Competitive Research for Any Online Business or Blog
Once you’ve decided the best of your 3 blog ideas, and you found a great niche market topic you can work within, you’re almost ready to roll. Now the most important thing to do, is to find out what the other people in this niche topic, are doing already. Time for a some good ol’ fashioned competitive research.
I know this may sound a little daunting, but I promise you, it’s not at all.
I’m going to give you easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions on how to do online competitive research quickly and easily.
When you put everything I’m showing you together (and I have a super useful spreadsheet to do so!), you’ll know SO MUCH the world you’re going into. This is a great exercise, as it will give you much MORE confidence in everything you’re doing, and give you some great guidance to work with.
Competitive Research – It’s just NOT THAT Complicated
‘Competitive research’ is just an over-complicated way of saying, “Let’s check out who’s around you”.
You’re going to learn a lot about where you’re going to be, and how you’re going to fit in when you get there. When getting involved in ANY business, it’s hugely important to know who else is already there.
Just like when you plan a foreign vacation, you need to know what you’re walking into, what to do, and what surrounds you when you’re there. For example, it’s not considered rude to burp at a French dinner table, in fact it’s a compliment to the good food. In some asian cultures, it’s considered rude to put money into people’s hands. Instead, you’re supposed to put the money onto the counter in front of them.
Knowing the cultures of your niche, and its audience, is amazingly USEFUL!
Competition – Not the Right Word for Other Businesses
A lot of people get very confused about the word ‘competition’ in business. In fact, I don’t think the word ‘competition’ is the right word to use at all.
‘Competition’ sounds too aggressive to me, and is often misinterpreted.
When doing this competitive research all you’re doing, is looking for information. Information that’s USEFUL TO YOU. That’s it, in a nutshell!Competition in business is NOT about competing AGAINST other businesses. It’s not a war, where your ultimate-goal is to find a weakness in their armor, beat them into submission, and win at any costs. Click To Tweet
Whenever I’ve seen companies or individuals compete that way, I’ve only ever seen destructive results for everyone involved.
You’re not trying to find ways to bring other businesses down. It’s not your goal to exploit or destroy them, in any way, ever.
Focus on Being Better than Your Competitors
It’s your goal to offer something different to, or better than, your competition. Competitive research gives you the knowledge you need to achieve that goal.
Co-existing in business is best. Ideally, you’re looking for gaps in the market where you could fit in alongside others in your niche topic.
Think of ways you can offer a similar product, but presented in a better way, or differently.
You may even find a way to do business that is mutually beneficial to yourself, AND your competitor. That’s considered a ‘win-win’ situation, where both parties benefit. If you can ever find this, you’re REALLY onto something AMAZING!
It’s probably better to think of other businesses as the other people involved alongside you, because after-all, they ARE in this WITH you.
Competing in business is not about taking anything away from anyone.
There’s MORE THAN enough money in the world to go around, and for EVERYONE to be successful, if they choose to be.
Competitive Research Never Ends
It’s important to note NOW, that competitive research doesn’t really EVER stop in business. I’d recommend keeping an eye on your market relatively often.
Don’t become obsessed though, or let it distract you from your regular tasks. You’re going to be busy enough running your own business anyway. I recommend scheduling a regular competitive research within your niche market, around once a year.
Doing so helps keep you aware of any new things happening, changes, or even newcomers to your niche. This all helps you stay up-to-date, and relevant within your niche market, but still able to remain focussed on your own business.
Competing Well Through Research
Through the results of your competitive research, the goal is to find places for you to fit in.
You’re looking for the best places where you can step in between your competition and the available audience / traffic out there. Then, YOU get the opportunity to work with that customer / follower / audience member.
So how do we find out as much as possible about what the competition are already doing, without being invasive?
Luckily this is an online business or blog. Almost everything online, is recorded data. It’s freely available to you to research, with a few free tools. This makes online competitive research a LOT EASIER than it used to be before the internet.
There’s a LITTLE reading between the lines, but mostly everything is right out-in-the-open for you to look at.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Your Competitors
You may find that when you start looking at other businesses or blogs, that you begin to feel intimidated or overwhelmed. It may be hard for you to see how you could ever compete with these people, or keep up with them.
Don’t do this ever, it’s extremely dangerous to your mindset.
Remember, your future competitors have been working in your niche for a long time, and you’re just starting out. It’s unfair to judge yourself and your new business in comparison to another that’s already established.Good competitive research is not about comparing yourself to the competition out there. It’s a positive journey of discovery. Click To Tweet
You’re going to be looking at people in your niche market that have already made it. They’ve already put in YEARS of work, and they’re already making money online. Remember that if they weren’t successful, you wouldn’t have any interest in them.
