An Extensive Guide To Competitive Research

The area of competitive research is generally overlooked by businesses and brands, or is generally taken to the most extreme levels.
Unfortunately, when this occurs many brands miss the basic goals of competitive research that need to be researched. For any marketing strategy development, competitive research is one of the most important things you can do. To complete your competitive research, you need to look further into researching your competition both inside and out.

When completing competitive research brands need to:

  • Research and identify how successful the competition is and what they’re doing in this space.
  • Research and identify weaknesses and opportunity areas within a specific vertical.
  • Research and identify a competitor’s tactics so your brand can gain a more competitive edge.

What You Should Be Doing

When approaching competitive research, we ask these simple fundamental questions:

  • What is the link building strategy they use?
  • How do they use social media to their advantage?
  • What are their strategy weaknesses and opportunities? (Notice whether the focus is strictly on their brand exclusively or if it’s expanding for maximum reach into social areas.
  • How do all these areas work together? (Do they focus on their entire marketing strategy or do they segregate them down into social and search.

What You’re Not Doing

In the long run brand names can be hurt when the mentality of ‘screwing the competitor’ is evident in the overall marketing of the business. To really harness the power of competitive research and improving your brand, you need to really take the time and learn all you can about the overall vertical of your competitors and your business, including any open opportunities which are designed to excel you forward in the online world. You don’t have to spend timeless amounts of energy to bring the other competitor down when you can place this energy into devising a sustainable strategy to compete and overtake your competition in most markets and industries. You don’t need to find the negative tactics your competitors are using, instead you want to understand the space they’re occupying and get your own foot in the door. Use your energy to open up a new marketing opportunity.

Competitor research has many different major components which should be utilised when conducting this research. These are the main sections that we’ll cover today:

  • Getting Started
  • Link Building Strategy
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Continue Stalking Your Competitors
  • Useful Sites and Tools

Now let’s get down to the details of it all.

Getting Started

Upon getting started in this guide, this is based upon the fact that your keyword research has already been completed across each of your website’s different categories. You should have already calculated your visibility score to identify how your overall brand’s performance is doing across the keywords that you’ve done your research on. You should also know how your competition with these keywords are with your organic competitors. The emphasis is on organic competitors and not brand competitors because many brands tend to confuse the two as being the same when they’re not. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two:

  • Brand Competitor –This type of competitor is more dominant within the market space, and tends to work more on target demographic, or offline or online branding and marketing efforts. An example of this type of competitor is similar to Boscoys vs JCPenny’s. While both brands are very similar, Boscoys just simply aren’t performing as well as JCPenny’s to really compete against them in actual SERPs.
  • Organic Competitor –Organic competitors is a competitor which is really performing well in SERPs across the industry space you’re in, or across specific areas that you’re also focused on including the same use of keywords which you’re using to bring in more traffic and conversions to your website.

Now if we skip a head a bit and assume you’ve identified your overall top competitors who are currently performing really well with your set of keywords as a whole. There should be some basic goals in your competitive research in order to help in defining and focusing your overall efforts before you gain access to all available data and different pathways you can start to travel down.

Analysing Your Competitors Backlinks

There are many different tactics and techniques when it comes to internet marketing. These techniques and tactics offer their own
sustainability and strengths. In completing research on your biggest competitors you’ll start to realise that backlinks are going to be a useful asset in your own marketing efforts. Running your competitors through paid backlink tools such as Open Site Explorer or Majestic, can help you extract their backlinks, anchor text data and their top backlinks. Let’s take a look into more information about backlinks.

Top Backlinks

Top backlinks can be used to gain access and information on the types of partnerships your biggest competition has and is building with high quality or high authority websites. When taking a look at the top ranked pages, take note of the sites and whether they’re considered as top backlink sites. Generally, top backlink sites are:

  • New sites that may be distributing press release information.
  • Sites that are reaching out to larger networks and publications.
  • Prominent sites within an industry which have been in relationships with a main top ranking website.

While working out whether a site is a top backlink website, you need to work on how they are obtaining these top backlinks. Are they sending specific information to selected editors or are they contributing with guest posts?

