If you’ve every watched a sports movie, then you’re familiar with the scene where the underdog team watches video of the competition and freaks out a little because of how good they are. A seasoned coach might point out vulnerabilities in the competition, but by the end of the movie, the underdog team defeats the reigning champs and comes out on top.
There’s a reason scenes like these play out in almost every sports movie: Spying on the competition is the norm because it gives you insight into their strategies and helps you learn.
In ecommerce, part of doing business is keeping a close eye on what the competition is doing. This way you can
- fill product gaps your competitors have overlooked;
- upgrade your social media and advertising strategies;
- update your website and content marketing strategy;
- improve your pricing model; and
- update your product selection.
There are obvious ways — such as low-key following of competitors on social media — that brands use to get their hands on competitor insights but there are also less obvious ways your competitors spy on you. Here’s a look at what these options are and how you, too, can use them to spy.
Before we dive in, we should take a step back to explore what competitor insights are. Competitor insights are the data you collect on other businesses in your niche to identify strengths and weaknesses that you compare to your business. The insights help you understand how good or bad a job you’re doing compared with your competitors and help you identify what changes you need to make to stand out.
The process of collecting competitor insights includes four steps. These steps ensure that you get the information you need to add value to your products, store, and processes:
- Figure out who your competitors are. Look for other stores that sell similar products, cater to the same audience, and are a similar size as you. If you’ve been selling home-decor items for a year, don’t compare yourself to Wayfair, which has been in business longer and has a large audience. Comparing yourself to brands that are further along than you gives you lots of good information, but there’s just no way for you to compete when the playing field isn’t even.
- Decide what marketing pillars to focus on. When it comes to the 4P’s of marketing — product, price, promotion, and place — you don’t have to focus on gathering insights for all of these areas at once. Instead, track and analyze competitor insights in phases. For example, focus on product insights first and pricing afterward.
- Create a strategy based on your findings. Once you have your competitive insights, create a strategy to incorporate them into your business. For example, if you find that many of your competitors offer more than one delivery option, test out different price points and features. Then, add the best options to your checkout flow.
- Analyze the new strategy and compare to competitors again. Once you’ve incorporated the findings from your competitor insights into your businesses, reassess where you rank compared with your competitors. Are you getting more traffic now? Are your product reviews better than those of your competitors? Has your social media following grown?
This process allows for a structured approach to competitive insights. And now that we have a background of how insights work, let’s look at eight ways competitors spy on each other and how you can use each one.
More people are spending time on social media. In fact, some estimates put the average daily time spent on social media at 2 hours. Over a lifetime, that’s roughly 5 years and 4 months spent scrolling through news feeds. Users research and buy products online, which gives you a chance to learn how they engage with brands.
A social listening tool like Mention shows you how competitive marketing campaigns perform. The data you get gives you ideas for how you can adjust your own campaigns to compete better. While you can focus your insights on social media, Mention also shares insights from across the web — including competitive ecommerce blogs, videos, and forums.
Mention lets you run competitive analyses for different social media platforms as well. For example, if a competitor launches a campaign on Facebook and Instagram, you’re notified.
From the dashboard, you can create custom reports that focus on key competitors in your niche. Use your findings to upgrade your social marketing strategy to compete. For example, if your competition shares user-generated content (UGC) on social media, go one step further and create a branded hashtag and launch a contest that gets customers to share images of themselves using your products. Remember, social proof gives your products an edge over the competition.
What’s also helpful is that you can use Mention to track keywords to identify new competitors. Once you’re aware of new competition, you can create new reports that show you how these brands use social media. You’ll see what’s working and where you can add extra value to your audience’s experience.
Similar to using a social listening tool to track competitor campaigns, use Google Alerts to monitor content that includes mentions of your competitors from across the web — on blogs, in the news, in videos, in discussion forums, and more.
