Your competitors are watching you. Are you watching them? Are you using what you learn to improve your search marketing results?
Online competitive intelligence - gathering and analyzing information about your competitors' online activities - is clearly a hot topic among B2B search marketing professionals competing for the best position in organic and paid search results. In a recent study of Business.com clients, all managing B2B paid search campaigns and/or search engine optimization (SEO) programs, 87% said that it was important or very important to understand how their competitors are marketing themselves online in order to run an effective SEO program; 84% felt the same for pay-per-click search marketing.
Despite the typical knowing-doing gap, where people know what they need to but never get around to actually doing something about it, B2B search marketers are taking online competitive intelligence seriously. We found that 69% were actively monitoring how their competitors market themselves online. This goes well beyond the occasional Google search on top keywords or looking up competitor web site traffic. We defined "actively monitor" as proactively going online to find competitor ads, keywords or other information, and recording what they find for later comparison to see how competitors' online marketing programs change over time. In fact, the median respondent actively monitors four competitors, and 17% of respondents track 10 or more competitors.
The purpose of this guide is to help you, as a B2B search marketer, understand B2B online competitive intelligence practices and tools so that you can improve your search marketing program performance.
Identify the competitors you want to track.
Include the usual set you watch in the offline world, but also search relevant keywords on general search engines. Most B2B search marketers will run campaigns on at least one of the "Big 3" and you may find one or more upstart competitors with very aggressive search marketing campaigns. Make sure to add these to your competitor list as well.
Think broadly about search.
Your goal is to know what your competitors are doing wherever your target audience is searching online, and a large portion of the searchable business Internet exists beyond general search engines.
business search engine and directory sites such as Business.com (general business directory), GlobalSpec (engineering directory) and ThomasNet (manufacturing directory).
Establish your baseline.
Start with competitor web sites, decide what metric(s) and keyword you want to track, and establish an initial baseline. Conduct an initial SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your search marketing programs against at least five competitors.
Develop an expertise in keyword research.
The B2B search marketers in our recent study picked keyword selection - both for SEO and paid search - as the #1 way competitor activities influence their search marketing programs.
Get to know your competitors' sites.
Your competitors' search marketing ROI, and ability to outspend or outperform you, depends not only on the sites on which they advertise but also their ability to convert clicks and visitors into customers. Get to know their site and broader online marketing practices.
Swap war stories.
Meet other search marketers at major industry events, and share best practices.
Reduce the "noise".
When you're tracking competitor search marketing programs and metrics, you want to make sure you accurately capture cause and effect relationships. You don't want, for example, to attribute a spike in unique visitors to a competitor site to a change in their search marketing programs when they just launched a major banner campaign.