How to Spy on Your Competition & Steal Their Secrets
This post is an excerpt from the e-book, Listen: 5 Social Audiences Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore.
Competition for attention and business has never been fiercer…ever.
The global digital economy has produced an avalanche of content and the battle for mind and market share is no longer local. It’s a big web world and growing at an exponential pace.
Your competitor is no longer the shop down the street or even a contender in your home state or country. They are stealing your lunch from the other side of the world.
This Is Happening Everywhere
I remember taking a delivery from a courier that was meant for one of my colleagues. It weighed a ton and was from a city thousands of miles away. London.
On asking Pat what it was, he said it was a car suspension part. And it weighed about 20 kilograms (44 pounds)! My curiosity made me ask the next question. “Why get it from there?” The reply. “It was 40 percent cheaper, including the shipping.”
Your business is not immune from this level of competition.
It is predicted that within the next five to 10 years there will be another three billion Internet users. This also means there will be a growing group of competitors to add to the 1 billion websites that have residence in cyberspace.
That is a lot of clutter, noise and competition.
How Do You Compete in a Digital World?
So how do you keep an eye on your competition, keep ahead of the game and compete globally?
In the past (I am talking pre-web), it was hard to know unless you asked your customers, poached a competitor’s employee or searched through their garbage bins. Now, I don’t know about you, but the bin thing is maybe going a touch too far!
Today, it is so much easier and it’s a lot more transparent with the advent of search engines and a social web. Information is everywhere. On Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all those other social networks. You know the ones I mean.
The Inside Story on How to Spy on Competitors (& Innovators)
A laptop, the web, and a search engine and you have the starter tools to begin this spying caper.
What must also be kept in mind is that creativity and innovation don’t come in a vacuum.
“I invented nothing new, I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom there was centuries of work.” – Henry Ford
“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” – Steve Jobs
So where do you start and what are the steps?
Step 1: Google Your Competitors
If you know your industry, then you know your competitors. Despite its 1990s appearance, Google is still the “go-to” site to start the competition sleuthing.
If you want to see who are seen as the best both by data and peer review, then typing a search term, such as “Top Content Marketers,” will be revealing.
Once you have found them, go and start checking out their digital assets. Find out how they drive traffic and get online attention.
One free website for discovering that is similarweb.com. It shows the source of traffic, whether they pay for it, and what keywords they rank for.
Step 2. Check Out the Innovators
Your competitors do not have a monopoly on good ideas. In fact the more traditional the industry, the less likely they will innovate. Digital dinosaurs are dying in this fast-moving era of web commerce.
Remember Blockbuster and Kodak?
Look at companies that disrupt. You have heard about them.
Don’t just stop there.
See how they market online. How do they drive traffic, create engaging content, make content get shared, and capture leads?
You can find out what they do behind the scenes if you look for case studies (do a search for “case studies for company ’x’”) that take a deep dive into their innovative tactics.
Also take a tour of their websites and blogs. Once you have their URLs, it’s time to tour their blogs, websites, and marketing tactics.
The questions to ask include:
- Do they capture leads via email with pop-ups?
- Do they have a blog?
- Is the content good, great, or bland?
- Are calls to action part of their marketing tactics?
- Do they rank well for keywords and phrases in your industry niche?
Step 3: Crawl Their Social Networks
Social networks will provide the most revealing insights as they are the most public and transparent to competitor and innovator online activity. What are you looking for?
Here’s a simple checklist for a little social media competitor audit.
- How many Likes?
- How do they publish to Facebook?
- What’s the quantity and tone of the comments?
- Do they use Facebook ads?
- How many followers do they have?
- How many retweets do they get?
- Do they use visual tweets and hashtags?
- Are they using Twitter for “calls to action?”
- How many followers do they have?
- How active are they?
- Is there much engagement?
- How many views do they get?
- How many subscribers do they have?
- What type of content are they creating?
Miscellaneous social networks
- If you want to go a bit deeper and have the time, ask similar questions to those above about other social media properties such as Pinterest, SlideShare and even Periscope.
The insights gained from these investigations will display weaknesses and strengths that you can capitalize on, copy, and surpass.
Your aim in all of this activity is to spark your imagination, build a list of creative ideas and then innovate.
Why Should You Bother Spying & Stealing Secrets?
The real value in spying and checking out the competitors and innovators is not just to copy or add to industry sameness. That makes you blend with the crowd.
Blandness is boring.
You want to innovate and stand out. Take the information you have gleaned and imagine, create, and innovate.
The real opportunity in using that information is twofold:
- Model best practices
- Gain insights from the global digital innovators and take your business to a whole new level
Modeling the best in your industry is a good place to start to compete globally. Watching them at work and weaving that into your business DNA is good, but it will take you only so far. Digital disruption often happens outside of your industry. You only have to look at what Apple’s iTunes did to the music industry to see that reality.
If you are only watching your niche for ideas, then you are going to miss out on a lot of insights, tactics, and tips that could lead you to becoming a leader in your industry.
Some of the top content publishers in the big brand area that are worth keeping an eye on are Red Bull and LEGO.
In the online publishing sector Upworthy, BuzzFeed, and ViralNova are innovative and very successful.
In the blogging space HubSpot, Buffer, and Kissmetrics all do great work.
Case Study in Innovation Outside a Niche
A great example of a blog that innovated and modeled its content creation and marketing is Movoto, a real estate services company. It looked at what Upworthy was doing (and others) and used that as a model even though it was outside their niche.
