A powerful marketing strategy – whether for redesigning your website, improving its rank, or devising an ad campaign – takes into account your competitors. Competitor information is especially helpful when planning to optimize your website. By learning which companies appear higher in search results, and the relative popularity of your business, you’ll know where to concentrate your efforts.

No matter how unique and awesome your business, the fact is that your customers have many choices. You know about a few competitors, but it’s a sure bet there are others that prospects actively seek out or that are top of mind.

Learning who your competitors are doesn’t need to be a daunting task, and you don’t need to use complex tools. You can start with straightforward methods that show which businesses are in demand. Even though I subscribe to SEMrush for in-depth competitive analysis, I find that an actual search yields super helpful information that I know is grounded in reality.

The important thing is to begin, to have a starting point for your web marketing strategy.

Here are six tips for quickly pulling together a list of who is popular online:

Mining Google’s search features

The quickest way to make your list is to look at the clues that Google gives you: in Google Suggest, Google Maps, inside the Knowledge Graph, Related Searches, and Google Trends. Google supplies a ton of information that you can mine.

1. Google Suggest: As you type in the search bar Google’s attempts to auto-complete can be revealing, especially when making comparisons. For example, when comparing Gold’s Gym, simply by typing as far as “vs,” you can see what people commonly search for – how it stacks up against LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, and Crunch:

 

Compare using Google Suggest

 

2. Google Maps: Google knows that most of the time people are searching for services and products nearby. You can learn which businesses are in most demand, by searching for your service in each neighboring town. Google’s map displays the top three (Bing and Yahoo also have map listings). If I practiced divorce law in Kensington I would want my business to appear in the map listing. These are the three law firms to beat for divorce lawyer Kensington:

Google maps 3-pack

3. Knowledge Graph: When you search for a business by name, if Google has enough information about it then details are shown in a large box to the right of the search results. Within this Knowledge Graph there is often a list of businesses that “People also search for.”

The Knowledge Graph for this real estate broker provides a picture of the other local brokers that “people also search for.” Google supplies this information to help people explore options that it deems useful, so use it to your advantage:

Knowledge Graph screenshot

4. Google Related Searches: At the bottom of the search results page Google helpfully shows what else people have searched for. When I looked for “vet near Rockville,” it’s clear that there are a few veterinarians in high demand. If I were a veterinarian I would try to learn why these vets are in related searches, and I would devise a strategy to be so well-known that Google suggests me to pet owners who search for a local vet:

Related searches in Google

5. Google Trends: This is a separate website you can use for keyword research. If your industry has prominent players they will appear as queries, as branded terms that people are seeking out. Clearly, women have their preferences when shopping for cosmetics, as the queries for “cosmetics store” demonstrate:

Google Trends branded queries

6. Google Keyword Search: When was the last time you searched for the top keywords that your customers use? The business market is constantly changing, and search engine algorithms constantly change. See what your prospects see.

I recommend you search by using an incognito tab in your browser, and create a list of the businesses that appears in the first two pages of the search results. I know this is ridiculously low-tech, but it’s valuable information!

How does your company compare?

Using this process, you should now have a list of businesses that are competing for your customers. It can be a bit like finding out that your friend has been dating everybody but you: All kinds of feelings surface – resentment, surprise, denial, maybe anger. Why can’t they see that your company is clearly the best?

Hang on to that list; now that you know who is popular or authoritative, you can investigate why and devise a strategy to guide your marketing efforts.

Janet Chiu, Strategic Team Blog Author

The creatives I work with ask provocative questions about the latest trends in website marketing. Strategic Team is where we work out the answers (and have a little fun).