Competitor research is a key strategy for succeeding online. You can emulate the most successful businesses to learn from their optimizations. Or better yet, understand the strategies of your biggest competitors so you can outperform them in the market.
Spying on your competition’s sales funnel is easy, if you know the right tricks. Here’s everything you need to know about competitor funnel research:
What is a Sales Funnel?
You’ve probably heard of sales funnels or conversion funnels. But what exactly are they?
A sales funnel is a multi-step marketing strategy designed to get people to convert into customers. Here’s an example of a simple two-step sales funnel called the tripwire funnel:
Chances are, your competitor is using a popular sales funnel template to drive conversions. So before you start spying on them, make sure you have a good understanding of the different kinds of sales funnels and how each works. Then you’ll be able to easily identify your competitor’s funnel strategy when you see it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the main funnel types in digital marketing, here’s a comprehensive guide from ClickFunnels to check out. Once you have a strong idea of how sales funnels work, you’re ready to start funnel spying.
Discover Competitor Traffic Sources
A sales funnel is more than a collection of web pages. It’s a complex strategy that starts with traffic generation. You could argue that traffic is the most important part of a successful funnel. Because it doesn’t matter how targeted your sales pages are if you can’t attract traffic to see them.
So start by getting a good idea of where your competitors attract traffic. Then you can dig deeper into their traffic generation strategies. After that you’ll move deeper into their sales funnel.
To understand your competitors’ traffic sources, you need to use an analysis tool. There are lots of options out there. But SimilarWeb is a simple, free software you can use to get started.
All you have to do is type a competitor URL into their search bar:
Then it will come back with a detailed report of their traffic composition, including:
- Traffic volume and engagement
- Traffic by country
- Traffic sources
You can see what percentage of their traffic comes from direct, referrals, search, social, mail, and display advertising. Here’s an example of a website that receives the majority of their traffic from search results:
Say your competitor receives a lot of traffic from referrals. You can see the top referring sites here. The report will also show the top destination sites.
Here you can note how much of their traffic comes from paid vs organic search. You can also see the top 5 organic/paid keywords that drive traffic.
Here you can see top social platforms that drive traffic to their site:
- Display ads
Here you can see the top publishers of their ads, as well as the top ad networks they use to drive traffic.
- And more
You can also check out competitor website content, audience interests, similar sites, and more. Explore whatever areas are most relevant to your industry and competitor’s strategy.
Once you’ve gone through SimilarWeb’s basic free report on your competitor, you should have a good idea of which traffic sources are most important for their sales funnel. Now you’re ready to explore how they use these platforms to drive sales funnel traffic.
Analyze Their Social Media Strategy
If social media is a major traffic source for your competitor, then you’ll want to get a close look at their strategy. Social Mention is a great free tool you can use to get a snapshot of your competitor’s social presence.
If you want to track your competitor’s social strategy long term, then Hootsuite is another good tool to use. You can use it to create streams to track the activity of your competitors on various social platforms.
Lastly, look directly at competitor profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Browse their most popular posts and see what kind of content they’re sharing. Are they directing their audience back to specific pages on their website? This will show you how your competitors use their social presence to attract audiences to their sales funnel.
Analyze Their Paid Advertising Strategy
You’ll see from your SimilarWeb analysis if paid advertising is a major aspect of their sales funnel strategy. Next you need to understand how they use paid ads to attract traffic to their funnel. The kind of advertising content they create and where they promote it is an important aspect of their funnel strategy. Start by taking a look at the top ad networks they use on your SimilarWeb report:
SimilarWeb will also show you some of the top keywords your competitor targets. But if you want to get a complete picture of their paid advertising strategy, you’ll need to use a paid advertising competitor research tool.
SEMRush is a powerful tool you can use to get deeper insights about a competitor’s paid ads strategy. It can show you:
- Ads strategy analysis
- Keyword grouping and management
- Cross-group negatives optimization
- Ad keywords and creatives research
- Competition analysis
If your main goal is funnel spying, then you’ll want to pay attention to the kinds of keywords they’re targeting. Then you can see how keywords relate to their on-site content strategy. Later on you will check out their website content and enter their sales funnel, so it’s important to understand how their PPC strategy relates to that.
Probably the best way to make these connections is by actually spying on their ad copy. That’s where SpyFu comes in handy. This competitor research tool provides a lot of insights and opportunities. But it also gives you access to every ad a competitor has run over the past 9 years:
You can filter and sort their database to isolate their top performing ads and keywords. This will show you what kind of marketing message and keyword targeting work best for their audience.