General Backlinks

When working through general backlinks you need to consider a few things:

  • Are they contributing as a guest author with publications and blogs?
  • Are there footer or site-wide links?
  • Does content marketing make up a major part of their overall marketing strategy? If it appears to be the case, what types of content do they market to the world wide web?

Anchor Text

The next thing to consider is what keywords your competitors are most focused on and are most important to them. Unfortunately, many brands still use the tactic of building an abundance of exact match key phrases to rank in the number 1 space on popular search engines. While it may be unfortunate for them, it’s great for you when you’re dedicating time to conducting your competitive research because you can find out:

  • The exact match phrases they’re targeting and whether they’re using them extensively.
  • What they’re ranking for with the exact match phrases they’re using. You can do this by using a tool called SEMrush, or by manually searching for them.
  • What the keyword percentage is that’s strictly used for branding.
  • What the percentage is of those keywords that are coupled with branded terms.


When building links, there’s some important things to identify from your competitors to see what they’re doing and not doing. These things include:

  • Can you find links that are ‘paid’ links?
  • Are they submitting their website or brand to directories?
  • Have they implemented a press release strategy?
  • Are they using content marketing or blogger outreach?
  • Do they have partnerships or are they sponsoring any events with different schools or universities that help to contribute to their backlink profile with .edu links?

When working through endless amounts of data for your competitive research, you do have a few options to make it less boring while still finding what you’re looking for. If you take the time to setup a data table, you can easily start sorting your URLs by segmenting them into columns.

Press Releases

Strategies that involve press releases, although old, are still very common strategies that are used by established brands. The best thing about a press release strategy is that if you find the right places for publication, you have a potentially free marketing solution. While in some cases press release sites may be sitting on high authority domains, it can still be hard to build the page authority.

By taking the time to really analyse the press releases of your competitors you have a great chance of learning the dates and peak periods of time when strategic shifts such as promotions or product launches within the business have been made. For your competitor backlinks, there are many paid and free press release services which can be looked at to gain more data and information.

When sorting your column for Source URL’s use the press release domains below:

  • com
  • org
  • com
  • com
  • com

While these only touch the surface of the many available press release sites available, it can be a great starting point to help in moving the whole process along. When writing a press release for your own business, it’s important to consider a few things:

  • Work out a catchy title that will gain interest from those who are keeping up with your business.
  • Add appropriate links in anchor text and raw links to help with link building. Make sure links go back to relevant pages.
  • Make sure the press release reads well and is professional to bring that professionalism you’re looking to bring to your website.
  • Release the press release on popular press release sites as suggested above to gain the most exposure.
  • Sign in to social media, share and like your post to help bring more attention to it in the future.

Directory Submissions

Not only useful for link building, niche directory submissions are also helpful in gaining more customers and clients which are searching for specific industry businesses. While these days not many people search through directories, it can still be a great marketing avenue to leverage. When looking at your competitors use of directory submissions, you should consider the following:

  • Working out what directories they’ve submitted their sites to.
  • Whether they’re using exact match or brand anchors. There are some directories which are strict on what anchor text should be used.
  • Whether your competitors are listed in different directory niches.
  • Whether they’re listed in local directories with physical locations which can help to serve as citations.

For Verticals/Industries With Physical Locations

One tactic to enhance your overall position over your competition is to consider getting citations wherever possible. Citations are great for establishing an authority figure and for bringing confirmation that you’re located where your business is listed on Google Places and that you’re a real business. By digging deeper and working out whereabouts your competitors are listed with their citations you have a good indication of where to submit your overall business for citation.

Blogger Outreach

Blogger outreach is a great way to build links through leveraging current relationships and by building new ones. Blogger outreach isn’t just narrowed down to one single thing, it broadens out into so many different avenues that you can utilise. You can determine whether a brand is trying to link build through their link building efforts. This is because the sites they’re link building with aren’t as high in authority as they would like or they aren’t as relevant.

How To Check Domain Authority

To check the DA or Domain Authority you can use sites such as SEO Review Tools. All you need to do is copy and paste the sites your competitors are guest blogging on to find out the DA of the website as seen in the image below. The idea of the DA is the higher the number the more traffic goes through the website. DA’s over 50 are generally really good websites to try and gain guest blogging access onto because you have a higher chance of being recognized. When guest blogging it’s important to ask the website about guidelines and remember although you may write a great post, there’s no guarantee that your post will be placed onto the website itself.

