It’s perhaps one of the scariest things in business:
A competitor appears out of nowhere and steals all your customers.
While it may seem like the competition popped up overnight, it is much more likely that they have been under your nose the whole time…
…You just couldn’t see them.
Keeping an eye on your competitors is vital.
But how can you do that if you don’t know who your competitors are?
The first step is identifying your competitors. And today I am going to show you how to do just that.
And the best part?
It won’t cost you a cent. Yep, you can identify your competition using any one of the free methods outlined below:
- The four types of competitors
- Before you start identifying your competitors
- Introduction to identifying your competitors
- Identifying your online competitors
- Identifying your local competitors
- Identifying your competitors who don’t have a website
- Identifying your competitors who don’t run a business
- identifying your keyword competitors
- Identifying your startup competitors
- Identifying your competitors that don’t exist…Yet
Your Four types of competitors
Before we begin identifying who your competition is, it’s important to know why they are your competitor.
A competitor is anything that competes with your business for sales. Typically, a competitor will fall into one of four distinct categories:
1. Direct Competitors
Similar products/service and targets the same customer
To put it simply, Direct competitors sell the same product or service as you and sell to the same customer. If a customer was to buy from your competitor, they would not buy from you, which means you lose out on a sale.
Examples of direct competitors:
- Apples iPhone and Android phones.
- Burger King and Mcdonalds
- Toyota and Nissan
- Coco Cola and Pepsi
- Lyft and Uber
- Bank of America and Wells Fargo
2. Indirect Competitors
Different products/service and targets the same customer
Indirect competitors sell a product that you don’t offer but it still fills the same need as your product. As a result, an indirect competitor targets the same customer.
To an extent, Indirect competition also include massive retailers like Walmart and Target that sell multiple items.
Examples of Indirect Competitors
- Hilton and Airbnb
- Laptop and desktop computers
- Taxis and public transport
- Soda and chocolate milk
- Fitness equipment and Gym memberships
- Movie theaters and streaming
3. Replacement Competitors
Sometimes referred to as phantom competitors, a replacement competitor is a product or service that your customer might spend money on instead of buying what you offer.
Example: A restaurant is a great way to “spend a night out”. However, it’s not the only way to spend a night out. You could also go to the cinema, theater, concert, museum, etc.
While each one of these offers a very different service to a restaurant.
4. Keyword Competitors
Thanks to the internet, there is a new competitor you have to watch out for. And if you have your own website, this keyword competitors are essential to identify.
A keyword competitor appears for the same keywords you are targeting in Google and other search engines.
Example: Let’s say your business sells organic wooden baby cribs. You would like to appear when someone types Organic Wooden Baby Cribs into Google. However, there are also blogs who would also like to appear for this keyword.
While a blog does not sell wooden baby cribs, the fact that they are targeting the same keyword makes them a competitor you need to consider.
One last thing before we start identifying your competitors
Today you are going to find a lot of competitors. And if you are not organized, it can be difficult to keep track of them all…
…That’s where a spreadsheet comes in.
Spreadsheets are essential when it comes to organizing any data that you collect.
Below is an example of using a spreadsheet to list your competitors.
I like to add a score next to each competitor that indicates how much of a threat they are to my business, so at a glance I can remember who my biggest competitors are.
It might seem simple, but your future-self will thank you when you refer back to a nicely organized list.
You don’t need to include much more information than that. After all, this step is about identifying your competition. You will take a much more detailed look at these businesses when you perform competitor analysis.
So now it’s time to fill your spreadsheet up with your competition. Here’s how to do just that:
Introduction to identifying your competitors
It used to be that your biggest competitors existed in your local area. A similar business ten towns over wasn’t a threat because most customers wouldn’t drive that far if a similar business existed that was closer…
…Then along came the internet.
And now you’re your competitors are not simply on the other side of the country, they may even be on the other side of the world.
Yep, your competitors really are everywhere.
Locating and analyzing your competitors can give you a much greater understanding of where your business sits and what you need to do to stay ahead.
Are you ready to identify your competition?
Then let’s begin…
How to Identify your online competitors
The first way to find online competitors is to use a simple Google Search.
This method is a little bit more time consuming than other methods I will go over, but it is free. Perfect for those of you on a budget.
