$157 billion… That’s the expected total size of software-as-a-service industry for 2020! The industry you operate in is growing, new companies are emerging on the horizon, SaaS owners are making even more money year by year.
However, this fact will make you feel motivated only if you are aware of SaaS competition pace and are ready to allocate resources to your SaaS competitor analysis process. Better understanding, better decisions, better chances to compete for the long term. Agree?
We have prepared this comprehensive guide so you:
- -Know why SaaS competitor research is so important,
- -Be aware of Top 8 R&A mistakes and never repeat them,
- -Learn how to conduct your research in 4 steps and what questions to ask,
- -Get acquainted with 9 free and paid tools that you can use for more effective SaaS competitor analysis,
- -Read expert opinions provided exceptionally for this guide and exceptionally for you.
If you are ready for the journey, let’s reveal the secrets of accurate competitor research.
Why invest time in your SaaS competitive analysis?
You might say that if your software and customer support are flawless, you shouldn’t care about competition. Instead, you competitors need to worry. For some cases, this self-confidence is appropriate but in many other cases, it can hold you back from precious conclusions.
Let’s quickly look at the core benefits of monitoring your business competitors.
#1 You will know your strengths and weaknesses
If only your software is armed with X or Y feature, that’s a big trump card and you can constantly bet on your advantage. Or if your competitor’s onboarding process, software interface are more customer-friendly than yours, that’s a gap you should fill in.
#2 You will get plenty of inspiration
Our point may seem emotional but it’s not. While browsing their blog, you may come up with an excellent blog post and keyword ideas that can boost your SEO in a matter of days.
#3 You will not repeat their mistakes
For example, if your competitor was running an affiliate marketing program on ABC website, you can check whether he got a large amount of referral traffic or not (SimilarWeb will show you). And don’t guest post on that website if engagement was not active.
Are you making these mistakes while tracking your SaaS competitors?
Research and analysis is not a smooth process. It requires lots of attention, skillset, and dedication from the person in charge. Below you will find 8 mistakes that SaaS marketers make while diving deep into the sea of fierce competitors.
#1 Duplicating your competitors
People always think that others’ life or work is better than theirs. That’s why “The grass is always greener on the other side” is such a common phrase. And has its variations in many languages.
Why shouldn’t you copy what others do? The main reasons include: A) you can’t exactly know what goals your competitor was pursuing with his tactic. B) you can’t be sure whether that approach or campaign worked the way your competitor was expecting. C) even if your competitor’s marketing plan was worth copying, you will lose your identity in your customer’s eyes and look like a copycat who is short of strategic thinking.
#2 Analyzing too many competitors
We assume you have other tasks to zero in on – working on your software, hiring new team members, targeting new markets abroad. That’s why competitor R&A shouldn’t exhaust all your time and grab all your attention.
Usually it’s enough to monitor max 5 competitors depending on how crowded your SaaS niche is. Why 5? Because in that list, you can include your most fierce competitors whose buyer persona-software features-pricing model is the closest to the one you offer.
If you are operating a niche with more than 20-30 main competitors, you can consider using a comprehensive competitor analysis tool. Otherwise you will wind up having an enormous amount of data that needs to be updated regularly with manual intervention.
#3 Getting too obsessed with numbers
Data, data, data! It has become so popular and even fashionable to strive for statistics and numerical facts. But sometimes this attitude leads to turning a blind eye to reality and failing to answer the most vital questions: what our competitor is actually good at and what can we learn from him?
Social media engagement rate is important, website performance metrics are a must to know but rate is just a rate and metric is a metric. Marketers should use those numbers to make smarter decisions for their company and don’t just waste time to get statistics.
#4 Analyzing only competitors of the same size
If they sell the same solution, target the same audience and solve a customer’s problem the way you do, it doesn’t really matter whether they are bigger or smaller than you. They are your direct competitors and maybe among the main rivals in your niche.
What truly matters is how they perceive company-customer relations, how they position themselves in the market and what methods they apply to achieve their SaaS marketing & sales objectives. And you are the one who should make decisions not based on size but based on the essence.
#5 Spending too much time on administrative tasks
All you need for conducting a thorough SaaS competitive analysis is an Excel file or a Google sheet. There you can add one sheet for website performance, one for SEO, one for social media, one for email marketing and subtopics you consider a priority.
On the left side, you can enter your competitors list and at the top, you can add sections that are included in your subtopic. In case of social media, you should add names of social networks, frequency of posts on them, engagement rate, etc.
