A comic about competitor analysis

Why I’m interested in competitor analysis, my story

When I started to try to build my own products I found that just going off my intuition for what people would be interested in wasn’t very effective.

My project planning process involved coming up with an idea and spending months building it. Then I would release the project and nobody would care.

My projects had a lot of problems. They were aimed at tiny markets, and I kept trying to build stuff for myself (an advanced member of my audience) but basically I just didn’t know what to create and it was frustrating.

These days when I do project planning I start with a little bit of market research and it’s really helpful.

I’m a big fan of customer analysis (I’ve written some popular articles by researching customers on forums), but competitor analysis is good too. Competitor analysis can be easy and fast and since competitors have done the hard work of developing a market you can study the stuff they’ve created you learn a lot about what an audience is into. Competitor analysis can be a quicker more direct way to identify successful content and product topics.

With competitor analysis you can see what has already worked (there are already engagement metrics, comments, etc…) so you can sort of reverse engineer your competitors success with your own marketing.

Why waste time on research, shouldn’t you just build… write… create?

A lot of marketers just make stuff and put it out there and see what sticks.

Just making stuff, I think, is actually a really good approach. It’s quite possible to get stuck researching. Creating stuff builds your creation muscles, gets your name out there and builds a lot of really good creative momentum.

The only issue with this approach is that some products are expensive to create. I think that’s why in the software world there’s a lot of focus on validation while in the marketing world where content is easy and cheap to make and people are just like posting an Instagram post people just don’t worry about it.

Still, competitor analysis doesn’t have to be a huge expensive undertaking, and in my experience it is valuable. Once I learned to do search engine keyword research and grab some rough metrics I was just constantly surprised at how often my intuition of what people would be interested in was dead wrong.

I believe a little bit of competitor analysis can help you create things that are more likely to succeed in the market.

Would you benefit from a bit of competitor analysis?

If you launch products or create content you could probably benefit from competitor analysis… so.. marketers and product designers both on and offline, SaaS founders, social media managers, really anybody who needs to get eyeballs on content would probably benefit.

Competitor analysis helps you pick content and product topics, and design market strategy.

With a Birdseye view of a market you increase your odds of getting a market success, and if you’re working with a client a bit of competitor analysis will impress the heck out of them.

You wouldn’t go on vacation without first looking at a map and deciding where to go? Then why do you leave your content creation to chance? Don’t let your content get stranded without water in the middle of the Sahara dessert. A little bit of data (it doesn’t need to be a lot just a little bit) can help you make the content your audience is looking for.

How do you do basic competitor analysis?

First find those competitors.

I usually do this by finding my audience’s category label. So for marketers it might be “digital marketers” or “social media marketers” or just “marketers”.

I’ll usually plug those keywords in as hashtags on Instagram or a community name on reddit and look for audiences focused on my topic.

On reddit I’ll look at a few posts and look at some of the people leaving comments and see what other forums they’re posting in. This is useful because it helps me find the best most active forums. For example, last week I was doing some research on bloggers. I started in the /r/blogging forum but quickly ended up in the much more active /r/juststart forum.

Once in a form I’ll begin looking for ‘jobs to be done’… so for example in the social media marketing space I might look for ‘content calendar’. I’ll often try search terms like ‘best’ and ‘tool’ as well. This will bring up dozens of conversations about tools. Those tool makers are your competitors.

You’ll generally find several broad categories of tools in any industry and creating lists of tools in different categories can give you a nice Birdseye view of the market.

As you do this it’s useful to follow / collect the handles of content creators and influencers in the space. These people are literally in the business of evangelizing the industry and will chatter on endlessly about tools, techniques and best practices.

Once you’ve found a few competitors in a space go to their websites and look for their social accounts. Check out their social pages and see what they’re talking about. Take note of their customer support forums and conferences they attend etc…

As you do this collect notes on problems their products address, topics their community is discussing etc…

You don’t need to go overboard. You’re looking to get a rough measure – some broad topics you can address. A rough measure can point you in a good direction.

Finally, when you’re considering writing an article or creating a product do a quick sanity check by looking up search volume on google and conversation volume in forums.

Use Google’s advertising tools and plug in keywords in your articles’ title and check to see how much search traffic you get. Search for your keywords on reddit in relevant forums and make sure there’s a lot of discussion around the topic. You can also do a google site search (site:reddit.com/r/subreddit your keywords) and look at the number of results returned to get an idea of how often your topic comes up.

That’s the basics.

And yet… it’s not easy…

Almost every company has their social accounts – facebook page, instagram, twitter, linkedin, etc.. – at the bottom of their web page. If you go to those pages you can see the company interacting with their customers. You can look at the things they have posted and see how many likes, shares, comments etc… those pieces of content have gotten. You can see what hashtags they use and how often they post. These days facebook is trying to be more transparent so you can even see the ads the companies are running.

On Instagram you can see a company’s level of engagement, which posts customers are responding to.

On YouTube you can see how many views and comments particular videos are getting.

It’s great, but when people try to do this research they typically run into information overload. There are of a bazillion bazillion competitors in every niche and massive forums filled with data. How do you digest it all?

Also the information is fluffy – raw text – laid out across dozens of pages. Harvesting and processing the information to gain insights takes ages. Going to 30 facebook pages and recording notes on each and going to Instagram and keeping it all organized is daunting. It’s a slow process and it’s easy to lose focus and forget why you were doing the analysis in the first place.

The hard part is colating and summarizing the information. This kind of data is most useful when you can take a group of competitors and look across them and find patterns ~ the broad topics they’re covering and which topics are getting a lot of attention. You need to gather all those stats and digest and organize it to make it useful. It’s hard to do without tools so people usually skip doing this kind of research.

So that leaves a lot of people not doing any research… just trusting their intuition — guessing topics and hoping things go well…

That’s where competitor analysis tools come in

Competitor analysis tools collect and organize the data on the internet making it easier for marketers to find patterns.

There are many kinds of competitor analysis tools.

SEO tools - SEMRush, Ahrefs, clustering tools give some good insights about search engine competition. Tools like social blade and phlanx give engagement metrics for Instagram and Youtube. Some of these tools are pretty basic but others are super powerful, they’re almost like a cheat code. They crawl parts of the internet and digest and summarize information so you don’t have to do it manually yourself.

There are tools for Twitter competitor research. I’ve also seen tools for Instagram engagement research and Facebook ads competitor research. SEMRush actually will do competitor analysis and look at keywords of a particular website and look across all the other websites in their database and pull out the ones that are similar. It makes finding big competitors and understanding their marketing strategies quick and easy.

… you can also just be social on social media

Tools are great, but you can also just engage.

A lot of marketers on Instagram follow competitors and engage with them and their audiences. I actually think this is really effective. You sort of absorb what’s working and not over time all the while building relationships (which is actually probably better than just staring at stats all day).

This approach ultimately leads to a deeper more embedded understanding of an audience and their problems, but it is slow and time consuming. Still, if you are committed to a particular audience this is probably the most effective way to go in my opinion.

Good luck!

I hope you have found this article helpful. If you have any questions feel free to reach out!