Nothing has been normal in 2020. From celebrity deaths to murder hornets, the looming economic crisis, and that whole worldwide pandemic, we’ve had nothing but surprises. Businesses in many industries are facing metrics that look very different than those of past years.
But the lack of normalcy worldwide makes knowing how to understand your metrics for the past few months difficult. Is what you’re dealing with typical for your industry, or is it just you? In order to better understand your own performance and what it may mean for the long term, you need a way to contextualize it.
Creating competitive benchmarks is a good way to do that. And as we move into the third quarter of 2020—the first to start since the pandemic began in earnest in the U.S. —it’s a good opportunity to look at what data you have and determine what you can learn from it.
Why Competitive Benchmarks Matter
Competitive benchmarks are how you determine how your results relate to those of others in your industry. Metrics alone can only tell you so much, knowing whether the numbers you’re looking at are impressive or disappointing requires having some knowledge of what normal looks like. By finding as much data as you can about the performance of your competitors, you can set more realistic goals for yourself.
Competitive benchmarks have a crucial role to play throughout your entire go-to-market (GTM) strategy, as well as in the years after launch. When you’re in the research and development stage, they’re how you gain knowledge of how your competitors are doing and how they’re likely to react when you join the market. And when your product’s too new for you to have collected meaningful metrics of your own yet, competitive benchmarks enable you to set realistic goals and make reasonable predictions.
And even long after launch, competitive benchmarks remain useful for helping you measure your ongoing progress against that of your competitors. That’s true in a normal year, but when the world changes so much so suddenly, they become essential. As factors outside of your control produce abnormal metrics, being able to measure yourself against competitors becomes the best way to figure out what the new version of normal looks like.
4 Types of Competitive Intelligence Benchmarks
You can’t access all of a competitor’s analytics. Most of the data they collect is stored in tools only they can see. But you can learn a lot based on the information that’s available publicly—if you know where to look and have a good system for processing it.
Here are a few categories of competitive intelligence where you can access useful data to turn into benchmarks.
1. SEO benchmarks
Anyone can use a search engine, which means that you can theoretically find out what keywords your competitors rank for and identify changes in their rankings over time by heading to Google. In practice, trying to learn that information via manual searches is unrealistic though—you’d have to spend a lot of time typing searches into Google and making notes on what you find.
And there’s no reason to do that now that tools exist that automate the process of finding that information for you. A good SEO or competitive intelligence (CI) tool can track rankings for your target keywords over time and alert you to changes, find out keywords competitors are ranking for that aren’t on your radar yet, and organize it all in a way that makes it easy to turn that information into clear takeaways.
With what you learn, you can create competitive benchmarks to better understand what kind of rankings are typical in your industry for different types of keywords, and what it takes to earn them. And you can figure out if the pandemic has shaken up the search engine results pages (SERPs) for any topics in your industry.
2. Pay-per-click (PPC) benchmarks
The other (easier) way to show up on the SERPs is with paid ads. But since PPC ads are targeted and the ads that show up for the same search vary, it’s even harder to find information on what your competitors are doing. This is an area where a good competitive intelligence tool is essential.
It can provide data on how the positions you win for different keywords, and how often you win them, compare to the results of competitors. It can also enable you to track their ad scores and review the ad copy that performs best. The combination of details a CI product allows you to tap into provides all you need to create useful competitive benchmarks for your PPC results.
3. Social benchmarks
Social media is another area where most of what your competitors do is public and easy for anyone to see. You can see how many followers your competitors have, how often they post updates, and the engagement metrics for each update just by looking at their social feeds.
Using that data, you can learn what level of success is typical for different types of social metrics, and turn that information into competitive social benchmarks. Social media’s been a different type of experience for your audience these past months—the concept of doomscrolling has started to become mainstream. When analyzing the social metrics of both your own accounts and those of competitors, remember that important context.
4. Content marketing benchmarks
You can learn a lot about a competitor’s content marketing strategy by analyzing data related to how often they publish new content, what topics and keywords they cover, and the engagement rate on different pieces of content. When it comes to content engagement rates, you can’t know metrics like how much traffic a blog post gets or the number of content downloads, but you can see how many comments a piece of content receives, shares it gets across social media, and links it earns from other websites.
By collecting that information on your competitors, you can get a pretty good idea of which of their content pieces are the most successful. And you can use that data to create competitive content benchmarks to better understand how well your own pieces are performing.
How to Find Competitive Benchmarks
Technically, a team of committed individuals could pore over your competitors’ websites, social profiles, and the Google SERPs for primary keywords to collect much of this information. But their records would quickly become outdated, and the amount of work involved in doing all this manually would be considerable. Instead, you can automate the process of collecting and organizing competitor data by using competitive intelligence software. When the data’s easy to access and understand, creating competitive benchmarks from it becomes easy.