Don’t compare yourself to your competition. This is as relevant today, as when you’re successful and making money. It’s just not healthy, so don’t do it.
Your time IS coming. This competitive research is about gaining some knowledge of how things are already being done out there, and nothing more.
Remember, all your future competitors were exactly where you are now, once. In fact, they’d probably be happy to tell you that, too.
So, what do we need to know about the competition?
The 6 Things You Need to Know About Your Competitors
Here are the 6 things you’re going to figure out;
- Who your competition are
- ‘Where’ your competition are -as in what social media platforms, etc, they use for marketing
- Which keywords your competition ranks for in search engines (ie what keywords do they target)
- Types of content / media your competitors are producing
- What the most popular content on their blog is
- How they make money
Before you get totally into this, allow me to give you something that will help make this all a lot easier for you, as you;re putting the information together.
Free Download – Competitive Research Spreadsheet
I’ve put together a useful spreadsheet, that you can download for free, so you can put together all this information, in an easy to use format. It’s the exact same spreadsheet I use to put together all my competitive research, when looking at a new niche topic to work in, or to update my own research.
This spreadsheet will REALLY help you with your competitive research.
It’s in Microsoft Excel format, which will also open in Google Docs. Go ahead and download the spreadsheet from here.
Research 10 Competitors
When you open the spreadsheet you’ll see there are 10 separate sheets, one for each competitor.
I recommend researching AT LEAST 10 competitors. Saying this, you don’t ABSOLUTELY need to research 10. If you don’t have 10 main competitors, or feel you have enough information with less than that, that’s fine. If you feel you need more than 10, you can just copy a sheet and add more sheets as necessary.
Start by finding out who your competitors are, using our favorite search engine, Google.com.
It’s Googlin’ Time
Take your list of keywords, and start googling them.
When you see the search results, take just a QUICK note of the advertisers at the top of the google results page. These are competitors that pay to get traffic to their site. They’re important, but not very important for this research.
Screenshot Showing Paid Google ads vs Organic Search Results
Organic Search Results
You’re REALLY interested in competitors that rank highly for ORGANIC Google search results for your keywords.
These are the top results UNDER the ads. Google ranks these results as the MOST USEFUL to people looking for the information.
Nobody can pay to get listed in organic results, it’s 100% free, but it’s the most sought after space for anyone.
- 70% of google traffic clicks through on the top organic search results.
- Only 30% of people click on the companies advertising above them.
Nobody searches google to get advertised to. We search to find the MOST USEFUL, and MOST RELEVANT information to our enquiries. If you can get onto the first page of google results, you’re in really good shape.
If your articles / blog posts rank in the top 2-3 organic search results on Google, you get the MOST organic search traffic available.
Organic search results are a huge traffic resource, and it’s 100% free to be there, so it’s prime internet real-estate.
When you’re starting a blog to make money online it’s important to find out who is doing what, where, and what you can do better. This is so you can get into those top organic spots, or at least on the first page of Google search results and get traffic to your site.
Competitive Research Spreadsheet – Who Are They?
Open up the competitive research spreadsheet. You’ll see under the header ‘Who Are They?’, there are spots for the domain name, and the bloggers name.
Fill in the Names
Search on google for your target keywords, and long tail keywords. Open each of the top results in a separate tab in your favorite internet browser. Fill out the spots in the spreadsheet with each domain name and blogger name you find.
Add as many competitors that you know of, to this spreadsheet.
Even add ones that you perhaps didn’t find through keyword research, but you know are popular in your space.
What’s Their Story?
Almost every blogger has a ‘story’. It’s usually in the ‘About Me’ link on their web site, but it also runs through all of their content, and connects all the dots together.
A blogger’s story tells you something about them that makes them relatable to you, and somehow relates to the product they’re selling.
This is a HUGE part of personal branding.
Write a note that makes sense to you on the spreadsheet.
Website or Blog Design Notes
In my article about finding the perfect theme for your WordPress blog, I mention how quite often designs of blogs and websites either tie-in, or show similarities across the niche.
As part of your competitive research on site designs, take note of a couple of things.
Overall Theme Design
Look at their site, how does it look as far as the theme design? Does it look professional, playful, creative? Knowing what works as far as design in your niche, will help you to be able to design YOUR blog, when we get to that.
Look at the overall design, how does it look and feel?
