Competitive research isn’t just for major corporations
There are hundreds of competitive research tools out there that provide *FREE* insight to what you should be doing as a business.
This article is going to go through a few of my favorite free tools. If you have any questions about how to apply them, please make sure to zip me off an e-mail or leave a comment below.
As an example for this article I am going to use the Samsung Galaxy S4 product launch.
Samsung has a basic microsite for the Galaxy S4 and has a variety of promotional campaigns and partners around it. By using Samsung (and the Galaxy S4) as an example we can think about this process from several different perspectives of why I might look at this data:
- I’m Samsung and I want to know what I am doing right/wrong
- I’m a direct corporate competitor (HTC, Sony, etc)
- I’m a distributor or retailer and I want to know how I can best sell the product
- I’m a ‘little shop’ and I want to know where I can use other people’s marketing budget
There are all sorts of questions you can apply to the basic tools below to drive greater insight
- Is there a local niche opportunity?
- Were there trends that had common synergy we can plan for?
- Are the global opportunities for other product roll-outs?
SimilarWeb.com is a relatively new tool on the market. It allows you to take a look at any website and see all sorts of data about it.
This is a good starting point if you have any competitors who have enough traffic to show up on the results of SimilarWeb. They don’t have results for low traffic sites or niche services, but if you explore some of the bigger players in your marketplace you can find the sweet spot of sites they have information on.
The Samsung site results give me a list of top keywords sending traffic, ranging from Samsung Galaxy to Samsung Mobile. It also tells me that 57% of social traffic is coming from Facebook and that 32% of social traffic is coming from YouTube (key indicators I should check those out.)
While it appears rather insignificant, the box (image left) that highlights traffic source breakdown and subdomains is a great way to shed light on where you should look next. High traffic sources from direct means looking at traditional channels (print, television, etc), referrals means looking at partner sites and online ads, search is for paid and organic keywords, and mail means you should sign up for a newsletter or two.
BONUS TIP: looking at subdomains is a great way to find ‘secret’ projects that web developers and product managers are working on. In many cases larger projects (and larger clients) merit customized sub-domains.
While there are plenty of other keyword research tools out there, Google Trends is on the top of my list.
It has the simplest and most straight-forward visualization for quickly comparing interest levels based on timeframe and geographic area.
The chart below show me when top Samsung products gained traction. This information allows me to drill down into specific segments of the promotion campaign to examine press releases, partner announcements, and advertising campaigns associated to the product. I can also see how traffic volume was influenced by major holidays, seasonal shifts, and weekday/weekend changes.
For every term I look at Google provides me with a list of top related keywords and provides me with an interactive map to drill down on specific regions.
BONUS TIP: when looking at a specific result, make sure to click on ‘view changes over time’ directly underneath the map on the lower left. This will play an animation for your selected time frame. For global or national items you can see how different cities, states, and regions were affected by a promotional roll-out.
Social Research Tools
SocialMention.com is a ‘go to’ research tool. It basically works just like Google, but it focuses on indexing social media sources such as blogs, comments, events, and video.
Whenever you do a search it provides you with a quick visualization of how often a term is being used, what the general sentiment is, related top keywords, and top users. For people who like data and using other tools it also provides RSS feeds, e-mail alerts, and the ability the get a CSV/Excel download file.
A search for “Galaxy S4” lets me know that every 32 minutes there is a mention, that the positive to negative ratio is 32:1, and that there are about a dozen related keywords, hashtags, and sources.
By using the advanced search parameters and adjusting my search query I can quickly see what terms and trends are associated to the item I want to look at. When I am doing basic review work I often examine company names, URLs, top products, and key executives.
BONUS TIP: the download CSV file gives the information with some extra details, breaking up the volume of information by date, title, link, and user/user link. Make sure to download and check it out if you like charting data in Excel or other visualization tools.
Do a quick search on YouTube for competitor brands, products, and industry events.
We’ll look at this example video from Samsung Mobile for the Galaxy S4
It has roughly 130,000 views and a decent number of ‘thumbs up’
If you click on the little metrics icon (see image) it will bring up information about when the views occurred, how it was publicized, and what sites embedded the video.
Take a quick look at the provided data:
If we look at this information, we can accurately see when videos were released and who supported the videos by promoting them.
By examining a series of videos we can quickly construct a list of sites and communities that would likely support a similar video, and by looking at the the ‘key discovery events’ we can identify if a specific event drove an unusually high amount of exposure.
The key discovery event timeline can be compared to the engagement and audience demographic to highlight if a specific event caused a spike in comments, likes, dislikes, or favorites.
BONUS TIP: you can also take the name of the video and do a search on Google.com for it if there is a key discovery event that says “First referral from Google” – as it generally means the video is ranking for a decent keyword.
What did it all tell me?
Each of the tools above led me down a path of research, even without deeper research I can see:
Traffic Research – SimilarWeb highlights that Samsung relies heavily on search campaigns to drive traffic (%49) – I could use this to copycat tactical action plans for other products and have a million dollar tactical plan paid for by Samsung.
Keyword Research – Google Trends tells me that the interest level for the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 are nearly identical for the first part of the campaign. A savvy competitor could look at phase two of the campaign for the S3 and derail the same process happening for the S4 (which would be a multi-million dollar issue.)
Social Research – SocialMention gives me a list of all the social users who are talking about the Galaxy S4. If I wanted to do some influencer analysis on them I could stack rank them by follow/friend/traffic count and create an outreach campaign to contact them about a similar product.
YouTube Research – YouTube Analytics tells me how promotional messaging was consumed and promoted by video watching audiences. By examining multiple videos around the S4 I would have a list of sites that would promote my content.
Using the above techniques for your own business, think about local competitors you could use these tools to take a look at and ask yourself if there is a ‘big fish’ that is simply providing you with a million dollar roadmap to follow.
Hopefully you learned a thing or two.
If you did, please share!