How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis for Your Business (Plus a Free Template)

Competitive analysis

Keeping an eye on your competitors helps you anticipate shifts in the market, spot new trends and successful tactics, and stay on the cutting edge of what’s working within your niche.

But it’s not enough to just check out your competitors’ social media accounts and subscribe to their email list. You need a strategy behind your efforts to ensure you’re effectively monitoring your competitors on an ongoing basis and updating your view of the competitive landscape as it changes.

Enter the tried-and-true competitive analysis. If you’re not sure what that is or how to do one, you’re in the right place.

This post outlines a method for conducting a competitive analysis that any business can use, whether you’re a successful store owner that’s re-evaluating your view of the current market or you’re just getting ready to launch your business for the very first time.

Below, we’ll show you the tools you need to research the competition and help you identify what to make note of (e.g., social/search presence, pricing, etc.). We’ve even included a free template you can follow along with and fill out while conducting your own competitive analysis.

Free: Competitive Analysis Template

By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, you can begin to formulate how to give your company an advantage. Download our free competitive analysis template and gain an edge over the competition.

What is a competitive analysis?

First things first: let’s get on the same page about what a competitive analysis is.

A competitive analysis is a comparison of competitors’ strategies used to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different marketing approaches within an industry. It helps a business determine potential advantages and barriers within a market around a product or service and generally helps brands monitor how direct and indirect competitors are executing tactics like marketing, pricing, and distribution. 

Competitive analysis example: what does one look like?

The competitive analysis can vary widely depending on what it is you’re trying to learn about your competitors. You might do a competitive analysis around a specific aspect—like a competitor’s website approach, for example—or you might do a high-level look at their marketing approach as a whole.

There are a lot of different ways you can structure a competitive analysis, so let’s look at the different types of information that are frequently seen within this type of research.

If you’re doing a high-level competitive analysis, there are a few major elements you’ll want to be sure to include around around competitors’ market positioning, such as:

  • Who their target customers are
  • What their main differentiator/unique value add is for their business and products
  • Key features/benefits they highlight in sales materials
  • Price points for products across a variety of marketplaces 
  • How they approach shipping
  • Whether they’ve received any funding or venture capital

These sections will help you get a zoomed out look at what separates your competitors from each other and how they’re working to differentiate themselves from competition within your niche.

If you’re wanting to look at more specific elements of your competitors’ approaches, you might consider adding sections like these to your competitive analysis:

  • Website features ( search tools, product images, design/layout, etc.)
  • Customer experience elements ( checkout workflows, customer support, mobile UX, etc.)
  • Copywriting tactics (product descriptions, calls to action, etc.)
  • Social media approach (channels used, frequency of posting, engagement, etc.)
  • Content marketing tactics (blog topics, content types, etc.)
  • Marketing tactics (types of promotions, frequency of discounts, etc.)
  • Email marketing approach (Newsletter, abandoned cart emails, promos, etc.)
  • Customer reviews (language used around products, recurring complaints, etc.)

Generally, competitive analysis can take on many shapes and forms depending on what a company wants to evaluate about its competitors—but this gives you a rough idea of what could be included within the different sections.

Why competitive analysis matters for ecommerce

Maybe at this point you’re thinking, “OK, but why does competitive analysis matter for me as a business owner or marketer?”

The main reason this activity is important is because you can’t effectively compete without knowing your competitors—and you can’t differentiate yourself if you don’t know what actually makes you different. 

If you’re starting an ecommerce business, an analysis of competitors helps you to:

  • Make more informed marketing decisions 
  • Identify industry trends
  • Benchmark against competitors
  • Solidify a unique value proposition 
  • Determine pricing (upmarket, down, or mid)
  • Unearth new ways of speaking to customers, or even new customers to speak to
  • Find a gap in the marketing and also ensure there’s a market in the gap

This type of analysis is not just for first-time ecommerce retailers either. A competitive analysis can, and should, be a living document that’s constantly evolving as a company grows and matures over time. 

