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Startups have a lot to gain from spying on industry leaders. Why? As well as reverse engineering their successful sales and marketing strategies, you can potentially identify some gaps in the market and jump on commercial opportunities. Maybe there’s a feature customers are currently crying out for, or a more profitable route to market? Competitor research is an inexpensive, yet lucrative, way to set your startup up for success.

If you are keen to get started on your own competitor research, start with the points, tools, and platforms below in order to make the most of your initial data gathering and analysis.

Values are also very important for a growing startup who needs to quickly make its mark on the business world — so don’t forget to set your business on the right path in between all that corporate espionage…

Steal their profitable keywords

The great thing about digital marketing is that there is so much stuff is in the public domain. From backlinks and blogs, to content and keywords — you can piece together an entire digital strategy from only a few datasets.

Reverse engineering competitors’ SEO strategies is a no-brainer — with a few hours work, you will have a ton of potential places to get backlinks from, a set of good keywords to use, and a realistic idea of how much budget is needed to make it to the top spot.

  1. Ahrefs is the new market leader in SEO and competitor research. It’s a pricey subscription to pay, but it offers you a ton of data that would take hours to collate otherwise. You can check out backlinks and competitor keywords and download them in handy csv files for further analysis. Definitely worth investing in.
  2. Amazon is a goldmine for ecommerce keywords, and you can quickly see how others are optimizing their listings (and why). Related products and categories can also give you ideas for potential keywords and concurrent niches. Local versions of Amazon can also help multilingual brands transcreate their content.
  3. On-page analysis tools like SEOQuake (a handy Chrome plugin) will allow you to quickly analyze an on-page SEO strategy. Run a few big sites through the plugin and try to identify any useful patterns or trends.

Eye up their go-to influencer community

In order to successfully kick off your own influencer and content marketing campaigns, lean on the precious insights already gleaned by your competitors. Infiltrate their online communities in order  to find the people you need to be talking to, and the topics you need to be talking about.

  1. Buzzsumo is a great content research tool that can help you quickly identify influencers and content topics worth writing about. Newsjack on big stories and follow the competition — only to do one better than them. Content marketing is an easy way for startups to be bigger than they actually are and pay back the community for their interest and loyalty.
  2. Your competitors’ Instagrams will quickly provide you with a veritable influencer gallery to choose from, and Twitter’s advanced search isn’t too bad for uncovering partnerships and interested parties. Spend time mining their social media profiles for names, strategies, followers, and tactics.
  3. Influencers, bloggers, writers, editors all have their own commercial interests to protect,  so don’t assume that a relationship with a competitor is ‘exclusive’ (it probably isn’t). Don’t be shy and go after the same people. If you get similar mentions than a big leader in your industry, it will help lend you a similar amount of legitimacy. If it’s good enough for them…

Analyze their design choices

Successful website and app designs are usually the culmination of years of UX and UI research. Skip the time in the lab and use your strategic skills to collate competitor design data instead.

You can’t obviously steal or plagiarize copyrighted designs outright, but you can include essential design elements in your own wireframes. For anyone looking to make it in ecommerce, scouring through a load of fresh sites will give you a good idea of how to ideally structure yours.

You can also use user testing data to validate your design choices — there are plenty of affordable ways to do this, especially if you don’t mind doing it remotely. The right idea with the wrong design won’t get much traction, so spend some time getting this right.

Listen to their customers

Social listening and brand monitoring are easy to automate, and the incoming data could prove invaluable to your customer experience strategy.

By hearing directly from consumers and customers how they feel about brands, you will be able to build a comprehensive picture of their customer culture — and make yours better.

There is a lot to be learned from even a chance remark or online social media review. Try to gauge the current mood and feeling around the niche to give you the best possible chance of bursting onto the scene with the right messaging.

Look for any chinks in the armor, or any repeated questions, requests, or criticisms. This could be your window of opportunity.

Decipher their advertising

There are plenty of tools to help you spy on other people’s social media activities — and we are not talking about their social lives here!

Spy on your entire industry using ad databases like AdEspresso and see what ads competitors are placing, and where.  It’s a fantastic way to get an insight into their advertising strategies at the click of the button, and the engagement figures and comments can be highly revealing. Even if you’re not ready to run any social media ad campaigns of your own yet, this is definitely time well-spent.

Startups are in the ideal position to do something different. Spy on the competition, figure out where there missing a trick, and try to fill the void.


Victoria Greene: Writer & Digital Marketing Specialist – Now that I’m freelance, I love spending my days writing, learning more about digital marketing, and sharing my tips with fellow entrepreneurs. I live for digital and am always on the lookout for the next big thing.


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