How Do Marketers Identify Primary Competitors?

Passion Digital Passion Digital 30/11/2020 6 minutes

At Passion Digital, we always start every digital marketing programme with research and insight work. Very often our clients are excited to jump in and want to activate a campaign immediately, and we understand that – they have brought us on board to improve their ROI and want to see results as soon as possible.  

However, it’s our job to rein them in – just for a little while – because successful performance marketing is all about having a clear and focused strategy. As research and insight always underpin digital strategy, no matter the channel or size of the programme, in this case we really must insist that you…


Competitor analysis is a crucial first step for any brand, as it allows us to:

  • Understand the category landscape
  • Hone in on important USPs and differentiators
  • Analyse other businesses for content, branding and channel strategy inspiration

In this post I will run through the different kinds of competitor research we carry out, and when you might use each one.

What is Competitor Analysis in Marketing?

Competitor analysis is the process of identifying and evaluating a brand’s main competitors in terms of product, target audience and marketing strategy. This might sound like an easy exercise, but in reality it’s possible to fall down a market research rabbit hole.

1. Business Competitors

When clients think of competitor research, they normally think of their business competitors:

Business competitors are brands competing for the same customers with the same service or product.  

In real-life terms, these are the alternatives to whatever you offer that a customer might consider before making a purchase. They may be listed alongside you in Google or on an aggregator website, or they may be compared with your brand in a ‘10 Best…’ article that aims to help customers choose between brands.

What is an example of a business competitor?

If you are selling cheap holiday packages for families, your business competitors would be other travel companies that also sell cheap holiday packages for families. However, you might also want to include competitors who offer slightly more expensive holiday packages for families; if their proposition is particularly strong they might still be able to persuade your target market to purchase their product instead of yours.

How do you carry out business competitor analysis?

Often clients will already have a clear idea of who their business competitors are, and we always ask for a list when we start a programme. If they don’t know yet, one easy way to start making a list is to look at the top rated companies in your business category on Trustpilot.

The businesses at the top of the list are your most important business competitors, as – based on their review rating – they are the most popular with your target audience.

  • A simple messaging strategy comparison is always a good place to start. Take a look at their home pages and analyse what they say and how they say it. Do they have reviews front and centre? Do they focus on price, quality, eco credentials or luxury? How does their presentation of the product compare to yours?
  • To delve into their paid social activity, Facebook’s Ad Library is a useful free tool that allows you to view the ads that any brand is currently running on Facebook and Instagram.
  • BuzzSumo has a good range of tools to assess the success of a competitor’s content and its viral spread.


What is business competitor analysis good for?

  • Understanding your own USPs and how they help you to stand out from the crowd
  • Informing your digital strategy across all channels
  • Further content research, such as a competitor content audit
  • Further social research, such as a competitor social audit and social listening
  • Creating lookalike audiences for paid social ads

2. Search Competitors

Another key factor that you will probably want to consider are your search competitors.

Search competitors are websites ranking for the same set of key phrases and competing for the same traffic.

Although from a paid search perspective your business competitors are likely to be bidding on the same keywords as you are, from an organic search perspective there is no guarantee that your competitor list will look the same. Any website has the potential to rank above you in search engines – it could be a business selling a different service, a blog giving advice on a certain topic, news platforms, social media pages, review sites – the list goes on.

What is an example of a search competitor?

If you are an estate agent wanting to rank for a key phrase like ‘three-bed houses to rent in Clapham’, your search competitors won’t just include other estate agents. It’s likely that aggregator websites such as Zoopla and RightMove will occupy the top positions in Google. It’s also possible that content pieces – such as a newspaper article about “the best locations in Clapham to buy a three-bed house” – may rank above you and can be seen as a search competitor.


How do you carry out search competitor analysis?

There are many SEO tools that may help you to gain insight into your search competitors, including SISTRIX, SEMrush and Ahrefs.

The following competitive positioning map from SEMrush, for example, is based on Passion Digital’s search performance. We’re in yellow, and we’re not doing too badly when compared with our competition – thanks to the expert efforts of our talented SEO team. 😉

What is search competitor analysis good for?

  • Informing your SEO and PPC strategies
  • Identifying your top organic search competitors and understanding where you can make short term and long term gains
  • Further SEO research, such as a competitor backlink audit and keyword gap analysis
  • Assessing what competitors might be spending on PPC and how you would rank against them with your budget

3. Brand Competitors

The third type of competitor analysis I want to mention is what I am calling “brand competitors”, or businesses that embody the same ethos or look and feel as you do to talk to a similar audience, but aren’t direct business competitors.

Brand competitors are entities that don’t necessarily sell the same product as you but use a similar brand proposition to appeal to your target audience.

They don’t have to be businesses at all – they could be magazines or groups on sites like Facebook, Mumsnet or Reddit. What’s important is that they’re saying the same kind of thing that you want to say, in a way that appeals to the same kind of people you want to reach.

What is an example of a brand competitor?

If you’re a luxury premium alcohol brand looking to appeal to affluent 25-55 year olds, brand competitor research might involve analysing the strategies of other businesses that sell to that demographic. You might look into Bentley’s paid social strategy, for example, or Prada’s organic search performance. Alternatively, if you’re an eco-focused tech startup looking to appeal to London-based millennials, you might analyse the strategy of successful startups like OLIO or HumanForest. You know that you will never directly compete with them, but it’s useful to analyse what works when it comes to targeting your chosen market.

How do you carry out brand competitor analysis?

This is a more exploratory process than the others mentioned above – deciding which brands to look at in the first instance is a case of thinking laterally and googling feverishly.

Once you have a list, you can use the same tools and processes as you did for the other competitor research angles, scrutinising their SEO, PPC, organic social, paid social and content activity.

What is brand competitor analysis good for?

  • Informing your digital strategy, especially if you’re a new brand or if you sell a disruptive product/service that doesn’t have any direct business competitors
  • Shaping your tone of voice and branding
  • Inspiring your blogging and social content

This exercise is more about getting inspiration than it is about targeting competitors and planning to overtake them.


Looking for Digital Strategy Guidance? We Can Help!

Whether you’re a new brand looking for a launch strategy or a mature household name in need of some fresh thinking, we can help. Our strategic thinkers can help you to identify, analyse and create a plan to beat your competitors, while our channel experts can execute that plan with a firm focus always on ROI.

Everything we do, we do with passion. Get in touch to start your digital marketing journey today.