Bricks and mortar stores are recognizing a consistent downward shift in store traffic and sales as more and more consumers opt to purchase products and services online. eCommerce sales in 2016 were estimated to reach $1.9 trillion and that astounding number is expected to increase to over $4 trillion by 2020.

While this may seem like a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs to enter the space, it has created fierce competition. New businesses without a solid base of loyal customers have no choice but to benchmark what other e-tailers are doing to generate traffic and sales.

Benchmarking your competitor’s moves can actually be very beneficial to building your own marketing strategy. Here are a few reasons why you should be keeping tabs on your competitors:

  1. It creates a standard to measure your own performance. Especially for brand new businesses entering the eCommerce market.
  2. By identifying what’s working and what’s not for your competitors, you have the opportunity to improve your own strategy.

Before you start analyzing your competitor’s strategies, it’s important to categorize your competitors. Just because another business sells a similar product, does not indicate that they are a direct or primary competitor to you. These free competitive analysis templates are a great place to start if you’ve never done a structured competitive analysis before. Once you’ve got a solid grasp on the top 5-10 companies you should be benchmarking, use these tools and tips to get ahead and anticipate their next moves:

Follow them on social media

Follow the competitors that sell products to a similar audience that you’re targeting. That way, you can directly compare your competitor’s social media strategy to your own.

  • What types of posts do they share?
  • How long are the image captions or descriptions?
  • What do the images look like?
  • What time are they posting? How often?
  • Do they share resources from third parties, too?
  • Does the link in their profile guide followers to a specific page?

Ensure you don’t miss any posts from your competitors by turning on notifications.

If you happen to be scrolling through Facebook and are presented with one of your competitor’s ads, take a look at the ‘Why am I seeing this?’ feature to see how they’re segmenting. It might give you some insight into how you can modify your own Facebook targeting strategy or it might help you rule out some competitors if you determine that they’re focusing on a different audience.

If you’re worried about the public being able to see you as a follower of your competitors, there are ways to keep tabs of your eCommerce competition without publicly following them. You can create private lists in Twitter which only display a stream of tweets from the accounts you select. If you’d like to peruse specific profiles of your competitor’s employees on LinkedIn, ensure you’re browsing anonymously. Another more private way to keep an eye on your competitor’s social media strategy is to follow their influencers or affiliates.

Social media can be overwhelming. Especially when you’re publishing content to engage your own followers while also keeping tabs on your competitors. Weed out the irrelevant posts by leveraging these tools:

Social media listening & monitoring tools

First, let’s establish the difference between social media listening and social media monitoring.

An article from MarketingProfs shared a thought provoking analogy: “Monitoring sees the trees. Listening sees the forest”. By monitoring your competitor’s presence on social media, you’re recognizing what your competitors are posting while social media listening analyzes their content and overall strategy and provokes action upon your own efforts. Social media listening is the why.

Keep this in mind when seeking a tool to keep tabs on your competitor’s social media presence. Is your goal to merely see what content your competitors are using to drive sales? Or are you looking to recognize patterns and pitfalls in your competitor’s social media strategy that you can incorporate into your own?

Mention

Mention is a social media monitoring tool that uses Boolean queries to cut through the clutter and track mentions on the topics you specify. Not only can you see what types of content your competitors are sharing, you can use it to track their customer service efforts and find their influencers.

Pricing: From $29/month

Rival IQ

Rival IQ is another monitoring tool but has unique features. It allows you to quickly pinpoint content that’s performing well for your competitors and driving engagement. By knowing the types of content that resonates with your personas, you can use this knowledge towards developing your own content marketing strategy.

Pricing: From $199/month +

Talkwalker

Talkwalker is suitable for larger businesses and enterprises. It’s not just a social monitoring tool–it also allows you to track your own campaign performance and create and send reports to your team. Using the Competitive Intelligence IQ App, Talkwalker identifies weaknesses in your competitor’s social presence which can help you capitalize on this knowledge. The tool supports multiple languages and also recognizes the subject of image content.

Pricing: From $8,400/year +

Hootsuite

In a recent study, over 20% of companies surveyed use Hootsuite to manage their social media channels. The tool has a robust listening capability and has a unique integration function. There are over 150 apps you can integrate with Hootsuite to expand the tool’s capabilities. Another benefit to using Hootsuite is that you can instantly publish messages if you recognize a conversation you want to join in on.

Pricing: Free and paid versions from $9.99/month +

Keyword analysis tools

Understanding your competitor’s social media strategy can help you craft your own, but their SEO strategy is also an important effort to benchmark. Use these tools to reveal what keywords they’re targeting and ranking for:

Ahrefs

Boost your own ranking by using Ahrefs. This tool allows you to see every keyword your competitors are ranking for and see into how much organic and paid traffic they’re receiving. You can even see their paid keywords, ad copy, and landing pages. Using the Alerts tool, you can set up notifications for your competitor’s brand mentions and whenever they lose or gain a backlink. You may be able to identify opportunities to get quality backlinks to your own website.

Pricing: From $99/month +

If your company doesn’t have the budget for a tool like Ahrefs, you can opt for a more manual yet free option to analyze backlinks. Type www.yourcompetitorscompanyhere.com into Google. This tactic will bring up some of the websites that link to that domain. The first few pages will probably be results from sites like Wikipedia and select social media platforms, but the further you scroll, you’ll see which third-party sites are linking back to your competitors. This isn’t the most accurate method, but it can give you a general idea of your competitor’s backlink sources.

SEMrush

SEMrush is not just another keyword tool that provides keyword search volume and difficulty. In fact, the company brands themselves as a “competitive data” software platform. Using SEMrush, you can compare your domain with any other domain, side-by-side. It’s a very convenient way to evaluate which keywords you have in common and where you both rank for each. SEMrush also has has a social media and brand monitoring function.

Pricing: From $99/month +

More shortcuts for benchmarking your competitors

These shortcuts require a little more manual effort but can help you customize the type of data you’re looking to collect from your competitors:

Search for keywords

Keep track of your competitor’s keyword ranking by using these methods and tools:

  • View page sources. Choose one of your competitor’s pages and view their page source. Look into their code for keywords in the title tag, meta description, and alt text.
  • Google’s Keyword Planner. Search for keyword ideas but be sure to add your competitor’s site in the “Your landing page” field.
  • Moz’s Rank Tracker. This tool allows you to quickly find out which sites rank for particular keywords. Pricing starts at $99/month.

Subscribe to their blogs

In order to take away actionable insight, ask yourself the following questions about your competitor’s blogging strategy:

  • What keywords do they include in their titles?
  • How often are they publishing?
  • What offers are they promoting in their content?
  • How long are the articles?
  • Do people comment on the posts?
  • What makes the blogs unique?

Purchase from them

See what their conversion process is like by buying an item from your competitor’s site. If purchasing their products isn’t feasible, download their content. This should still allow you to gauge your competitor’s conversion strategy and get ideas for improving your own conversion rates.

Audit their content marketing strategy

To survive in today’s competitive eCommerce market, it’s not enough to skim over the latest titles from your competitors. Read through their content to really understand their strategy. What format do they use in their content? What type of language do they use? Which buzzwords do they include? Is it clear which audience they’re speaking to? Who contributes to their blog?

To get a truly comprehensive picture of your competitor’s strategy and anticipate their next moves is complex. There aren’t really any shortcuts; it takes time and effort to keep tabs on your eCommerce competition. Work with an expert to audit your competitor’s content marketing strategy and create a comprehensive approach to boost your own eCommerce performance.