DA Example 1 – High Authority

DA Example 2 – Low Authority

Some marketers believe that any link is a good link to utilise, this simply isn’t true. When it comes down to blogger outreach in general you need to consider a few things with your competitive research and this includes:

  • What’s the authority rating of the domain where your competitors are obtaining their links.
  • What’s the relevancy of the links and the overall quality of the site?
  • Does the editor seem to be working with this brand solely or are they using multiple editors?
  • Does the blog seem to be catering for one brand in particular? If so, do you believe they could be in exclusive agreement with them?

Generally, editors of blogs tend to open up their blog to different brands in a particular vertical. This is because with the more diversity available, they are able to bring out more fresh and interesting news to their readership, along with industry updates. Overtime they may consider opening up to your particular brand if they’re not exclusively working with another brand.

To help work out and identify key sites that offer brand coverage or where the brand has contributed content to, you will need to spend some additional time sorting through their backlinks. To really get inside the head of your biggest competitor and have the ability to profile their overall marketing strategy, you should look into reverse engineering their blogger outreach tactics. When searching back through their list of backlinks, you’ll be able to work on recognizing the types of industry blogs which they’re posting on.

Content Marketing and Promotion

Content marketing is a major contributor to really push up a website’s ranking on popular search engines. Unfortunately, many brands still don’t take the opportunity to enforce a great content marketing strategy, even though it’s been around for years.

Content marketing is one avenue which should be investigated and utilised in order to find out what your competitor is sharing and creating. Due to the dominancy in any digital marketing strategy, it can help you to understand your competition’s content marketing strategy for both offsite and onsite marketing. It can also help you brainstorm more effectively on new and potential topics that need to be created based upon what’s been successful, and the areas which haven’t been covered as of yet.

By taking the time to look into your competition’s content marketing strategy, you can:

  • Get an idea on the topics that are most interesting to the target demographic of your competitors.
  • Determine if there’s a link between social media and success for each piece.
  • Find out which networks their content is being shared on.
  • Find out whether they’re developing content for third party sites or to share on-site.
  • Gain a better understanding of what off-topic content has been more successful.
  • Identify and gain insight into different content marketing areas which can be used but you haven’t utilised or considered yet.


In order to see whether a competitor brand is posting infographics, you will need to search a few of the infographic websites manually. In searching some of these infographic sites manually you have a higher chance of also finding out whether they’re shared on other sites, the types of popular infographics that are being developed by the brand, along with the information that’s used as well. Many first time infographic content creators will work on positing the infographic to their own blog or website. Those who are more in tune with this side of marketing will use sites such as Studio 56 or to help in creating powerful infographics that will really enhance their sharing ability.

However, if your determined to create an infographic yourself there’s a few things you can do to create a powerful infographic. These include:

  • Collect data that’s backed by scientific research and other relevant studies to make sure the data you use in your infographic is factually correct.
  • Choose a designer that’s had some experience in creating infographics to help you work on creating the design.
  • Place the most news worthy facts at the top of the infographic.
  • Design images for your infographic that represent each fact perfectly.
  • Use contrasting colours and colours that match to bring out the best of your infographic.
  • Don’t repeat the facts to make your infographic longer.

In utilising these tips you have a better chance of really bringing together a great infographic that can outdo your competitor.

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is a great way of gaining an idea of what your competition’s target market finds most interesting about the brand, enough so they share it with others. By using sites such as StumbleUpon and Digg, you can gain insight into what content is being shared socially from their actual blog/website.

To make your search results faster when using StumbleUpon, you can simply setup a google query to help find the pages or post your competitors have added. To do this simply pick your competitor and write it similar to the following: site:

By placing ‘site:’ into the Google search you’ll be able to search for specific keywords or specific URLs that are within the site.

Free Tactic

When you’ve found and identified the infographic piece’s name that was shared you can then do your own Google search of that particular title to see whether you can find out if other sites have also picked it up and shared it.

