34 Online Competitor Research Tools
If you’re a business owner, entrepreneur or marketer then you’re probably no stranger to doing the odd bit of online competitor research. This article outlines some of the many online competitor research tools available to help you.
Why should you do online competitor research?
It amazes me how often businesses waste time and money on developing new products and services only to find that something better is already out there in the market. The worst thing is, I’m guilty of it myself.
Here are few reasons you should do online competitive analysis:
- Learn who are your competitors what they are offering
- Understand your markets and its segments
- Forecast sales and market share
- Predict how changes in the business environment will affect your markets and competitors
- Research potential for new product or services
- Find and market to new customers
How should you do online competitor research and analysis?
Online competitive research isn’t just about looking at your competitors’ websites. Although that is part of it. But you also need to research:
- Website SEO: what is their website being ranked highly for, and why
- Website backlinks: which sites link to your competitors and what are those links worth
- Online advertising: including search and display/remarketing
- Social media: which networks they use and how they use them
- Email marketing campaigns: how are they communicating with prospects
- If applicable, any e-commerce retailers selling their products
How often should you do online competitor research?
How often you should research your competitors will depend on a number of factors including the maturity and competitiveness of the markets you operate in. In my experience, compiling a competitor analysis for the first time is a lot of work but keeping it up to date is much easier. In principle I would recommend that you ideally have in place a solution that monitors your competitors for you (see the tools below) or update your competitor analysis every 3-6 months. Leaving it as long as a year will almost certainly mean you are missing out on critical competitor intelligence.
34 online competitor research tools
Online competitor research tools can be categorized in a number of ways, including:
- How they work: competitor discovery, monitoring or both
- The channels they cover: web, advertising, social, email etc
- Whether they are free or paid, and if the latter how much they cost
Below is a brief outline of each tool, how it works, the channels it covers and what it costs.
Competitor discovery tools
Often overlooked, Google Alerts is a free and easy way to discover new competitors by creating email alerts for the organic search terms you would like to be ranked most highly for. You can also set up alerts for company names or website addresses to monitor existing competitors. The number of results you wish to see, as well as the language, region and frequency of alerts can all be configured. Free (Google account required).
Alexa provides an integrated service covering keyword research, competitor analysis and site and content audits. Its Audience Overlap Tool can help you to find competitors based on common visitors and keywords. Once you identified your competitors you can analyze their keyword rankings and compare them to your own. While Alexa is a paid service ($9.99, $49 or $149 per month), its ‘Find Similar Sites’ tool compares up to 5 potential competitors and provides an overlap score and Alexa ranking (site popularity) for free. However, don’t take the competitors it ‘reveals’ at face value – do your own additional research to validate the results.
Kompyte is a relatively new player that offers a comprehensive suite of online competitor research tools including discovery and tracking of changes across websites, organic search rankings, pay per click ads, social media and email campaigns. While it is a paid service (from $22.50 per competitor, per month), they also offer a free Chrome browser extension for monitoring website content changes.
SimilarWeb is the granddaddy of online competitor analysis having been around since 2009. It’s main product is SimilarWeb Pro, which allows you to track competitors’ website traffic including source, time on site, page views per visit and bounce rate. In addition you can also find a website’s organic and paid keywords as well as any pay per click ads. If you want to gather intelligence on a competitor’s Android app usage, SimilarWeb also has that covered. Want to roll your own competitor data mashup? Have a look at the API. Competitor discovery is possible using a number of SimilarWeb’s features, including Audience Interests and Industry Leaders. No pricing is provided for any of its products but SimilarWeb offers free browser plugins for Chrome, Firefox and Safari and a couple of free website widgets.
Although predominantly a online consumer insights tools, Hitwise can help you to discover competitors and benchmark their website against your own. No pricing is given but if you are a big B2C brand, it might be worth a look.
Competitor website tools
Internet Archive (Wayback Machine)
The Internet Archive allows you to access past versions of your competitors’ website pages. The site can be a bit slow with weird ads, sponsorship messages and patchy results but you can’t complain about the price. Free.
A whois lookup details can often reveal who owns the domain name as well as the name servers. In addition, looking up domain name server (DNS) records can also reveal hidden sub domains. Free.
