The Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp claims that he is not interested in what his rivals do. But I have a sneaking suspicion he pays slightly more attention to the subject than he lets on.
Analysing the competition and finding weaknesses to exploit is a major part of sporting competition these days and all the top clubs have dedicated personnel on hand to do comprehensive tactical opposition analysis.
My cousin is one of them, and that's how I know. His Facebook posting from the games he attends in the name of work every week is legendary!
Researching the competition is how it should be for you as well. Finding both weaknesses and strengths in a business competitor will help you understand where the gaps in the market are. Improving on the weaknesses should be an essential part of your eCommerce strategy.
Stealing, Borrowing And Copying Ideas
There is nothing wrong with stealing ideas if your goal is to improve on them. It is a viable business strategy, and it goes on all the time. In fact, one of the most successful SEO strategies you can use is based on copying ideas. The “Skyscraper Technique” works by researching all the best articles in a niche and then improving on them and making a brilliant piece of content out of all the resultant information.
The idea is to create the best resource for the topic and the definitive document that everyone will link to and share.
"Picasso had a saying -- 'good artists copy; great artists steal' -- and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." Steve Jobs
I'll be clear about this: Copying ideas like a niche product store with the aim of supplying the identical product and simply competing on price is shameless. However, copying an idea and improving the service or the product (or both) is a great way to start an eCommerce business and has been done many times over. How many online companies do you deal with that have terrible customer service? Have they never heard of Zendesk or other customer service software?
The amount of creatively challenged people that will copy an idea, pixel for pixel, character by character, without even attempting to hide their duplicity is staggering. In nearly all cases the business will fail because of the poverty of their original thinking. It is in human nature to look for the shortcut, the quick route to overnight success without having to do any of the hard work that accompanies it.
For those people, mastering the office photocopier should be the height of their ambition.
So, with my caveat for copying, stealing and borrowing in place let's look at some of the ways you can improve your eCommerce business by analysing your competition:
Identify Your Top Competitors
If you don't know who your top competitor is, then either you have a unique product or service idea, or you have your head buried deeper in the sand than someone from a Game Of Thrones episode. Whenever I start a project the first thing I do is find out who the top dog is and do my research to discover how they got there.
Start by using an incognito window in Chrome or a “private browsing” session in any other browser.
Full instructions for opening an incognito window can be found at Google Support
Choose the search term or product name you want to compete on, and the results will be your competition. The point of using an incognito browser session is that Google will return the results unsullied by your personal browsing history.
Visit the top website and have a look around.
If you find all the top results are powered by IBM Websphere, Oracle and Magento then it's probably not a good idea to head into these markets. A man must know his limitations and to try and compete with these titans of eCommerce and their marketing budgets would be futile.
Generally speaking, professionally designed websites powered by IBM, Oracle or Magento have the marketing budget to support them. If they are ranking in the top ten for competitive keywords, then you'll know they take their online business very seriously. Once you've learnt to spot the professionally designed eCommerce stores, you can start to figure out what you think you can achieve to compete against them.
How Much Competition Exists?
You can gauge how competitive a search term is by the number of people jostling for position in the paid for advertising space. Also if search results exist for three pages or so, it's going to be hard going to break into that market. That is not always the case though because many eCommerce stores don't have a blog and if you plan to use that as a marketing tactic, then you may be able to surpass their search engine ranking. Many eCommerce stores are blog-less, and that is where you can make a difference.
Competition Analysis Tools
Use the Google Adwords keyword tool to find out how much monthly traffic your keywords will generate. In general, you will need 100 visitors for every sale, but that's a very rough and ready guide. I have several merchants where I send a trickle of traffic, and they convert at 1/10 or better. More traffic is not always the answer.
You can use the free Google Keyword Planner to estimate the amount of traffic you'll receive from keywords and the current bid prices.
Even if you don't plan on using Google Adwords, you can still search for keywords and ad group ideas, get historical statistics and combine keywords to generate new lists. It's the starting place for all new eCommerce campaigns.
You can use SEMRush to find the keywords that your competition is ranking for and for each keyword you'll get an estimate of the amount of searches made and an estimate of its traffic value.
Enter your keyword and when you hit enter you'll be presented with the results for that keyword and also a ton of other related keywords.
See My Full Review Of SEMRush
Backlink Analysis Tools
If quality products and content are the bedrock on which you build your eCommerce store, then backlinks are the river that flows over it to bring a steady stream of visitors. As well as SEMRush there are many other tools to do backlink analysis, each has its custom database to work from which is why the results vary across each tool.
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer is probably the oldest and most popular backlink checker. The free version will allow you to check the first 100 links and if you want more, you'll need to upgrade to the "Pro" version which will give you full access.
Click Here To Visit Open Site Explorer
AHREFS keyword Research
ahrefs has a wonderful set of tools for help with improving your search traffic, researching your competitors and monitoring your search engine rankings.
It's not inexpensive, with the monthly standard plan at $179 but there is a free trial and once you move onto the paid plan you can track up to 1,000 keywords with additional reports letting you know of lost/gained backlinks and web mentions.
They also have an excellent blog and their guide to keyword research is comprehensive and thorough.
Read ahrefs Keyword Research Guide
Social Media Campaign Monitoring
My favourite Buzzsumo tool is competitor research. Enter the domain of your eCommerce store competitor, and the Buzzsumo tool allows you to check which content is the best performing. Try analysing your domain to see how well you are performing on social media!
Click here to visit Buzzsumo
Set Up Google Alerts
One of the best ways to capture competitor business intelligence is to set up Google Alerts for the domain you want to monitor. Then every time they issue a new press release or blog post you'll be notified by a Google alert. It's a fantastic way to keep up to date with industry news without having to do repetitive research.
Subscribe To Their Email Newsletters
Obvious isn't it? Subscribing to competitor email lists is a great way of keeping up to date with their product announcements or upcoming promotions.
Check Out Their User Reviews
Another great way to find out what is working for your competition and what isn't. User reviews can give you a fantastic insight into how well your competitor is performing so go and check them out!
The Wayback Machine is perhaps the least well-known competitor analysis tool and my absolute favourite. The Wayback Machine is a library of digital snapshots taken of a website at random points in time. Using this tool, you can go back and see what a website looked like three years ago, five years ago or longer. It's perfect for examining how a website has progressed over time and built out their offering. Choose your competitor and enter it in the search box to go back in time.
The Wayback Machine is a completely free tool to use. Click here to go back in time!
I hope you enjoyed this guide and good luck building your next eCommerce website!