you’ve created things for – perhaps it’s time for a bigger push marketing it since they can’t compete there yet.
You can track how often their content is getting shared, analyze the success of their branded hashtags, and see how they’re engaging with people who mention them.
For example, advocate marketing software Influitive knows that they talk about their space differently from others in the advocate marketing space. They monitor what other companies are saying in their content to see how people are describing and shaping the newer marketing strategy.
3. Find their backlinks
By using SEO sleuthing tools and setting up an alert monitoring your competitor’s website, you can get real-time updates on who’s linking to them.
This kind of piggybacks on point #2, since seeing what content is earning backlinks can help inform your own content marketing and strategy. Knowing which of their blog posts other content creators find valuable enough to link to will help you decide what to create yourself.
But it also goes beyond creating content. You can find out how well they rank for certain keywords, figure out what keywords they’re trying to rank for, and analyze the SEO of their site structure compared to your own. You can basically guess their SEO strategy.
This is the perfect opportunity to use Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique. First, identify which of their pages are getting the highest rankings and most links. Next, identify what’s missing or which parts could be better. Then create that new better version and reach out to people who linked to or shared the original you were inspired by.
4. Generate leads from unhappy customers
Now to turn your competitor research into actual sales and actual money! Like I said before, monitoring can be use for more than marketing – it can grow any part of your business. So let’s start bringing sales leads that are ready to close.
Monitoring your competitors will bring in mentions of what their prospects and customers are saying on them online. Normally, randomly luring a competitor’s customers over to your side of the playground would come across as pushy.
But if someone is talking about a problem that you can solve, there’s no reason not to let them know. Take one of my favorite Mention success stories, where Close.io turned one tweet into $585/month in recurring revenue:
Because Close.io was monitoring their competitor’s name, they found a possible customer for themselves. And since you can tell that Pablo there was clearly frustrated and would be in need of another solution, chiming in was helping more than selling.
And if you already have an alert set for monitoring your competitor, you’ll find these in real time and be able to pounce before another competitor does!
5. Collect important product feedback
So your company already collects feedback about its own product and business, because what business doesn’t? Plus, when a customer’s unhappy they’ll make sure you know.
But that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.
Just like with the holes in your competitor’s content, use insights from their customers to find holes in their product.
For example, if your competitor has a separate Twitter account for customer support, definitely monitor all tweets to and from that account closely. You’ll see what parts of the competition people don’t like or have problems with. Then you’ll know what missteps to avoid on your own product and which features tend to confuse people.
Monitor your competitors to learn from their successes & failures instead of just your own.
Overall, the best benefit of competitor monitoring is that you can avoid a lot of mistakes.
Either you see something they’re doing right and can implement it before you miss out any more, or you can learn from someone else’s mistakes.
Then there’s the added benefit of being able to reverse engineer their marketing strategies based on what content they put out. From engagement to SEO and content – it’s all public, you just need the tools to find it easily.
Setting up alerts for your main competitors will give you all of that information in one place.
Read next: 6 coolest Ruby on Rails projects