How to Use Competitive Auditing to Pinpoint and Outsmart Your Competitors

Written by Neil Patel on January 27, 2015

competition

Do you want to stand out, get noticed and win business? Let’s face it, it’s a tough world with stiff competition in every niche.

But, that competition can work for you.  All it takes is a bit of research.

I’m talking about competitive auditing, which is one of the best ways to grow your business. It’s how Starbucks made a big splash in China and it can work for you, too.

Whether you’re a blogger, digital marketer, public speaker or online entrepreneur, knowing who your competitors are and what they are offering will give you an edge.

It will help you to target the right markets and attract qualified customers for your products and services. Just like Starbucks, you can find out who you’re competing with and how to bulletproof your online business.

In this article I’m going to cover what competitive auditing is, how you can benefit from it and four key steps to a useful competitive audit:

  • Step #1: Understanding your competition
  • Step #2: Using tools for competitive auditing
  • Step #3: How to get actionable strategies from your analysis
  • Step #4: Discovering viable keywords from competitors

Let’s get started!

Download this competitive analysis worksheet that you can use for your own site.

What is a Competitive Audit?

A competitive audit helps you track where your competitors are and what makes them more visible online. The goal is to discover what is working for other people in your industry, so that you can make those strategies work for you, too.

For example, you might look at how much influence your competitors have on major social media networks.

SimplyMeasured compared several hotel booking sites and found that engagement with @HiltonWordwide leaves other chains in the dust (at least on Twitter).

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Getting the right data about your competitors and comparing it against your own metrics will help you make better decisions. There are other benefits, too.

Benefits of Competitive Auditing

Competitive auditing can help you learn new marketing tactics and persuasion techniques and to also discover valuable ways to position your brand. But, there are three core benefits that I want to focus on. A competitive audit can help you:

1. Discover new marketing channels: A few years ago, I hadn’t even thought about the potential of retargeting. But, competitive auditing showed me what a great strategy retargeting is, for bringing lost customers back to your site. The screenshot below shows some of the stats:

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2. Identify what customers truly want: Give your customers what they want and you will beat the competition. Competitive auditing helps you find out.

Marcus Sheridan, of The Sales Lion, struggled to grow his swimming pool business, until he realized that most pool businesses didn’t give customers what they wanted. He realized that prospects didn’t just want a swimming pool, but advice on how to save money on it, use it and maintain it. He made it his business to provide top quality information and his company and he became super successful, with a strong voice in the content marketing industry.

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3. Develop a better USP: Your business needs a unique selling proposition (USP). It’s your currency, when marketing online and it makes your products and services stand out. Since everything is virtual, potential customers don’t know you and may not trust everything that you say on your site. A good USP can help improve branding and build trust.

Here are a couple of examples. Empire Flippers promises to make buying and selling websites easier:

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Another example is Help Scout’s USP. If I needed a help desk solution, I’d want a solution that promised my customers a delightful experience, wouldn’t you?

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Your USP could even be features that prospects/customers can’t easily find elsewhere, like the USP of Social Triggers:

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A competitive audit can help you identify your competitors’ USP and use that information to improve your own.

Now, let’s dive into the four steps to conducting a competitive audit and improve your business.

Step #1: Understanding your competition

The first step in competitive auditing is understanding who you’re competing against, in search engines and on social media. Those are the two fundamental channels that you should base your findings on.

What is your target market? Many people don’t successfully identify their target market. You need to know who you are targeting, what problems you will solve for them and how you will solve them.

A good starting point is to identify the demographics for your market. Let’s use Alexa to do this, using Problogger.net as a case study:

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After clicking “Go,” scroll down and you’ll see “Who visits problogger.net?” That gives you the audience demographics.

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Problogger.net has a mainly female audience, with some college education.  And, they browse mostly from home.

Complete the initial analysis by identifying the market segment for your chosen site, using Open Link Profiler:

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Next, click the “Analyze backlinks” button and you will instantly see the industry that the site is targeting.

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You can do this analysis for your own site and for any competitors, but you will have to find them first. Here’s how you do that.

Where to find competitors: If you want your marketing campaigns on social media, search engines and blogs to be successful, you need to know who your competitors are and where to find them.

You probably know the websites of your main competitors, but there’s an even better way to identify sites in the same niche that you may not even know about. Let’s see how this works, using Similar Sites to find sites like Quicksprout.

Step one: Visit Similar Sites. Plug in the site URL and click the search icon.

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Step two: Scroll down the page. These are the blogs and sites that usually write the same types of content as Quicksprout.

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If you scroll down further, you will see other blogs my readers visit, either before or after reading my content. These are also some of my competitors.

