• John Walker

Marketers’ Guide to Competitive Intelligence: Four Essential Tools

Updated: Apr 25

There are four primary tools I use for gathering competitive intelligence: Google Trends, Builtwith, Open SEO Stats and SEMRush. Let me explain how I use these tools to gain an understanding of the competitive marketplace. Three of these are free and one is paid. I’ll use the pest control business category as an example.

Google Trends (free): Understand what people are searching for

Enter “mosquito control” into Google’s free tool and you’ll immediately see that this is a highly seasonal search and one with strong geographic skews.

Searches start to increase dramatically in April, remain strong until mid-summer, then decline drastically in winter. The District of Columbia has an inordinately high percentage of searches followed by Massachusetts and Florida. Which metro areas have the highest search volume? It’s Ft. Myers, FL followed by Flint-Saginaw, MI.

Google Trends is a great place to start with competitive intelligence because it provides a broad overview of relevant marketing conditions like seasonality and geography.

Who knew Michiganders had such big mosquito problem!

Builtwith (free): See how websites are built and what marketing tools are being used

Builtwith calls itself a technology lookup because it tells you what technology websites were “built with.” It’s a free browser plug-in. If you’re a marketer and not a programmer, I suggest ignoring some of the stuff you see in Builtwith- just concentrate on marketing tools. Let’s try it on the Orkin website.

I go to Orkin.com and click on the Buitwith plug-in. I see a list of technology being used on the site. The first one I’m familiar with is Hubspot. If Orkin were my competitor, knowing they have Hubspot would tell me a lot. It would tell me they're serious about inbound marketing and they're probably also serious about content generation, social media marketing and lead capture.

I see other tools that tell me that Orkin is a sophisticated inbound marketer, as well. They use Yoast which is the Wordpress plug-in for SEO on their blog, they have Google Analytics activated, and they use Google Optimize 360 for A/B testing.

While it’s no surprise that a large firm like Orkin is a smart marketer, run this analysis on smaller competitors and you’ll get an idea about which might be strong up-and-comers to keep an eye on.

Open SEO Stats (free): Get insights on the quality of competitors’ SEO

Open SEO Stats is another free browser plugin (formerly called PageRank Status). This tool gives a snapshot of SEO information page by page on competitor websites. Let’s try it on one of Orkin.com’s pages- mosquito control.

I click the “page info” tab and I see all of the SEO meta information for this page including title, meta keywords, meta description, H1, H2 and image alt text. This gives me a few insights. First, it tells me that Orkin is doing a professional job at SEO. They have gone to the trouble of ensuring that the SEO information on this random page is complete.

Second, seeing this information tells me what words and phrases they are optimizing the site for to gain organic traffic. “Mosquito control” is an obvious one, but I also see “how Orkin treats for mosquitos” which sounds like it might be a popular search term and it’s no surprise that when I go to Google and enter this search term, links to the Orkin website dominate the results.

So when I’m gathering competitive intelligence, I like to know my competitors’ SEO strategies and their level of skill. Open SEO Stats helps me learn that.

SEMRush (paid): The competitive intelligence super-tool

SEMRush is my most important tool for gathering competitive intelligence and for doing lots of other digital marketing tasks. That’s why I’m willing to pay almost $100 per month for a subscription. Let’s look at how it would help me do a competitive assessment of Orkin.com.

I start at the Competitive Research Toolkit, I go to the traffic analytics section and I enter Orkin.com. It generates a report showing 12-month trends in website traffic. Next, I compare this Orkin trend with up to three competitors. I enter Terminix and Home Paramount. Immediately I see that Orkin and Terminix are similar in website traffic levels and Home Paramount barely registers. This makes sense since Home Paramount is a regional business while the other two are national.

This report also shows different traffic types for each business: direct, referral, search, social and paid. I can see that direct and search traffic are the dominant sources. This says that there must be considerable brand advertising to drive the direct traffic and their sites must be highly optimized with content to get all that search traffic. There’s very little paid or social traffic.

Another part of this report that’s critical is the one showing which organic keywords drive the most traffic. When I run this report for Orkin, I see that the search term that drives the most organic traffic is “bed bug.” I also see that they rank in the number two search position for this term. That's interesting and so I go to Google to see what page from their site is linked in the search results. It’s one called “how to identify and remove bed bugs.” This is a high-funnel, informational term and they have a website page devoted to it. Clearly, one of their strategies is to use inbound marketing to get early stage, information- seeking consumers to their website. And they’re succeeding at it. If I’m doing a competitive assessment, I could try to match them at this strategy or I could choose to pick a whole different set of terms for which to optimize my site. I might also choose to compete directly with Orkin for these terms by buying some of them on Google.

Another report within SEMRush shows incoming backlinks. This information provides ideas on where I might be able to build similar inbound links.

Beyond unpaid traffic, SEMRush has reports showing competitors’ paid advertising activity online. Knowing where they’re advertising, helps you to meet them there with better ads, or to find less competitive market space with different customers. In either case, advertising intelligence is critical. The reports in SEMRush even show examples of competitors’ ads so you can see their messaging and plan your main selling points and competitive offers.

One competitive intelligence report in SEMRush that I just discovered shows how your brand positioning compares with competitors'. The report shows shared keywords versus unique ones so you can see, from an organic search perspective, how your site compares and contrasts with competitors. The report also suggests related keywords you can buy as part of your competitive strategy.

The other critical activity in competitive assessment is keyword analysis and SEMRush makes this easy. You can find high-opportunity keywords at each stage of the marketing funnel- broadly searched informational words, moderately searched mid-funnel terms and detailed, transactional search terms at the bottom. Knowing these guides your inbound marketing strategy or gets you started planning a paid search campaign.

Competitive intelligence is critical when developing your marketing strategy. J. Walker Marketing can help you gain the competitive intelligence you need to develop a strong strategy.

Let’s talk about how you can use competitive intelligence to plan your next marketing campaign. Contact us today or call: 717-283-7713.

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