Whether you are in the start-up phase or an already well established and widely renowned business within your niche, there is one critical and continuous threat you are facing on a daily basis and that is your competition.

How do you recognise them, how deep can you get into their minds, their strategies and last but not least, how can you take advantage of all the data available about your competitors’ business backgrounds?

Keep your head; there is no such thing as I don’t have competition – everyone has competition, be it a service or product of any kind. However, if you keep thinking like this, you’d be plunging heavily and mixing yourself up in an undesirable venture.

Why do you need a thorough competitor analysis?

What I’ve personally witnessed throughout my career with my clients, whenever I asked them who were their competitors, they were either extremely vague or very explicit. As it later turned out, neither of them got a real picture about their real competitors and their backgrounds from a business perspective.

If I would have to define what competitor analysis means to me or what benefits it can offer, it would sound something like this:

The ability to identify our competitors after a clear understanding of our niche (industry) products and services, then following a thorough evaluation of their strength and weaknesses as well as strategies they follow against ours so that we could take advantage of all this data by identifying all the missed opportunities which could afterall lead us to a competitive advantage.

What I’d like you to describe in my post is an actual step-by-step case study of how you should conduct a competitor analysis which drives actionable result. Incidentally, I would add that there are several methods of conducting a competitive analysis but this is the part where I want you to help.

In addition, there are several competitive intelligence tools on the market but I found it extremely difficult to discover which one would suit all my needs. That’s why I thought I’d better work out a framework or whatever we call it, a guideline everyone can use by adapting it to his needs.

Ways of gathering information

Prior to jumping into each individual phase of the competitor analysis, first and foremost, we need to figure out what are the main sources through which data can be gathered. There is data easily accessible, others are quite difficult if possible at all.

Our data sources can be categorised into two main categories:

  1. free-for-all type of data, accessible for anyone (ex. prices on competitors’ websites, press releases, industry benchmarks, blog posts, newsletters, publicly available trends or government reports)
  2. business intelligence data provided by professional softwares & tools (also known as tools for spying and monitoring on your competitors), most of these are available for free but with limited access or as a full feature paid service

In order to make this topic as realistic as possible, I’ve chosen a niche, not just any kind of niche, a tough one, which is the stock photography with many players on the market, some of them very strong and some barely keeping their feet on the ground.

And now let’s see what phases we’ll go through:

Phase I – Define your niche/industry, products and/or services

We already know the niche, stock photography for which we shall have to gather all the product categories and subcategories within this particular niche. In my analysis, I’ll be focusing on the US market and english language.

And now let’s list the top four main product categories within the stock photo niche:

  • stock photos/images
  • stock illustrations
  • stock footages
  • stock vectors

Important note:

Keep in mind that the largest battlefield where you are facing your competitors in the online world are the major search engines like Google, Bing, Baidu (China), Seznam (Czech Republic) or Yandex (Russia). This is the place where most of your customers are searching for your products or services ie, the place where demand and offer (buyers and suppliers) come together.

Phase II – Identify relevant search terms with high search volume

Now that we have managed to describe all our product categories and subcategories, what I would advise at this stage is to filter out those in which you are aiming to play the role of a leader within your niche or the one in which you have the highest expectations in terms of business.

In my case, the selected search term will be stock photos, which has a monthly average search volume close to 50 thousand. To get this data, you’ll need to use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool (though be aware of the language and location filters to get accurate data).

In case you are in the start-up phase, it’s extremely important to double check what trend your search term shows and whether it is increasing or decreasing. To find out, you should use Google Trends and eventually Google Global Market Finder.

Some remarks on substance:

Each individual search term has its own group of competitors, sometimes mixed and sometimes with completely different players.

Phase III – Let’s list our main competitors

We’ll use Google but in order to get the most accurate result possible, we’ll do an anonymous and geotargeted search by using the following parameters:

https://www.google.com/webhp?pws=0&gl=us&hl=en

There are several other alternatives like SEO Global For Google Search, a Chrome and Firefox extension you can adjust for your targeted location and language. For better results I’d advise using a separate incognito window of your browser.

Just in case you really want to encrypt your data and surf the net from any part of the world, all I can recommend is the use of a VPN service like HMA.

Do keep in mind, though, that Google SERPs are very dynamic based on many factors, including your location, type of search and historical data.

On Google’s SERP, we’ll be focusing on the organic listings only. Why? Simply because those listings represent the strongest players for that particular term. You can use a Google Scraper like the one created by SEER Interactive, check that out and play around with it.

Gather the top 20 results +1 of yours in case your site does not get listed in top 20.

In our case, the top 20 players in the stock photo industry are as follows:

  1. istockphoto.com
  2. shutterstock.com
  3. 123rf.com
  4. dreamstime.com
  5. gettyimages.com
  6. en.wikipedia.org
  7. bigstockphoto.com
  8. everystockphoto.com
  9. fotolia.com
  10. canstockphoto.com
  1. immagine.com
  2. thinkstockphotos.com
  3. alamy.com
  4. veer.com
  5. morguefile.com
  6. stockfresh.com
  7. corbisimages.com
  8. crestock.com
  9. stocksy.com
  10. stockfreeimages.com

Further on, I will be illustrating data for only a few of the above listed websites, a few from Google’s 1st SERP and a few from Google’s 2nd SERP.

And the real fun only begins 🙂

Phase IV – Competitive data comparison and analysis

Free-for-all data

At this stage, we’ll be gathering information which, in most cases, can be accessed for free. Also, you must be creative enough to figure out what would be the critical data relevant to your niche which can be used in your competitive analysis and take advantage of. Some of the data presented below can be used for almost any kind of online business but some of them might not be applicable to yours. My goal here is to emphasise the core concept of the free-for-all type of business intelligence data available and how you should approach this challenging task.

How old is your website against your competitors?

We need to know since when (usually how many years) did our competitors launched their websites against ours. For this, we’ll be using the WayBack Machine and check the first coloured bubble and read the date.

WayBack Machine - fotolia.com

WayBack Machine – fotolia.com