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Competitive intelligence (CI) is the secret weapon of forward-thinking marketers and strategists seeking to accelerate growth. With the help of these free competitive intelligence tools, you can get in on the secret too.
Before we dig into the tools themselves, let's explore why deeper market intelligence, better competitor intelligence and a more comprehensive understanding of trends in your market need to be on your 2020 priority list.
Let's say, as an example, that you are in the software industry - a very crowded and highly competitive space. As a marketer in the software industry, you need to differentiate your solution from hundreds (or thousands) of other software solutions vying for the attention of your prospective customers.
Every day your target audience receives sales pitches and marketing messages for the latest, greatest software designed to save them time and money through automation (just like your software). Competing head to head in this crowded space is both difficult and expensive. We suggest a different approach, differentiate your product or service by understanding what everyone else is doing... and what they're not doing and taking advantage of those missed opportunities.
To quote hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, "Skate to where the puck will be, not where it is now."
Want to browse the most comprehensive list of competitive intelligence data sources, both free and paid? Check out our Complete Guide to Competitor Analysis Research, Data and Information Sources.
Understanding your competitive landscape requires some in-depth market research. Competitive intelligence is a product of market research and competitor research that helps you see gaps (opportunities) and overlap (vulnerabilities) in your market.
"Timely, accurate competitive intelligence can mean the difference between closing a deal versus wishing you did," says Tim Harsch, CEO & Co-Founder, Owler. When you have a process in place for collecting, organizing, analyzing, and sharing competitor information, the quality of your marketing improves, the strategic direction of your business becomes clearer, and your sales team is better equipped to win when faced with competitive sales engagements.
Competitive Intelligence (CI) is the practice of gathering information about one’s competitors in order to identify and assess competitor strategies and anticipate competitor actions.
To get started, you need to assess your competitive landscape and determine a baseline. Fight the urge to focus only on a handful of individual rival companies and/or set an arbitrary target of identifying your "Top 10" competitors.
This may be the approach that come naturally to help quantify the scope of your competitive landscape assessment but it will fail you in the long-term as indirect and emerging competitors fly under your radar.
We recommend you group your competitors into three to six categories. These groups are based on common attributes shared by your competitors. To go back to our example, software companies that have artificial intelligence capabilities could be one group.
Another competitor group could be companies that focus primarily on data aggregation. The key takeaway here is to focus on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the larger group and not just against an individual company.
Your tactics may differ from group to group and that's okay. SimilarWeb's, Jacob Simkovich, stresses the need to "provide your business with a complete all-in-one solution to uncover growth opportunities and deliver the most reliable data on competitors..."
Taking a broad approach when assessing your competitive landscape will provide greater perspective and insight into overall market trends than focusing on the attributes of any one company (or ten).
Once you have identified your competitor groups, ask yourself these three questions and then use the free competitive intelligence tools listed below to start collecting information on your competitors.
When to use it: When you need a quick overview of a competitor and financial information (stock trends, investments, acquisitions).
What it does: Crunchbase aggregates a vast array of company data on things like funding, M&A, leadership, investments, and more. Crunchbase relies on a community of contributors, its venture partner network, and in-house data teams deploying machine learning technologies to provide information on industry trends, investments, and news about global companies—from startups to the Fortune 1000 for millions of users.
In short, the tool is very robust and an excellent resource for starting your competitive intelligence research on individual companies.
Why it's number one: Crunchbase integrates with a number of other tools, including Owler and SimilarWeb, that give you access to additional competitor information from a single dashboard view.
In terms of free competitive intelligence tools, Crunchbase is the most robust solution that you can sign up for today to gain a clear picture of your market positioning compared to you competitors.
Learn more about how to use Crunchbase for competitor analysis with our in-depth guide.
When to use it: When you need to identify who your potential competitors are and how you stack up.
What it does: Owler allows you to view a snapshot of all the key details for your top competitors and compare them to easily identify indirect and emerging competitors in your market.
Owler surfaces stories on your company, competitors, customers, prospects, partners, and vendors keeping you ahead of the game.You can subscribe to daily email alerts on the companies you want to follow and stay up to date on their latest news and announcements.
Why it's number two: Owler pulls in a lot of information on your competitors and even does a brief competitor analysis for you.
Owler uses crowd sourcing to collect information on your competitors (so it's not always accurate) and doesn't integrate with other data sources (like Crunchbase) to provide a comprehensive overview of individual companies.
When to use it: When you want an alternative to Google Alerts for tracking competitor news OR you want to compare social media conversations around your brand against a competitor.
What it does: Talkwalker offers two free tools for competitor tracking. Talkwalker Alerts is an (awesome) alternative to Google Alerts that sends you email alerts for your search terms across news and press, Twitter, blogs, and forum/discussion boards. Talkwalker allows you to capture not just what your competitors are doing and saying but also what is being said about them across multiple channels.
In addition to competitors and your own company, you can set up alerts for industry terms and hot topics to stay up to date on the latest market trends in your industry.
Talkwalker also offers a free social media search tool that lets you track everything from competitor mentions and sentiment to the demographics of the people talking about your competitors on social media.
You can even compare this information against your own company or another competitor with a side-by-side view. This is a great tool for quickly assessing what people are saying about your brand across various social channels and compare it to others in your market.
Why it's number three: Talkwalker takes social media and news monitoring to the next level with access to sentiment analysis and detailed information about conversations taking place online.
These tools won't help you identify your competitors or dig deeper into their activities but you can use Talkwalker to get ahead of your competition and jump into the relevant conversations taking place in your market.
When to use it: When you want to be alerted to key changes on your competitors' websites.