Maintaining a resource like this is a powerful way to stay on top of how your brand stacks up against the competition right now—but it also can help provide clear direction on how you’ll continue to excel in the future. 

Need an example for reference? Here’s one showing what a competitive analysis might look like:

Competitive analysis template

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How to do a competitive analysis

Once you’re ready to dive into a competitive analysis of your own, follow the steps outlined here to keep your research structured and organized appropriately.

1. Select 7–10 competitors 

To identify relevant competitors to include in your analysis, start with searches on Google, Amazon, and Alexa around your product and business idea. You want a mix of competitors that:

  • Sell similar types of products
  • Have a similar business premise
  • Market to similar and slightly different audience demographics
  • Are both new to the marketplace and more experienced 

To put together a list of diverse competitors that will give you a good look at the competitive landscape that’s not too small and not too large, it’s a good idea to stick with a group of seven to 10 relevant competitors.

2. Create a spreadsheet

As you collect data on this group of competitors, keep it organized within a table or spreadsheet that can easily be shared and updated over time. Within this document, you’ll compare and contrast competitors based on different criteria such as: 

  • Price range
  • Product offerings
  • Social media engagement 
  • Content used for lead generation 
  • First-time visitor offers
  • Other traits that are worth comparing 

3. Determine competitor types

Starting with your list of competitors, begin your spreadsheet by categorizing each one as a primary or secondary competitor. This will help you better determine how they’ll relate to your business.

  1. Direct competitors, or primary competitors, to your business that sell a similar product to a similar audience. Example: Nike and Adidas are primary competitors.
  2. Indirect competitors are secondary competitions that offer a high-end or low-end version of your product to a different audience. Example: Victoria’s Secret and Walmart are secondary competitors.
  3. Tertiary competitors are related brands that may market to the same audience but don’t sell the same products as you or directly compete with you in any way. They may be potential partners or future competitors if they choose to expand their business. Example: Gatorade and Under Armour.

4. Identify your competitors’ positioning

Positioning is the most persuasive marketing tool for a business. Good positioning helps you connect with a target audience and keeps them around longer. It also determines your messaging, values, and overall business strategy. 

This is exactly why understanding your competitors positioning is so important. You can learn how to separate yourself and build a favorable reputation in your customers’ eyes. Differentiation also helps increase brand awareness and justify your prices, which impacts your bottom line.

Analyze these key channels to determine positioning and messaging:

  • Social media
  • Press releases
  • Website copy
  • Events 
  • Interviews
  • Product copy

When identifying your competitors’ positioning, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What story do they express to customers?
  • How do they position their products? 
  • What’s their company description? 
  • How do they describe their unique value proposition

Understand how competitors interact with their followers, customers, employees, partners, and shareholders. If you can pinpoint their communication framework, you’ll be able to position yourself differently and set yourself apart from competitors. 

5. Determine competitive advantage and offerings

Once you understand your competitors’ messaging, take a look at their competitive advantage and offering. Most companies are founded on a competitive advantage or some criteria toward developing their competitive advantage. 

For example, a fashion retailer’s competitive advantage may be high-quality, reasonably priced products and expedited shipping services. An online educator may have 20 years of experience teaching and working in their specific industry. Unique selling propositions like these are not easy to replicate and can drive brand name recognition for a business.

Take time to look at your competitors’ goods and services and compare them to your own. Read online reviews to see why customers choose their company. It could be that they offer similar products at a lower price or have a focus on sustainability. Either way, you’ll want to learn their competitive advantage and figure out how you can offer something better. 

6. Understand how your competitors market their products

Marketing is the secret to the most successful ecommerce stores. A good offering is the cost of entry, but marketing takes you to the top. Unfortunately, most businesses fail to undertake a review of their competitors’ marketing. They assume that everyone is on Instagram, running Facebook ads, and optimizing their site for search. 

And a lot of them are. But understanding how your competitors market their products takes a different perspective. You want to find out what offers they are promoting, how they are building and managing their contact lists, and how they are distributing content online.