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Another part of competitive auditing is identifying competitors who are ranking higher in search engines for your primary keywords. Here’s how you find them:

Step one: Download the Moz SEO toolbar (MozBar). It will give you quick access to many on-page SEO factors. That way, you can determine the Page Authority and Domain Authority of your competing web pages. (Find out more about how this works on Powered By Search).

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Step two: Search for your primary keyword phrase. Let’s assume that it’s “link building strategies.”

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When you get the results, the MozBar will show key SEO data for each result. Take note of the PA (page authority) and DA (domain authority) of your competitors. This will identify the most authoritative sites in your niche.

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Product searches that are similar to yours: Search for sites that offer products similar to yours. For example, if you develop and sell online Twitter software, go to Google and search for “top twitter marketing tools.”

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If you’re an author, you can find other authors who sell similar books. Go to Amazon and search for your “topic + book.”

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Finding your existing competitors: The strategies above identify general competitors, but you can get even more focused information on who your main competitors are today, by using SEMrush.

On the homepage, input your blog URL and click ‘search.’

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SEMrush shows a LIVE update, based on organic keywords, search engine traffic, competitors in organic search and more.

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Make a note of your top competitors. You will need this list in the next step: analyzing competitors to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Step #2: Using Tools for Competitive Auditing

If you want to discover untapped potential to improve your ranking and traffic, you need to dig deeper and find out more about your competitors.

Remember the LIVE competitors we discovered earlier? Let’s quickly review them:

Let’s find out which of these is the strongest competitor, by assessing which one has the best optimized web presence.

Go to Quick Sprout and plug in the first URL.

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Next, add 3 more URLS out of the 5 you found.

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In a couple of minutes, the competitive audit tool will analyze the four URLS and show you the winner. In this case, Hubspot wins, because it has the highest scores for SEO, estimated traffic and social shares.

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But, did you notice that Hubspot’s speed score is lower than the others? If your site is faster than your competitor’s, this could help you win business. Here’s how you find out.

Visit Which Loads Faster. Click “Try my own matchup.”

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Plug your own blog URL in the first search box and your competitor’s URL in the other box. Click Go.

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Let’s see the result.

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HubSpot is 6% faster than Copyblogger. You can use this tool to compare any two sites. If you find a similar site that loads faster than your own, it’s a wake-up call to work on speeding up your site.

In the Internet marketing space, the best load time is less than 1 second. Most sites don’t achieve this. According to Moz, “if your site loads in 0.8 seconds, it is faster than 94% of the web.”

Optimizing content and images, decluttering your sidebar and investing in a content delivery network (CDN) can help you beat the competition.

Competitive audit tools: I’ve introduced some of the competitive audit tools available. But, there are more. Here’s my go-to list of competitive audit tools (including some I mentioned earlier).

  • SEMrush: This tool gives you reliable, LIVE data on organic keywords, competitors’ URLS and real-time traffic.
  • Quick Sprout: This is my own SEO tool that analyzes up to 3 competitors’ sites and reveals what you should do to get more organic traffic and rankings.
  • Ahrefs: A very simple and detailed backlinks research tool. It scours the web, picking up your backlinks and the exact anchor text used. You can use it to find out where your competitors get inbound links.
  • Alexa: If you’re looking to understand your target market, this competitive intelligence tool will reveal audience demographics and site rank in specified countries.
  • Open Site Explorer: This tool reveals the Domain Authority and Page Authority of a particular domain name and is great for backlink research and analysis.
  • Open Link Profiler: Do you want to know the industry and influence of a particular competitor, as well as the exact number of active backlinks? Use this tool.
  • Majestic: Use it to check the source of backlinks and referring IP domain names for a given site URL.
  • Google Keyword Planner: My #1 keyword research tool.
  • Buzzsumo: Check how popular a particular keyword or URL is in the social space. How many people have shared your posts? Find out with this tool.
  • Topsy: Who mentioned you on Twitter and how often does a particular keyword or topic generate interest? Topsy reveals everything.
  • Whichloadsfaster: Compare two sites, simultaneously, to determine which one loads faster.

Competitors’ strengths and weaknesses: With the tools listed above, you can start to identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and identify opportunities for you to do better.

For example, you could look at social sharing and engagement, which is a key goal for any business.

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Still using HubSpot as a case study, let’s see how many of their social media fans share their posts.

Visit Buzzsumo and plug in the site URL.

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You will get a list of top posts and social shares by platform.

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Looking at the results, you can see that 93% of their posts are shared by their Facebook fans, but on Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn, their influence isn’t that pronounced.

In other words, Hubspot’s social media weakness is their inability to persuade readers to share their posts on those social media platforms.

