The “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” quote is often attributed to Sun Tzu, a Chinese general and military strategist. And while warriors needed armor and enormous amounts of human sacrifice to stick to the advice, modern methods of spying on your competition are way less atrocious: today, just a handful of dedicated tools for competitive analysis can help marketers in pursuit of outsmarting their competitors.

At Awario, we do our best to keep a close eye on our competitors. Over the last few months, we’ve tested multiple tools; and this article is our selection of the best ones to try in 2019.

1. Awario

I couldn’t put together a list of the best tools without mentioning our own, but only because I’m sure it adds value to businesses. If you’re thinking of getting started with competitive analysis, chances are that you’re already monitoring the social media for mentions of your own brand. The caveat is, it’s not very convenient to search for your brand along with all of your competitors manually across multiple platforms. Also, the conversations might pop up from basically anywhere, so using a tool that will automate this process is a smart idea.

Awario lets you create social media and web monitoring alerts for any keywords. Make sure to set up alerts for your biggest competitors, and the tool will monitor mentions of their brand in real time across the social media, forums, news, blogs, etc. Better yet, make sure to also add a link to each competitor’s domain in the Alert Settings - this way, your feed will also include mentions that link to your competitors’ websites (even though they might not explicitly mention their brand names).

This way, you’ll discover the social media websites your competitors are active on. The variety of marketing platforms is huge, and you might discover new places where you can reach your target audience. As your competitors are most likely to have the same TA as you, it makes sense to learn where they do marketing and try the same platforms. More to that, you’ll figure out which influencers and bloggers mention your competitors, and will end up with a solid list of potential partners to build relationships with.

With Awario’s Share of Voice chart, you’ll be able to track the success of your campaign — it shows the number of mentions and reach of your company compared to your competitors.

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Pricing: You can start with a 14-days free trial. There’re three service tiers: Starter is $29/month, Pro is $99/month, and Enterprise is $299/month. Purchasing a yearly plan will save you 2 months of payments. The plans differ in the number of projects, alerts, and mentions. Pro and Enterprise offer additional perks like CSV data export and white-label shareable reports.

2. BuiltWith

Have you ever found yourself wondering which CMS your competitors are using? How about their analytics and support systems? Or the technologies their websites are built on?

BuiltWith is a tool that will give you answers to these (and more) questions. Just type in the URL of a competitor’s site, and you'll see the scripts, services, and plugins the website uses. On top of that, you'll discover all kinds of front- and back-end technologies used by any site.

Once you’ve found a platform or service within your competitors’ profile, you can look it up on the website to see its usage statistics, number of users, market share, etc. This is a real goldmine if you and your competitors are technology providers: BuiltWith lets you both see the technologies used by your rivals and the stats on usage of your competitors’ services by other websites. Pretty cool, no?

Pricing: Running a check with BuiltWith is free, but more advanced features (like importing a list of websites using given technologies) are included in the paid version. The Basic plan is $295/mo, Pro is $495/mo, and Team is $995/mo. Plans differ in the number of users, lookups, and reports.

3. SEO PowerSuite

After you learned which technologies and marketing platforms your competitors use, it’s time to find out the strong and weak points in their SEO strategies. The SEO PowerSuite toolkit will help you on each stage of your SEO campaign:

Rank Tracker will discover your major competitors for your target keywords, assess competitors’ domain strength, analyze and adjust your keywords, and offer you keyword reports based on that information.

Website Auditor will dig through any website to understand how the search engines see your (or your competitors’) site. The app reveals all the website issues that can affect indexing, rankings, or user experience. For every issue, you’ll get step-by-step instructions on how to fix them.

For backlink research, there’s SEO SpyGlass. Its new backlink index will help you spot backlink opportunities within competitors’ profiles and develop a link strategy of your own. You will be able to compare up to 5 link profiles in the Project Comparison module and get a list of websites that link to several competitors under Link Intersection.

Pricing: For trying out all the apps’ functionality there’s a freemium version. The Professional license is $299 and Enterprise is $699. Enterprise license offers White-labeling options, various types of exports, and scheduled reports.

