FOUND Friday

A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.


Topic: Best Practices – Competitor Analysis for Marketing and SEO

In this episode, we discuss ways to keep track of your competitors and discover new or niche competitors as they enter your space and give advice about how you can harness the power of competitor data to improve your own findability.

Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics
Karen Scates, Marketing & PR Manager at GinzaMetrics


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Karen: Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of FOUND Friday. I’m your host, Karen Scates. And joining me is Erin, GinzaMetrics COO. How’s it going, Erin?


Erin: Hey, good. Happy Friday!


Karen: Happy Friday to you! Today we’re going to be talking about best practices around competitor analysis for marketing and SEO.


We’ve been talking a lot about how powerful competitor data can be and we’ve been doing some competitor analysis on our own. But we also know how hard it can be to get the right information for some folks. Let’s talk about how we can make this task just a little less daunting. Let’s start off by just talking about why it’s important. What are some reasons to keep tabs on the competition do you think?


Erin: It seems so obvious because people are like, “I should track competitors.” But I think a lot of times we’re not clear on what we’re trying to achieve with the tracking. There are a lot of different reasons to want to track competitors, but I’ll cover a few of my favorite.


One is obviously to understand your current place in the universe. You shouldn’t base everything on you versus the competition but it gives you a really good idea as to where people are following in terms of product and feature parody but also in terms of audience perception. Because while you may not be basing your entire world on exactly what the competition is doing, it’s interesting to know how the audience perceives you versus other folks in the marketplace.


This is actually something that back in the day – and still today but now it’s all super-paid and in my mind BSC – is what analyst firms would do which was give you supposedly an objective like a Gartner Magic Quadrant or [1:59 inaudible] report or whatever the thing of the day was. That was really interesting because you would get this leaders, innovators, different view of where you may be [2:14 inaudible]. I think that’s really important.


Another thing that’s interesting about reasons to keep tabs on competitors is understanding how other people are talking about the same types of things you’re talking about, the kinds of content that other people are creating that’s taking traffic away from you. So from a strategic marketing standpoint, before you create new content sometimes it’s important to know what other content is out there that might be similar that already has some traction because you could be fighting the tide a little bit. So having that knowledge, you could actually just create something slightly different that might be better received so that you’re not creating something that’s so much of a duplication.


The last reason I think that it’s important to keep an eye on what’s going on with the competition is sometimes you can see market opportunities or market shifts really well by seeing how audience’s respond to both the competition and your products and features. Sometimes it will highlight maybe a new market need or it will tell you when an existing market trend is dying because just basing it on your own product and your own sales is not as indicative as an overall market shift as it would be if you looked at everybody’s stuff. Those are my reasons.


Karen: It seems like there are lots of places to get different kinds of data, there are lots of different types of data about competitors. You can really spend a lot of time just gathering lots of disparate data. If we’re going to be really looking at competitor data and using the data that’s going to inform our strategic decisions, what metrics should we really be focusing on?


Erin: There are a lot of different metrics and I would say that there’s not one specific set of things because a lot of people have very different marketing roles. One of the things I think marketers, not just SEO folks, should be paying attention to is competitor rank. Not just overall competitor rank – and what I mean by competitor rank is rank on search engines and devices for findability for their content – because findability is really important. What that means is that’s the actual organic way that people could find stuff, not just what some of these are paying for. Anybody can pay for ads, pay for time, and drive traffic. What you want to know is how likely or how really findable. How good is that real match? When I’m talking about average rank for competitors or findability score like what we have at Ginza, that’s a really good indicator of (based on search terms, keywords, etc.) how findable are they.


One of the things that we talked about last time that is really important to look out from an average-ranking competitor standpoint is by keyword and content groups. What I’m talking about with keyword and content groups is keyword groups and content groups, if you take the time to set these up – and we talked a little bit about some best practices last week that people can refer to – keyword and content groups can be set up to represent marketing campaigns, products, features, geographies, audience types, whatever you want. Things can belong to multiple groups most of the time so you can actually slice and dice multiple ways. You can view your competitor’s average rank using like an SEO tool like what we do by these keyword groups. So instead of just…

Karen: I lost visual on Erin. Let’s give her a second to come back.


Erin: Sorry. I think I lost you guys for a second but I’m back.


Karen: Yes, we did lose you. Why don’t you recap just a little bit of what you were just saying then we can move from there.


