Although, mechanically speaking, PPC and SEO are different, keywords essentially play the same role across these two disciplines: we target them in hopes of driving traffic to our sites.
So, even if you’re a B2B marketer who could not care less about Snapchat or TikTok, let’s begin our competitive analysis with a few considerations related to channels:
Here’s a fun way to think about it: Your business is a band, and your competitive landscape is its historical context. Joy Division—one of the most celebrated post-punk bands to come out of the UK—was shaped, in part, by trailblazers like The Stooges. In turn, when you listen to the early work of The Cure, Joy Division’s influence is clear.
What is a marketing competitive analysis?
As effective as social ads can be, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re overlooking organic content entirely. You can only throw around a certain amount of money per month, and non-paid content typically gives businesses greater flexibility to engage their audiences in unique and creative ways.
The goal is to draw conclusions that simplify the decision-making process. If your analysis of Competitor A leads you to the conclusion that you have a clear advantage in organic search, you may decide — for the time being — to focus on making improvements to your paid media strategy. Had you not taken the time to draw this conclusion, you may have invested limited marketing resources in suboptimal fashion.
Search engine marketing is powerful because it enables you to provide value to your prospects when they’re using the internet with intent (whether it’s educational intent, commercial intent, or something in between). But, what about those times when your prospects are using the internet without any kind of intent?
Marketing competitive analysis: search engine marketing
Beating your closest competitor in the paid search results for all the best keywords is pointless if you’re unable to position your product or service effectively. Plus, if your lackluster messaging translates into poor click-through rates, it won’t be long before your top impression share begins to decline.
Competitive analysis for PPC
There’s more than one way to get value out of a social media channel—quite a few, actually. But, in the most general sense, marketers have two (non-mutually exclusive) options: paid content and organic content.
Our PPC competitive analysis consists of three key focus areas: keywords, positioning, and offers.
A marketing competitive analysis is the ongoing process of scrutinizing your competitors in relation to your own business. It’s the act of examining each company in your market and determining how you stack up in terms of product, marketing, sales, copy, and more.
Marketing competitive analysis for SEO
Congratulations! Thanks to the power of competitive analysis, you are now better positioned to go head-to-head with your rival in the search results—both paid and organic.
Competitive analysis can (and should) be applied to every facet of your business, but for now, we’re going to focus exclusively on digital marketing. Hopefully, if you’re able to take the ideas shared below and formalize them with processes and templates, folks from other parts of your organization will have a head start.
This is an introductory guide to conducting competitive analysis across search and social. Once we’ve defined competitive analysis, we’ll discuss the basics of evaluating your competitors through the lenses of PPC, SEO, and social media marketing.
- How does your volume of backlinks compare with that of your competitor? Though quality trumps quantity when we’re talking about backlinks, it’s worthwhile to do a quick volume comparison between you and your competitor. Why? Say, for example, that your competitor tends to outrank you for high-value keywords, but you discover that you’ve accumulated nearly twice as many backlinks as they have. This is useful information, as it may indicate that, on average, your competitor attracts higher-quality links than you do.
- Who links to your competitor, and why? Regardless of any differences in volume, you should know, in a broad sense, which domains link to your competitor—as well as why those domains link to your competitor. At a glance, it should be fairly easy to determine why a certain domain has chosen to give your competitor a backlink. If it’s a publisher that covers stories and topics related to your market, they’ve probably deemed your competitor to be a worthwhile resource for their readers. If it’s an odd-looking domain that has nothing whatsoever to do with your market, it’s probably a useless, spammy link that’s unworthy of your time.
- Can you identify any untapped opportunities? In keeping with an emerging theme of this blog post, you must always keep your eyes peeled for untapped opportunities—i.e., worthwhile domains that link to neither you nor your competitor. Say you sell homemade coffee mugs through your ecommerce site and you come across a popular publisher with an article titled “The 24 Best Coffee Mugs We Can Find on the Internet.” If neither you nor your competitor is mentioned in the article, that may be a good opportunity to contact the publisher and ask if they’d consider reviewing your mugs.
