8 Tools to Research Your Competition

8 Tools to Research Your Competition

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Gathering competitive intelligence is an often overlooked strategy for ecommerce merchants.

Sometimes the best way to take your ecommerce store to the next level is by gaining a deep understanding of how your competitors operate. If you don't know what your competitors are doing, it's difficult to make intelligent decisions that will keep your current customers, and entice new ones. This guide will show you how to identify your top 5 competitors and show you 8 tools that will help you gather in-depth information on your competitors strengths and weaknesses. 

Identify Your Top 5 Competitors

You’ll want to see which competitors rank the highest in Google for keywords specific to your industry. Make a list of the top keywords that bring you traffic, and enter them into Google. If you don't have an ecommerce store yet and are doing pre-launch research, simply search for relevant keywords. Make sure you're browsing incognito and you're in the appropriate regional zone (if you want US search results and you're outside the US add &gl=us to the end of the search URL). Make note of who is ranking on the first page. You should also type "related:www.yourURL.com" in the Google search field to get a list of companies that are similar to yours. 

List the Good, Bad, & Ugly

Now that you know who you're up against, start browsing through your competitor’s online stores. Get a good feel for their site, and make a list of all the things you like, and all the things you don’t like. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • How do they emphasis their value proposition?
  • What are their prices like compared to yours?
  • What is their product photography like, and how are their product descriptions?
  • What are their shipping options and prices like?
  • Where are their call to actions, and how obvious are they?
  • Are they trying to build an email list?
  • Is their site optimized for mobile?
  • What is their social media presence like; which platforms do they use; how often do they interact with customers, and how do they speak with their customers?

Now that you have a list of your top 5 competitors, and you have done basic research on how they operate, it's time to dig deeper. Use some of the tools below (some paid, most free) to gather in-depth information on what they're doing.

Gather Competitive Intelligence Using These Research Tools

Alexa

Alexa's been around since 1996. It's a (mostly) free service that will help you analyze traffic on your competitor’s ecommerce store. Type in your competitors URL and Alexa will give you their global traffic rank, number of sites linking in, search analytics, audience insight, average site load time, and a whole lot more. You can really dig deep with Alexa, but it's important to note that there are inaccuracies with Alexa's information, since they get their data from those who have installed their toolbar for IE and Firefox or installed their Google Chrome extension. Take the numbers with a grain of salt.   


SEO Book: Page Similarity Comparison Tool

With this service you can easily compare page titles, meta information, and common phrases on your competitors homepages. I suggest including your URL in a search with your top 5 competitors. I used Coke and Pepsi as an example:


Google AdWords Keyword Tool

This service will allow you to easily analyze keywords and the amount of traffic generated by those keywords. It also allows you to narrow down your search by including URLs and specific categories, such as apparel, cosmetics, or whatever. You can use Google AdWords Keyword Tool to estimate how much your competition is paying per click for their ads. Also, you should use Google Traffic Estimator to find out the number of ad clicks and current bid prices for various keywords. 


Internet Archive 

Internet Archive has been crawling the internet and taking snapshots of webpages since 1996. Using their free Wayback Machine you can see what a website looked like throughout the years. By looking at the history of your competitors websites you can plot trends in design and pricing changes. Do they dress their homepage up for Christmas every year? How has their positioning changed - could they be moving to address your market? Sometimes you can learn a lot from the subtle changes your competitors make on their site. Since 2006, Internet Archive has taken over 600 screen captures of Shopify's homepage. As an example, below you'll see what our homepage looked like on November 2, 2009.  


DomainTools: Whois 

Type your competitors URL in Whois and you'll receive a comprehensive record of that domain, including: date registered, contact info, server stats, links in/out, and other domains the registrant owns. 

 


SpyFu

This is a paid service ($79/month) that lets you spy on your competitor's AdWords and keywords. SpyFu really lets you dig deep. You'll be able to see what worked and what didn't work for your competitors AdWords campaigns. When you can trace the steps of your competition, you can avoid the mistakes they made.. it's like they're doing market testing for you.



Open Site Explorer

This service has a limited free plan and a paid service that is $99/month. Here you can compare your online store with up to four competitors on page authority, domain authority, linking root domains, total links, and with the pro version, you can also compare social stats. I like using Open Site Explorer to quickly see who is linking to the Shopify blog and what kind of impact it may have on our SEO. You can search your competitors ecommerce store and see not only who is linking to them, but what authority they have. 