Erin: Looking at your competitor’s data, looking at your competitor’s average rank by keyword and content groups is really important because what you want to be able to compare is not just their entire site’s findability, all of their findability, you want to be able to say, “How does my feature for this compare to their feature for this and findability? How does our product for this compare to their product for this and findability?” That’s a really important metric.


Some other important metrics I think with competitors is overall engagement with social. We get a lot of questions around why social engagement metrics are important. I don’t think that having necessarily the most followers or the most likes or fans or shares is always indicative of who the best brand is. Sometimes a lot of it is just noise.


I think what we’re looking at is real engagement with actual people, actual potential users that have a real impact. Just increasing follower numbers, as a lot of people know, isn’t helpful if all those followers are people who would never purchase the product. Being able to connect some level of social engagement on content with the ranking of that content gives a really powerful measure of how brands are really perceived and interacting with audience because if you’re doing really well on both, chances are you’re probably doing fine in terms of revenue.


Karen: We’re getting competitor data based on their rank. We’re getting competitor data based on some social metrics. We’re getting a lot of different competitor data. Why is it important to get all of this data from one place?


Erin: A few different reasons I think that it’s better to get data from one place – one reason is it just saves time. You’re not trying to collect and compile reports and data from a bunch of different places. Instead, you can actually take that time and use it to analyze the data, gather real insights and make better decisions. I think that that’s the real point of gathering data anyway as opposed to just being like, “Look, numbers on a spreadsheet.”


The second thing is when you’re looking at data coming from multiple different sources, not everybody is counting everything the same way or measuring things the same way. There’s a SlideShare that we did on the importance of not using multiple platforms.


We had this conversation with a client, they were using multiple different data sources and they were like, “This number doesn’t match this number and this number doesn’t match this number.” So I did some digging around and found out that one tool was using Sunday to Saturday night starting GMT Time and the other tool was starting on Pacific Time. So there was this massive gap. When you’re talking about traffic data in the millions, you can have thousands and thousands of missed counts. But they were comparing essentially data apples and oranges, which is a really big problem.


The other reason that I think it’s important to gather data from similar places, if you’re using one tool, a lot of times what you can do is apply things like keyword groups, content groups, etc. that have already been set up across all of your data types as opposed to hoping that either having to set them up in every single thing and hoping that every tool allows you to do something like that, and that once you do that those groups and things are actually counting things the exact same way.


Karen: Why is it important to be constantly discovering your competitors? What can search marketers learn from those or even those niche companies that are entering their space? They might not be really a direct complete competitor but they may be competing in areas of their business.


Erin: That’s actually one of the most important things. Very few companies have a one-to-one exact competition overlap with all of their competitors. It’s almost impossible. Pretty much everybody has either some sort of feature difference or product difference or some sort of specialization. And even if you have one direct competitor where you’re concentric, circles overlapping exactly, you probably got lots of other competitors that are fragments that are around.


Discovering new competitors constantly is important because a lot of other people that are creating new products while you don’t necessarily need to change your product roadmap to match what they’re doing, it’s important because what you’re going to find is people identifying new problems in the marketplace because obviously somebody is creating a product in response to what they perceive as a need, it’s important to see how the market actually reacts to these types of new things that may be overlapping because maybe somebody has stumbled onto a new market need that you could also look at. It’s always interesting I think from a purely behavioral standpoint to see how new messaging and new UIs and things like that are received inside on the marketplace like new design, new branding opportunities.


Discovering new competitors is also really important because for a lot of us, it’s really easy to rattle off three or four competitors that we’ve known in our space and do not pay attention to the fact that maybe those people become less of competitors over time. Everybody maybe takes their own slightly different path or maybe somebody who was on the periphery becomes more and more overlapping as a competitor and really strongly moves into the space. But because we don’t redo our competitor analysis on a regular basis, that’s really tough.


In a show a month or two ago, we talked about the summer doldrums and how this summer doldrum period is a really good time to go back and do a little bit more competitor analysis and take a look at what’s going on with our marketing. With Ginza, we do a Competitor Discovery tool that we launched and we’re not just mapping anybody that’s kind of similar to you. What we’re really looking out with the Competitor Discovery tool is for the content and the keywords that are important to you and that you’re creating and bucket it out by group who’s competing with you. This is the thing that I think is really important. Take those keyword and content groups and look at the competitors who are specifically in that product, that feature, that geography, that user type, that marketing campaign because that’s where you’re going to get the really specific data that you need.


