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In an era of marketing strategies that have become more digital, everyone wants to see the analytics.

How many followers do you have? Where are your service pages ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs)? What’s been the reach of your most recent digital ad campaign, and how many conversions have you received?

This is important stuff to know and track. And, much of it is representative of a new age in marketing. This age allows businesses of all sizes to invest their marketing dollars more wisely and to the most significant effect, all thanks to the ability to track the preferences and actions of potential customers.

But, having so much information (and power) at your fingertips is only part of the equation. While the numbers we track can provide you with a general idea of improvements and deficiencies over time, they can’t do all the heavy lifting on their own when it comes to providing a complete analysis of your marketing efforts.

To truly create an accurate narrative around your marketing analytics – a story of all your successes, failures, opportunities, and threats that helps ensure you invest time and resources into the things that matter most – you need to build context around these numbers.

And, the best way to establish context is to develop what scientists might call a control group. With a control group, you can compare your numbers and measure success or failure.

What you need is a firm understanding of your competition through a competitive analysis.

Compete with a Smaller World

Whenever one creates digital content, whether it’s website copy, blog articles, social media posts, or advertisements, the messaging is (or should be) written with a specific audience in mind. That’s a no-brainer. All business owners aim to appeal to a particular demographic or group.

If your marketing strategy is to post content online, who is your audience?

Well, in the most basic sense, your audience is the world. They used to call it the World Wide Web for a reason. And, when you’re essentially throwing it out to a “group” of enormous size, the only numbers that tend to look good are the ones that grow.

Yes, growth is good, but it’s not infinite – nor is it always necessary in all successful marketing campaigns. To know where you need to focus your resources and growth, you need something in which to compare your numbers.

By knowing and understanding your competition, you can have a baseline comparison. And while you’re at it, you will dramatically decrease the size of your “world,” allowing you to focus your strategy on actually meaningful data points.

Perform a Competitive Analysis

So, now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you that your competition is worth knowing and why the next question is obvious: what exactly is worth knowing about your competition? What is it about them that can help you improve focus within your marketing strategy while helping you determine its level of success?

Here are four things you absolutely should know about your competition:

  1. Who is Your Competition?

It doesn’t get much more basic than this, yet this is where your analysis must begin. Before you can start digging into the nitty-gritty about their messaging, positioning, preferred marketing channels, etc., you must first know who they are.

Some of these people and businesses are going to be obvious. Your direct competitors are the ones who offer many of the same goods, services, and solutions as you. But, don’t overlook possible indirect competitors – those who may not provide the same service but may point people in an alternative direction (think DIY information and solutions).

  1. How Do Your Competitors Position Themselves in Your Market?

Different businesses that offer similar services will often position themselves in various ways that appeal to specific needs within a market. For example, one dental practice may be elite, employing the most experienced dentists and the most state-of-the-art equipment possible. In contrast, another may position itself as an affordable option for those who are underinsured.

Take a look at how your competitors are positioning themselves. Identify opportunities within their messaging that are either neglected (fill that niche!) or feel you’re in a better position to achieve. Consider which demographics (ages, genders, income brackets, etc.) they’re appealing to, how they’re positioning their brand (i.e., honest, environmentally friendly, or fun), and so on.

  1. Where Do Your Competitors Rank Online?

It’s no secret that customers tend to trust Google to direct them toward the solutions they need when they need them in today’s digital world. So, businesses must show up on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPS) for the solutions and services that they provide.

That said while reaching the coveted No. 1 position is the Holy Grail of search engine optimization (SEO), the online ranking you should genuinely be striving for is any ranking that exists above your top competitors. If your competitor ranks No. 9 on a relevant local keyword search, you want to be No. 8. If they’re on page 2, you want to be on page 1. 

  1. Where Do Your Competitors Exist Online?

Besides search engine rankings, businesses show up in more places online than ever before. Beyond your website and social media apps, an active and thoroughly updated Google My Business (GMB) account can contribute to your ranking. With your GMB page, your business will show up on map listings and Google local results. Many other free features come with a correctly set up GMB page, including links to certain web pages, driving directions, and your phone number. And when someone searches your business from a mobile device, there is a click to call button – which makes calling your business that much easier.

Research tools, apps, directories, and social media sites that your competitors are using online. Ensure you’re showing up where they are – for the same services. And take advantage of any opportunities to use sites and tools (such as Google My Business) that your competition may not be using to their fullest capacity. In other words, look for opportunities to do better.