SaaS Competitive Analysis 101: How To Outplay Your Startup’s Competitors

Here’s how you can establish an edge and stay one step ahead of your SaaS startup’s competitors by conducting competitive analysis.

There’s a huge amount of data about your competitors available to you. The same data is available about you to your competitors. All this competitive intelligence exists now and is likely used against you in some shape or form.

And this knowledge is power. Especially in the hyper-competitive SaaS startup industry.

What is the competitive analysis?

Competitive analysis is the research you do in order to dissect, learn more about and asses the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors.

It can help you be on top of the game and gain a competitive advantage in your industry. It can help you out-hustle, out-think and out-play your competition.

  • Are you starting a SaaS and want to do some good startup marketing?
  • Is your traffic declining and you want to better promote your blog?
  • Are you stuck for great campaign and content ideas?
  • Want to take over that first spot on Google’s search results?

Competitive analysis can help you uncover the best moves of your competition which you then can improve on to beat them. The process goes something like this:

  • You take a look at your competitors and reverse-engineer their strategy
  • You get to understand what they’re doing and what their approach is
  • See how big a threat they are to your business
  • Identify what’s going well for them and what resonates with their audience. Chances are that these tactics will work well for your audience too
  • Identify gaps and areas where you need to improve and how best to position yourself
  • Get inspired from, imitate or even “steal” their best ideas to refresh your own strategy and boost your own business

Here’s how to outplay your startup’s competitors using SaaS competitive analysis.

Make a list of your competitors

You know who your competitors are, don’t you? Have you determined the best companies in your niche?

Cannot think of any competitors? Simply go to Google and search for your niche or a relevant keyword phrase for what you’re building.

You will get a list of sites that Google thinks are the most valuable within that industry. These are your competitors.

Action points:

  • Define your startup’s industry
  • Write down the list of your competitors
  • Pick the first one you want to take a closer look at
  • Go ahead using some of the “spy” tools in this guide to gather the information

You can learn a lot by exploring their website

Search the name of your competitor on Google and check out their official website. What you look for will depend on your industry but some things to explore:

  • What’s their hero image and the unique selling proposition?
  • What features and benefits do they focus on the most?
  • How do you sign up to their services or product? Do they offer a free trial? Do they require a demo call?
  • What tone of voice do they use?
  • What kind of multimedia do they use to present themselves?
  • Do they collect leads in any way?
  • What type of content do they publish (blog posts, webinars, podcasts, downloadable reports)?
  • Which events or other activities do they promote?
  • What contact methods do they provide?

These will all give you a nice overview of what the company stands for, what they focus on, how they communicate and what steps they take in order to convert their website traffic into business.

Get the traffic stats and referral sources

Now it’s time to look a bit deeper. Let’s get under the hood of the website of your SaaS startup competitors:

Look up their website on Similar Web (freemium). Everything that I list below you can get using the free version:

  • Traffic estimation numbers including the total number of visits, average visit duration, pages per visit and the bounce rate
  • Traffic sources and top referral sites
  • How much traffic they get from social media and how this is split between the different social media platforms
  • The traffic they get from search engines including the keyword phrases that they rank for
  • See if they use search engine paid marketing and keywords they bid for
  • The countries their visitors are from

Very valuable information, don’t you think? From this you will know a great deal about their marketing and promotional strategy. How do they drive traffic, what works well and not so well.

Get registration details for their domain name

Look them up on Whois (free tool) to learn the history behind their domain name:

  • When the domain name was first registered
  • When it was last renewed and when it’s about to expire
  • Who registered the domain name
  • Which company was used to register the domain
  • The contact info of the person who registered the domain name. You can also find email addresses of team members using Hunter or Norbert.

Learn about other sites they own

Look them up on Spyonweb (free tool) to get:

  • A list of other websites that are hosted on the same IP address
  • A list of other websites that share the same Google Analytics account

This can sometimes uncover more details in case it’s not too clear who runs or owns the site.

Get the full list of pages and posts they have published

Type “site:theirdomainname.com” into Google for the number of content pieces published on the domain name that Google has a record of.

Check the performance of their website

Look them up on Website Grader (free tool) to check the performance of their site. Good alternatives are Google’s own PageSpeed Insights (free tool) and Mobile-Friendly Test (free tool).