If you are happy to pay for a solution, click here to jump down to the next section.
Before you start searching, there is just one thing to do:
Turn off your adblocker!
I know advertisements are annoying, but being able to view them will make it so much easier to identify your competitors.
So now all that is left to do is start searching for phrases related to your business.
For this example I am going to search for competition for my dairy free chocolate business.
So the first thing I do is head over to Google and type in my search term:
And the search results that Google thinks are most relevant to that topic will appear.
But before you get to those, you will be greeted with Google’s advertising:
It is worth mentioning that any business that appears here has paid money for the privilege. These are obvious competitors you want to add to your list.
The next step is to go through the search results to find more competitors. I like to go through the first 10 pages of Google.
But don’t panic just yet, most of these won’t be competitors at all. In fact, many websites here will be blogs, news articles and other unrelated websites.
Let’s take a look at my search results for Dairy free chocolate:
While seven of these are businesses that I could list as competitors, three of them are merely blogs that provide dairy free chocolate recipes.
And as I continue through the 10 pages, more and more recipes come up. In fact, out of the 100 possible websites, only 17 of them were competitors.
Since it’s easy to waste a lot of time with this method, the focus is on being quick…
…Simply click each website in the search results and view the first page that comes up. This should be more than enough to determine whether or not that website is a competitor. Then click the back button and repeat.
Now if you are in a narrow niche with not a whole lot of competition then that may be enough. However, if you sell multiple products or services then you will need to do all that again with your specific search terms.
If you cannot find any competitors using this method then it may mean you need to adjust your search. Here are some modifiers to get you started. Simply replace [product] with the product or service you are using to find competitors.
- Buy [Product]
- [Product] Store
- [Product] Online
- Cheap [product]
- [Product] Review
If that’s not enough, at the bottom of the page Google will show you suggested searches related to this one:
Each of these searches can pinpoint even more competitors.
By now you will identified have more than enough competitors to get started. But just in case you have not, I am going to show you other ways you can identify your online competition.
Identifying online competitors using Google shopping
If you sell products then Google Shopping is an amazing way to identify even more of your competition.
To access google shopping, simply click the shopping link when performing a google search.
You will be taken to a new page that only shows products that match that searches criteria:
In the sidebar you there are different options you can use to refine your search. If you scroll down to the bottom, you will be able to filter the search by sellers:
And just like that you have identified a bunch of competitors. Add them to your list.
At the bottom of the page you will see a list of searches relating to your current search. Click each of these, more often than not, more competitors will appear!
How to identify your local competitors
Maybe your business is a bookstore or café. Or maybe It’s a plumber or maid service…
…Some businesses do not target the entire nation.
Instead they focus on a local community to sell their service or products.
If this is the case, you may find the businesses that appear in Google Search are not your immediate competition.
Fortunately, I have a fantastic method you can use to identify local competitors in your area!
Find competitors in your area with Google Maps
If you are opening a bricks and mortar store in your neighborhood, then Google maps is a fantastic way to analyze your competitors.
Google will proceed to add markers to a map to show you where you’re your competitors are located. From here you will be able to view pictures of your competitors store, opening hours, address, reviews and more.
How to use Maps for competitor analysis
Here is the step by step process for using Google Maps to analyze the competition in a local area
1. Open Google Maps
In your web browser, visit Google Maps. You will be presented with a Map of the world.
At the top of the screen you will see a search bar.
It is here that you need to enter two pieces of information.
- The area in which you are going to open your store.
- The type of store you want to open.
For this example, I am going to open up a book store in Bakersfield, CA.
In the search bar I would enter Bakersfield bookstore and click the magnifying glass to search.
Google Maps will then display markers on a map to indicate all the book stores in the area.
Each one of these markers represents a competing book store. By analyzing the map, I can see just how many competing book stores are in the area and how close to one another they are located:
On the left hand side of the screen you will see all the business name of all bookstores in presented in a list with their physical address and Google review star rating (if any).
But not all of the bookstores on this list will be competitors…
A quick glance at the names indicates that there is a wide variety of businesses. One bookstore focuses on comics, another also offers records and movies while others only offer religious books or college textbooks.