We also show you a list of all of the exact keywords and the specific content that they’re creating that’s competing with you. The example I always use is if I was Nike and I was using GinzaMetrics and I came up with list of competitor discovery stuff and it was like 10,000 different brands because it’s going to show every athletic brand, everything. As a marketer, if I’m responsible for one area of the product, I don’t necessarily want to know that Adidas is a competitor because I’m like, “Okay, great. Adidas is a competitor. That’s a huge site.” I want to know for this marketing campaign that I just launched the specific keywords and the specific content that Adidas is creating that’s similar to this campaign so I can hone in and figure out how to win with this campaign because it’s too hard to win the full site level for a lot of folks that have hundreds of thousands of pages.


That’s what we allow you to do, but I think that that’s from a discovery standpoint the most integral part. You don’t want to discover the world, you want to discover what’s important right now and figure out how to win now, how to win this.


Karen: That reminds me because we’ve been doing some of that. Finding that someone who may be once was a competitor has really gone into this one specific area as focusing on that, which made us think, “Is this something we want to expand on in our own product line?” You can get a lot of different kinds of insights by really looking into those competitors. I think a lot of people will say, “I don’t have time to do all this formal competitor analysis ongoing.” Summer doldrums is a good time to do this. But what should people be looking at on a daily or weekly basis to really informed decisions?


Erin: If you’re using a tool that allows you to do some of this average rank tracking that some of the important stuff is like an overall metric of competitor rank and findability but also keeping an eye on changes, really big spikes and falls with regards to your campaigns, your products, your features, your content, those things that are created for keyword groups. The other thing that I think is really important to keep an eye on on a regular basis, not necessarily daily but on a weekly or monthly basis is top keyword activity.


In GinzaMetrics, this is down at the bottom of the dashboard home screen, which I’m always fighting to have it lifted up because I think it’s such an important thing. What those metrics are essentially are all the keywords and topics that you’re tracking for your content. We’re tracking up for your competition, too.


What we’re going to show you is the biggest competitor gains. What’s that going to tell you is, if you’re say focusing on Nike – and I always use them and I feel really bad because I borrow their brand constantly.


Karen: I don’t think they would mind. Free marketing, right?


Erin: All presses get press. If I’m getting ready to come out with a new women’s trail running shoe, then what Nike could potentially do is say, “Women’s trail running shoe is a topic that I want to track right now,” it’s going to show you for all of your competitors who actually may have come up really high in ranking recently on that specific topic or keyword. It’s important to know that because that means somebody else is concentrating on the exact same thing that you’re concentrating on and then you can actually click and see the specific content that they’re creating that’s getting a ton of organic search traffic. That’s like, “Oh okay. I’m trying to do this. Somebody else is also doing it and they’re doing really well at it. What’s going on?”


Why wouldn’t you want to be able to get that kind of [17:10 inaudible] from a weekly or monthly standpoint? You have to keep an eye on that because your marketing time can only be spent so well. If you spend two hours creating a piece of content that’s going to get trounced by someone else’s content, that’s two hours you can’t get back but it’s two hours you could’ve spent doing something else had you known somebody had already created something like kickass content on that specific subject that you were trying to redo.


Karen: What about next steps? Once marketers and SEO departments have competitor data, what are some practical applications for that data?


Erin: There are so many. Some stuff that we don’t get into a lot because it’s not usually our audience but I think is really important because it could be our audience is product marketers and product designers. Having better intelligence about what’s going on with your competition can and should inform some product decisions. It doesn’t mean you base your product roadmap on the competition. It doesn’t mean you change your product to match or do something different with the competition. It’s important to know what features people are including, what of those features are popular with your user set because popular features are popular features, and how they’re actually being integrated into someone else’s products. How are features being integrated is really important because sometimes you’ll stumble across best practices or things that you’re like, “Wow, this really doesn’t seem to be working. People hate this. We should not do this the same way.”


There’s that. From a more strictly marketing standpoint, I go back to what I was just saying which is don’t spend your marketing time creating content that’s never going to rank as high as someone else’s or even on the top ten. Figure out a new way to do it.


For example, it’s not that you can’t create a how-to guide. But if somebody has a really stellar how-to guide that already has domain authority and gets a ton of traffic and is the known thing, maybe don’t create something that looks exactly the same that goes on your site. Maybe do a video version, maybe do a pictorial version, maybe do an infographic, maybe do whatever. You can do the same content in a different format and get some new traffic. So use it that way.


