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The six best tools for competitor research and analysis

Understanding what others are up to is essential for developing a marketing plan. Here are some of the tools we use that are much better than peering through windows.

Competitor research
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Maddie
Posted by Maddie
19 March 2018
    

Competitor research has always been a key part of business. Keeping up with or – preferably – staying ahead of the competition can be the difference between success and stagnation, after all.

Online, everyone has a voice. It can level the playing field in some respects, but the sheer weight of voices makes it a struggle to be heard – particularly on a tighter budget.

Being seen online isn't just about doing things right, ticking all the SEO boxes – it's about doing things differently to your competitors, spotting opportunities and making the most of them.

There's a lot of software available to help you do this – these are just a handful of the competitor analysis tools we use.

 

SEMrush

SEMrush is one of the best all-in-one tools out there for managing your SEO and paid ads, and just about has the edge on its very similar competitor, SpyFu. It also offers social and content tools, which may be best handled elsewhere – but when it comes to search, it really does excel.

Even without registering an account, you can stick in a URL, and it'll give you an overview of top ranking keywords, where backlinks are coming from, and insights into paid search activity.

It's a powerful tool for managing and analysing your own activity when you put your own URL in, but it's also incredibly useful for competitor research when you use someone else's. It's the easiest way to see what someone else is ranking for, which will show you exactly where your search engine battles will need to be fought.

Paid users get much more advanced tools, of course, but even as a free tool it's really useful. Have a look at SEMrush yourself and see what it can do.

 

KWFinder

KWFinder doesn't necessarily help you research what a particular competitor is doing as much as help you find out what your competitors more generally aren't doing. When used in conjunction with the results from SEMrush, it can be a really effective tool for identifying opportunities that are being missed across the board.

KWFinder's main function is to identify long-tail keywords with a low search difficulty. A long-tail keyword is a longer, more specific keyword phrase that generally sees less search volume – but the hits it does get are much more targeted, and potentially more valuable.

Businesses often forget to focus on long-tail keywords – so if you've identified keywords your competitors are ranking well for, you can use KWFinder to identify the long-tail variants that they're neglecting. Have a look for yourself.

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SERPlab

If you want to get a very quick, and very visual, representation of how a certain site is ranking for certain keywords, then SERPlab will tick every box. In its simplest form, you can put in a URL and five keywords, and get an instant look at their search performances. Very handy and very easy to use for a one-off check!

Register for an account, and you'll be able to track as many keywords as you like over as many sites as you like, through one dashboard. It's a good way of keeping an eye on your own activity and comparing it to competitors all in one place.

SERPlab is totally free, which means it's a great tool for anyone getting started with developing an SEO strategy – it doesn't overwhelm you with options and is very easy to get to grips with before you try something more in-depth. Have a look at SERPlab and see what you think.

 

Screaming Frog

While SEMrush and similar tools focus on how a site is performing on search engines, you can use Screaming Frog's SEO Spider to take a much closer look under the hood of the on-page content itself. The software crawls a website, exporting page titles, H1 and H2 tags and meta descriptions – of course, you could do this simply by having a look with your own eyes, but it'd take ages. Screaming Frog makes it all nice and easy.

This means you can take a broader look at the topics your competitors are covering on their sites. It may be that you can cover a topic in a better way, craft a more targeted meta description or identify long-tail keywords (perhaps using KWFinder?) that allow you to be seen for the same topic in a different place that your competitors haven't considered.

While it's arguably more useful for identifying weaknesses in your own site, it can be a very powerful tool for identifying opportunities that your competitors are missing out on. Take a peek for yourself.

double-sodexo
Competitor research takes many forms, of course - in our project for Sodexo, the need to create a visual look and feel that stood apart from everyone else in their industry meant going beyond search considerations. Click the image to have a read.

 

Open Site Explorer

One of many tools provided by SEO experts Moz, Open Site Explorer shows you the inbound links pointing towards any particular domain.

Like many of these tools, it's very useful for keeping track of your own performance and identifying links that are damaging your own rankings.

But when turned on your competitors, it can show how their domain authority and link profile compares to your own. If they're blazing ahead, you can use the data to identify opportunities – industry publications where they're getting coverage, for example.

You can use OSE for free, or register for a more in-depth range of features. Have a look here.

 

Facebook Insights

Although Facebook has recently made a lot of noise about scaling back the influence of businesses on the platform, advertising will always be part of the world's biggest social network.

Insights is a great tool for monitoring your own activity, giving you a huge amount of information on who your page likers are, when they're online, and what they're interested in.

It's also a very useful resource for keeping an eye on your competitors. You can track pages without having to like them, and see data on their levels of engagement, for example. It can also be used to find out what type of people are likely to be fans of certain pages, allowing you to more effectively target people who like pages similar to yours.

Read up on Facebook Insights and try it for yourself here.

 

Can we help?

Some of these tools are ridiculously easy to get to grips with, while with others it'll take some time before you figure out how to get the best from them.

Competitor research is an essential part of every project we work on, whether it's a new website or a marketing strategy – so if you have any questions at all then don't hesitate to get in touch.

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