Google Alerts is a service offered through Google. It is free to use and is based on the keywords you track; it’ll send you regular updates with links to the content found. Google Alerts help you stay in the know on what’s new with your competitors. By combining the competitor insights you get from Google Alerts, you can uncover new opportunities to explore.
When you’ve identified who your direct competitors are, add their names to a new Google Alert list. For example, if you sell coffee online, your list might look something like this:
If you’re researching specific information, like competitor promotions and product updates, add additional words to your list. For example, you can add “competitor name + product updates,” or “competitor name + Instagram” to get specific information. All instances of where these keywords are mentioned in the same article will be sent to you for review and analysis:
In this example, online coffee sellers can check out what types of campaigns ReAnimator Coffee runs on Instagram and what types of engagement posts receive.
You can even set how often Google Alerts should show up in your inbox. One option is to set up Google Alerts to send you a notification roundup once a week so reviewing competitive data becomes a regular habit. Plus, with regular notifications, you’re less likely to miss competitor updates.
Advertising is a powerful way to reach as many people in your target audience as possible. The more you know about how your competitors are advertising, the better. Insight into your competitors’ advertising helps you target similar audiences, on similar platforms, with targeted messages.
Adbeat is a competitive intelligence tool for advertisers. You can compare an unlimited number of businesses in your niche and see information, such as the following:
- Total ad spend. This information can be filtered by day, week, and month.
- Ad spend per network. Networks like Google, Outbrain, and Taboola are sorted based on ad spend.
- Publishers used. Includes sites your audience spends time on. For example, if you sell books online, you can see what ads appear on book-review websites.
- Type of landing pages used. This can include lead forms, advertorials, videos.
- Types of ads shared. This can include pay-per-click Google ads or display ads.
- Types of images and content used. This includes examples of past and current ad designs.
All of this information helps you analyze competitive ads and find elements you can apply to your own campaigns. For example, if your competitors spend a lot on PPC ads every month, and they’re growing quickly, this might be an indication for you to experiment with your own PPC campaigns that target similar products and customers.
From your list of competitors, add their web address into Adbeat and it’ll show you a summary of ad spend, networks used, and ad types.
You have the option to dig into the data further to see what ads have been sent and when; total spend; and publishers used.
One of the hardest tasks in ecommerce, especially when you’re just starting out, is building an email list. An email list lets you nurture leads who have said they’re interested in the products you sell. By sharing content that lets you add value to the customer experience, you’re establishing yourself as a trusted adviser that customers can rely on. The more relevant information you share, the better the chances that customers will stick around and buy more products.
MailCharts lets you see what types of emails your competitors send so that you
- have an idea of what types of content to share with your own email list;
- have a starting point for testing different subject lines; and
- have an idea of how often to email subscribers.
You can see in real time what campaigns are running and how they’re performing.
Once you sign up, you can see email samples based on content type. If you want to improve your cart-abandonment emails, there’s a category for this, and it lists examples of related emails from other ecommerce brands.
Within your account, you can see data on the following for each campaign you review:
- Subject lines
- Email frequency
- Email samples
- Reports on email strategy
- Drip-email campaign types
This is especially helpful if you’re creating a new email marketing strategy or you want to revamp your current one. Based on the types of emails your competitors send, you can see what your audience has become accustomed to and then tailor your campaigns accordingly. You can even look for opportunities to do things differently. For example, you might want to send more than one cart-abandonment email: one reminding customers of what’s in their cart, and another that includes a discount code if they don’t return to your store for more than a week.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful process you can use to get your products in front of a large audience. You might have noticed that more ecommerce stores have a blog on their site. When used right, your blog can grow your audience, add value to the customer experience, and build brand awareness. Use it to share product updates, tips, and resources.
There are tools available to help you research your competitors’ SEO strategy — specifically their keyword use. This type of analysis exposes gaps and opportunities in the types of content competitors share. For example, you might find that customers who buy your electronics like to read content that focuses on tech resources and trends.