Paid Tactic

Another option is to check the original URL in Open Site Explorer or Majestic to see whether there are any other sites which linkup to that particular piece. If there are sites that are linked, you can consider adding them into your blogger outreach campaign as well.


Twitter is a great way to search for links and to find out where they’ve been shared. In manually searching Twitter you can check to see the scope of social media networks your competitors have gained in their marketing strategy. In turn it will also give you more ideas on the users that you should begin to engage with and start following if you decide you’re going to reach out and market you own content pieces to your audience.

All you need to do is paste the blog or infographic URL of your competitor into the search bar like below:

Then simply check how many times it’s been retweeted, as seen in this image below. It has been retweeted 2 times, as seen with the circle of arrows next to the love heart:

Google Places

Utilising Google Places is an important part of competitive research if you have a physical location or a local business. By completing a Google brand query and setting the location to a specific city (or just writing the name next to your brand keywords), you can easily see your competition on the Google Places page if they’re relevant to a physical location. See the image below for tiles Sydney as an example:

When considering Google Places, you need to ask yourself the following:

  • Do your biggest competitors feature in the Google Places page for their physical location?
  • Do they feature any star ratings or reviews?
  • Do they feature any sort of call to actions on their website or social networks to help in encouraging customers to review them?
  • Do they take advantage of the category and description areas of their website?


Many search marketers don’t pay as much attention to the social strategies of their competitors as they really should. With the increase in popularity of social media, it’s no wonder many brands are now taking their marketing efforts down this road. Social engagement and signals are now playing a major role in website rankings so it’s important to find out which social networks your biggest competitors are utilising and the niche networks they could be missing out on. Here are some basic points that you can consider when researching major social networks.

The Website Spot Check

The website spot check can go a long way into the final social research process. To do this you simply find the area where it shows up all social media icons that can be used to subscribe or share content on the website. An example of what to look for is in the image below:

In completing your quick spot check, you’ll have a better chance of which social media networks your competitors are very active on and which network they consider to be more powerful for their overall social media strategy. Do the followers socially share their homepage?

Gaining a homepage +1 is a great way to gain more exposure to your brand. It allows your homepage to show up on a user’s profile, and it also shows in the search engine results. While it’s not quite clear to how much search engine results are affected by personalization and +1s, competitors who are encouraging the sharing of their site and +1s will have a higher lead over brands that don’t use this method of marketing.

Sites such as Knowem and NameChk are great websites to use in order to gain insight into what social networks your competition is more drawn to. This allows you to gain better understanding over which networks you can use as well.

Social Factors To Consider

When conducting competitive research on your competition you need to understand a few things which include:

  • Understanding the ins and outs of what your competition is doing.
  • Who your competition is actually following.
  • How your competition is engaging with their audience.
  • The different types of content they’re sharing in order to be more successful.
  • How far they reach socially and who exactly is listening.

By digging deep and taking the time to understand your competition and how they leverage social media both successfully and unsuccessfully, you have a higher chance of working out your target audience and what they’re receptive to. Once you’ve located which social networks your competition is most active on, you can then start to consider the following:

  • What social media networks they believe are more important based upon their website network listings.
  • Are your competitors on a niche network which you could exploit in order to build your own presence?
  • Are they engaging and sharing content across these networks? If so how often are they doing this?
  • What kind of content do they create and share? Is it on-topic to the industry? Is it self-centred, self-serving?
  • Do they use these social media networks to leverage more coverage for contests or promotions they’re currently running?
  • For Twitter users do they have any kind of lists? Do they feature on any lists? In what ways do they engage?
  • For Facebook users, does your competition take full advantage of any of the features of Facebook including tagging, photostrip application etc? Who’s there’s featured links?

Competitors with YouTube Channels are great learning tools which can give you insight into what your audience may like and which type they would respond to more.

With new changes and personalisation features Google +1 is starting to bring forward, there’s more factors that can be considered to gain more insight into your overall competition and your marketing efforts. By having a strong social strategy from utilising competitive research you have a high chance of gaining a step in front of your competition.


