If your first response to this blog was 'I'm meant to do a competitor audit?', allow me to start from the beginning...
Unless you're the only organisation in the whole world who does what you do, you have competitors. And unless you're at the very top of your tree - we're talking Amazon kind of heights - you need to pay attention to what your competitors are doing.
Now, it's reasonable to assume that you're good at what you do. We can also assume that your clients can tell you apart from your competitors. That your propositions are noticeably different.
But having a good understanding of what your competitors are up is really important. And here's why...
Even if you win every single piece of business you go after, you aren't winning every piece of business out there.
We know this because you have competitors and they have clients that you don't.
We know this because there are users hitting your site who never convert. That's not because you're terrible people (hopefully) or you suck.
They either felt like you didn't offer the right service, you didn't communicate your services effectively or you just weren't the right fit for them.
Or your competitors are doing a better job of selling your services than you.
Why Competitor Audits are a thing
Even the most successful businesses don't turn a blind eye to what their competitors are up to. In fact, the really successful ones take the competitor audit to obsessive levels because they want to stay at the top of their game.
But so much of this comes down to perspective and how you choose to perceive your competitors.
Although a great many business owners would love to dominate their markets the truth is it never actually ends well.
A lack of competition always results in the same pattern:
It happened to IBM. For years they dominated the personal computer market and could more or less charge what they wanted. Then competitors started to muscle in. It started with a little then became a lot.
The competitors were offering the same product - or better - for less money. IBM battled on trying to trade off their brand but as computers became cheaper no one could justify the cost.
IBM exited the personal computer market altogether and now just sell servers. It didn't happen because their products were terrible. It happened because they failed to respond to changing market conditions.
So actually, competition and awareness of that competition is a really good thing. They're good because they keep us honest and force us to try our best. As much as we'd like to think we would still try, humans are lazy and selfish. The reality is we wouldn't.
The phrase 'contentment is the enemy of invention' springs to mind.
It's totally true! In the absence of outside forces driving us to innovate humanity would never have wandered out of the cave. Let alone discovered fire.
So conducting a competitor audit is actually a really really good idea.
It gives you the opportunity to learn, improve your marketing strategy and keeps you relevant to your clients and prospects.
But it helps you do even cooler things. It helps to clarify your USPs and communicate why you get out of the bed in the mornings. This stuff really does matter.
Identifying your Competitors
Before you can start your competitor audit you first need to identify your competitors.
The good news is that there are lots of tools out there that can help you do that. SEMrush allows you to put your website and search it against competitors by country. The results are based on a number of factors including the keywords you rank for.
So if your site isn't well optimised or it's suffered a hack then you might get some lousy results. Assuming neither of those have happened then you'll get a comprehensive list of competitors.
However it's not a magic wand so scrutinise the results and weed out the businesses that aren't true competitors. You can specify which country so if you're not multi-national you can get a nice localised list. Which is handy.
Depending on the kind of business you run you may have a defined 'patch' that you operate in. That's fine and you should absolutely examine what the competitors on your doorstep are up to. However it's absolutely worth looking further afield too because this is a learning exercise.
Plus - just because you keep to your patch, doesn't mean other businesses will. Knowing what your competitors are up to locally and nationally gives you a valuable edge. It can also give you some seriously cool ideas.
But once you've made your list, identify who your core/top three to five competitors are. Then add in a 'best of breed' - the competitor you'd most like to emulate. Add in the competitor who you think isn't getting it right as this serves as a good base of what not to do. Then throw in a wild card - a competitor who you're most interested by. They don't have to be a direct competitor - although it would be better if they are - but someone who is making waves.
Disruptive businesses are often the ones you can learn the most from. They are doing things their own way and turning heads in the process. If you were that cool once ask yourself what happened.
Adding that mover and shaker to your competitor audit is good for the soul. It'll help you take a step back from your organisation and ask some tough questions.
But what should you actually be looking for when carrying out your competitor audit?
What to include in your competitor audit?
When you actually get down to carrying out the audit you're looking to identify a few key things.
