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The SEO tool you are using is NOT giving you competitive intelligence. At least, it isn't giving you competitive intelligence adequate for your company's needs in today's competitive landscape.

Sure, you should be using an SEO tool of some sort to track the keywords your competitors are using and maximize your own search rankings. That's all fine and good and probably necessary but it's not a substitute for competitive intelligence software.

Knowledge360 Company Dashboard

I kind of have to laugh when anyone claims that these SEO tools provide their users with "competitive intelligence." And if you think you can check the competitive intelligence box because you're using a keyword tracking tool...

...I have some bad news.

Thought experiment:

  • What keywords should the New York Taxi Workers Alliance been tracking to prepare for Uber and other ride-sharing companies?
  • Would ranking more highly for any keywords have helped them?

Yes, your competitors are online, they are also operating offline in "the real world." They have employees. They have physical offices and maybe stores. They have salespeople talking to customers. They (like you) are affected by macroeconomic trends, new governmental regulations, changes in consumer preferences, etc.

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Tracking and understanding ALL these relevant data points is necessary for effective competitive analysis.

A Competitive Strategy is More Than a Sheet with Keywords

There is so much more to competitive intelligence than keyword tracking. If your competitive strategy is limited to one set of data points (e.g., keyword tracking), you are likely putting your company at risk.

Imagine driving a car, but the only external input you allow yourself is the speedometer. That's what companies do when they allow a keyword tracking tool to be their sole source of competitive intelligence.

Now, a speedometer is an important (and even critical) tool for safe and effective driving. But while you are driving, you'd also want to check your rear-view mirror and side mirrors to stay aware of what the other cars around you are doing. You'd pay attention to the signals the motion sensors in your inner ear give you regarding the car's movement in the environment. You'd scan the dash for inputs from other gauges and sensors. You'd listen for the sounds of other cars and objects in the environment, the wind, how well your tires are gripping, etc.

You might even look out the windshield occasionally.

Instead of relying solely on a single input (speedometer), you'd want to pay attention to multiple inputs to give you a complete picture of your external environment and the cars around you.

I realize that analogy is far from perfect. But I find it useful. Effective competitive intelligence cannot consist solely of a single input (Keyword tracking).

SEMrush-CompSEO-1

Look, I'm not saying, "SEO is DEAD!" or some other inanity. But competitor keyword analysis just isn't enough on its own to provide competitive intelligence.

So, how did we get to the point at which otherwise highly intelligent marketers can think they've got a complete view of competitive analysis landscape because they have a subscription to SEMrush or Ahrefs?

I have a theory...

It has to do with the rise of inbound, social media and content marketing 15 years ago or so. For quite a while, those who embraced inbound marketing had a distinct advantage over those who did not. Inbound was so effective for the companies that embraced it early, that it was completely understandable that they conflated "competitive intelligence" with "keyword tracking intelligence." After all, the insights keyword tracking tools provide are real and actionable. And using a single SEO competitor tool to provide you with "competitive intelligence" is relatively easy. Why do something hard when easy seems to be working?

Anyway, that's my theory. Maybe it's right. Maybe it isn't.


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Your Content Marketing Strategy is Not a Differentiator 

But in any event, having a solid content marketing strategy in place is just the price of competitive admission in 2020, so inbound isn't working the way it used to. All of your (competent) competitors will have a respectable SEO strategy in place.

So, when your prospects find you AND all of your competitors online, your advantage is gone. So, what do you do?

Again, I'm not saying something like, "Inbound is dead!" It is still important and somewhat effective (otherwise I wouldn't even bother writing and posting this). But inbound marketing together with relying on SEO tools as a competitor analysis tool just doesn't cut it.

So, what is needed to adequately analyze today's competitor landscape?

How to Build a Competitive Landscape Analysis

To start, you're going to need to gathering much more information to provide your business with a comprehensive understanding of your competitive landscape. (And, of course, acting on that intelligence.)

It might be helpful to define some terms:

Competitive Intelligence (CI) describes insights derived from the analysis of external information about your competitors.

Basic CI is designed to provide insights into your competitors’ capabilities and limitations. Basic CI tasks include things like competitor profiles, battle cards, and SWOT analysis.

Advanced CI, which is much more complex and difficult, is designed to yield insights as to the competitors’ strategic intentions. Advanced CI activities include things like scenario planning, wargaming, and red teaming.

Market Intelligence (MI) provides insights into the external environment that impacts your business AND that of our competitors.

These insights are derived from the analysis of external information (collected from outside your own company) related to your customers and potential customers and other external forces impacting your business like regulatory and compliance trends. Typical MI activities include tasks like market sizing, trend analysis, buying patterns, and value drivers’ analysis.

Obviously, gathering the type of market and competitive intelligence that allows companies to take such actions requires much more than a single SEO tool.

Pharma Dashboard

But the effort is worth it because it will provide you with such a wider field of vision.

“Wider field of vision” sounds nice, but what can gathering this market and competitive intelligence do for your company, as a practical matter?

Well, here are four common examples of how CI used:

  • Identify New Opportunities – Knowing where and how your competitors influence a market can help adjust your strategy. You can identify and monitor market trends to see when a new opportunity presents itself.

  • Gain market clarity - Maximize your competitive advantage with clarity into where your competitors are positioned in relation to you and the market.

  • Reduce risks and uncertainty - A clear picture of your current market and competition will remove uncertainty and eliminate speculative decision making.

  • Support key decisions with data – You increase confidence in strategic investments when they are backed with market and competitor data.

 Nice, right?

And, full disclosure, I work for a company that sells competitive intelligence software and solutions. We think our software is pretty awesome, but it isn’t necessary to have a fancy software program in order to gather market and competitive intelligence effectively.


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It is entirely possible to start a simple but effective market and competitive intelligence program without any paid software at all. In a future post, I plan on sketching out what such a program should include and how you can start it.

In this post, I’ve merely helped you try to see the need and possibility for something more comprehensive for your competitive intelligence research efforts than simply relying upon an SEO tool.

So, what do you think?

Does your SEO tool provide adequate competitive intelligence for your company or do you suspect that it leaves some gaps?

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