PPC and SEO each have their own benefits and drawbacks; generally speaking, it behooves you to strike a balance between the two. Plus, I’m willing to bet that each of your competitors is, to some extent, investing in one of these channels—if not both.
Marketing competitive analysis: social media
Social media is a different story. Yes, Instagram’s parent company Facebook is a tech giant on par with the likes of Google and Microsoft (which owns Bing). Nevertheless, the range of social media channels available to digital marketers is far greater than the range of (worthwhile) search engines available to digital marketers.
That’s where social media marketing comes into play. The value of social media marketing is a subject worthy of its own blog post—perhaps its own blog—but for now we’ll focus on one central concern:
There’s more to SEO than keyword targeting. If you want to be the leader in your market in the organic search results, you need a strong profile of links pointing to your site from high-quality sources (i.e., trusted websites in related or adjacent markets).
Throughout the PPC and SEO sections of our competitive analysis guide, it was safe to assume we were talking about Google and Bing; the vast majority of internet search activity is, after all, handled by these two companies.
Our SEO competitive analysis also consists of three key focus areas: keywords, backlinks, and SERP features.
Your closest competitor is your closest competitor because they sell a product or service that’s similar to yours. It follows, then, that they’re probably bidding on many of the same keywords that you’re bidding on. (And if you’re in a particularly competitive market, they may even be bidding on your brand name.)
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ll say it one more time: Competitive analysis, whether you’re focused on PPC, SEO, social media marketing, or some combination thereof, is an ongoing process. Can one-off insights here and there be helpful? Of course. But when you make it a habit to regularly conduct competitive analysis over time, you begin to pick up on patterns, trends, strategic shifts—the kinds of insights that can truly make an impact.
Your business is shaped, in part, by the competitive landscape in which it operates.
- Where are you and your competitor active? Obviously, the answer to this question is going to depend, in large part, on the kind of business you’re marketing. Whereas someone marketing a D2C brand may focus primarily on Instagram and TikTok, a marketer at a B2B consulting company may care exclusively about LinkedIn and Twitter. No matter what, it’s useful at the outset of your analysis to get a general sense of which channel(s) you and your competitor have taken most seriously up until this point. If you’re both publishing amazing content on LinkedIn, but neither of you is doing anything interesting on Twitter, think about how you can start providing more value to your followers on the latter platform.
- Which channel promises the greatest opportunity for growth? If you’re in a situation where both you and your competitor are crushing it on one channel and coming up short on another, then this is an easy question to answer: the latter channel is likely the one that promises the greatest opportunity for growth. But things are seldom so black and white—and if you’re in a competitive niche, you’re probably going up against people who know what they’re doing. So, to dig a bit deeper, ask yourself: Recently, across the channels where you’re active, which has been delivering the best results, and which has been the most stagnant? Have you noticed a steady increase in Instagram video views as your Facebook engagement has leveled off? Whatever it is, trust your data and your gut to tell you which channel to prioritize.
- Are there any emerging channels you should be using? Though this final question isn’t of equal importance to every marketer, the explosive growth of TikTok in the final moments of the 2010s illustrates just how rapidly a new social media channel can rise to prominence (or even dominance). Given your niche and the level of competition you’re up against, your competitive success in the coming years may depend, in part, on your ability to establish a presence on the emerging channel that’s generating buzz. Though you shouldn’t throw money at something purely because it’s shiny and new, you know what they say about early adopters.
Your guide to conducting a basic social media marketing competitive analysis is broken, unsurprisingly, into three key focus areas: channels, paid content, and organic content.
Because you have limited time to optimize your social media marketing strategy, you need to understand what your competitor is and is not doing — as well as what these insights reveal in terms of opportunities for differentiation and growth.
Make it a habit to conduct your marketing competitive analysis!
As satisfying as it is to outrank your competitor on high-value keywords, winning special features on the SERP—most notably the featured snippet, among others—is another way to gain a competitive advantage in your market (and an increasingly prevalent one, I might add).