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7 Ways to Learn from Your App Competition

By Nick Epson on May 6, 2021

Everyone, whether direct competition or an app from a different market with overlapping features, can teach valuable lessons that can be harnessed to improve your product – of all the useful information floating around about how to make your app a success, what you learn from your competitors is arguably the most important. Products from the competition tend to be good indicators of how similar portions of your app will be received by your audience. Yet, it’s rarely as simple as just mimicking a well-liked feature from another app.

Competitor performance gives you a kind of baseline of what to expect from your product. With that said, there are other variables to this equation which means your experience could be quite different. Without looking at your competition from multiple perspectives, these other variables are easily missed which can lead to fumbling an otherwise good idea. Here, we’re going to highlight various ways to study the competition in hopes that you’ll work in as many as possible into your strategy.

Why you should comprehensively study the competition

Your competitors exist because, well, they’re doing a handful of things right. To truly understand why they seemingly run like a well-oiled machine, you need to understand there’s more going on than what you see on the surface. While you might plan to offer the same feature or something unquestionably better, several underlying variables with varying degrees of tolerance will mean your experience will almost certainly be different. It’s a bit like being a pet owner for the first time.

It’s incredibly common for people to surrender a new pet and apps to fail after a short period because they didn’t do all their homework. Aside from general care, there’s a range of specific behavioral issues to identify and navigate for each animal. Learning from others helps to quickly understand quirks as well as how to prevent or correct bad behavior that can otherwise result in a less-than-ideal living situation to outright failure.

Like the various conditions that work together to create a happy pet situation, building a successful app requires first understanding the multitude of components that work together to drive a competitor’s success in the market. From there, a solid feedback system with users and adaptability to accommodate their needs will cultivate a great relationship and in time, positive net growth.

7 ways to learn from your competitors

Though you can’t exactly log in to competitor systems to see exactly what’s going on behind the scenes, there are plenty of other tools available to learn about the market from different angles. We feel the following are some of the best options on the market.

1. Use Ahrefs to analyze their SEO keyword strategy

Your website is instrumental in educating users and helping the discovery of your product – the Ahrefs platform is our go-to solution for researching keywords. You’ll want to use this tool to analyze your competitors’ domains from a couple of different angles and knowing what keywords they use can help you capture some of their attention in time. 

You’re best off hiring a team to handle this for you as there’s a lot that goes into developing and executing a good SEO and ASO strategy. Certain keywords will be extremely competitive so a good tactic to try when you’re starting is to look for relevant“unicorn” keywords that are high volume but low competition. Every piece of content should have a unique keyword and be structured according to SEO best practices.

2. Use Ahrefs to learn from your competitor backlinks 

But wait, there’s more!

Another part of your strategy that coincides with ranking for keywords is building your domain authority (DA) as this acts like a digital boon that helps your overall domain rank higher in search results. You build DA by getting backlinks from other sites where the higher their DA, the more valuable the backlink.

You should see where your competitors have backlinks to target these sites and others to build links. Reach out to reputable sites like Entrepreneur, Forbes, and other big platforms to pitch useful content for their audience where you can usually link to content published on your domain.

Keep in mind, it can take your time to get your foot in the door, plus getting the content live is time-consuming as there is often an editorial process to go through once a draft is submitted. Too, many platforms are pay-to-play where there is usually a free tier (e.g. your first three articles are free or you can publish at no cost once every six months) but publishing additional content will require funding. You can also use services like HARO as responding to queries with a backlink worked into your response gets points on the board. You can use sites like Reddit as well but not every backlink will translate to a backlink as there’s usually a certain amount of upvotes that are needed and too, being overly promotional in some subreddits can get your account shadowbanned. Just make sure to read the rules before posting!

3. Use HypeAuditor to understand your competitor’s followers

Social media is an instrumental part of marketing so it’s important to establish yourself on major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well as more media-focused platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

The problem, however, is that there are a lot of trash accounts on every social platform. Some of your competitors can look as though they have a large, highly engaged following but the reality could be quite different. 

This is why tools like HypeAuditor are useful for the social media portion of your business. This tool analyzes accounts and reports on their audience, revealing information such as how “real” their audience is and what topics tend to resonate on the channel. Knowing this information can help make their presence feel much less intimidating, plus it’s key to differentiating what real people are discussing versus whatever the bots are babbling about.

4. Mystery shop them

One of the best ways to learn from your competitors is through hands-on experience so prepare to roll up your sleeves and go through the entire process.

You’ll want to assume the role of the average customer so in some cases, you might need a “disguise.” For example, if you’re targeting a B2B company you won’t want to approach them as a competitor – spend a little time and money to put up a small website for a fake business using a throwaway domain. Don’t use your name or your photo as a good competitor will try to learn everything they can about you to best meet your needs.

Depending on the product or service, it might not be economical to go through with a purchase but you should still go through as much of their sales funnel as you can. Document everything you can from CTAs on their site, app, or newsletters to visuals and layout. If they’re a highly successful competitor, you should find some excellent ideas that you can incorporate into your strategy to convert window shoppers into paying customers.

5. Learn about their underlying technology with Wappalyzer

Dissecting a product is a tried-and-true method that people have been using since the earliest days of society. Complex products like software have several “moving parts,” so to speak, and knowing what was used for each feature can help you identify tools for your technology stack.

Rather than truly breaking into a product, you can use Wappalyzer to see what websites are built with from the CMS to payment processes and much more. From here, you can research these different solutions to find what is the best fit for the product you’re planning to launch. After launching your first product, Wappalyzer can continue to provide benefits such as sending alerts to you when a competitor changes a technology stack. If their performance increases over time, then you might want to explore how you can benefit and follow suit. Despite the name, it will never force you to listen to Cardi B against your will.

Moreover, you can also set up certain tools like Visualping which can alert to other changes, aside from major shifts in the underlying technology. Much of what you’ll see are small tweaks but every so often a large change will occur which is usually worth investigating.

6. Create Google alerts for their brand

Google has several free tools that are great for business and Google Alerts deserve some credit. One of the first things you should do if you’re entertaining the idea of bringing a digital product to the market is to see where competitor’s names are mentioned on the web.

Google Alerts should be configured for all your competitors so you can keep an eye on what they’re doing, paying extra attention for big wins and public shame. This will reveal opportunities for endeavors like building backlinks as some companies form valuable relationships with more niche sites you might not otherwise see. Even sites with smaller audiences are useful to target for syndicated content or other collaborations that will land you a backlink. Touchdowns aren’t always an option and enough field goals can win the game.

7. Track their Twitter with Slack

Watching social media to learn from competitors gives you insight into what kind of messaging works well for your audience. High engagement on posts from accounts with real followers that you’ve identified with HypeAuditor gives you a kind of template to follow for your posts you plan to share.

Going through all your competitor’s various social media accounts can be time-consuming, even if you’re not the type to go down rabbit holes. Slack has built-in integration with Twitter which makes it simple to see whenever they Tweet or are mentioned which cuts down on the time you’ll spend perusing social media.

We want you to crush the competition with your digital product

Through data strategy, we challenge assumptions and hone in on real usage scenarios to break away from the competitive set and create new spaces. As part of this process, we strongly encourage that you do everything in your power to snoop out the competition and apply what you’ve learned to your own product. Think of it like a solving a mystery: you want to unturn every stone and explore every nook then carefully consider all the data you collect. By using the tactics above, you’ll be in a good position to apply what you learn from competitors to your product.