One of the best things about starting an agency is the low barriers to entry.
And the worst part about growing an agency? You guessed it: low barriers to entry.
The competition is fierce. And it feels like new players pop up every month. But with the right competitive offering, you don't need to think twice about who's entering the game.
Why? Your agency is the go-to. You're the best of the best. You either offer a superior service that doesn't exist elsewhere, or your pricing model is too good to be true.
Keep reading to learn how to leverage competitor analysis to leapfrog off the competition and secure a strong foothold that propels your growth.
What is Competitor Analysis?
Let's start with the basics. Thankfully, competitor analysis isn't rocket science. But there are a few things to keep in mind during the process.
Competitor analysis is the art of stacking your agency against your top competitors to see how you line up. You're looking for inside information about your competitors, like:
Who are your direct competitors?
What services do they offer?
What pricing model are they using?
What are their key marketing strategies?
Do they have any obvious strengths or weaknesses?
Are they thriving from a financial perspective?
Where do they spend their time building relationships?
After a front-to-back competitive analysis, you'll unlock the answers to these (yes, exaggerated) questions.
Are you crushing it and heading on the fast track to unicorn status?
Or is there a gaping hole in your service offering?
Here are a few other reasons your agency benefits from a deep dive into the competition:
Create benchmarks to measure future growth.
Set business goals that drive you forward.
Identify your unique value proposition.
Understand gaps in the market.
It's quite clear that leaning into your competition poses many benefits. Of course, the key isn't to create a carbon copy of your most successful competitor. Rather, it's to use them as inspiration to learn what's working and what to avoid with a ten-foot pole.
The Importance of Assessing Your Competitors in the Growth Stage
Why is the growth stage (5–12 employees) the sweet spot for competitor analysis? There are a few reasons.
When starting an agency (0–5 employees), your main focus is landing your first clients and hiring a few employees to fulfill operations. Every ounce of energy goes into ironing out the kinks to stay afloat.
And based on my experience growing uSERP, it's a bit like drinking water from a fire hose. Or, a steep learning curve, if you will.
Then, by the time you reach the scaling stage (12–50 employees), you've already locked in your "bread and butter" offering and are ready to step it into overdrive.
The process of elimination leads us to the growth stage. But it also makes sense as the proper time to peel back the curtains on what your competition is doing, and here's why.
You're ready for the next step. You have employees to help keep you running like a well-oiled machine. But staying stagnant isn't an option. And that's where you need to look outwards to grow.
Insider tip: It wasn't until I had established workflows, a few steady clients, and freelancers to support me that I finally had the chance to open my eyes and ears to what the competition was doing.
Before this stage, I was head down, grinding to do whatever it took to prevent the floor from falling out beneath me. But once I reached the growth stage, it was like a light opened up. And I realized that I needed to have a clear direction forward.
And why not learn from the mistakes of others to prevent financial and reputational headaches for my agency down the road? It's a no-brainer.
So think of competitive analysis as the turning point for scaling. It helps you build a strong foundation as early as possible. And when you double down on that rock-solid foundation, you're off to the races.
Step-by-Step: How to Conduct a Competitor Analysis
Now that you know the basics and benefits, use this simple step-by-step guide to conduct a competitor analysis and establish a competitive advantage.
1. Define Your Competitive Landscape
The first step is to answer this question: who's competing for your target audience's attention?
Not just direct competitors. But those sneaky indirect competitors, too. Consider your indirect competitors as agencies that meet your client's needs (e.g., build brand awareness) but offer different services (e.g., search engine optimization vs. pay-per-click).
And frankly, this answer is easier to find than you might think. Yes, there are plenty of fancy tools to help you. But within 30 seconds, you can find that answer by typing bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) service keywords into Google.
BOFU keywords are phrases your potential customers search for when they're ready to purchase.
By searching for these keywords, you'll see what agencies rank and who's offering the same type of service. Let's take a look at a few examples.
Example 1: uSERP is a B2B digital PR and SEO link building agency. So my go-to BOFU keyword is "best link building services".
Screenshot by Jeremy Moser
Example 2: If you provide local services to your community, it’s crucial to include locales in your keywords. This way, you’ll show up with your competitors in Google’s Map Pack. One such example would be divorce mediation services in Arizona. Their go-to BOFU keyword might be "divorce firms in Arizona."
Notice how this BOFU keyword is even more specific, yielding local search results with golden tidbits of information: customer reviews. These insights point you directly toward competitors that are crushing it (read: the ones you want to study the most).
Screenshot by Jeremy Moser
It's as simple as that. Without clicking on any of the top results, your competitors sprout from the woodwork. And yes, this process works for any agency niche.
But if you want to get fancy with it, a few tools can help with more detailed competitive insights. Here are some of my favorites:
Semrush: best for search engine ranking and backlink insights.
Sprout Social: best for learning where your competitors spend their time building a social media strategy.
Similarweb: best for identifying gaps in your content strategy.
iSpionage: best for unlocking target keywords for PPC campaigns.
