How to reverse engineer your competition in 10 minutes
Knowledge is power.
What you’re about to read is not a magic bullet to beating out your competition. It’s also not some secret NSA-like dive into their data or secret documents. This data that is freely available to you, me, and everyone else on the web. I’m just stringing together data points that lead to building a robust discovery profile. In fact, I leave out additional public information in this article because I don’t want it to harm my test subject. The information provided here can help your own web presence, evaluate areas of opportunity against your competition, and aide in discovering new client projects.
Nate Wright of Theme of the Crop is our test subject today.
Before you knock on my door with pitch-forks and torches, Nate has agreed to undergo this study. This is by no means a form of slander or an attack against his brand. For what it’s worth, how could I compete against that beard and joyful accent?
As you will learn, I consider Nate a category competitor to my business, Slocum Themes.
Yes, he’s selling premium WordPress themes just like me, but his focus is in the restaurant arena with different features and messaging than my own. While there’s an argument in the WordPress community that themes can be, for the most part, general purpose — I choose to disregard that in this context. Alright, ready to do some reverse engineering? Let’s hop to it.
Understanding your competition
Before we begin, we must understand the challenges of competing against other companies in our market.
If you’re launching a bootstrapped (the business process not the technology) theme marketplace, you’d be hard pressed to beat ThemeForest right out of the gate. Same for launching that Genesis child theme you built — good luck going toe-to-toe for StudioPress traffic. The point here is, you want to bite off what you can chew. Set realistic market and competitive advantages that you can respectfully achieve.
Let’s place our competitors into categories:
Direct Competitor – This is someone you know you can compete with. A business that does 90% of what you do with very similar marketing and customer acquisition strategies. This is the sweet spot that we want to dissect and find new opportunities for our own business.
Category Competitor – This is someone that creates a similar product in your market, but executes differently. In the case of the Theme of the Crop, they create themes for restaurants. So a restaurant owner could compare one of my themes to Nate’s, but I’d probably lose to the unique features he bakes in.
We both offer WordPress themes, but our messaging and core product are different.
Indirect Competitor – This competitor doesn’t compete with your product, but they compete for your customer’s attention. I feel like this is still a threat to your business, especially in today’s content marketing heavy world. As media and marketing become a richer and more interactive experience, attention becomes a lot more valuable.
Apple – Can you guess where this category is going? These are the Apple’s of your industry. Certainly a stretch goal for your team, but you’re not going to compete with them anytime soon. Still, who says we can’t reverse engineer what’s worked for them?
Build your Competitor Board
Building a competitor board is a great way to organize this data, archive it, and then revisit it for future use. There’s a high-level of utility here, including:
- Tracking your competition over time
- An idea generator for your content team
- Customer profiling for your marketing team
- Ad research for your PPC campaigns
- Profiling competitive social persona
You might find more than what I’ve outlined, but that list represents the immediate use cases for me.
My suggestion is to build Trello lists based on the competition categories mentioned in step 1 and place your competitor cards accordingly. Feel free to move them about as you accomplish your specific goals.
In the end, we’re looking for areas of opportunity we can act on in our marketing, messaging, or advertising.
The fun begins
I’d like to reiterate that there are probably more advanced data collectors that you could use, but my process is aimed to be fast and generally free. You can make this as agile as you’d like, feel free to add or remove any of these steps.
The video overview
Step 1 Google The basics
First thing you want to do is open up a private window of your browser, in my case Chrome, to Google your competition. Use a private browser window to avoid any cached search or Google+ juice that may alter your unbiased search.
- Discover their social profiles.
- Find valuable links and see if you can achieve the same kind.
- Discover where they are having conversations and jump in.
- Find unique press release or product reviews and outreach to similar sites.
- Identify general Google juice (p.s. try other search engines as well)
Step 2 Google site index/search
Next up in Google land, how much content does your competition have indexed? Not only is this a fast way to see a sitemap of your competition, it’s a great strategy for your content marketing efforts. Will you be able to create more or more targeted content than them?
- Fast way to sitemap
- Review their content and pages
- Review how Google indexes their website
- Search for keywords of content within their site
Step 3 Speed check
Speed is very important for today’s web rankings. It’s not just a Google thing, but a user experience advantage. The faster your visitor loads the site, the better.
- Are they loading faster than you?
- What can you improve upon?
- If you’re in a global market, test around the world or in key customer countries.
Step 4 A head-to-head comparison
This tool might be enough for you to fly with and turn my 10-minute drill into a 30-second sprint. Similarweb will compare your search traffic and social traffic against a website of your choice. It’s limited on the free search, but still provides a good enough evaluation for me.
- How do we stack up?
- Can I win in organic, social, or referral?
- How do we stand in terms of overall traffic?
- What are common anchor tags and is there opportunity there?
Step 5 Link diving
Much like the tool mentioned above, the free version is limited, but still very useful. Here were getting much more technical in terms of domain score and backlinks, but it’s still another fine way to gather referral opportunity in my book.
- Can I get backlinks from similar sites?
- How many links are they getting overall?
- Are they trending up or down?
Step 6 Find their most shared content
Same rules apply as before, limited at the free level but still useful. Here we want to see a snapshot of their most shared content on social channels. This will prove if they are active in sharing their content and which articles received the most shares.
- What type of content scores them the most shares? Can we compete?
- Do they have an active social following?
- Do I similar content that I can update and relaunch?
Rinse and repeat
Now that you’re armed with a simple workflow and your competition board, it’s time to build your database.
Go forth and identify your competition and your areas of opportunity. Remember this, the process isn’t a silver bullet to winning their market share. You still need a damn good product, with exceptional customer support, clear messaging and you must know who your target customer is.
Wrap all of that together, put a bow on it and you’re off to the races. Easy right?
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