  • How quickly does the website load
  • Is their blog design mobile responsive and optimized for mobile devices
  • How SEO-friendly and optimized is the website on the technical level

Discover tools and apps in their technology stack

Look them up on BuiltWith (free tool) or Wappalyzer (freemium) to discover which technology they use in their stack:

  • Which CMS or blogging platform they use to build and run their site
  • Which web analytics, heatmap and visitor recording platforms do they use
  • Which advertising technology do they use
  • Which tools do they use for pop-ups and lead collection
  • Which live chat plugins do they use

Uncover the history and progress of their site

Look them up on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (free tool). It allows you to see the archived versions of their site.

This is useful to get a better overview of their progress. You can for instance take a look at what messaging they used and tested at the different stages of their history.

A look at the team and the funding

Most businesses will list these somewhere on their site such as the “Team” or “Careers” page. You should also look them up on Crunchbase and AngelList. For crowdfunding take a look at Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

  • Look at the team behind the company
  • What’s the size of the team?
  • Who are the advisors?
  • What’s the amount of funding they have raised and their valuation
  • What jobs are they currently hiring for?

This gives you insight into where the company is in terms of the size of their operation and even helps you estimate their revenue. Gives you ideas about where they are going and what their goals might be.

A look at their customers and online reviews

One way to start this is to figure out which and how many customers they highlight on their site. Many brands publish client case studies, testimonials or simply list some of the customers they are most proud of.

  • Look them up on review sites such as Capterra and G2 Crowd to explore the customers’ reviews for any interesting detail you can find.
  • Look them up on Siftery for not only customer reviews but also for a list of companies that use their products.

Be careful of fake reviews but despite those this gives you an idea of how quickly they are adding new customers, how happy those customers are with the product and what market share they hold.

Monitor the brand mentions online

Setup email alerts on Google Alerts (free tool) so you can monitor the mentions the brand gets online. This will get you notified if the company is in the news or if someone else talks about the brand on the web.

This helps you discover how well they’re doing in terms of marketing and PR and gives you insights into their communication and media strategy.

Learn about their email marketing strategy

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways of selling online. It’s likely that your competitors use email marketing so you should learn about how they do it. Explore these areas:

  • What ways do they try to get their site visitors to sign up to their mailing list
  • What types of pop-ups and other calls-to-action to they use?
  • What copy or offer do they use to entice people to subscribe?

You should sign up for their newsletter too:

  • This allows you to get regular updates which helps you follow their progress and learn how they’re communicating with their audience
  • Subscribing is also useful to learn what they focus on in their “welcome email”
  • Learn the frequency they send the mailers on and on what days of the week or times of the month
  • What type of other irregular communication do they send out
  • You can learn and get inspired by their subject lines, copy, email template and the CTA’s.

Analyze their blog and content strategy

A blog is usually one of the biggest organic drivers of traffic for any website. Blog posts are valuable content pieces that get shared on social media and ranked in search engines.

Subscribe to their blog via email or by using Feedly (freemium). Brands normally post a wide variety of content on their blogs which helps you follow what they are up to and learn from what they do:

  • Some post customer case studies
  • Some post new product announcements
  • Some are very transparent and share many of their strategies, lessons and even revenue
  • Some analyze data they have access to and post reports and industry trends

Learn which of their content is shared the most

One of the easiest ways to come up with new and brilliant article ideas is to monitor your competitors.

And one of the best ways to judge the quality of their content is to see if and which of their articles are shared the most in social media. If people are sharing their content, it shows that there is an interest and demand for this idea.

  • Look up your competitor on Buzzsumo (freemium) to search for and identify their most shared content across the different social platforms. You can even get a list of people who have shared the content. A good alternative is SharedCount which gives you the number of social media shares for specific URLs.
  • Look up your competitor on Reddit by visiting this URL https://old.reddit.com/domain/tesla.com/top/?sort=top&t=all and changing the bold part with their domain name. It not only lets you see which content of your competitors is shared the most but you can also see which subreddits are interested in that type of content and check out the comments from Reddit users.
  • How about if your competitor uses bit.ly links in social media? Just add a “+” sign at the end of any bit.ly URL that they share and you’ll get the click stats for that link. If the bit.ly link they shared is https://bitly.com/2zY9OoD, you would visit https://bitly.com/2zY9OoD+ to see all the click stats. The same trick works for Goo.gl, Smarturl.it and other shorteners.