Pro tip: Use your favorite note-taking app or open a new Google Sheet and chronicle at least three competitors that you find during this process. Take a quick visit to their website and note down some basic information such as:
Number of employees
Target markets and segments
Core offerings and unique selling points (USPs)
Client testimonials or feedback
Awards and industry recognition
Now you have a documented starting point to reference as you move forward in the analysis process. You can also use this as a benchmark to look back on and measure your growth.
2. Research What Services Your Competitors Offer
With a simple shortlist in hand, it's time to take a closer look at the positioning of those competitors.
What target market do they serve? What unique offerings or packages are they promoting? More importantly, where are the gaps (read: opportunities) for you to provide something better or different?
Answering these questions will help you define your unique service proposition and carve out a niche for your brand. Here there are two main ways you can do so:
Customer model: tailoring your services to a specific market segment.
Pricing model: offering a unique pricing structure.
Think about how these models can work together to amplify your competitive positioning. Of course, it depends on what already exists in your market. But the larger the competitive moat you can build, the better.
To identify these gaps, lean into industry reports. As mentioned, this doesn't have to be a wild goose chase. A simple Google search works wonders.
Using the "best link building services" BOFU keyword example, the first result on Google breaks down the best link building agencies by market segment.
If you see a segment missing from the list, there's a good chance there's a customer gap worth exploring like:
Real estate (industry size: $3.69 trillion)
Fintech-as-a-service (industry size: $232.14 billion)
Healthcare IT (industry size: $167.7 billion)
Insider tip: Before starting uSERP in 2019, I was writing content for some of the world's largest tech companies. Clients kept asking if we also offered link building services.
At the time, we didn't. But after getting a dozen requests for the same offering, we knew it was something more than a coincidence. Now, we appear in multiple industry reports as the best link building service for information technology companies.
The moral of the story? Listen to the requests of your existing clients. Are they asking for something you don't offer but could offer with a minor uplift of resources?
Take these requests seriously. It shows you there's a demand and a gap worth investigating.
3. Analyze Your Competitors' Sales Tactics
Ah, sales. A crucial complement to growing your agency. Yet it's more of an art than a science.
Maybe you've already tasted success, employing tried-and-true methods like the HubSpot lead scoring tool to pinpoint and nurture leads to conversion. But how can you inject that extra flair into your sales strategy to take it from good to exceptional?
That's where the common saying "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" comes into play. With a little investigative work, you can learn exactly how the best players in the game are doing it.
But this information certainly isn't public knowledge, right? Think again. People love to boast about their accomplishments. So use that to your advantage.
Watch webinars, read LinkedIn posts, and listen to podcasts. Odds are, agency founders are sharing their secrets to success. But it's up to you to find them.
Case in point, here's an example podcast where I share actionable insights on how I grew uSERP from $0 to $1,000,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR) in one year.
However, if you prefer a more traditional route, you can always hop on over to your competitor's services or pricing page. Here you can find a treasure trove of additional information:
Current sales sequence
Calls to action (CTAs)
The pricing page directly outlines their pricing strategy. Do they take a low-cost approach to undercut the rest of the competition? Or do they use premium pricing to position themselves as a high-quality provider?
CTAs also provide you with key insights into their sales process. What are they trying to get visitors to do next? Fill out a form. Book a discovery call. How does this compare to your sales process?
In this pricing page example, Codeless adds a CTA for visitors to book a call with a sales team member.
There's no one-size-fits-all sales tactic to grow an agency as a business owner. So lean into the model that fits best with your brand values. And as a word of advice, always offer some sort of public pricing.
Why? When two out of three of your competitors have transparent pricing pages, and you don't, odds are they won't choose you. Plus, you can:
Weed out low-quality leads (based on budget).
Reduce friction in the buyer's journey.
Pro tip: Ask your leads about their current service providers and experiences. This simple question provides valuable insights into your competitors' offerings and what might make your leads switch or choose one over the others.
Use this knowledge to tailor your pitch, highlighting how your services outshine the competition.
4. Assess Your Competitors' Marketing Strategies
Sadly, the days of "if you build it, they will come" are over.
While you might offer the best service in your niche, if nobody knows about it, you're sending your clients into the open arms of your competition.
Even if your competitors offer inferior services to you, if their marketing strategies are spot-on — from digital tactics to branding and messaging — it gives them an edge.
So dive into their online presence and marketing channels. Are their LinkedIn posts getting more traction than yours? What type of content are they publishing on their blog? How often do they publish? Are they ranking well on Google?
Knowledge is power. Use the answers to these questions to fuel your own marketing strategies. If your SEO efforts are falling behind, start by publishing expert insights on your blog (think high-quality insights that other authority sites will naturally link to).
For example, if you're in the real estate niche, writing a blog all about how to generate leads in untapped real estate markets can generate excellent results.
Not only do you build authority in your niche, but you're also opening the door to building backlinks. These are trust signals that Google needs to help you rank higher in search results. That drives more organic traffic to your site.
With one blog post, Agent Advice generated $4,800 worth of organic traffic to one blog post. That's not a drop in the bucket. Think about the value you can generate with dozens of similar posts.
Screenshot by Jeremy Moser
Then they can repurpose these blog posts into LinkedIn PDF posts. Twitter threads. And podcast topics. The marketing opportunities to grow their customer base are endless.
