Competitive research is the backbone of a strong marketing strategy. After all, if you can’t identify your competitors and their marketing tactics, you’ll struggle to differentiate yourself and your product from the crowd.

But how do marketers identify their primary competitors and their strategies? Here is our five-step strategy for how to identify your competitors, research your competition, and channel it into powerful marketing that meets your customers needs.

How to Find Your Competitors

Finding your competitors doesn’t have to be taxing or complicated. The first step to finding your competitors is to differentiate between your direct and indirect competition.

What’s the difference between direct and indirect competitors?

Your direct competitors are companies or publishers who sell or market the same products as your business. Your customers will often evaluate both you and your direct competitors before making a purchase decision or converting. In contrast, your indirect competitors are those companies or publishers that don’t sell or market the same products, but are in competition with your business digitally. They may write the same type of content as you and be competing for the same keywords. In short, they are competing for your customers’ attention.

The secret to learning how to identify your competitors is being able to distinguish between your indirect and direct competition.

As you craft your marketing strategy, you need to be aware of both your indirect and your direct competition. Let’s discuss three ways to identify both your direct and indirect competitors.

How to Identify Direct Competitors

When identifying competitors who are in direct competition to your business, you’ll want to start with your product. A thorough understanding of your product and the value it provides to your audience or customers is crucial to identifying your direct competition.

If you work for a sneaker brand, for example, you are not simply in competition with other sneaker brands. You’re also in competition with large shoe retailers, and any other brands and business that are creating footwear. Only by looking at your product and evaluating its value (you need to know not just that your sneakers cover and protect feet, for example, but also that people might evaluate them for durability, athletic use, and style), will you realize the full scope of your competition.

A few effective techniques for identifying direct competitors:

1. Market Research

Take a look at the market for your product and evaluate which other companies are selling a product that would compete with yours. Talk to your sales team and find out which competitors they see come up often in their sales process. From there, you’ll be able to take a closer look at those companies, their product and marketing efforts, and create strategies to outperform them.

2. Solicit Customer Feedback

Again, your customers are the key to unlocking your direct competitors. Once they’ve decided on your business and product, you can ask them which other businesses/products they were evaluating. Customers often reveal unexpected competitors that aren’t even on your radar.

In addition, during the sales process your sales team can also ask your potential customers which businesses they are considering. If they haven’t decided on your product yet, your team will be able to speak to their needs better if you know which businesses or products they are considering.

3. Check Online Communities on Social Media or Community Forums

In this day and age, your potential customers will often seek out advice and recommendations on social media sites and apps, or on community forums like Quora or Reddit. By investigating the conversations your customers have on these websites, you’ll be able to further identify your competitors.

This is especially true for any marketers speaking to millennial audiences. Research by Deloitte shows that 50% of millennials report that a recommendation from a friend or family member has a high influence on their buying decision. And 27% of both millennials and Gen Z feel an online recommendation from someone in their social media circle has a high influence on their buying decisions.

Depending on your target audience, social media can help as you learn how to identify your competitors.

But enough about your direct competitors. What about the competitors you don’t even know about yet? How do you identify your indirect competitors?

How to Identify Indirect Competitors

Your indirect competitors have just as much influence on your selling process as your direct competitors. In fact, because your indirect competitors are often writing content that competes with yours, they have an even greater effect on potential customers in the early stages of the buyer’s journey. So how do you discover them?

1. Keyword Research

Keyword research is the best way to identify your indirect competition. By conducting a competitive SEO analysis, you can determine which businesses or publishers are competing for space on Google. After all, many of your customers are looking for your products and solutions by typing them into search engines. For today’s marketer, that means that you’re in competition not only with your direct competitors but with every other website competing for keywords important for your business.

If you are currently using an SEO platform or technology, you may find that your SEO technology can help you identify competitors with data and insights. For example, Conductor Searchlight can provide a high-level look at the keywords your direct competition is targeting. It also can tell you which websites are ranking for a keyword important your business. These represent your indirect competitors.

Keyword research can really help you when looking to identify your competitors in business.

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If you’re working manually, check out our guide to scoping out your competition through keyword research, A Step-By-Step Guide to Competitive Analysis.

2. Analyzing Google’s Search Engine Results Page

When it comes down to it, many of your indirect competitors are writing about topics close to your value proposition. If you examine the value proposition of your product, you’ll be able to identify keywords that are central to your product or offering. From there, type the keywords into Google and see who is competing with your content on search engines. Anyone writing content around your value proposition, represents a person, blog, business, publication, or organization that is the indirect competition of your business.

3. Take a Look at Paid Data

If you’ve taken the first two steps on this list, step three should be a breeze. Head into AdWords and scan those keywords that are important to your business. Is there a lot of competition for any of those keywords? If there is, check out which businesses or websites are purchasing ads for those keywords. If websites are paying for paid space on the search engine results page for a keyword, they’re competing with your content for space on Google.

You may find that, as you dive into the paid data, the websites purchasing ads are new competitors you weren’t aware of before. Those also might be known as, say it with me: your indirect competition.

How to Identify Marketing Opportunities Based on Competitor Research

After you’ve identified your competitors, you’ll want to identify marketing opportunities so you can start outperforming them.

Again, at this stage, keyword research can really help you decide where to put your efforts. If your competitors are targeting specific keywords with their content, where is there opportunity to outperform them? Are they implementing a particularly strong keyword strategy? What insights can you glean from that?

Similarly, by looking at your competitor’s social media presence, you can evaluate where they’re focusing their attention and efforts. From there, you can look toward opportunities to either compete with them directly for attention around specific topics or questions, or differentiate your approach by looking for gaps in their content or new angles to approach questions your audience is posing.

Lastly, you can always go back to paid data. If your indirect or direct competitors are putting money behind ads, you can be sure those keywords represent important business initiatives. This will also provide insight into where your competition is placing their efforts and money. From there, it’s up to you to craft marketing strategies to compete.

When it comes to marketing and competition, it is absolutely essential to approach competitive analysis strategically. You have all the tools you need to develop a thorough understanding of your direct and indirect competition, and build a stronger marketing strategy based on that knowledge. So what are you waiting for?

Hey, what kind of blog would we be if we didn’t give you a CTA? To get started analyzing your indirect competition, check out our guide to the SEO competitive analysis.