Next, let’s see how you can use competitive auditing to come up with strategies you can use.

Step #3: How to Get Actionable Strategies From Your Analysis

You’re not researching your competitors for fun. Competitive auditing is a way to get fresh ideas and data that you can put to good use in your online business. If not, what’s the point of using competitive research tools?

Cicada Online shows the on-page SEO factors that define the success of your competitors.

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If you succeed in getting links and social shares, you can build authority so that you get more organic traffic, acquire more customers and boost sales. Hubspot’s software provides efficient competitive analysis. By using it, TUI Travel’s brands saw a 20 – 50% increase in web traffic.

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Backlinks: Let’s look at your competitors’ backlink profiles.

Go to Ahrefs. Type in your competitor’s URL. Let’s use Duct Tape Marketing.

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The first thing that you’ll notice is the trend in the referring pages chart.

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Next, you want to look at anchor text. Is your competitor using more brand keyword anchor text or exact match keywords?

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As you can see, anchor text for Duct Tape Marketing comprises a mix of brand name, target keywords and generic words.

That tells you that if you were competing against this site, you could use your brand name URL and your target keywords. Most likely, that would look natural to Google and improve your rank.

Also, Powered by Search has a list of 7 types of anchor text that you can use to avoid a Google flag. The site shows that, for the top ranking sites, 26% of anchor texts are URLs, with less than 13% being exact match keywords.

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Headlines: The headline style that works for one brand or blog might not work for you, depending on the audience that you serve. For example, Upworthy uses curiosity to attract the reader.

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Why? Because the headlines tie in with Upworthy’s mission to help meaningful stories win reader attention.

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The truth is that most blog readers are not on a quest for a beautiful idea or story, like Upworthy’s audience is.

For example, my readers and email subscribers want to get steady streams of visitors to their sites. They also want to improve their search rank and convert cold leads to customers.

If I used curiosity in headlines, it might not appeal to my audience. This is why many bloggers use benefit-driven headlines, like the ones in case studies, to convey their message.

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Avoid copying strategies out of context: Whichever strategy your competitor is using to get ahead in the search or social platforms, learn from it, but don’t copy it outright.

Here’s a typical example:I publish valuable infographics on Quick Sprout every Friday. Each infographic usually generates up to 41,000 visitors and over 400 backlinks. Thirty-eight domain names recently linked to my infographics.

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Publishing infographics on Friday is my strategy, but it may not work well for your brand and email subscribers. That’s why you don’t have to copy my exact strategy as the rule – because it’s not.

Step #4: Discovering viable keywords from competitors

If you want a clear picture of your competitors’ online strategy, it is essential to do keyword research. You can use what you find to uncover search rank, content strategy, optimization for user intent using long tail keywords and more.

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So, how do you discover viable long-tail keywords from competitors that can help you get more traffic and improve your brand awareness?

Step one: Go to Google Keyword Planner. Then, click “search for new keywords”.

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Step two: Type in your competitor’s URL. Then, scroll down and click “Get Ideas.”

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Step three: Click the “keyword ideas” tab, to reveal your competitor’s best keywords.

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See if there are viable keywords that you haven’t been targeting.

Step four: Dig for long-tail keywords. The keywords highlighted in red aren’t long-tail and trying to compete with trusted sites may not yield results, especially if you’re just starting a new blog or site.

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The best approach is to pick one of the keywords above and dig deeper. That way, you’ll discover hidden keywords that you can rank for more easily.

For this example, let’s look for better keywords using:

marketing automation software

On the dashboard, click “Modify search.”

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Next, type in “marketing automation software.” Click “get ideas”. This will give you long tail phrases related to the keyword.

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Keyword research also shows you how your competitors are driving traffic to their sites and that’s something you can emulate by targeting some of the same keywords.

For example, if you analyze Boost Blog Traffic on Alexa, as I demonstrated earlier, you will find the keywords that are sending the most visitors to Jon Morrow’s site.

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Conclusion

Competitive auditing works. I use it all the time. In fact, it’s one of the strategies that enabled me to grow Techcrunch’s traffic by 30% in 6 months.

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Using my research, I implemented a strategy of increasing page authority, creating inbound links (see how Marcus Sheridan builds links) and maximizing social media marketing. It’s easy to increase traffic, if you add those tactics to your content marketing.

I couldn’t have achieved that success without understanding who Techcrunch was competing with and using SEO best practices to improve their ranking and traffic.

You also have to keep in mind that competitors are not your enemy. No matter how competitive your industry seems, don’t look at the negative side. See other blogs and authority sites as HUGE assets to help you get better at content creation, link building, conversion rate optimization, networking and more.

What is your strategy for researching competitors in your industry?

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