Along with the research you’re doing through software and tools, it’s a good idea to get hands-on with your competitive research, too. Assume the role of a potential customer and check out what your competitors are doing in the marketing department. 

You can do this by:

  • Signing up for their newsletters
  • Subscribing to their blogs
  • Following them on social media
  • Abandoning a product in the shopping cart
  • Purchasing a product

As you execute these activities, be sure to document your findings with notes on each tactic you see. By studying their approaches to cart abandonment and looking at how they deliver support via social media (and beyond), you can spot interesting approaches your competition is using to attract more customers and to drive sales.

7. Conduct a SWOT analysis

Consider conducting a SWOT analysis to accompany the data you collect. It’s a competitive analysis framework that lists your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It leans into your competitors’ strengths and compares them to your business to define areas of improvement. 

Strengths and weaknesses focus on the present. They are elements you control and can change over time, including:

  • Reputation
  • Product offering
  • Partnerships 
  • Intellectual property
  • Number of employees
  • Market share
  • Assets

Opportunities and threats are outside your control. You can plan for changes but can’t influence these elements. They include:

  • Competitors’ products 
  • The economy
  • Consumer trends
  • Regulation
  • Market size
  • Market demand

Aim to run a SWOT analysis annually. It helps inform your break-even analysis and keeps tabs on the competitive landscape. You can anticipate problems and make continuous improvements to your business. Should you seek funding, you’ll want to include an updated SWOT analysis in your proposed business plan

Free: SWOT Analysis Template

Get your free SWOT Analysis Template. Use this free PDF to future-proof your business by identifying your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Collect data with these competitive analysis tools

Once you know which competitors you’ll be studying, it’s time to start diving into research and data collection for your competitive analysis. The good news is that today there are many different tools and software available that can make data collection for your competitive analysis simpler, more efficient, and more accurate. 

Let’s look at a few different resources that can help you gather key insights into different aspects of your competition’s marketing approach.

SEO Analysis

  • Ahrefs: checks any URL’s top-performing organic keywords and gets estimated traffic reports around those keywords.
  • Alexa: helps define audience demographics and search rankings.
  • SE Ranking: shows competitors’ paid and organic search performance, strategy, and keywords.

PPC/keyword performance

  • SimilarWeb: gives insights into estimated monthly visits and key traffic sources for a website.
  • SpyFu: helps you research and download the most profitable keywords your competition is using in their PPC campaigns.
  • iSpionage: shows how many keywords competitors are using on Google Ads and which ones they’re targeting, as well as their projected monthly budget.
  • SEMrush: helps identify your competition’s keywords, does a site audit, and analyzes backlinks.
  • WhatRunsWhere: provides data around competitors’ advertising approaches across the internet.

Social media performance

  • RivalIQ: shows how often competitors post across social channels, their average engagement rates, and their most successful content.
  • Followerwonk: provides Twitter insights around follower demographics, key influencers, and performance metrics.
  • Sprout Social: benchmarks around competitors’ social performance across social channels, influencer identification, and reporting.

Email marketing

  • Owletter: analyses changes in sending frequency and spots trends in competitors’ emails.
  • MailCharts: aggregates emails and provides insight into frequency of email sends, subject line tactics, and more.

Content marketing performance

  • BuzzSumo: helps you see the top-performing content for topics and for specific competitors, as well as total social shares.
  • Monitor Backlinks: helps monitor backlinks each time someone references your content, plus that of your competitors.
  • Feedly: aggregates content as it’s published so you can study topics covered by competitors in one place.

Using these resources, start gathering data and dropping it into your competitive analysis spreadsheet so your findings are all stored in a single, organized space.

A competitive analysis template

If you’re not still quite sure how to start laying out your template for a competitive analysis, here’s an example and template you can work from to get the ball rolling. 