Lastly, what are some practical applications? I would say that using it as a general benchmark, not as an exact benchmark, for products, features, marketing campaigns, how submit your groups for keywords and content, is a really good idea because once you start building that up over time maybe you’ll be able to say, “Hey, when we did this marketing campaign, we had X amount of findability score or average rank versus competitors for this content.”


Maybe you noticed that you’re always within a certain range and then you do a marketing campaign that’s way high or way low. That should signify, “Hey, versus our competitors this marketing campaign really tanked or kicked ass. Maybe we should focus a lot more on this.” This is a good signifier.


Karen: You talked a little bit about product. One of the things that we’ve done looking at maybe what people don’t like about your competitor’s product and then seeing if you have features that do that better and capitalizing on that a little bit. So going after the weakness and creating some content around that.


Last week we’ve been talking about reporting and getting reports to executives that are meaningful for both the executives and for you so that you’re not creating one report for the executives and another report for your team. You spend a lot of time reporting but actually this actionable reporting. In terms of competitors, what do you think the executive team really needs to know about the competitor data?


Erin: Hopefully what people are sharing is more than just, “Here are our competitors and here’s our rank versus them.” As much as I say that average rank is important, I think a more insightful view of rank based on products, features, marketing campaigns, brand affinity, however you want to set it up, whatever is really important to your marketing is going to be a lot more useful.


Going back to the competitor discovery idea, because we highlight the specifically overlapping keywords and the specific content, being able to say, “Here are actually some examples of content that’s getting really high engagement for them versus us,” making suggestions and being able to go back to the thing that I always say is really important which is, “Here is the information. Here is what I propose are the next steps. Here’s what I’d like to do about this.” I think that’s going to be really important.


Again, using reporting to be able to set some benchmarks for some things even if it’s your first one, be like, “I’m going to put a stake in the ground. Next month or next week I’m going to put another stake in the ground. We’re going to keep doing this until we build up some sort of idea of what normal for us as a brand is so that we can tell when things are trending up or when things are trending down or when there’s outliers like when campaigns or things seem to really specifically be kicking our competitor’s butts.”


I think that you have to start somewhere and you have to put the stake in the ground at some point so when you start actually highlighting benchmarks and norms, you can create a little separate idea. Was this high, normal, or low? Was this X or Y? From a reporting standpoint, go beyond a chart like, “Here’s us, here’s our competitor one and done.” Say, “Look, here’s us, here’s our competitor overall. Here’s us, here’s our competitor for this specific campaign or this specific feature, for this specific product based on this information. We’ve also discovered two new competitors that seem to be entering the space. Here is my recommendation for what we should do next based on this.”


I think that that’s going to be far more useful than a blanket, just like plotting of us versus them. They have 10,000, we have 7,000. We’re going to get 3,000 more. How? Where? Why? Do you even need those 3,000? Sometimes that’s the thing I always ask. I remember way back I was working somewhere and this is when social media was really new – I know I’m going off tangent but we got a couple of extra minutes – and this other company has 40,000 Twitter followers and they only have 2,000 Twitter followers. “Go get us more Twitter followers.” And my reply because I was young and whatever, I was just like, “Why?”


The funny thing was there wasn’t a good answer to why. It was because they have more and I was like, “But do we need those more people?” Are they actually getting more sales from that? Are they closing more business? Are they performing better than us in overall metrics? I don’t know that I don’t want to spend my time getting more Twitter followers if none of those people are ever going to buy, especially considering when I did a little research, which is what I ended up doing instead of getting them more followers. I just spent 30 minutes going through them like spambot, spambot, spambot.


This was this years ago but I always want to ask myself, whenever somebody wants me to report on something or to increase something or decrease something, even if I don’t say out loud the first thing is I’m like, “Why?” If there’s not a good reason then I don’t want to spend my time doing it because I want to spend my time doing the things that really move the ball forward. I don’t want to just run around for no reason.


Karen: I think that’s a big problem with vanity metrics. People end up chasing a metric instead of stopping and saying, “Why are we going to do this? Is this going to help us? What’s our goal? Our goal is more conversion. Our goal is more demo signups. Our goal is more (whatever your goal is). Will this help us reach it?” And if you’re just chasing metrics then you’ve lost sight of why you’re even gathering data in the first place.