Analyze their social media followers and influence

Analyze their Twitter account to uncover fake followers using Fake Followers Audit (free tool) and see their true influence using SparkScore (free tool).

Their social media posts can give you great insight into the company and how they’re doing. Check out all the social profiles they promote on their website and follow them.

If they don’t list their social profiles on the website, simply search for them on the individual networks. Then keep an eye on:

  • The content they post, when they post it and in what frequency
  • What type of content and media they post
  • What content gets the most engagement
  • Are they engaging with their audience and do they respond to questions
  • Learn and get inspired by their content

I usually don’t put too much emphasis on the total number of followers as that is easier to game but focus more on their engagement rate.

Engagement rate shows the percentage of their total audience who actually engage with the content they publish. You sum up all the engagement you see on a post and divide it with the total number of followers.

SEO: Traffic from search engines and backlinks

Google is still the top traffic referral source for the majority of websites. And Google traffic is especially valuable because of the purchase intent of the searchers.

Google users normally find you because they are searching for an answer or a solution to a problem they have.

If you’re the right service or product for that issue they may just as well buy. This is why search traffic is important and why you should learn how your SEO benchmarks to your competitors.

Backlinks are one of the top factors in getting your site to rank higher in search results. If you know who’s linking to your competitors it might help discover new opportunities and get the same sites to link back to you too. Like this:

  • Search for your targeted keyword on SERP Checker (freemium tool). It can give you some quick insights as it lists which of your competitors top of Google for the searched phrase. It also gives you several extra metrics such as their domain authority, the number of links pointing back to them and the number of social media shares.
  • Now that you know who ranks the best, you can search for their domain name on LinkMiner (freemium tool). It gives you a list of backlinks pointing to the site. You can rank and filter these by several options such as dofollow links only or links with the highest number of Facebook shares. This is a list of sites you may try to reach out to and establish a relationship with.

Moz and SEMRush are two of the best premium tools with free accounts but there is a big variety of SEO tools out there and Cyrus Shepard has a great list of free options.

Here’s a couple of other ways you can use SEO tools in your startup competitive analysis:

Content your competitors rank for that you don’t

Identify your content gap to be inspired for ideas to create content about. Content gap is the list of topics that your competitors rank for in search and that you don’t.

This can give you a great list of content ideas you should try to publish content about in order to boost your search traffic.

Websites that link to your competitors but don’t link to you

Identify the link intersect. It basically helps you find websites that link to one or more of your competitors but don’t link to you.

These are sources which you should aim to reach out to as it’s likely that they would be open to link to you too or to allow you to guest post or to syndicate your content on. All this is useful to boost your blog SEO.

What’s their paid search engine marketing strategy

Look up your competitor on SpyFu (freemium) to learn about their search engine paid marketing:

  • See how much traffic they get from search engines
  • What percentage of their search traffic they’re paying for
  • How many keywords are they bidding for
  • How big budget do they spend on search pay-per-click advertising
  • See the list of the ads they’re posting

What’s their paid social media advertising strategy

Look up your competitor on Facebook and Twitter to learn about their social media paid advertising campaigns:

  • See the list of all Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and Twitter paid ads that they run
  • Learn and get inspired by the copy, headlines and the media that they use
  • Explore the landing page they drive the social paid traffic to

Here’s how to see Facebook and Instagram ads:

  • On any Facebook page, click on the “Info and Ads” tab
  • There you can see all the ads that brand is running across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Audience Network
  • You can select to see a specific location and ads targeting that location only
  • There you can a news feed that includes all the individual ads
  • You can also see additional context such as the date that the page was created and if the page had any name changes over time

Here’s how to see Twitter ads:

  • Go to Twitter’s Ads Transparency Center
  • Use the search box in the top right to search for the Twitter profile you’d like to see the ads from
  • You will see a timeline of all the ads that profile has run over the last seven days
  • You can see all the ads, the engagement numbers and click-through to the original ad tweet

Time to start working towards reaching and beating your competition

You can use these tactics and spy tools to do a great competitive analysis. What are strengths and weaknesses of your SaaS competitors? What are they doing well that you can learn from?

Now you are prepared to create your new plan of action and start working towards reaching and beating your competition.

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