While many may think once the initial research is done you don’t have to do any more work, this is wrong. Competitive research isn’t about doing one major research process, it’s about continuously monitoring your competition and adapting your marketing strategies in order to stay in front of your competition. These days’ you can use a number of different paid tools which are at your disposal. Here are some free tactics and tips however which can be used for continuously monitoring your competition.

Tracking Twitter Search Queries

In taking the time to track Twitter mentions of your competitors, it can help you to understand their audience’s perception of them along with the conversations that are active around the brand.

Saving Searches In LinkedIn

With LinkedIn you can save any of the searches that you conduct. Saving searches is an easy way to keep a tab on the competition’s employees, who’s leaving and joining the company, plus so much more. Saving searches in LinkedIn gives you the ability to gain insight into how your competition may be directing the business and where it may be going. As an example, if you found out that Apple hired the VP of Marketing at Coca Cola, you can determine that they’re starting to move into a stronger marketing cycle of a product. You can search for the brand name under the ‘people’ section of LinkedIn which can bring up a list of profiles that are associated with that brand name. After this your simple select save search at the top right hand side of the screen as seen in the image below:

In doing this you’ll be prompted to choose a name and the frequency of which you want to receive these updates. You can also stalk the company page to keep an eye out for new departures and hires.

Set Up Google Alerts

These days, Google Alerts is overlooked greatly however it’s one of the quickest ways to keep an eye on the competition while improving your business brand. Take the time to track different variations of your competitor’s brand name so you can see whereabouts they’re gaining mentions, if there’s a new release on the horizon, or if they’re making positive or negative news for something. You can setup an unlimited amount of alerts for different kinds of businesses, even for your own brand. You can even setup the types of results that you may want to monitor. You can choose your level of frequency so you’re not receiving more alerts than you can handle overall.

Pull an RSS of Search Queries

Many people don’t realise that you can easily pull RSS feeds from different searches to help with keeping an overall track of specific search queries.

Use Google News as a major example:

Enter a search query that you’re interested in. If your searching for a brand mention strictly, type in different variations in the search bar to reduce the chance of getting results that are irrelevant.

Scroll down at the bottom of SERPs to the create alert button. Email alerts can also be setup, but by having it within the RSS feed it enables you to easily view everything all at once.

Custom Queries

For custom queries, manual searching is the best option. You can manual search selecting the URL and imputing it into Google Search. To find more recent news, you simply need to limit the search date when you click on ‘search tools’ and ‘all results’ before selecting your settings to the past month or week to help weed out dated results and irrelevant results.


To help finsih this post, here are a few tools and websites that can be used which aren’t mentioned above to help in your overall competitive research.

Social Mention

Social Mention enables you to easily search through brand mentions across blog platforms and social media websites. You have the ability to also setup alerts for emails or grab an RSS feed to keep constant monitoring over your competitors.


Ghostery is a specialised plugin which allows for you to see what pixels, plugins, trackers, tools and ad networks your major competitors are using to help gather more in depth and private data. It also helps you to see what analytic platform they’re currently using so you can have more idea on how deep their analysis and segmentation of traffic actually is.


Wappalyzer is a great tool which enables for you to see what competitors are using as their analytics platform, server, framework, or CMS.


Be Where They Are

By taking the time to investigate Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups, and other areas in which your competitors are participating in, you have a higher chance of gaining a better view into their overall operation and position in an industry, along with what they find is important enough to share as well as what’s important enough to participate in.

Look For Open Opportunities

While completing your competitive research, remember to look for open opportunities in your competitor’s weaknesses and areas where they’re successful so you can implement your own strategic brainstorming to easily expand the reach and scope of your own marketing efforts. While it’s lengthy, time consuming, and a continuous process, competitive research is still a great opportunity to invest in to help boost your overall marketing efforts. In taking on these simple tips, techniques and advice in this article you’ll gain a better understanding of how to really analyse your competitors throughout the online marketing space.

One of the most important things that you should remember is each channel affects one another. There’s no point in concentrating on search competitive research without taking the time to first understand what your competitor is doing as a social whole. While you can really hone in on key areas of marketing, it’s still important to look at your competitive research as a whole which should encompass all areas of internet marketing. Are you looking forward to completing your competitive research?