Looking at the fashion industry, many sites and blogs are light. They usually have a very feminine look and feel to the site, often using script fonts.
Colors in themes across a certain industry, or niche topic, may be similar.
For example, in restaurants oranges, browns, and yellows are often used. This is because these are colors that make us feel comfortable, warm, and hungry. Most restaurant websites use a similar color scheme to the restaurants themselves. Therefore, many restaurant websites use these colors, also.
Take a note of any common color schemes across your niche topic.
Site Menu Design
Look at the main menu of the site. How is it laid out, what is the main menu links text? Under ‘Site Menu’, in the competitive research spreadsheet, fill in the menu links.
Do this for all the competitors in your niche topic, you will probably find similarities in the menus.
If there ARE similarities, when it comes to designing your site menu, you’ll have a good idea of how it needs to look, and what needs to be there. I wrote an article about this comparison in site menu design.
Just a brief look at each blog, will do. Note things you personally like, and dislike about the site.
Competitive Research – Where are They?
Now that we know WHO these people are, let’s find out WHERE they are. By this, I mean where else do they appear online, other than their blog site?
Check out all your competitor’s social media pages. Most bloggers have social media links on their blogs.
What social media sites do they use?
Fill out the spreadsheet with anything you find. Place a Y/N next to the social media network, then copy and paste a link to their profile under ‘Profile Address’.
Analyse their Social Media Content
Take a closer look at their social media content. What type of content gets the most shares, and likes?
For each competitor, take a close look at the social media networks referring the most traffic. If one particular competitor is doing really well on Instagram or snapchat, and another is doing better on facebook, there may be reasons why.
Perhaps one competitor has more compelling content on one network over another.
Social Media Headline Copy
Analyze their social media headlines, and take a look at the copy. What makes THAT particular copy so compelling to your potential audience?
Make a swipe file of headlines that you found compelling and almost made you click on them, or that cover your subjects well.
Also note any headlines that use any of YOUR keywords.
Not really a social media network, Youtube.com is actually the world’s second largest search engine, after google.com.
Check out your competitor’s videos, if they have any. Watch what they’re doing and saying.
What types of videos do they have on their channel? Do they have it laid out in sections? If so, what are those sections labelled as?
Check out the titles of their videos, and what type of copy they’re using in their descriptions. Take note of any keywords.
How many subscribers do they have?
Also, how many views does each video they produce, get?
Competitive research – What Keywords do they Rank for?
We need to do some more keyword research, only THIS time it’s not on what keywords to use.
What you need to find out, is what keywords does your competition’s website rank for on Google. We also need to know what percentage of their traffic comes from those keywords.
Let’s head over to one of my favorite research web sites, Semrush.com.
Using SEMrush.com for Competitive research
On the front page, you can type in ANY website address. Type that in, and you will get a page of organic research on whatever site you typed in there.
SEMrush.com – an Extremely Useful Marketing / Research Tool
So, first, type in the web address for the competing site you want to get information on.
Let’s look at some sample results, so we can see what sort of information would be useful to you, and what it means.
Without a membership to semrush.com, you can only get 10 free searches per day, and limited results, but even with a free membership, you can complete a lot of these tasks.
For a few years, I did all my research on SEMrush.com, with nothing more than a free membership. It took quite a while that way, but if you’re patient, it’s definitely possible to get a LOT of incredibly useful information about competitors there, for free.
Researching Your OWN Site on SEMrush.com
Eventually, as I started more websites, and got more into competitive research, as well as using semrush.com organic keyword research for my own sites.
This tool is a great way to see what keywords you’re actually ranking for, what ranking you currently have, and what percentage of your site traffic is coming from that keyword. Most peopel that own web sites, have no idea what keywords they’re actually ranking for. Knowing if you;re not ranking for your chosen keywords, greatly helps your content planning.
If you get a membership, you will have access to everything on the site, and can search for a lot more information, which can make your life a lot easier.
SEMrush.com is one of the most useful online resources for competitive and SEO research out there.
Add the Keywords and Metrics to the Competitive Research Spreadsheet
Grab the top few keywords that each competitor ranks for, and add them to the Competitive research Spreadsheet. Add all the metrics for each top keyword.
If there are any keywords you’re finding for your niche topic that are new to you, they might be useful. You may find more things to write blog posts and articles about, so run a quick keyword research for that keyword. Add any good results to your keyword research master spreadsheet.
You may want to try and rank for these keywords.
If they didn’t show up through your initial keyword research, maybe it’s one that even the competitor doesn’t know they’re ranking for. Many of the top websites out there are just the top because they’re there, but they don’t pay any attention to SEO at all. They might not even know anything about keywords, or what they’re currently ranking for. It could just be pure coincidence.