In today's competitive landscape, relying on the notion of "if you build it, they will come" is no longer sufficient. Even if your real estate agency offers top-tier services, the effectiveness of your outreach strategies can determine whether clients choose you or gravitate towards your rivals.
Consider scheduling demo calls with competing real estate agencies. By acting as an interested property buyer or seller, you can 'spy' on their lead management process through cold calling, gathering insights for refining your own real estate cold calling scripts.
While your competitors might have their own strengths, dissecting their approach can provide valuable insights. Delve into their cold calling techniques - what conversation starters do they employ? How do they navigate objections? What information do they prioritize? With each call, you gain crucial data to shape your own approach.
Rinse and repeat until you find the best mix for your agency. The results may surprise you.
5. Perform a SWOT Analysis
Ok, let's throw it back to Marketing 101. Remember that silly four-by-four grid you thought you'd never use outside the classroom? Well, it's time to dust it off.
A SWOT analysis is the perfect way to paint a picture of where your agency stands compared to your competition. Here you'll outline your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
If you skipped this lesson in your marketing classes, don't worry. Here's an example SWOT analysis template (also known as competitive analysis template) that you can use to walk through the process A to Z.
Fill out your SWOT analysis and use it as your roadmap to help you with strategic decision-making on your journey to becoming more competitive in your landscape. Pay special attention to opportunities and vulnerabilities.
So why the emphasis on opportunities and vulnerabilities? While strengths and weaknesses revolve around what's happening inside your walls, opportunities and vulnerabilities are the wildcards from the outside world.
Recognizing and capitalizing on untapped opportunities can catapult you ahead, but neglecting vulnerabilities? That's a pitfall waiting to happen. It pays to keep both eyes on the external game in a landscape as unpredictable as agencies. And that, my friends, is the meat and potatoes of competitive analysis.
6. Determine How Your Agency Stacks Up
Now that you've uncovered the ins and outs of your competitors' strategies, it's time to hold up the mirror. How does your agency measure up?
Here are a few metrics to help you understand where you stand.
Market share metrics: What's your share of the market compared to your major competitors? If it's dwindling, why? Adapt and grow.
Customer sentiment metrics: Gauge customer happiness and loyalty. How does your audience's sentiment compare to theirs?
SEO ranking metrics: Analyze how your pages are ranking compared to your competitors. Uncover their tactics and consider how you might integrate similar strategies (long-tail keywords or backlinks).
Social media engagement metrics: Engagement is key across social media channels. If your competitors see higher engagement rates, uncover their methods and infuse your strategy with fresh ideas.
The goal isn't to replicate everything your competitors are doing. But use this comparison to recognize where they excel (and why), and then use this insight to drive your decisions.
Remember, it's not a fix-it-and-forget-it thing. You need to keep a fluid strategy. It should be a living, breathing plan of action that evolves based on what you uncover.
7. Turn Competitor Insights Into Tactical Steps for Growth
Understanding the playing field is one thing. But the real game-changer is leveraging this knowledge to carve out your unique position in the market.
So how can you turn the competitor insights you’ve gathered into actionable steps toward sustainable growth? Here’s how we did it at uSERP.
Looking at the existing competition in our space, we noticed that most link building companies were targeting two specific ideal customer profiles:
Other marketing / SEO agencies (basically selling their services to other agencies via white-label)
There was a significant lack of attention to SaaS companies (that had large marketing budgets backed by venture capital funding), so we made that our direct focus and differentiation point.
And since we already had a ton of experience doing content marketing for software companies, we knew we could offer this service without a significant uplift in resources (read: learning new skills).
In short, we leveraged our prior experience and a gap in the market to become the go-to “SaaS link building agency.”
We also investigated all of the pricing models that link building agencies were using. What did we find? Most of them adopted an order-pricing strategy. For example, placing orders and having fixed costs per unit, like this one:
However, our goal was to be less of a vendor/order-taking agency and more of a strategic partner with companies. Why? The market didn’t need another backlink vendor.
So using the insights we’d gained from working with other tech companies, we decided to bundle pricing into a comprehensive monthly package that serves link building and other SEO strategic needs.
Remember that true power lies in recognizing your strengths and using that to your competitive advantage.
Most agencies will perform this competitor analysis and go full force on the “tried and true” strategies because they work. But the best agencies will zero in on the gaps and tackle these opportunities (using their existing strengths) that others may overlook.
Dare to be different. The market will recognize and reward your unique proposition.
The journey from starting an agency to becoming a recognized brand has its choices and challenges. In the hustle of growth, doing too many things at once is tempting. It's easy to aim at being everything to everyone.
But remember, you're throwing yourself to the wolves without honing in on your unique service. It'll lead your potential clients into the arms of the largest and most well-known agency (instead of yours).
So focus on doing that one thing that sets you apart and doing it extraordinarily well. Make that your hallmark, whether offering a superior service that no one else can match or introducing a simply unbeatable pricing model.
Build your reputation around that one exceptional quality that defines you. And leverage competitor analysis to shape your strategy that keeps propelling you forward.