To run a successful business you need to know the environment, and adjust to it wisely. That means knowing what works for your niche, what doesn't, and finally, what could be done better.
But instead of learning the hard way (from your own mistakes), there's a lot you can take out from your competitors' experience to give yourself the upper hand.
To make spying fun, and prevent it from getting too overwhelming, in this post, we'll look at some great tools that can simplify the process, and provide more comprehensive, actionable insights.
I bet you know your main business rivals - niche leaders targeting the same locations, consumer groups, and offering same services. What you need to remember here is that these businesses are not necessarily the ones you'll have to compete with online.
To begin your investigation, you can try SpyFu, a keyword research tool which provides insights into who your organic online competitors are, and which are their most profitable keywords.
In addition to this, SpyFu can also provide analysis on the keywords that have just made it to the top, just fell out, or are 'nearly there', which may give you an idea of where your competitors' efforts are currently focused.
One more handy element is the 'Kombat' diagram, which highlights the target keywords you share with your competitors, those you may be missing on, and which unprofitable ones you should probably drop.
Function: Identify your competitors and their winning keywords
Free version: Shows 5 keywords + 5 competitors for any domain
Website Auditor and SEO SpyGlass
WebSite Auditor can automatically gather your SEO-competitors that rank on page one for any desired keyword(s), and show the anatomy of those winning pages: how exactly they're optimized, and how tactics vary from one competitor to another.
You'll see the optimization stats for each element on a page, as well as all the tech insights.
Using SEO SpyGlass you can analyze a competitor's backlink profile, its diversity and quality. Looking at the distribution of the backlinks, you can detect the pages your competitor is steering the link power to.
Conveniently, SEO SpyGlass enables you to add several competitors to one project and compare the profiles - this can be extremely handy for finding the intersections, and, respectively, the sites/authors that are likely to cover your niche and mention alike businesses on a regular basis.
Function: Uncover your competitors' optimization and link-building tactics
Free version: WebSite Auditor allows to audit up to 150 pages against 10 competitors, SEO SpyGlass allows comparing 2 domains at a time and shows up to 1,100 backlinks per domain
SEMRush and WhatRunsWhere
With the help of SEMRush you can dive into the ad strategies and PPC marketing activities of your competitors and investigate their most profitable paid keywords and most successful ad campaigns - all you need to do is enter a domain name of your competitor.
Seeing estimated competitors' budgets, and analyzing how some ads worked, while some - not so much, you can benefit from their experience without a loss for your own business, and adjust your own budget wisely.
WhatRunsWhere is another cool tool for ad tracking that helps you research where your competitors are advertising, and discover the most profitable publishers along the way.
A great thing about the tool is the access to historical data (over 5 years). Not only does this enable you to peek into current strategies, but it provides an overview of how their strategies have evolved over time, and what your competitors have been experimenting with.
Function: Discover your competitors' paid keywords, best ad copies and best ad publishers
Free version: SEMRush shows 10 keywords and 10 ad copies per domain, offers a 14-days trial with card details required. WhatRunsWhere offers a 3-day trial with card details required.
Another great tool to keep an eye on your competitors and uncover actionable ideas is SimilarWeb Pro. The tool provides you all kinds of insights regarding the competitors' traffic levels, sources and distribution across the channels.
In addition to this, SimilarWeb also shows the engagement that comes with that traffic: average daily visits, average visit duration, number of pages per visit and bounce rate.
One more thing to make use of is their audience insights option, which provides data on geography (percentage of traffic sent by each country) and the audience interests (categories and topics). This info can be a nice base for generating new content ideas, tailoring it for each audience and speaking to the right values.
Tool: SimilarWeb Pro
Function: Uncover your competitors' traffic amount, main sources and performance
Free version: A 3-month trial, allows to compare 5 domains, shows 5 results per metric
Having a social monitoring tool like Awario at hand, you can investigate a number of key elements - which social media platforms are the most popular with your competitors, which media campaigns resonate best with their audience, what are your competitors' patterns of posting to social networks and how the content is being distributed among those.
You can set up an alert for any competitor and you'll see all the insights - where the mentions come from foremost, and which kind of content is the best fit for each network. Perhaps Twitter is commonly used for entertainment or interaction with their users, while Facebook is for news or how-tos, or a YouTube channel is a more effective.
In the same way, you can also create an alert for a campaign name or hashtag to gather data on mentions, shares and discussions across the major social networks and the web. Depending on what you discover, you can note the efforts that were in vain, the great ideas that can be extended, and the mistakes that should be avoided in future.
As a bonus, during social media listening, you can track the tone your competitors are using with customers, and the way they manage the feedback - be it reviews across the web, or mentions and replies in social networks. You can either learn from their approach, or even step in to the discussion with a solution from your side.
Finally, based on what audience says about your competitors, you can also note their strengths and their weak spots to inform your own process.
Function: Uncover your competitors' social media strategies
Free version: Offers a 14-day free trial with 10 alerts and up to 50.000 mentions
With a tool like BuzzSumo (the right hand of most content marketers) you can develop a wiser content strategy.
By setting up an alert for a topic (a keyword), you can find out what's resonating most within your niche by tracking the content with the most social exposure, via shares and links.
By monitoring specific competitors (by domain), you can also track their best performing content.
In addition to shares by network, you can also analyze the content length and format to see what fits each audience. And if you have a closer look at the best performing content, and manage to find the common traits making it so popular, you can then tailor your own strategy the right way.
At the least, you'll be able to see if there are any hot topics to cover that you haven't thought of, or if there's another angle to cover them from.
Function: Uncover your competitors' content strategy
Free version: Shows 5 top content copies for a domain and 10 for a topic, offers a 14-day full trial with phone verification required.
To succeed in the increasingly competitive digital media environment, you really have no choice but to stay one step ahead of your business rivals.
Understanding others' failures, and saving your budget and efforts from being cast in vain, is already a valuable takeaway, but with the mindful approach, and powerful tools in your arsenal, chances are that you'll be able to learn even more from their wins, and then use that insight to make better decisions for your own business.