From doing competitive research in some blog topic niches, I have found many blogs that pretty much rank for nothing related to their topic.
They were probably getting more traffic through social media links, or perhaps even just using social media only, and almost ignoring their blog (a FATAL mistake in SEO, and business).
Beating these people in search results for related keywords, can be relatively easy.
Now that you know what keywords they’re ranking for in Google.com, let’s find out what are their most popular articles or blog posts on their website.
Competitive research – what type of Content / Media are they Using?
Take a look at your competitors content across-the-board.
- Do they use a lot of photos and videos, or not many at all?
- Do they post a lot of long-form content (1,000 words or more), or do they use short-form (2-300 words) posts? On these posts, do they add videos?
- Is there a lot of tutorial content? Is the site mainly full of news and update content regarding their niche?
- Do they really capitalize in the personal brand aspect in their media content, or just stick to using their logo, etc?
- Is there a podcast for this brand or blog? If so, how many episodes are there?
How often do they publish a podcast, what is their ranking in the podcast charts? How many listeners do they have for their podcast?
Competitive Research – What is Their Most Popular Content?
Let’s find out which of their pages, what articles, and blog posts, are the most popular. It’s extremely useful to know out of all their content, which one is bringing in the most traffic.
Let’s start with Buzzsumo.com for this one.
Open up a browser window, and go to www.buzzsumo.com. From your list of competitors, choose a domain name, and type it into the search window.
You’ll be presented with a list of links to content on that website, in the order that it was shared the most.
These are the most popular articles that this competitor has right now. This will tell you what their customers are most interested in reading, and sharing.
You can also look into the most share social media, and much more data.
I personally like to go to these articles, and read them. I also would keep a list of links to these articles in my competitive research.
Another great competitive research, and market research tool is www.similarweb.com.
Simply open up similarweb.com, and type in the website address of one of your competitors in the search box at the top of the page.
You’ll find a TON of useful information about competitors, and what’s working for them on this site.
This includes things such as;
- Site Traffic – total site visits (per month), avg visit duration, bounce rate, traffic by countries (mapped out with percentages), traffic sources (direct, referrals, search, social media, email, etc.
- Referrals – What are the top sites referring traffic to this site, and where this site is referring traffic to (useful to know what affiliate links might be doing better for them).
- Search – how much of their traffic is organic, how much is paid for, and what keywords are they paying for?
- Social – shows you what percentage of their traffic is from social media. Also shows a broken down list of social media sites, showing you which ones send them the most traffic.
- Display Advertising – do they use display advertising, if so, where?
- Website Content – their most popular content.
- Audience Interests – what are their audience interested in (this one seems a little vague).
- Competitors & Similar Sites – this will bring up more competitors, maybe some you already considered, perhaps some you don’t know about yet.
- Mobile Apps – does this site have any associated apps on mobile?
As I said, REALLY USEFUL INFORMATION.
Competitive Research – How do they Make Money?
To me, as useful as all the other research may be, THIS is the MOST important question to answer. I also find this one the most exciting, and the most fun to research.
Afterall, we need to figure out HOW this is going to work, right? How are you going to put everything together to make money for YOU?
Simple stuff, start sniffing out how these people are making cash, starting with the most passive income, affiliate marketing.
Look for places where the blogger is recommending products, or sending you somewhere to buy something they recommend. Legally, they must state it is an affiliate link, and that they receive a commission for the product.
The chances are, if they recommend an affiliate link, you could, too! Quite often, bloggers make a large amount of their income through affiliate links.
Amazon Affiliate Links
If they recommend products available on Amazon.com, they may also be affiliate links. Amazon.com has a great program for affiliates, called ‘Amazon Associates’, where you can receive a commision for recommending someone buying something from amazon. If they buy other items int he same shopping cart, you also get commissions for those items, also.
Physical Products (Ecommerce)
Do they sell their own physical products, and sell them? Or, are they an internet retailer, selling other people’s products? What about merchandise?
List any physical products they may sell on any of their pages.
Another great way to earn passive income, is to produce a course. An educational set of videos, ebook, or written course that the audience can purchase to learn a certain skill.
If you see any courses for sale, even affiliate linked course, take a note of each of these.
When listening to podcasts, or watching youtube videos, etc, are they mentioning any sponsors, or talking about sponsors?
If so, take a note of these sponsors. You may be able to pick up sponsors for your shows, courses, etc.