For com, .org and .net domains use InterNic search:
To find the official domain whois for each country, refer to this page:
DNS lookup: https://mxtoolbox.com/DNSLookup.aspx
This site provides you with information about the how the website is hosted, its content management system (CMS) and any underlying technologies it is built upon as well as any analytics or tracking integrations it uses. Free.
This is a text file placed in the root of most websites to control search engines’ access to the site. To view the file on any website enter the full address followed by ‘/robots.txt’. It’s not uncommon to find links to content that your competitors don’t want you to know about! Free.
Learn more at http://www.robotstxt.org
RSS readers can be either a software program or website that enables you to search, monitor and read an RSS feed from a website without visiting the site directly. As most websites these days have an RSS feed for their news or blog section, it’s a really sneaky way to quickly see what’s new. The only downside is that the RSS feed will not show you useful info like blog comments or the author bio. Usually free.
My preferred RSS reader is Digg: http://digg.com/reader
Feedly is a web based RSS reader on steroids. In its free incarnation you can monitor up to 100 RSS feeds, group them into collections and share on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. The Pro version ($5 per month) offers unlimited feeds, keyword alerts, search and integration with Zapier, IFTTT, plus saving to Evernote, Pocket and OneNote. In addition you can share on LinkedIn, Buffer, Hootsuite and WordPress. Team ($18 per user per month) adds shared feeds, deeper integration with Google News and Google Alerts plus Slack integration, analytics and API access.
SpyOnWeb doesn’t provide a lot of useful information but excels in two areas. It can show you which websites are hosted on the same IP address as a competitor and reveal your competitor’s Google Analytics property ID and any other sites the ID is used on. I have used the latter to learn that a competitor had started a new division of their business under a completely different name but were tracking visitors using the same Google Analytics code! Free.
Ghostery is a browser extension that is available for all modern desktop web browsers. Once installed you are able to view (and block) any third party advertising or tracking scripts being used on a competitors’ website. So if you know a competitor has the Facebook and Twitter tracking pixels installed, it’s likely they are running remarketing campaigns on those networks. Free.
Watch My Competitor
This service monitors your competitors’ websites, news and social media activities, alerting and highlighting any changes. In addition to providing dashboards it features a novel ‘Enterprise Collaboration Portal’ to enable you to share and discuss the research with coworkers in your organization. Watch My Competitor also has apps for Android and iOS. Pricing is vague. To track 6 competitor websites of 10 pages each would apparently cost £200 (approx. $246) per month.
Competitor SEO analysis tools
Moz is one of the leading solutions available for comparing keyword search engine ranking positions (SERPs) with that of your competitors. In addition to this, Moz provides a plethora of comparative data including search visibility, domain authority, external links and much more. Tiered pricing from $79 – $599 per month. Moz also offers Open Site Explorer, and MozBar; an extension for the Google Chrome web browser. Both of these tools can be used to gain some insights into a competitor’s website popularity and backlinks at no cost.
While Moz is the poster boy for its industry, SEMrush offers more competitor tracking and monitoring tools for less money. In addition to competitor SERPs tracking you can track paid search, display and video ad campaigns, backlinks, social media and monitor brand mentions both in the news and social media. Tiered pricing from $99 to $399 per month.
Although there are many SEO tools that can be used for competitive analysis, we cannot mention Moz and SEMrush without including Ahrefs as one of the top three solutions in this space. Ahrefs enables you to compare organic traffic, backlinks, social media accounts and paid traffic for any website. Ahrefs also includes ‘web mentions’ alerts, among many other useful features. Tiered pricing from $99 to $999.
Competitor online advertising analysis tools
Google AdWords & Bing Ads Preview
Both Google AdWords and Bing Ads have an ad preview feature that allows you to both organic and paid search results on their respective search engines. Most importantly, you can specify your location, language, device and search engine country version – something you are unable to control by using the respective search engine directly. While this feature is usually used to test whether your ads are appearing for appropriate searches, it also displays competitors’ ads as well as their organic search results, allowing you to compare your ads and organic search results with theirs. Free with ad account.
