by David Lawrence on April 4, 2019 | Digital Marketing Strategy

How nice would it be if you didn't have to reinvent the wheel when marketing a new offering or working in a channel you're not familiar with? Well, you don't. In fact, when starting a new campaign, starting with a blank piece of paper is the last thing you should consider doing.

The process we use to build and launch winning campaigns has proven so valuable, and so simple, that we thought we should share it.

We start our campaigns with a simple, but effective, amount of research. The fact is that the best marketers build their campaign foundations on research and you should too. Research does not have to be dull or get in the way of creativity or launching amazing campaigns. Research can be done quickly and effectively, and it will typically save you enormous amounts of time when it comes to getting your campaigns to turn a profit.

The purpose of competitor research is for you to see what the best companies in your space are doing, so you can make informed decisions around how to compete with them or learn from them.

There are many ways to approach competitor research. Here's a simple approach we find incredibly effective when starting work for a new client.

Step 1: Build a list of websites

Always start here. You need to build a list of websites/companies you will base your research on. Companies fall into three groups:

  1. Direct competitors: This includes companies you compete with in your sales efforts. It also includes the companies you compete with via digital channels - who appears in Google when doing branded or non-branded searches in your area?
  2. Similar companies in other locations: This includes companies just like you, but who you don't directly compete with because they are in different locations or markets. This can be other parts of Australia or internationally. For many businesses, you want to look to the US, UK, Canada, NZ etc. where many industries are very similar to Australia. The company doing the best job at marketing themselves is unlikely to be the one just around the corner.
  3. Non-competitors targeting similar personas: These are companies who market to your clients' personas but offer a different product or service. You'll never compete against them, but you might be able to learn from them.

Depending on your industry and the level of competition you should aim to build a list of 10 - 20 quality websites to review. Only include poor quality campaigns/websites in this list if they are very significant competitors and you, therefore, want to keep an eye on them. Otherwise, you want a list of companies doing strong work in their digital presence and marketing. Always learn from the best.

Here are some tips on how to build your list:

  • Speak to your sales team and ask about the competitors that are most often mentioned by prospects. You should also ask about lost sales and find out which competitors these sales go to.
  • Ask other people within your company about who they consider the quality companies in your space to be.
  • Go online and search for your key terms. Who comes up in paid search? Who comes up organically? Visit their site and see what they are doing.
  • You should also do online searches for your brand name. Are there any companies bidding on it? They are identifying themselves as a competitor.
  • The more you research and visit competitor websites, the more likely you are to see remarketing and display ads from competitors or related companies. Who's doing a good job at remarketing?
  • Use research tools to speed up your research efforts (more on this later).
  • Do a "related" search in Google (for example You'll almost certainly find some surprising but relevant companies you may not have thought of.


Step 2: Cull your list

First, manually explore your competitor's websites. Unless they are a significant direct competitor, you should close their tab if they are approaching digital poorly.

For the websites which remain, bookmark them and save them in a folder in your browser. This is important as it means you can return to these sites quickly and easily in the future. Research is a process, not a one-off event.


Step 3: Gap analysis - design, messaging and offers

The next step is to spend a bit of time on each site. What is the quality like on these sites? How do you compare? How do other companies address the prospect? What sort of language and words do they use? How do they paint the picture of the prospect's pain, and the solution? Basic research can help you better understand your own prospects or see angles you would not have considered otherwise.

What are the headlines on key pages? Are there interesting offers they are making? CTAs? What sort of topics are competitors writing about in their main pages and blogs? How does it differ to you?

Do your competitors have brilliant websites and your own website is terrible? This could be a future conversion killer. Do you stand alone in terms of the language you are using - is this a good thing or a bad thing?


Step 4: Gap analysis - ads, creative and more

Once you know the best quality companies you need to do a deeper dive:

  • What are they doing with text ads, display banners, and more in their ad campaigns?
  • How do they rank organically on a wide range of keywords?
  • Where do they get most of their traffic from, including estimates of their traffic levels compared to yours?
  • Find their key landing pages. What are they saying in them?
  • How are they approaching social?
  • How much are they spending on paid traffic?

There are lots of tools we use which greatly assist in answering the above questions. A few we can recommend include:



Step 5: Record what you've learnt and check back often

If all you do is follow these steps, make a series of decisions and then move on and quickly forget everything, you are making your life a lot harder than it needs to be.

You need to record everything you have learnt. You should then come back to this when you are looking for inspiration. Open all the sites again - what's changed? If you take this seriously, you'll get new ideas incredibly quickly in the future.


Our challenge to you

If you've got this far, you're probably thinking this sort of research is a pretty good idea. You might even be thinking it could really impact on the return you get from your marketing efforts (you'd be right).

Do you know what's sure to make it completely ineffective for you? Not actually doing anything about it!

So, before you get distracted, why not put aside the next 30 minutes and make a start on the above steps. I can all but guarantee you will be impressed by what you learn.


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