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Your Take: Do You Conduct Competitive Research?

In my post about checking your stat tracker’s privacy settings, I explained why you want to obfuscate your site’s most valuable data. I also shared one of the competitive research tactics I used several years ago, which was made obsolete (and then relevant) by many tools later on.

One of the big ethical issues I had with it was that I felt bad doing research on my “friends.” (at the time, I’d never met them so I hesitate to call them real friends… they were internet friends :)) My solution was to tell them that I was doing it, that they should lock up their stats, and I’d have to use more conventional means to find out what worked and what didn’t.

Competitive research is a must, regardless of your business, and I feel like it plays an important role in blogging. It’s important to see what works and then try to execute it or out-execute the competition.

But turnabout is fair play. Just as I was researching other sites, others researched Bargaineering. Once tools made it easy to see what a site was ranking well for, you could see every blog come out of the woodwork on terms that I swore were well hidden (there were some long tail ones, like six words, that were surprisingly effective… yep people found those too). It’s all part of the game and, most importantly, you shouldn’t take it personally. It just forces you to adapt and evolve, which is a good thing.

Here’s the key to competitive research, you can’t just study the leaders in your niche. You can start there but you have to be learning from the leaders of as many areas as possible. Try to implement what they do well and bring it home. Use them as inspiration so that you can start leading.

I studied a lot of mommy/family/frugal bloggers to figure out how they kick ass with sweepstakes (and how they have 50,000 fans on Facebook!). They do social well and use social media the way personal finance bloggers used to use search.

Do you conduct competitive research and, if so, how do you to do it?

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In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog ( that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

10 responses to “Your Take: Do You Conduct Competitive Research?”

  1. Ryan Cote says:

    Hey Jim, I definitely do competitive analysis. I’ll use Long Tail Pro to study the metrics of the top 10 for the main keywords I want to target. I also use SEM Rush to study websites in the niche I’m going after to see what keywords they are ranking for, what ADs they are running, etc.

    • Jim says:

      How do you use the information from SEMRush? (I’ve only ever used the free version, never the paid, I have a paid account at ahrefs)

      • Ryan Cote says:

        You get some data with the free account, but it’s limited. With SEM Rush you can see what keywords your competition ranks for top 20 in Google…an estimation of their traffic trends…and what keywords they are bidding on in Adwords, if any. You can also see what sites they compete with in the SERPs. I plan on doing an in-depth review on my blog in the next month or so…along the lines of like what I did with LTP.

  2. Michael says:

    Yes, to an extent, but not as much (or effectively) as I should. I do it mostly just by watching what people are doing and then playing with keyword variants in Google — and checking trends. And, of course, I keep a close eye on keyword referrals — though that’s gotten much harder with Google encrypting pretty much all searches nowadays. Over time, you start to develop a feel for what works and what doesn’t. And yes, I used to troll people’s referral logs, too, though pretty much everyone has those locked up now.

    • Jim says:

      Yeah, I think research on a specific competitors has gotten extremely difficult… those were the days.

      So even though stats are closed and you can’t see first hand what drives the traffic, you can always use your competitor’s activity to guide you. I like to look at the backlinks they are building because oftentimes they will tell you what’s working well based on how they link to themselves in guests posts.

  3. Meg Sylvia says:

    I know what you mean about feeling a bit guilty checking out other people’s stats. The first times I discovered how much info you could find on other sites, I was a little shocked that it was even possible! But I’ve come to realize that it is important to see what others in related industries are up to. And I agree- it’s not an unfair advantage- it’s opportunity that we all have available to us!

    I conduct research with Alexa, Keyword Planner, Followerwonk, and by checking out sites directly and taking notes on interesting strategies and social media. Not to copy others- just to see what it is visitors are really looking for and what they value most.

    • Jim says:

      Here’s another way I “got over” competitive research and feeling that I was stealing something — these are all strategies that have been used before in other industries and they’re accepted as part of business practices. Companies call each other up all the time, pretending to be prospective clients, and seeing what the sales process is like. Seeing if there are parts of it they can integrate into their own process to improve the conversion rate. In that case, the research impacts your competitor because they need to waste time on a “prospect” that will never convert. At least in doing research with tools, you aren’t inconveniencing your competitor!

  4. “It’s all part of the game and, most importantly, you shouldn’t take it personally. It just forces you to adapt and evolve, which is a good thing.” I could not agree more Jim. I do think it’s part of the game, which is part of the reason why you should be doing competitive analysis. I can relate to that feeling of doing research on your web friends, but most (if not all) of them are doing it anyway. I use a number of tools to do my analysis. I have been using LTP some and like what I have seen from that so far.

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