It’s good to know what types of companies are interested in your niche, because you may also be able to seek out companies interested in sponsoring you.
Public Appearances / Speaches
Do your future competitors get involved in any public speaking or events? I know of people in some niches that get paid $100,000.00 for an hour of their time to speak on online business, or motivational speaking.
I personally can’t imagine anything easier, because all I ever do is talk (honestly, listening is really hard for me).
Do they sell things in a store, that’s fulfilled by another company, ie shipped directly from the company? This is called drop-shipping.
It’s similar to how affiliate links work, but instead it’s more like retail. The product being sold is never handled by the site selling the product, instead it ships direct from the manufacturer, which speeds everything up, and makes logistics a lot easier.
Landing Pages / Squeeze Pages / Offers
On social media, both on your competitors individual pages, and on ads that you see, click on the link and follow it to the landing page.
Look at the following, and make a swipe file of landing page containing THIS information;
- Headline copy text
- Sub heading copy
- The body text, what does this say, and how are they selling their products?
- What is the offer? Usually they want an email address, or something like that, but what are they offering you in return? Knowing this will give you a good idea of what works in your niche.
Putting all the Research Together
If you know what keywords your online competitors are listing for, what their most popular content is, and what’s being shared the most, it’s extremely useful. You can maybe look to make better content yourself, and get in there, and find some success within that marketplace.
Also, you can compare this information to your own keyword list. You might just be able to find a few keywords, that are almost untouched, or that have a lower keyword difficulty.
You may even be able find a section of your audience or your topic, that could be a little easier to reach, and get ranked for.
If so, you could base your main blog subject, and a few pieces of corner content on your blog, targeting this section of your audience. It’s much easier if you can find low-hanging fruit, to find people and get them interested in the rest of your blog.
Look for ways in which your competitors are solving problems, how they write their article and headline copy. See if you can find similarities.
Learn the language of your marketplace. If you find new words you haven’t thought of, research them, and add them to your keyword research list.
Competitive Research Review
Ultimately, you should now know a lot about your competitors.
Let’s just quickly review what you know about them.
You now know who your competitors are. If they’re a personal brand, you’ll know who the person running the blog. You’ve learned about their personality and writing style from reading a few blog posts.
I’m one of the biggest fans of almost all my competitors. I honestly love and admire them all. They are the people I looked up to when I started my blog, that inspired me to do everything I’m doing today. In a way, I owe each one of them something. I admire and respect them all.
With this in mind, I try to be my own guy, and not steal anything from anyone.
When reading my blog posts, I truly hope you read my personality, and don’t see me as a carbon copy of anyone else. Knowing my competitors personalities, and seeing how their communication style works for them, taught me that I only ever need to be myself, as that’s more than enough.
I have a TON of useful knowledge that genuinely help other people succeed, therefore, I don’t need to copy anyone else to help anyone.
Imagine where you will eventually fit into all of this. One day you’ll stand alongside these people.
From looking at the mechanics of their blogs, you can see how these people make money. You know how much traffic they get, from where.
After researching, you’ve gained extensive knowledge about what products they sell, and how they sell them. Essentially, how they make money.
Social media and marketing channels have shown you the process of their marketing campaigns in initial offers, autoresponders, and more.
From the beginning of the marketing and sales process to the end, you should be able to see the entire mechanics of their money earning systems, and how they work.
Checking out the competitor’s blogs and social media channels, you can see exactly what they’re doing to generate traffic.
You’ve looked at all their email autoresponders, and read through all their emails that lead to a product.
Reading their articles, you can see what headlines they’re using, and what they have in their content.
From your research you can see if google search for this topic is seasonal, and what the volumes are.
It’s good to know when the best times of the week are to post. Look for these common factors in your research. Is a Thursday Throwback a common thing for your topic?
Within your research there’s a ton of information about what social media channels are working for your competitors, so you know where they’re working.
You can see the best channels to implement your own strategies. Better yet, can you find a platform that has hardly anyone else in your space yet that you may be able to get into first?
It’s possible you could capitalize on that easy-to-grab attention.
Competitive Research is Over
Now you know the who, how, why, what, when, and of course, the where of your niche topic.
You’ve gathered a hell of a lot of information about the possible size of this blog topic, and hopefully we’ve established this is a topic that you can make some money from.
Now, I don’t just mean that you think this might be possible, maybe.
I’m hoping you can see that there’s definitely an opportunity for you here. You should be able to see that there’s a space you can fit into and make some money.
Time to figure out what ways you’re going to make money in your blog, if you haven’t figured it out, already.