Depending on the books I decide to stock, only some of these stores are potentially future competitors.
The only downside to the Google maps method is that it relies on your competition creating a listing to appear there. The next section focuses on how to locate your competitors who are not online…
How to find Competitors who don’t have a website?
Now I know what you are thinking here:
How many business in 2021 don’t have an online presence?
It may surprise you to learn:
Here are just a few of the reasons why your competition might not have a website:
- Mom and pop stores who don’t know any better
- Rely solely on foot traffic for their business
- Their target audience does not use the internet.
- Only use traditional marketing methods (flyers, newspaper etc.)
- Built a website once and decided it didn’t drive any new traffic, so got rid of it.
- Are already the market leader and don’t feel a web presence will benefit them.
Fortunately, these businesses are still easy to track down. And it may surprise you to learn that you can still use the internet to find them.
The first place I like to start is yelp.com.
While Yelp is quickly becoming overshadowed by Google Maps, it still plays a very important role in competitor research…
…And the reason for that is that that Yelp adds local businesses to it’s directory whether the business owner wants Yelp to or not. Because of this, Yelp often will reveal local competitors who will not turn up in a Google search.
Just by performing the same search as I did in Google Maps, I was able to locate five extra competing bookstores:
Next there is just one last place I like to look, the phone directory.
In the old days I would have made you pull out that heavy monstrosity that is your local phone book…
…But those days are long gone. Now you can browse any phone directory online.
Simply head on over to Yellow Pages and do another search for your business in your local area.
Yellow pages helped me identify a further three competitors I that I did now know about.
Now all that’s left to do is combine all the competitors you found on Google Maps, Yelp and Yellow Pages into a single list. You know have a list of every one of your competitors in the area.
Identifying competitors that don’t actually run a business
Believe it or not, some of your competition doesn’t even operate as a business.
The internet has made it so simple to sell a product or service, that even someone without any business sense can do it…
…And they do!
Thanks to the help of online marketplaces, anyone with knowledge in a particular topic can make money out of it.
Take my grandmother for instance, she sells knit caps that she has made herself on Etsy. She probably doesn’t realize it but she is actually competing with other businesses that also sell knitted head-wear.
So the first thing you need to do is find which online marketplace is home to your amateur competition…
…And this will entirely depend on the business that you operate. Here are just a few of the marketplaces that can hide your competition.
Craigslist – Here you can find all kinds of local services including painters, cleaners, landscapers and more.
Amazon – It may surprise you to learn that most of the products you buy on amazon are not actually from amazon themselves, but rather both individuals and businesses.
Ebay – Another marketplace where individuals and businesses alike can list their wares.
Etsy – A marketplace where people can sell hand made goods.
Handy – Your one stop shop for local plumbers, electricians, handymen and cleaners.
Airbnb – If your business is in accommodation, then any home around you could actually be a competitor.
Upwork – Hire freelance writers, designers, translators and more.
If you are operating a professional business, then the amateurs found on these sites are probably not your biggest threat. But it can still be worthwhile to analyzing the competition here….
…You just might find out it is also worth listing your own business on these online market places too.
Identifying keyword competitors
Appearing first in Google is basically a license to print money…
And any website that sits between you and that coveted number one position is a competitor.
Any competitors that are targeting the exact same keywords as you are your keyword competitors
Now if you have been following this guide so far, then you should already have identified a bunch of keyword competitors.
There’s just one problem:
Googles search results change depending on what is searched for.
Let’s say you sell trail running shoes…
…You would want to appear at the top of Google whenever someone searches for trail running shoes.
In this case, you can see that top result is Runrepeat.com.
But a search for extra wide trail running shoes turns up a completely different result:
Unfortunately, without outside help, identifying all these different keyword combinations to find all of your competitors is nearly impossible.
That’s where SEMrush comes in.
SEMrush is a powerhouse when it comes to both identifying and analyzing competitors and is used by over 100 million SEO professionals around the world.
Identifying all your keyword competitors would otherwise take days. SEMrush allows you to do the same in minutes.
While SEMrush is a paid tool, you can take advantage of their 14 day free trial.
14 days is more than long enough to both identify and analyze your competition. Don’t forget to cancel when you are done!
