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Competitor Research

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Analyze competitors across Search Marketing channels

One of the areas that you’ll want to look at on a weekly basis, if not daily, for paid search is competitor research, and for SEO this can be very telling because we know SEO is a long-term game. It requires a very long-term strategy. If we see a competitor moving in a certain direction, it would be quite difficult for them to change tack. If they did, they wouldn’t see the results of that for 6 to 12 months.

SEO visibility

By looking at SEO visibility and any number of tools that are out there, the likes of Searchmetrics and BrightEdge, will help you to do this. You can get insight into their marketing strategy.

Content effectiveness

The second area is also key for this content effectiveness. This is not just what their content is, who they are looking to speak to, whether people are engaging with it, or whether it is working.

Working can mean a lot of different things. We could mean is it being shared on Facebook if it’s a brand awareness campaign for example. Do we think that people are clicking through from this? And we can look at clickstream data for the things like this using similar software, for example. Are they looking at this content and clicking through to the site and making a purchase? That may mean that it’s working for acquisition. Why this is really telling, and as so much more budget moves from offline to online, is that content marketing is about a lot more than just search, just targeting people. It’s about branding. So we can really understand what our competitors are trying to do here.

PPC bidding strategies

There’s no better way to understand what your competitors want to rank for than seeing what they’re bidding on. The other thing that we can do here is that we can find out which terms are working for them, which terms are getting a good click-through rate and that insight can be invaluable. Because we can test that within not just our own ad copy but within our meta descriptions for SEO. So we could end up benefiting from something that they’re doing well.

Keyword-level competitors

So as Google increases in sophistication the landscape changes greatly. That could be done to personalization, so based on what someone searched for before and what they’ve liked the results will be tailored. There are also universal results. You’ll see videos and images taking much more prominence. So that search intent can be obvious. If someone is searching for a product, it’s quite clear what they want. The modifiers around that product can make it quite different. So “credit card information” is very different to “apply for a credit card,” for example.

But where Google has very advanced is in being able to tailor these results to what the person is looking for. So that has an impact on your strategy. You’ll have general competitors, so if you work in a retail space you’ll have the likes of Amazon and Ikea and Home Depot who will be prominent throughout, so you might want to set up some come competitor tracking based around those. But underneath that, there will be some specialist suppliers and this example of Shutterfly specialize in coasters. So it’s one example of a competitor that just dominates in a space. Now if you come into this thinking our brand competitors are Amazon, Ikea, and Home Depot you could be missing out on quite a lot of these specialist players who could be taking the landscape from you.

Offline and online competitors

You need to understand your offline and your online competitors, how they differ, and where they merge. And one way to make sure you’re covering this is to report based on search results. We looked at some competitors and some assumptions that you might make based on those. If you’ve set up competitor tracking you’re monitoring versus the likes of Amazon, Ikea and Home Depot, someone like Shutterfly that we’ve just seen could actually be stealing a march on you but you haven’t actually seen that. So if you’re reporting, start with the search results that are there. You’re getting a real view of what’s actually happening, not what you assume is going to happen from a brand perspective. You can look at the impact of offline advertising on online performance. This is still kind of the holy grail of digital marketing. It’s hard to really make that transition, and there’s a lot of work going on in the YouTube area to make this happen.

What you can do from a search marketing perspective specifically is look at those branded search volumes. If there’s a large scale out-of-home campaign for example, in a specific area you can look into Google Trends and you can see right down to the last 24 hours where those peaks are. That will be helpful because you’ll know where they might want to spend their budget. They may want to go heavy on brand to capitalize on it, they may want to put it back on brand. You can also learn something for your own campaign and other ways that you could work better with your out-of-home team for example.

And another consideration that is really about that dichotomy between the generalists and the specialists. There are a lot of specialists who focus on paid search, and one of the main reasons for that is it’s a beautifully crafted model that tells you exactly what your return on your investment is. That’s the one question that we always receive as marketers and is one we’ve always struggled. But in the digital world this utopian view has as kind of come to reality. Mainly through Google Ads, not through a lot of other areas. But that means you’ll see a lot of small brands that you may not even heard of that may not be offline competitors but who are really hammering their investment on paid search. That could drive up your cost-per-click but you also want to keep an eye on what they’re doing. A lot of these small brands can be quite sophisticated.

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Clark Boyd

Clark Boyd is CEO and founder of marketing simulations company Novela. He is also a digital strategy consultant, author, and trainer. Over the last 12 years, he has devised and implemented international marketing strategies for brands including American Express, Adidas, and General Motors.

Today, Clark works with business schools at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and Columbia University to design and deliver their executive-education courses on data analytics and digital marketing. 

Clark is a certified Google trainer and runs Google workshops across Europe and the Middle East. This year, he has delivered keynote speeches at leadership events in Latin America, Europe, and the US. You can find him on Twitter (X)LinkedIn, and Slideshare. He writes regularly on Medium and you can subscribe to his email newsletter, hi,tech.

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    This module covers the key steps for planning and implementing a search marketing strategy for your organization. It addresses the key components in an effective search marketing strategy and outlines best practices for planning and research. It also covers how to execute a strategy and evaluate the performance of a search marketing campaign.