Google Alerts

With this free service from Google, you can receive email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your queries. You should already have Google Alerts set up for your online store name, but it's important to set up alerts for your competition as well. I would also suggest you get alerts for key industry terms, so you can easily monitor the broader market for new developments that could affect your ecommerce business.

 


The Aftermath

Now that you have assessed your competitor’s sites, you’ll want to start analyzing your own ecommerce store. Try and objectively look at your online store and see how it can be improved. Use all the tactics you used on your competition and be as critical as possible. It's also important to bring an unbiased set of eyes in to give their opinion.

So now that you have all this information, what should you do? Use your learnings to optimize your ecommerce store. Try and take advantage of your competitors weaknesses. If they're clearly beating you in some areas, pull up your socks and become more competitive. Remember, to remain competitive it's important to operate with flexibility and be able to pivot your direction. But that's not to say you should simply try and please everybody. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew, and you certainly don't want to lose whatever it is that makes you unique. 

33 comments

  • Andrew Youderian
    Andrew Youderian
    June 07 2012, 12:20PM

    Great list of tools. A few additional ones to add:

    Quantcast: Get demographic information on your competitor’s visitors

    Compete.com: Traffic estimates and trends for any website

    Blekko.com: A search engine that also provides some decent SEO stats on the listings

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    June 07 2012, 01:03PM

    Andrew: Thanks! Great addition to the article – I totally agree that Quantcast, Compete.com, and Blekko.com are solid competitor intelligence research tools!

  • Mike Mason
    Mike Mason
    June 07 2012, 08:26PM

    Awesome! I haven’t used some of these. compete.com shows US only traffic. I find https://www.google.com/adplanner/ the most accurate traffic info for competitor domains. Shows similar sites, topics, and visitor demographics as well! For competitive research on text and banner ads I’ve been using http://mixrank.com

  • melanie rebane photography
    melanie rebane photography
    June 08 2012, 12:47AM

    I have used a few of these to study the best way to position my business and services uniquely…a fabulous and comprehensive article! Great for developing modern market intelligence!

  • Jerry Schultzer
    Jerry Schultzer
    June 08 2012, 09:26AM

    Very interesting list of tools. What other tools do you guys use? Any one has any experience with www.adthena.com or www.adgooroo.com? It would be interesting to see what other competitor analysis tools are there rather then plain simple keyword tools.

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    June 08 2012, 10:21AM

    Mike: Thanks for mentioning mixrank – great tool.

    Melanie: Thanks for the kind comment, I appreciate it.

    Jerry: I don’t have experience with either, but they look like solid tools.

  • Wendy Guerin
    Wendy Guerin
    June 08 2012, 11:29AM

    SEO Centro has a nice keyword rank tool with a competetive comparison feature. It shows rank across Google, Yahoo and Bing. It has some other features too and there are other nice free tools there for analysis.

  • web development outsourcing company
    web development outsourcing company
    June 11 2012, 06:41AM

    The information shared by you is really useful and would help a lot, I would definitely try the tools to get the right vision of my competitor.

  • Peter
    Peter
    July 17 2012, 07:56AM

    Great list! I also use:

    1, Adwords Ad Preview to check ads for different Google domains and locations
    https://adwords.google.com/d/AdPreview

    2, CompeteMonkey to follow which services my competitors start/stop using

  • Double Dragon Jewelry Ltd
    Double Dragon Jewelry Ltd
    July 23 2012, 02:02PM

    Wow-lot’s of really good advice here. I have been working on my website for over a year now and you couldn’t find me when you googled sterling silver jewelry. Today I came in on the second page 2 down. I am so pleased, yet all your info here should help me even further. Cheers Cindy

  • The eWAY Team
    The eWAY Team
    July 25 2012, 12:25AM

    Thank you for posting this! (We have shared it with our payment gateway clients.) It’s also a good idea to use a tool which monitors social media chatter (e.g. Radian6) in order to assess customer sentiment about your competitors.

