You don’t have to feel creepy about doing this research either because none of the places you’ll be looking are off limits. (In other words, you won’t be doing something illegal or unethical like breaking into a competitor’s office or website.) Rest assured, everywhere you’ll be poking around is publicly accessible to shoppers and customers.
Ready to get started?
These 5 tips will provide competitive insight and inspiration for how to sell your own products:
1. Search for What They Sell on Google and Bing
Searching for your competitors online provides a plethora of information! You can easily determine what their organic listings look like and whether they’re running paid search ads. This answers two critical questions – are they working on their SEO and investing in PPC efforts? Pay attention to the keywords, value propositions, and calls-to-action they use in their organic listings and paid search ads to understand how they’re positioning their products and engaging shoppers.
While you’re there, don’t forget about the shopping sections! Investigate whether your competitors have their products listed on Google shopping or Bing shopping to expand their reach. Shedding light on where your competitors’ products are appearing gives you a better understanding of which channels they’re prioritizing, and provides ideas for expansion.
If you do this type of research regularly for multiple competitors, you’ll get a good picture of the competitive landscape. You’ll also have a reference guide to figure out how you can position your business to stand out online.
2. Visit Their Websites and Then Leave
Competitors’ websites are a great place to gather information about what they’re selling and how they’re selling it. You can pick up on design cues, test features (related product suggestions, compare features, 360-degree product images, etc.), and explore the UX. But the most unexpected part is that when you leave, you’ll still be doing research. If your competitors are running remarketing/retargeting ads, you’ll be followed by their ads after leaving.
Just like viewing the paid search ads, being exposed to their remarketing ads tells you how they’re marketing their offerings. However, remarketing ads are being shown to people who have already visited the site, which means they should be using messaging that appeals to shoppers that are further along the purchase funnel. That gives you a glimpse into how they engage shoppers that have more brand awareness and are closer to buying.
3. Sign Up for Their Emails or Newsletters
Signing up for promotional emails or newsletters from your competitors is a great way to stay informed about what they’re doing. You’ll be notified of company announcements, new offerings, sales, and other promotions right away as soon as they’re launched. During your busiest times of the year this will basically do your research for you.
If your competitors are email savvy, they may offer you the option to set your preferences and interests in the signup process and then use the information you provide to segment their list and send targeted emails. If this is the case, you can take notes on how they execute this and then follow-through with subsequent emails. Keep track of how often they send emails, what the goal of the email is, and which types of content are included. This will give you a glimpse of their email marketing strategy and tactics.
Pro tip though, don’t sign up with your business email, that’s just tacky. Instead, use your personal email or an old email address that you don’t really use for much else.
4. Abandon Shopping Carts
What happens when you leave unpurchased items in carts on your competitors’ sites? If your competitors aren’t utilizing remarketing ads or email marketing, nothing may happen. However, if your competitors have invested in these forms of marketing, they’ll likely send a follow-up email or target remarketing ads with your shopping cart contents.
These are more advanced strategies that most businesses don’t manage themselves unless they have large in-house marketing teams. So, if you’re analyzing smaller competitors, they’re likely using a digital marketing company to do this for them. If you see this, you’ll know that you may have to do the same if you want to be competitive.
5. Buy Something and Analyze the Customer Experience
It may seem like a crazy idea to pay your competitors, but it’s one of the best ways to get an insider’s look into how your competitors are differentiating themselves! Placing an order on a competitor’s website lets you explore their checkout process, their follow-up transactional emails, and their products themselves.
Take note of all the details that accompany the customer journey once you hit the “confirm order” button, such as:
- Messaging on the “thank you for your order” page
- Format of the order confirmation email
- The kinds of updates you receive on your order before you receive it
- Shipping information that’s provided
- How quickly the product arrives
- What the product looks like when it arrives
- What else is included with the purchase
- How the purchase is branded
- The quality and accuracy of product(s) you receive
- Any follow-up emails you receive
This can get pricey if you do it for all your competitors, so just pick your top one or two competitors so that you can explore how they handle the post-purchase customer relationship. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did!
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Business Blogging and Web Copywriting. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and son and enjoys cooking, watching sports, and spending time together as a family. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about current marketing trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!