Movoto has taken these ideas and woven it into its content creation, marketing and link hustling. In doing this, it has grown their real estate blog from 2,000 to 18 million views per month in just two years! How did Movoto do it? Content marketing is content marketing, and Movoto, upon seeing how the big online publishers made their content get shared and go viral, decided to model those tactics in real estate.
The Key Steps
1. Define goals
Movoto wanted to know what success looked like, and this is what that was:
- Number of citations on the Web and offline, such as links, mentions, and even TV spots
- Achieving a certain number of articles per week
- Article quality as defined by the number of shares
- Share rate defined quality, as that meant (quality) success on the web
2. Always keep the end game in mind
Movoto’s end goal was getting “links” and lots of them. So it wanted to reach an audience that wanted to link with them. It then did research (using Google and Ahrefs) and created content based on ideas from a weekly brainstorming session.
3. Hustle and pitch
At Movoto, each team member pitched the target audience using email.
Each email pitch included these tactics:
- How would you describe the article to your mom?
- A specific call to action (click a link or email us back).
- Explain the benefit, or value add, for them to mention it.
- Why we wrote about the topic.
Here is the workflow to achieve that:
4. Learn from the innovators
The Movoto team asked the question “why reinvent the wheel?” So it looked at these (and more) content marketing innovators and modeled its tactics.
- The Verge
5. Implement viral marketing tactics
This started with researching what content was really successful and who was successful at this.
For content, this included:
- Big full-screen images
- Cool infographics
- Curated video content
The best sites that were doing this were:
- Nieman Lab
6. Optimize click-through rate
To get people to click on social media (and especially Facebook), you need to perfect these tactics:
- Meta description
Again, Movoto didn’t try and work it out on their own but modeled Upworthy.
7. Optimize share rate
To maximize share rate on social networks, they focused on three things:
- Telling a story
- Focusing on self
To sum it up, people gravitate to viral content that’s written about them.
8. Optimize for search engines
Search engines keep providing free traffic after the sharing frenzy has died down. So optimizing for search is a key component to ongoing success.
So what does Movoto focus on for SEO?
- On-page SEO such as keyword research, URL slugs (keywords in the URL), and titles
- Website structure
So what were the results after all this research, brainstorming, content creation, optimization, and hustle?
An average article gets:
- 37,500 visits
- 5,600 Facebook engagements
- 13 promotion emails
- 10 links
They also get over 18 million page views a month. For Movoto, this is a journey and ongoing investment. Content marketing takes time, persistence, and lots of hard work.
So what is the future for marketing innovation?
The digital world is changing so fast and the intersection of technologies is disrupting business as usual. Here are 3 things to keep your eye on that you need to start adopting if you haven’t already to stay ahead of your competition.
The splintering of media from TV, radio, and analogue to digital multimedia and social has made marketing a complicated and messy endeavor.
Managing that with a pencil, piece of paper, spreadsheet, or a room of human worker bees is inefficient and doesn’t scale well.
Marketing automation apps and platforms like Marketo, Hubspot, and others are now essential tools for any grownup marketer.
These are becoming smarter, more intuitive, and cheaper to buy. If you aren’t using one today or thinking about it then you may find your competition giving you a marketing wakeup call.
And…it’s costing you money.
Artificial Intelligence and the Rise of the Robots
The rise of the robots has been predicted since we watched HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey” in what was another world in 1968. In the decades since, we have seen the emergence of the personal computer, the internet, social networks, and the mobile smart phone. The intersection of these technologies is changing entertainment, business, and our lives.
The mobile and social networks are obsessive technologies that have made 7 billion of us publishers. We are now all video creators, selfie photo producers, and writers that share by the billions every hour.
The result? A content explosion.
As the data volume has increased exponentially, the scale of the noise means that making sense of it needs artificial intelligence and machines with big powerful processors.
It includes search on Google and Facebook.
Where is this artificial intelligence being used that maybe you don’t even notice on your favorite social media networks?
- Tagging of friends on Facebook with facial recognition
- Deep learning technology that is woven into Facebook’s suggestions, Newsfeed algorithms, and trending topics
- LinkedIn uses “AI” to provide better job matching between business and candidate
- Pinterest uses the intelligence of the robots to boost image recognition and search
And this is just scratching the surface. Expect to see more of these technologies and trends emerge in digital marketing automation tools and beyond.
Businesses will need to adopt these new tools and technologies to stay ahead of the game.
The social web gave rise to global topic tribes.
Bloggers created content on fashion, food, and thousands of other niche passions. They also built loyal followers and advocates on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. They constructed credibility and trust built on authentic content.
As the noise increases online and reaching your target customer gets harder because of content clutter, the influencer and thought leaders who have built reach globally are the new niche gatekeepers.
To break through the clutter, brands are now paying influencers to reach their admirers and devotees.
John Maynard Keynes said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
As marketers and entrepreneurs, you will need to let go of practices and tactics that are not effective as they once were. We live in a fast changing world.
You will need to keep reinventing to stay ahead of your competitors and the new innovators and start-ups.
Want to learn more about how listening to the right audiences will boost your brand? Then, download our free ebook, Listen: 5 Social Audiences Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore.
Jeff Bullas is an entrepreneur, blogger, author, marketer and keynote speaker and works with businesses to grow and optimize their digital brand with emerging technologies, content, social media and digital marketing. His mission: “Inspire and educate people to win at business and life in a digital world.” Jeff is a top influencer of CMO and digital marketers, and was named the #1 global digital marketing influencer in 2016. He is also the best-selling author of the book “Blogging the Smart Way – How to Create and Market a Killer Blog with Social Media“
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