What it does: Visualping lets you set up highly-targeted alerts for changes on your competitors' websites. You can follow changes to dynamic content like news and promotions or more subtle changes like a new page added in the navigation menu to capture and assess changes in your competitors' messaging. This information can ultimately help you predict your competitors' next move based on their previous history.
All users get 62 free checks a month which allows you to track two specific web pages with updates once per day or up to 62 individual pages with updates once per month.
Why it's number four: Over time, tracking changes to your competitors' websites can provide valuable insight into their digital marketing strategy but you won't be able to gather all of these insights on Day One. You have to allow some time for the tracking to detect and alert you to changes which is why this competitive intelligence tool ranks as number four.
🚩 Pro Tip: If you just want to monitor your Top 10 competitors' websites without putting any extra thought into which pages (or where on the page) you want to monitor, look into Deep Dive Duck. With Deep Dive Duck, you can track up to 10 competitor websites and receive weekly email alerts of key changes on 100 web pages per site. You can try them out for 30 days risk-free.
When to use it: When you want to assess your website's performance against your top competitors and craft a plan to optimize it.
What it does: SimilarWeb gives you insight into the performance of your competitors' websites. Does their site receive more traffic than yours? If so, they may be getting more web conversions and sales. Are visitors staying on their website longer than yours? If so, visitors may be finding the information they are looking for on their site but not yours.
SimilarWeb will also tell you the source of incoming traffic, is it organic search terms, referral sites or other sources?
As an added bonus, SimilarWeb provides a sneak peek into your online competitive landscape. The free version of the tool shows you your top five competitors as determined by industry category and their website traffic in comparison to yours. You can use this information to identify weak spots in your own web strategy and work to improve them.
Why it's number five: Understanding how your website is performing in comparison to your top competitors can be helpful information for optimizing your own marketing efforts but it is far from a complete picture of the competitor intelligence you need to collect.
After all, your website is only one (albeit a big one) piece of your competitive marketing strategy.
Take a look at how SEMRush stacks up against full-stack competitive intelligence tools.
When to use it: When you are focused on improving your SEO and organic search traffic and want to understand how you compare to your competition in online search traffic.
What it does: SpyFu, like SimilarWeb, focuses on the performance of your website as part of your overall competitive marketing strategy. This tool more specifically zeros in on keywords, Google Analytics metrics, and even paid ads for your competitors to give you an idea of what they're going after online and what terms are driving traffic to your site.
Using this information, you can add those terms into your own SEO strategy or exclude them if they are not an exact match for your business.
Why it's number six: Tracking your competitors' keywords will help you identify gaps in your own content and give you some ideas for content marketing. Keywords alone will not give you enough information about your competitors to develop actionable insights. They can improve your marketing strategy but that's not competitive intelligence.
As an example, when a prospect asks how your product compares to Competitor X, you wouldn't respond with "Well, according to our website intelligence, they rank higher for the keyword 'market research' and we rank higher for 'competitive intelligence.'"
🚩 Pro Tip: If your focus is keywords and search engine optimization, install the Keywords Everywhere browser extension for Google Chrome. You can pull related terms and search volume on all of your Google searches, analyze individual web pages for keyword density, and build a list of your favorite keywords.
When to use it: When you want to compare your digital advertisements to your competitors, track their promotions and benchmark your designs.
What it does: MOAT captures screenshots of your competitors' digital advertisements and a few other details (like ad dimensions, and dates active) and indexes them for you to search by company. MOAT is a great resource when you need some fresh design ideas or when you just want to compare your designs to your competitors to make sure you have a distinctive and attractive-looking ad that drives click-throughs.
You can also use MOAT to get ideas for promotions to run and when to run them based on your competitors' activity.
Why it's number seven: Similar to keyword and website performance tracking, this tool helps you benchmark and optimize your content - in this case digital advertisements - to compete smarter but in the grand scheme of understanding your competitors better, their digital advertising is a part of their marketing strategy.
When to use it: When you want to be 100%, absolutely sure you're not missing news about your competitors or industry. Even the most minor, seemingly insignificant news.
What it does: Google Alerts is the original solution for monitoring news and hot topics on the internet. As Google continues to catalog and index searchable pages on the Internet, use their alerts tool to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Google Alerts can also be set up to track specific industry terms to help you stay up to date on market trends.
Why it's number 8: Your Google Alerts tend to pull in a lot of "noise" from the Internet. Google does not apply natural language processing (NLP) optimized for competitive intelligence research. For example, a Google alert for "Apple" will not differentiate between the company and the fruit. Not to mention that if you want to search multiple terms or set up a different frequency for alerts, you are signing on to receive multiple emails from Google since there is no consolidation of your alerts.
If you need advanced filtering, consolidated alerts, and more advanced features for storing and sharing information, look into acquiring a competitive intelligence tool.
Individually, each of these free competitive intelligence tools will help you gather a portion of the information you need. To truly understand your market positioning and identify opportunities to grow, you need to do more than just gather information, you need to analyze and share that information.
Apply insights from your own experience and use these insights to assess what it all means for your business. A comprehensive approach to competitive intelligence begins with a defined process for collaborating with the members of your team that have the first-hand knowledge and experiences necessary to support this competitor analysis.
These experiences often identify the "so what's" of your market research and competitors' actions.
These free competitive intelligence tools will get you started collecting competitor information but information collection is only the first step. It is the competitor information you gather and the competitor analysis you perform that ultimately produces the intelligence needed to make better informed decisions for your business.
Looking for more information? Read the 5 Stages of Competitive Intelligence blog series or visit our competitive intelligence resource center to search by resource type, topic or title. You may also be interested in our Competitive Intelligence Tools Buyer's Guide.
Cipher is a full-service competitive strategy and technology firm. We provide world-class consulting services and technology solutions that help our clients gain and maintain a competitive edge.