An important part of understanding a competitor’s sales funnel strategy is knowing what points in the funnel they target with advertising. Based on their keywords and ad copy, you can determine if they’re targeting:
- Top of the funnel — This is awareness-stage content that introduces leads to a brand and builds a relationship.
- Middle of the funnel — This content starts to introduce and explain the benefits of products/services.
- Bottom of the funnel — This content targets leads who are ready to buy (e.g. sales pages, comparison guides, etc).
What you do with this information depends on your approach. Say your competitor’s ads are mostly targeting top-of-the-funnel leads. You could decide to target later funnel stages to avoid competing with them directly. Or say you discover your competitor’s targeting efforts are highly effective. You could emulate them and improve upon their tactics with your own funnel.
Analyze Their Organic SEO Strategy
Say your SimilarWeb report reveals your competitor gets a lot of traffic from search results. You’ll want to take a closer look at how they’re optimizing for SEO and with what content. SimilarWeb will give you a basic report of the top 5 organic keywords your competitor ranks for:
But again you may want a more detailed analysis to get a full picture of your competitor’s SEO strategy. SpyFu can help you understand your competitor’s SEO strategy as well. It identifies what keywords they’re targeting and how well their content ranks for those keywords. You can also track changes in rankings and competitor content over time.
If you don’t have the budget for a paid analysis tool, then simply use the top organic keywords SimilarWeb identified. Type each of them into Google and go through the results until you find your competitor’s content.
Take some time to browse some of their best performing content from Google search. Like with their paid advertising strategy, pay attention to what stage of the funnel they’re targeting. Next click through and check out the content itself. Does it logically lead to the next step in their sales funnel? Look out for newsletter signups or other lead magnets they use to get contact information. These can be:
- Content upgrades
- Ebooks or reports
- Free tools
- Other kinds of gated content
Understanding how your competitors capture lead from the web is an important aspect of funnel spying.
Enter Their Sales Funnel
Now you’re ready to join their sales funnel yourself. This is the best way to get a deep understanding of your competition’s strategy. If you work in a highly competitive market, buying their product can provide valuable insights you can use to get the upper hand.
Start by visiting their website and looking at lead magnets they use to capture their audience’s contact information. Download a lead magnet or sign up for their newsletter so you start receiving marketing emails from them. Pay attention to whatever form fields you fill out, as they will likely use this information to segment and deliver you a more personalized email sequence.
From this point you can check out what content tactics they use to nurture their leads. Take note of:
- They kinds of content they promote through email (blog posts, reports, webinars, etc.)
- Any ways they personalized content based on your form fills or email/on-site behavior
- At what point in the sales funnel they start hard selling their product(s)
- What tactics they use to sell (e.g. exclusive discounts, limited sales, free trials, etc.)
You should also collect screenshots of the sales pages they use to drive conversions. What’s their unique selling proposition? What features do they highlight? Do they use any other important decision-stage content (e.g. comparison guides)?
There are many different effective strategies to turn leads into sales. Ultimately, you’ll want to compare their approach to your own, evaluating what elements might make their funnel more or less effective. Something as simple as using a tripwire product or creating a value-added package tier can make a huge difference in funnel performance. So pay attention to their pricing strategy, upsells and downsells to inform your own approach.
Note Any Customer Service/Retention Strategies
Many marketers overlook the importance of what happens after they land a sale. You might feel compelled to go all the way through a competitor sales funnel then stop at spending money on their product. But it’s really worthwhile to pick your most important competitor and actually buy their product so you can check out their customer service and retention strategies.
Especially if you sell digital products, refund requests are common. Learn what your competitors do to avoid them so you can optimize your own strategy. For example:
- Do they provide resources that teach people how to use the product?
- Are customer service representatives readily available to field inquiries?
- Do they check in with new customers to see how they’re liking the product?
80% of future profits in business come from 20% of your existing customers. So don’t underestimate the role of customer retention strategies as part of a powerful sales funnel.
There are lots of advantages to understanding your competitor’s funnel strategy. Knowing what helps them drive sales can give you insights to better optimize your own sales funnel. Take the best aspects of their funnels and incorporate them into your own. Competitor analysis can also help you discover ways to stand out from the crowd. Develop a unique selling proposition and sales approach. This way you can offer more value and avoid competing with other industry players directly.