Remember: when it comes to moving around these websites, don't think like an expert in your field or even a business owner. Think like someone in the market for your product or service who has little or no knowledge.
- Where do they show up in search? Chances are your competitors are showing up for some - if not all - of the same keywords as you. Carry out some basic Google searches to see how everyone stacks up in the rankings.
- What does their homepage look like? Is it obvious where users are meant to go? How does it compare to yours? What kind of language does the homepage use? Does it hook you in or leave you feeling cold?
- What's the user experience like? How does the site navigate and how does it compare to yours? How many clicks does it take to get to a contact page or a gated lead magnet? Are the various sections labelled in a way that makes sense to the average visitor - not to an expert?
- How does the website make you feel? This may sound like the marketing babble of a xennial marketing snowflake - and you'd be right - but it's a valid question. If you're frustrated by the experience then chances are other users will be too. Don't forget - our brains don't like to work hard on mundane tasks like visiting a website. It's off putting and drives people away.
- What do they say about themselves? Look at the About Us section and the careers pages. What kind of language do they use to describe them and their people. What imagery do they evoke? If they have downloadable brochures or whitepapers, download the lot. There's content gold in them there hills...of data.
- Look at products or services. How do they stack up with your service offering? How clearly written are the descriptions? Are you able to buy through the site or do you have to submit an enquiry?
- Consume their content. Whether it's blogs, videos, podcasts or smoke signals - whatever they're putting out, you should be taking it in. Content creation is pretty important these days so getting it right is crucial. You shouldn't copy what they're doing - because Google will destroy you - but you definitely should be paying attention.
- Test their touchpoints. Sign up to their mailing list. Look at what you receive and how often. Is there automation at work or is it a sporadic half measure?
- Look for keywords. You should know what keywords you rank for. If you don't please go and find out right now. Google Search Console and Analytics can tell you - although they don't always agree. Are they using the same keywords? If not - why not? Are they oblivious or are they using better ones?
- Analyse those keywords. It's important to understand the search volume - and therefore the value of the keywords your competitors are showing up for. If there's good volume but low competition then they'll be raking in traffic that you never knew existed.
Now for the real work
Having got everything together you now need to analyse everything. Every note you've made about one competitor has to be cross referenced against the others.
The reason for this is simple - you're looking for patterns, trends and commonalities.
How do your competitors not only measure up against one another but against your expectations? Is the best of breed a thoroughbred or a mangy old mutt? You'll be surprised how an expensive looking website can hide a multitude of sins. The worst of which is having no connection whatsoever with their audience.
It's how giants of industry wither and die and how they never see it coming.
Look for trends and commonalities.
Then you need to apply that analysis to your own proposition. This is not an easy thing to do. It can be really uncomfortable when you discover how wide off the mark you are.
Once you've collated all of that information together you should have - effectively - a competitor dossier. A structured document detailing every aspect of what your competitors are up to.
And how you stack up.
That can be a tough read depending on how well you're doing. But the document shouldn't end there. Anyone who has had to give a CEO bad news knows full well you never go in without a solution ready to roll.
Your competitor audit should be no different. You need recommendations and proposed revisions to your marketing strategy detailing exactly what you want to improve.
That is - after all - the whole point of carrying out a competitor audit. They're scary and they're uncomfortable and they can be arduous. But they are necessary and extremely empowering if you take the right attitude.
But the truth is that competitor audits are also essential. Ignore your competitors at your peril. Modern business is littered with companies who once dominated their space only to fall foul of a more agile, more progressive competitor.
Although price played a part - arrogance and a refusal to listen to accept the market was changing is what ultimately proved their undoing.
You just need to consider how much the UK high street has changed in the last decade to see how true this can be.
There is no weakness or shame in acknowledging your competitors. Nor in admitting that they've done something you hadn't thought of.
The shame comes from letting your business die around you because you won't do anything about it.
If you want some help with your competitor audit, why not ask a Ninja? We offer a competitor audit service that gives you an unbiased report of your top 5 competitors.
Or if you'd like to talk to a Ninja about how we can help your business why not get in touch today?