    Kind regards,
    The eWAY Team

  • Rajesh Magar
    Rajesh Magar
    October 11 2012, 07:49AM

    Nice as always but I would like to add one more tool in play. Which is also more enough potential for competitor analysis and called it as “Traffic Travis”

    Here is the link if you are curious to test it out. http://www.traffictravis.com/

  • Anat
    Anat
    November 19 2012, 12:31AM

    Kick off your competitive research with http://www.tregia.com, discover content and marketing tools used by top publishers.

  • Alan
    Alan
    March 11 2013, 11:56AM

    We use Open Site Explorer to monitor links to www.StandoutDesigns.com. SEOMoz has lots of other great tools too. Not so sure Alexa should be on the top of the list – except maybe alphatically if at all – given your statement “Take the numbers with a grain of salt”!

  • Dave Macdonald
    Dave Macdonald
    March 11 2013, 02:07PM

    You may also want to consider adding Majestic SEO to your list of tools. Its without a doubt the best tool for tracking your competitors inbound links.

  • Jeba Akter
    Jeba Akter
    April 02 2013, 05:04AM

    Hi,
    I totally agree that every new habit begins with mental shifts, Best Practices, LLC is a research consulting firm, leading in the field of business benchmarking services, we focus mainly on pharmaceutical, medical device health care industries If you want to know more about it then please Follow the link Competitive Intelligence

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    goodcheapclothes
    May 08 2013, 08:09AM

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  • Rakia Offer
    Rakia Offer
    May 29 2013, 05:52AM

    Another new tool worth adding is wwww.similarweb.com

  • Dale Tournemille
    Dale Tournemille
    June 07 2013, 01:49PM

    Great list of competitive research tools. But take some of the traffic stats data with a grain of salt. Some stats will vary wildly from what the websites themselves report. For example, Compete.com reports 345,143 unique monthly visitors for www.arstechnica.com but Ars themselves report 8.5 million unique monthly visitors. Of course, your competitors won’t ever disclose actual data, but if they have advertising on their site you may be able to request traffic stats through their ad network.

  • Fizaa Khan
    Fizaa Khan
    June 26 2013, 01:04AM

    Yes !! This information is really useful and helpful.

  • emma
    emma
    August 04 2013, 03:38PM

    Can anyone explain to me how to add quantcast to my shopify site? I understand I have to copy and paste coding into the HTML of all pages but I have no idea how to access this info…

  • Scott Fasser
    Scott Fasser
    September 11 2013, 12:49PM

    Thanks for the post. I’m looking for a competitive research tool that shows mobile advertising and what my clients competitors are doing in the smartphone & tablet space.

  • Raven
    Raven
    December 27 2013, 04:43PM

    Easy to follow. To the point. RICH with information!! THANK YOU. I took notes and then more notes.

  • Rod
    Rod
    May 06 2014, 04:09PM

    In my opinion the MOST important thing of all is KNOWING your customer.

    Good to understand what your competitors are doing, but failing to understand WHY they are doing it, you simply become a follower.

    By knowing YOUR customers, you can lead the pack by implementing the right solutions that appeal and attract your customers. But anyway the article is very helpful, thank you.

    So don’t miss the TRUE objective, Learn from and Understand your customers first.

  • Lara
    Lara
    July 11 2014, 09:14AM

    Good list of tools. Have you heard of InsideIndustry? It is a search intelligence tool based on data from the top 20-25 most searched and competitive generic keywords in an industry. It’s a great tool to get an unbiased view of a company’s position in Google, as well as identifying the top competitors in themarket, and their search marketing strategy (for both paid and organic search).

  • Lisa22422
    Lisa22422
    October 15 2014, 11:41AM

    Thank you to all for giving us your personal preferred methods! I feel more comfortable using your ideas because I know no one paid you tell us – as I feel the others were such as Alexa that says to take the numbers with a grain of salt. What? Why would they even suggest that we use them then???

    Also, since everyone seems so helpful…Any ideas on the best way to find the best product(s) to sell? I tried one online store and it was a flop so this time I want to get it right. I do a basic search for top selling products but I feel those would have extreme competition, i.e. books, electronics..
    Thank you SO much in advance for any suggestions!

  • Irina
    Irina
    November 05 2014, 07:45AM

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention pricing intelligence tools like http://www.profitero.com/ or http://competera.net/, they certainly will do a good job for ecommerce businesses

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