Erin: I was talking to Ray about this a while ago and I was saying that – because I do like to use football metaphors a lot – I always think of especially a startup like what we are as being of a football game and that the idea is to move the ball forward enough to make yardage and make downs. A lot of times it’s hard because when you are only moving a couple of yards at a time, it feels very slow and it doesn’t seem exciting. It feels like you’re never going to get all the way down the field moving a couple of yards at a time and you think to yourself, “This is going to take forever.”


The point is I think a lot of startups and a lot of these seem unfortunately really like this Hail Mary thing because Mail Marys are really exciting and you move really far, really fast and it makes people look like heroes. The problem is with the Hail Mary is it’s called the Hail Mary because it’s a last ditch effort and it’s like this one time thing. And either the Hail Mary works or everyone fails. I would rather play the running game and it seem a little slow and a little tedious at times and just move forward consistently than have this one giant last ditch effort that either skyrocket you to stardom or screws you over majorly, right?


Karen: Yeah.


Erin: A lot of times we talk about you get into these doldrums or you get into these marketing patterns where somebody wants you to show this massive market improvement. The thing that I used to say was, “Would you rather have a million Twitter followers or a million dollars? Because those things don’t translate to each other all the time.” I’m like, “I’d rather have the million dollars, so I’d rather spend my time doing the things that are going to make us money even if it takes longer and is a slower process than do the things that jump us up in some sort of fancy vanity way or the things that actually make us look like heroes because the real hero is the company that lasts and the company that makes money and the department that helps them get there.”


That’s why whenever anybody comes in and act all fancy, “I’m going to do X, Y and Z and at my last company I got whatever,” I’m like, “Is the company still around? Is the company profitable? Are you making any money? I don’t know that you telling me that you did all these other things actually matters when it comes right down to it.” That’s tying it back to the fact that we’re supposed to be talking about competitors today. That’s one of the things that’s interesting about keeping track of your competitors. You can see even though sometimes it may look like somebody has won the battle, you need to stay in the war. You got to get back up and move the ball forward. That’s just the way that it goes.


Karen: If anyone is doing any reading on content marketing, everything that’s coming out, everything everyone’s saying is this is the long game. This is the running game. So keeping track of competitors, you do want to keep track of those metrics but you don’t want to just chase the vanity metrics I think.


I think we’re about out of time but I always like to leave with just a couple of key takeaways, things that people can think about. What would you say from today?


Erin: It’s definitely the long game. It’s really important to keep track of what’s going on with your competitors, not just from a “us versus them” metric-to-metric standpoint but from this grouping – how is this campaign performing? How is this product performing? How is this feature performing? How is this brand segment performing? Whatever it is, setting up keyword and content groups is super important for a lot of reasons.


Competitor analysis is a big one. So understanding how they’re really doing versus that. Then taking those metrics and reports and using them to help better inform new insights and strategic next steps is going to be the thing that ties it all together, is going to be the thing that makes what you do invaluable to the organization and to the overall success of the system. I think that that’s really important.


Don’t be discouraged if you don’t necessarily make the huge game that someone else does all the time. Because as long as you are moving forward and continuing to increase over time, steady increase over time will typically beat mediocre rises over the short term because a lot of times that is indicative of other things or sources of other traffic or sources of other data or other competitor things and it’s very hard to sustain.


Tangentially again, one of the things that’s always really difficult is you become a victim of your own success. Say you do get a million page views, a million likes, a million followers, whatever this number is, that’s super mediocre. Somebody’s going to ask you to keep doing that over and over again or what’s the next step? You get this massive growth and then even if you just still keep going up a little bit, it doesn’t look like you’re going up very much anymore because you have this huge mediocre rise. Whereas, I would rather keep my nice steady slope and keep going that way.


But you can be a victim of your own success. So I think that it’s really important to remember that it really is a long game played here with both competitors because you can’t just take a competitor look at one point in time and call it good. It’s about benchmarking. I think that’s the key takeaway.


Karen: Great. If you have any more questions about competitor analysis, you can contact either Erin or I,, We’re always here to answer questions. Our website has lots of resources about content and keyword groups and all the things we’ve talked about today, too. So you can go there and check it out.


I guess that’s it for this week.


Erin: Alright. Sounds good. I’ll talk to you next week.


Karen: Talk to you later. Bye-bye.


Erin: Bye.

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