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4. BuzzSumo

Keep in mind that apart from direct and indirect product competitors, you’ll encounter websites that compete with you in terms of content. And since content marketing is one of the most effective ways to drive sales, increase engagement, and develop brand awareness, those competitors are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Understanding your competitors’ content marketing strategy will give you insights on where you can improve or tweak your company’s current strategy. BuzzSumo makes it easy to measure the success of your content as well as the content of your competitors. You will find their most shared content (including stats on who shared it and where), see the influencers that spread the word about competitors’ posts, and create reports that compare your performance to theirs. The app will also show you which content formats are more successful among your competition.

Not only does this clue you in on who’s killing it in terms of content in your industry, but also it helps you identify potentially hot topics to explore yourself.

Pricing: There’s a 7-day free trial which is followed by one of four subscription plans. Pro is $79/month, Plus is $139/month, Large is $239/month, and Enterprise has custom pricing.

5. Google Trends

Like BuzzSumo, Google Trends is great for your content strategy. The best thing is that you can see how certain keywords perform over years. It also gives you ideas on related queries. There are two ways to look at the keyword data: over a long and short period of time.

By adding your brand name and your competitors, you’ll be able to compare the interest in each one over time and see the results of your marketing efforts. There’s also a regional interest diagram, showing a map of the world with varying colors to show search volume by country.

Pricing: The tool is free.

6. SimilarWeb

The next important aspect of competitor research is tracking competitors’ traffic and ad campaigns. SimilarWeb lets you analyze any website or web app.

The platform gives you stats on your competitors' traffic and the demographics of their audience. Since you and your rivals likely compete for the same audience, their best traffic sources will usually work great for you as well. Knowing which websites bring them the most traffic enables you to target the same sites. Depending on the kind of websites you find, you can contact bloggers and ask them to review your product, offer to do a guest post, or come up with anything else that may be of interest to them.

With SimilarWeb, you can also discover where your competitors buy ads, which ad networks perform best for them, and even see the actual ads they are running. This can help you plan your budget and paid media efforts. On top of that, you can save money by either targeting only the best ad spots they use or going for the long tail (which may bring less volume but will also reduce the costs).

Pricing: SimilarWeb offers a free version, which is limited to 5 results per metric and only a couple of months of historical data. Prices of custom plans are available upon request.

7. iSpionage

iSpionage is another solution for tracking competitors’ ads. First, the platform will help you identify your top AdWords competitors. Then you’ll be able to find out how much they spend on the paid and organic search, see their advertisements and landing pages, and find out their approximate monthly PPC budget. You can use this information to identify the top advertisers in your space and learn from the best in your industry.

If you have to present the results to your boss or are looking for a nice way to share data with your colleagues, iSpionage will help you with top-notch branded reports.

Pricing: iSpionage offers a free account with 10 free competitive reports per day and 3 competitor alerts. And there are 4 subscription plans: Starter for $59/month, Professional for $99/month, Advanced for $299/month, and Enterprise pricing is custom. Purchasing a 6-months plan will save up to 50%.

8. Owletter

59% of marketers consider email to be their most effective channel in terms of revenue generation. Moreover, well-designed emails will enhance a relationship with existing customers or help acquire new ones. I believe that’s a good reason to spend more time crafting better emails than those of your competitors. With Owletter, you’ll learn everything you need about competitors’ newsletters: their frequency, schedule, and over-time trends.

The app captures emails from your competitors and organizes them in a simple, user-friendly dashboard. Over time, you’ll get an archive of emails with basic analytics for each competitor, such as how often their newsletters are reported as spam, the total number of emails they’ve sent, when they send emails more frequently, etc. This will help you spot changes in your competitors’ email strategy and help optimize your own.

Pricing: You can start with a 14-days free trial. After that, you can pick one of the three subscription plans: Starter at $19/month, Pro at $39/month, or Unlimited at $79/month. Paying annually will get you 2 free months. Plans differ in the number of monitored websites, email alerts, and historical data storage.

In conclusion

Of course, markets devoid of competitors are rare: if a product is worth making, its competitive landscape won’t stay empty for long. If it does, the market for the product probably doesn’t exist.

So having competitors is not such a bad thing, especially if you keep track of their strategies and know how to beat them. To do that, you probably won’t need all the tools above; instead, choose the ones that will help you accomplish the goals of your business.

Got any other tools you'd to add to this list? Let me know in the comment section!