How to Use 4 Free Online Competitor Analysis Tools

Part of developing a solid marketing and sales strategy is “knowing your enemy.” Here’s a look at useful tools to help you do just that.

By C&EN Media Group

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Part of developing a solid marketing and sales strategy is “knowing your enemy.” Before the internet, this meant waiting until the next tradeshow to scope out competitors’ booths or presentations, sales collateral and any other marketing materials you could discreetly get your hands on.

Today, nearly every brand uses digital marketing tactics, social media, paid search, search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing and more (and if they don’t, that in itself speaks volumes). It can be time consuming and labor intensive to collect and assess every piece of your competitor’s content – if not impossible. And even if you did, analysis is likely only limited to superficial messaging and design, with valuable metrics like average monthly visitors to competitor’s website, paid media spend, and social media engagement, remaining elusive.

Fortunately, as brands have increased their digital presence, online tools have emerged that provide in-depth, detailed analysis of your competitor’s digital marketing activities and can even reveal competitors that hadn’t been on your radar. While many of these tools require a monthly subscription to access full capabilities, most offer trial periods or limited access for free.

We break down our recommendations into key competitive analysis areas to focus on.

SEO Competitor Analysis Tools

For digital marketers, the fiercest of battlegrounds is for the first-ranked organic position in Google’s search results. For good reason: These prized placements give your brand high visibility and click-through rates. CTRs for the first position are, on average, 31.7%. And, Google currently holds 90.1% of the total search engine market share.

In an effort to rank #1 in Google’s search results, many brands are investing time, effort, and money into SEO, scrambling to adapt their strategy to every relevant keyword and algorithm update. To reliably beat the competition, you first need to understand your competitors’ SEO strategy and how their content is ranking.

In-Depth Competitor Keyword Research with SEMRush

The best way to do this is using a tool called SEMRush. This platform can provide a list of keywords that any website (aka domain) is currently ranking for, their position in search results and estimated site traffic.

For example, let’s say one of your brand’s major competitors is a large, well-known analytical instruments company. SEMRush could tell you that the site is ranking for around 119,000 keywords, which brings an estimated 148,000 monthly visitors to their site. We could also see that content from your competitors site is ranking number one for keywords like “LC-MS introduction,” “basics of LC-MS,” “LC-MS explained,” and other valuable top-of-funnel keywords that can pull in scientists at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. From there, you can dig into what specific piece of content is ranking for those keywords and develop a better one to try to knock your competitor out of their top spot. 

SEMRush also has a keyword gap tool, that allows head-to-head comparison of ranking keywords for up to 5 domains. This enables you to see what keywords your competitors outrank you for. Using this information, you can plan a rich, valuable piece of content, optimized around that keyword.

Technical SEO Analysis with Screaming Frog

Another incredibly powerful tool for competitor analysis is an “SEO crawler” called Screaming Frog. It allows you to analyze any domain and pull metadata, including title tags, meta descriptions, H1 headers, internal and external linking data, server response codes, and more, for nearly every URL that makes up a site.

This allows you to rapidly assess how technical and detailed a competitor’s SEO strategy really is. If their title tags, meta descriptions and H1 headers are well optimized for target keywords, that’s a good sign that they’ve got a solid SEO strategy in place. But if they have core product pages that are non-indexable or illogical URL structures and names, they are likely underinvesting in this space. The latest Screaming Frog update even captures word count and spelling/grammar mistakes, enabling you to really dig into the quality and readability of a competitor’s content in an easily scalable way.

Reviewing Content

What content should you serve your audience next? One way to drill down on topics that truly connect is by digging into your competitors’ material to see what they’ve done to capture their audience’s attention.

BuzzSumo is perfect for identifying highly shared and ‘linked-to’ content, social media channels that work best, and content formats. You can search for well-performing content from the domain of one of your competitors, by using a keyword, or via a head-to-head comparison of the content from your site.

In addition, BuzzSumo can help identify influencers who help to amplify the reach of your competitor’s content. This information provides a clear view of the social media and content strategy that your competitor is using. Of course, you don’t want to outright copy their approach, but understanding what resonates will help you achieve the same – or better – results.

Audience Intelligence

In the chemical and life science industry, it “takes one to know one.” Getting acquainted with a new audience, the jargon they use, their pain points, and their content consumption habits typically requires full immersion. It can be a time-consuming process, filled with surveys or internal/external stakeholder interviews.

Enter SparkToro. This new platform allows you to easily query a database of audience information, collected from social media and web profiles. By searching this database for words that your audience might include in their profile, specific social accounts they follow, or hashtags they use, you can collect a large amount of additional information, allowing you to get a more detailed understanding of your audience.

These details include most-followed social accounts, websites visited, podcasts they listen to, and more. Without paying anything, you can get 10 free monthly searches, allowing you to uncover some major audience insights. This information can be used not only for building personas, but also to develop social media, content, and PR strategies. In addition, you can compare your audience to your competitor’s audience and get insights into how to capture a larger share.

Taking Competitive Analysis to the Next Level

We’ve all probably been through a SWOT analysis to figure out how exactly our brand or company fits into the competitive landscape. This tried-and-true method is a great way to build on your strengths and work on your weaknesses, and these tools above can certainly help enhance those assessments. Perhaps you discover that your competitor’s new “Guide to Understanding CRISPR sgRNA” is ranking #1 for your target keywords and is getting a ton of social shares. If you were a genome engineering company that offers high-quality CRISPR reagents, you could definitely file that under “threats” in your SWOT analysis.

With a comprehensive and detailed SWOT analysis that includes how your competitor’s digital strategies measure up against yours, you can start to develop a short- and long-term content and social media strategy and get to work.

Use the insights from tools like SEMRush, Screaming Frog, BuzzSumo, and SparkToro to judge the success of your campaigns. And remember: Be sure to re-analyze your competitors from time to time. SEO and social media strategies can be ephemeral, and marketers are developing and implementing new strategies all the time.

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