Let’s say you sell makeup brushes. You’ll see how you could compare competitors’ approaches (and identify what you could do to stand out):

Competitor 1 (Primary) Competitor 2 (Primary) Competitor 3 (Primary) Competitor 4 (Secondary) Competitor 5 (Secondary)
Company Name Name 1 Name 2 Name 3 Name 4 Name 5
Price Point $15-20 $20-25 $50-80 $10-15 $100+
Target Audience Women ages 18-25 Women ages 18-30 Women ages 18-30 Girls ages 13-18 Women ages 40-65
Market Share 10% 20% 40% 10% 10%
Key competitive advantage Large Instagram following Free shipping year-round Aggressive Facebook ad spending Price Luxury angle
Marketing strategy Newsletter and Instagram ads Newsletter, some social media, retargeting Facebook ads Cheapest on Amazon Magazines, TV, commercials, some social
# of products 75 100 85 525 40

You can add as many sections as you want to your template, but remember to keep your group of primary and secondary competitors limited to seven to 10 so that your frame of reference is highly relevant.

Want a simple competitive analysis template to speed up the process? 

Free: Competitive Analysis Template

By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, you can begin to formulate how to give your company an advantage. Download our free competitive analysis template and gain an edge over the competition.

Pitfalls of competitive analysis in marketing 

Now that you know how to put together a competitive assessment, let’s go over some of the main pitfalls to be aware of that can throw off the insights you’ve gathered.

1. Competitive analysis is not a one-and-done exercise

Never revisiting your original insights (or never updating them, for that matter) can lead to faulty data and poor decisions. Businesses are constantly evolving, so it’s important to remember that keeping an eye on your competitors is an ongoing process—not something you do once and then never again.

2. Confirmation bias is real

As humans, we have a tendency to jump to conclusions around our assumptions. This is called confirmation bias. As you work through your competitive analysis, it’s important to be aware of your initial assumptions and to test them thoroughly rather than leaning on what you “think” is true about your competitors. Let the data inform your decisions rather than letting assumptions take the lead.

3. Data without action is useless

If you’re putting in the work to do a competitive analysis, be sure that you’re acting on the findings rather than letting them gather virtual dust on your computer, buried in an obscure file folder. Make a strategic plan around your findings and execute on the unique angles and marketing tactics that you’ve discovered during this process.

4. Working harder instead of smarter

With so many great resources available that simplify the data collection process around competitive analysis today, putting together a top-notch, highly accurate comparison is easier than ever before. Don’t reinvent the wheel and do things the hard way: make the investment into tools that speed up the process and provide the important insights you need to make informed, data-backed decisions about your business.

5. Starting without a direction

If you’re directionless while putting together your competitive analysis and have no clear end objective, the work will be much, much harder. Before diving into research, define your goal and what you hope to learn about your competition.

6. Not accounting for market timing

When looking at competitor data, be sure to study how companies have grown and progressed over time rather than examining their approaches at a single fixed point. Sometimes information about how your competitors have evolved their tactics can be even more useful than knowing what they did in the early days (or what they’re doing right now).

Competitive analysis: your business edge

Competitive intelligence is key to starting a business. By doing market competition analysis on an ongoing basis, you can always be on top of your competition. You’ll be able to break into new markets, launch new products, and keep tabs on your competitors’ customers—giving you a cutting edge approach to small business that keeps your business or startup agile. 


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Competitive Analysis FAQ

What is the meaning of competitive analysis?

A competitive analysis is the analysis of your competitors and how your business compares. By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, you can begin to formulate how to give your company an advantage.

What is in a competitive analysis?

  • Who a competitor’s target customers are
  • What market share they currently own
  • What their main competitive advantages are
  • Key product features/benefits
  • Price points for products, even across different marketplaces
  • How they do shipping
  • If they’ve received any funding or venture capital

How do you write a competitive analysis?

  1. Choose seven to 10 competitors.
  2. Create a spreadsheet to track your data.
  3. Determine competitor types.
  4. Identifying positioning.
  5. Determine competitive advantage and offering.
  6. Understand how your competition markets themselves.
  7. Conduct a SWOT analysis.

Is SWOT a competitive analysis?

SWOT is a competitive analysis framework that helps gain insight into a current business situation. SWOT represents Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
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