SpyFu is a platform designed to help you track the keywords your competitors use in Google AdWords, in paid advertising, and for organic Google searches. Based on the keywords you identify, you can check Google Analytics to see how your blog content ranks for these keywords and then come up with new ideas to target the same keywords as your competitors.
You can do a better job of optimizing your website and write content that ranks better than the competition’s and naturally attracts more traffic to your website.
Enter the name of your competitor’s website into SpyFu and you will see not only how many keywords they rank for but also how many clicks they get, as well as paid keywords:
You’ll also see who your competitive brands compete with for these keywords. You might discover new competition or see that you rank better:
SEO takes time to increase traffic to your site, but SpyFu is a great tool to revisit regularly to track your progress against that of your competitors.
There’s a lot of content on the web, which makes it harder to keep coming up with new ideas to maintain an active blog. Keyword research is just one way to grow your blog and attract readers. Another option is to take the content your competitors have already produced, see how they rank, and come up with new ways to outperform them.
For example, Vitasave sells vitamins online, and its blog focuses on recipes and nutritional information. To compete, you can share similar content but also include stats along with insights from medical professionals to make posts even more valuable.
Ahrefs is an SEO tool that lets users see what keywords competitive blog posts rank for, how often posts have been shared, and how much traffic each post gets. If we stick with the vitamin example, here’s a summary of the content you’d find in Ahrefs:
You can use this information to find opportunities to create new content that goes into more detail or gives a fresh new perspective.
Use the Content Explorer feature to enter a topic to see what content ranks for it. You’ll see a graph that highlights how many pages have been published over time. Keep in mind that not all of this data is from competitive sites; however, it does give you a good indication of how popular the topic is.
For popular keywords, think of perspectives that haven’t been discussed yet to attract fresh new interest and to compete with other ecommerce stores publishing similar articles.
Often, your website is one of the first places people find you online. Since the majority of shoppers research their purchases online before they buy, you want to make it easy for them to find you and browse your product pages. The easier it is for customers to find you and the types of products they’re looking for, the better their experience. Their search takes less time, and they can move through the sales funnel quicker.
Alexa is an SEO- and competitive-analysis tool that lets you do competitive website analysis to see how your website ranks for features like traffic, keywords, and backlinks compared with your competitors. You can even find other sites in your niche that are doing a good job of getting traffic. Research these sites to figure out what they do differently from you, and then customize the results for your site.
Using the Audience Overlap tool, find which sites your target audience visit, and review the types of content they’re reading. This might be blogs and product pages. The visualization feature lets you see which sites your audience visits and lets you explore information, such as backlinks and keywords, to figure out where audiences overlap and what you need to do to attract more traffic than your competition.
Product reviews offer a gold mine of information directly from customers. From positive experiences to negative ones, customers are willing to share. You can use customers’ willingness to share to learn more about what your competitors are doing well and where there’s an opportunity for you to outperform them.
A product-review site where comments are grouped together from across the web is a better option than looking for individual reviews on marketplaces where their competitors also sell products, like Amazon or eBay. This is time-consuming and makes it harder to spot trends. For example, you might identify an issue with fulfillment and shipping if customers complain about the high cost of shipping and late deliveries.
Trustpilot lets you see what types of reviews customers leave for your competitors to see. You can also see how many reviews are available and check the overall customer-satisfaction rating. These reviews can be used to find new opportunities to meet customer needs.
Simply enter the name of one of your competitors and Trustpilot will show you
- how customers rate the seller — from bad to excellent;
- how many reviews have been received; and
- a list of reviews.
Also, many sellers take the time to respond to less-than-favorable reviews, so use their response to learn more. For example, competitors might mention improvements they’re making to their product. Take note of these so that you can keep ahead of customer expectations.
The insights you find can be used to figure out what you’re doing well and where you need to improve. That way, you’re proactively looking for new ways to meet customer needs and outperform the competition. Make competitive analysis a regular part of how you run your business — after all, your competitors do. The more you know about your competition, the better your business becomes because you’re always adjusting.