Although iSpionage enables you to track and compare organic keyword rankings, it is a solution focused on pay per click competitiveness. As such you can track and monitor competitors’ AdWords and Bing ad campaigns, including paid keywords, ads and landing pages. While it is a paid-for solution a free account will allow you to see a limited amount of data at no cost. Tiered pricing from $29 – $299 a month.
Spyfu is primarily a keyword research and position tracking tool covering both SEO and PPC equally well. In addition to this its ‘Kombat’ feature can be used to discover competitors but as with many of the solutions here, it can be a bit hit and miss in the suggestions it makes. As with iSpionage and SEMrush, you can view competitors’ historic AdWords ads. However, SpyFu seems to focus on only US and UK data, which may be a limitation depending on your markets. Other features include a backlink research tool as well as reporting. Tiered pricing from $33 – $299 per month.
If you work for a nationwide or international brand and are tasked with tracking your competitors’ advertising both online and offline then Competitrack may be just the solution you need. Covering TV, print, radio, online display and video (but seemingly not online search) Competitrack can provide details of ad spend, share of voice and creative for campaign across more than 60 countries and in multiple languages. No pricing given but if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.
Competitor social media analysis tools
While the strength of this solution lies in its detailed social media monitoring features, it also includes website change tracking as well as keyword position ranking and AdWords spend tracking. However these features are secondary to social media monitoring that covers Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube.Tiered pricing from $79 – $799 per month.
Looking for a comprehensive monitoring solution covering social media, blogs, news, forums and reviews? Brandwatch has it covered, from brand and reputation management through to competitor monitoring and ‘sentiment analysis’ on practically every social network available. It has recently enhanced its offering with a data visualization tool called Vizia – guaranteed to appeal to the CMO looking for a Star Trek dashboard experience. No pricing provided.
At first glance Meltwater seems to have many features similar to Brandwatch. However, this solution seems to have a greater focus on influencer discovery and press release distribution than just the pure ‘social listening’ features of the former. No pricing provided.
Mention appears to offer social media monitoring that only covers Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. So tough luck if you want to monitor competitors on LinkedIn. In addition to these networks it also monitors brand mentions in blogs, forums and news. Tiered pricing from $29 per month.
BuzzSumo is a social media monitoring tool with a difference. Its focus is on content and those social media influencers who are amplifying it. From a competitive perspective knowing what is the most popular content your competitor is creating and who is sharing it is a very useful insight to have before you develop your own content or inbound marketing strategy. BuzzSumo covers all the main social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest, and can be used to compare your social sharing versus competitors across all of these. Try BuzzSumo for free to see limited results. Tiered pricing from $79 – $559 per month.
If you’re only interested in gaining insights into competitors’ Twitter activities then you might find Followerwonk useful. The free version can only be used to connect and analyze a single Twitter account. However, the Target version ($29 per month) can be used to analyze up to three profiles while the Multitask version can handle up to 20 profiles. The paid versions enable you to compare follows, followers, losses and gains as well as providing insights into when followers are active and which tweets are the most engaging.
Competitor email marketing analysis tools
Have you ever wondered what email campaigns your competitors are sending? Owletter will monitor your competitors’ email campaigns for you and provide you and your team with access to them through a dedicated inbox. Yes, you could probably do it yourself but the tagging and alerting alone is probably worth the price. Pricing starts from $5 a month.
Competitor e-commerce analysis tools
Prisync is an e-commerce price tracking and monitoring solution that works with common shopping platforms like Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce and Prestashop to compare your prices for product SKUs with those of your competitors. Pricing is tiered, with monitoring for up to 100 products from $49 per month to 5,000 products for $209 per month.
Profitero is a solution that provides e-commerce analytics, including competitor pricing, for both consumer brand owners and their retailers. No pricing provided.
Competera has similar functionality to Profitero, split into brand manager and retailer offering. However, its focus on the branding side seems to be centered on detecting violation of minimum advertised pricing (MAP) by online retailers. No pricing provided.
Outsource your online competitor research
Now you have all the info you need to research and analyze your competitors online. So what’s stopping you? If you’re too busy to do it yourself or would value the input of an experienced and objective third party, please get in touch.
What’s your favorite online competitor research tool?
Finally, let me know in the comments if I’ve omitted your favourite tool or technique. I suspect this article has just brushed the tip of the iceberg!
Photo credit: National Library of Australia