Now there are two different ways you can use SEMrush to identify your keyword competitors. The first is..
1. Using keywords to identify your competitors
The easiest way to find your competition is to use they main keyword your website is targeting.
For this example I am going to find competitors who appear for leather watch bands.
Simply take your keyword and enter it into semrush.com:
You will then be met with a wide range of charts, graphs and lists… All the juicy information you could ever want to know about this keyword.
We will be using more of this information when performing detailed competitors research. But for the purpose of identifying your competitors, there are just two sets of data here you need to examine…
…The first is the organic search results.
This section shows all the websites that appear in Google for this keyword. Instead of copying and pasting each line into a spreadsheet, SEMrush allows you to export all 100 results at once. Simply click the export button below the list:
And just like that you have downloaded all of your competitors for this keyword…
…But we are not done yet.
If you look back at the top of the screen, you will see the following tabs:
Toggling through the tabs will take you to keyword reports that you can use to find even more competitors.
Click on any keyword in these tab to be taken to the list of competitors that appear when that keyword is searched for and download these to your spreadsheet.
Let’s break the tabs down:
Phrase match – Shows you related keywords which contain you’re the keyword from your search. A Phrase match keyword for leather watch bands could be wide leather watch bands or leather watch bands for women.
Related Keywords – Keywords that are different but have the same meaning as your original search. Related keywords for leather watch bands include leather watch strap and leather watch wristband.
Ads History – These are all the websites that paid to appear for this keyword. These are competitors are worth noting as they may not appear in the keyword report you downloaded.
And just like that you have access to all the websites who are competing for the same keywords.
2. Using your website to identify your keyword competitors
The other way you can use SEMrush.com is to enter your website to view your immediate competitors.
If your website is new, or you don’t have one yet, then you will get better results from entering the website of an established competitor.
Next you will be taken will be shown a report that reveals a whole wealth of information on your competitors website.
Most of this information will be used when performing competitor research. For now there are just two sections you need to focus on…
…And the first the main organic competitors:
Here you can see all the different websites that appear for the same and similar keywords as this one. If this website is your keyword competitor then these other websites almost certainly will be too.
Click the export button to download all of these competitors and add them to your spreadsheet.
It really is that simple. Doing this manually would take hours and SEMrush allows you to do it in seconds.
How to identify startup competitors
The one place that Google falls short is businesses that are yet to release a product. While startups have not yet released a product, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been working on one for many months or even years.
Many startups fail to launch a product and of those that do, many still don’t find the success that they had hopes…
…But that doesn’t mean you should ignore startups as competiton. Startups are made up of savvy entrepreneurs who can scale ridiculously fast and capture market-share at an alarming rate. Examples of this include Warby Parker, who turned how people buying eye-glasses on it’s head. And Uber? Well we all know how that story turned out.
The best way to identify startup competitors is to search venture capital funding sites and sites dedicated to showcasing newly released products.
These sites include:
Identifying startup competitors can be a difficult task. However, the search is well worth it – Especially if you are a startup to who and have a competitor launching the exact same product.
Identifying Competitors that don’t exist… Yet
Finally there is the competition that doesn’t exist yet.
When a new competitor in your industry emerges, don’t just shrug it off. You want to perform the same detailed analysis of the business as you would an existing competitor.
While you might think that there isn’t much to learn from a business in it’s starting stages, think again…
…New businesses see the industry with a fresh set of eyes and may bring new ideas and innovations that did not exist before (like how Uber upended the taxi industry).
You might be thinking:
I don’t have time to keep track of new competitors
Here’s the good news…
…You don’t have to.
By spending just a few minutes, you can be have alerts about competitors delivered straight to your email. And perhaps best of all, it’s free.
I am talking about Google Alerts of course.
Simply set up keywords that you want to track in the text box, set your options and create an alert. You will now be kept up to date every time those keywords are mentioned.
If you have made it this far then you will have a comprehensive list of all of your competitors.
In the next section we will look at how you can analyze these competitors to ensure that your business can stay one step ahead.
If pulling your hair out and mumbling:
I still can’t find any competitors!
Then you have to stop and ask yourself…
A lack of competition is a warning sign that there isn’t a market for your business.
How do you identify your competitors? Let me know in the comments below.