No need for endless files & docs. No need to add all the information you find to your main sheet as it takes hours and days. Add only what your team has previously agreed upon and what you find extremely valuable in the context of competitor analysis.
#6 Narrowing the borders of research
In our last section we mentioned that you should have separate pages on your doc dedicated to website, social media, SEO, and email marketing. If you think that social media is not important at all or you can evaluate SEO performance based on website audit only, you might have been misled.
#7 Doing it once and that’s all
Monitoring your SaaS competitors is more significant before your SaaS product launch and during the first stage of your SaaS startup. In these stages, you are much more hungry for information because you should create your USP, decide upon pricing strategy and lay the foundations for your successful business.
If you think that you need to do your competitive research once and forget about that file, don’t do that. Though there’s no fixed number on how many times a year you should update your doc, usually that number is around 2-4 times.
+1 mistake typical of SaaS industry
#8 Not following industry news
Let us explain. Tech giants like Google or Amazon may suddenly become your indirect or even main competitors and ruin your dreams. Have you ever used or heard of software offering file storage services? Probably not because Google and DropBox are obvious leaders in the niche and any other company can hardly compete with them.
Not to face surprises and to take actions in advance, you should always keep up with the news: what if Amazon one day decides to launch a product similar to yours?
3 sources for your SaaS competitive analysis
Everything is simple. Your sources are
#1 Marketing intelligence tools
#2 Your customers or prospects
#3 Your team’s or your manual reviews
Let’s continue step by step.
#1 If you are looking for your competitor’s blog statistics, organic monthly traffic or domain authority score, you can’t do without tools. And dozens of other pieces of information can again be acquired only by marketing intelligence tools. So software products that other SaaS companies offer are your first weapons in this battle.
#2 Your customers can become a great source of intelligence when they tell you why they left your competitor and reached out to you (if you have a chance to launch a sincere conversation with them). Or if they inform you why they are going to switch to your competitor (and increase your churn rate!). Maybe because customer support is faster there or software’s user interface is more comfortable. And when your prospects don’t become paying users, try to reveal what made them walk away from you (even without entering a serious relationship) and consider other SaaS providers.
#3 Finally, you always have your team as a human resource who can look for information and evaluate it, preferably – objectively. Your first task as a “detective” can be visiting your competitor’s product features page, pricing page and every other place you find interesting, then import all the necessary data into your sheet.
Last thing you’d like to do (you have definitely thought of it) is to put yourself in a potential customer’s shoes and analyze how your competitor is trying to convert visitors. Offers, CTAs, landing pages, signup emails, free trial expiration emails, how quickly they reply to user queries – you should monitor these essential factors from A to Z.
Let’s move to the next section to speak about this process in a more detailed way.
What questions exactly you should ask: 4 steps with 22 mini-steps
As we mentioned before, you should track your competitor’s activities on 4 main fronts: website, social media, SEO, and email marketing.
- Company – Questions to ask: Are you competing directly or indirectly? How old is your competitor’s business? Who is the founder?
- Employees – Questions to ask: What’s their number of employees? What reviews their previous and current employees are writing about the company? (you can find employee reviews on Glassdoor or Linkedin). What specialists is the company looking for currently? (if they are looking for software engineers, they probably want to improve their product).
- Customers – Questions to ask: What groups of people is your competitor targeting? SMB or large enterprises? What countries and verticals are their customers from? (case studies and client logos will tell you).
- Product – Questions to ask: What features does it have? Is it easy-to-use? What’s the #1 feature of that product (USP)? Is it only for web or mobile use too?
- Pricing – Questions to ask: Do they charge their users on an annual or monthly basis? (or both). Do they offer discounts and how much if yes? Are their prices expensive or cheap?
- Customer acquisition model – Questions to ask: How do they attract visitors and acquire new leads? Is it through free trial, product demo, freemium plan? Do they encourage visitors to download a resource?
- Content – Questions to ask: What types of content do they publish? (blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc). Do they have FAQ section, case studies? Is their content quality?
- Learning centre – Questions to ask: How do they help their users master the software? Is it through tutorial videos, guides with screenshots or online courses?
Your main and SEO competitors may not be the same. For example, if you provide dating software, you may find yourself competing more with bloggers who write on dating topics rather than other SaaS companies who provide similar software.
Let’s see which aspects of SEO you should care the most.
- General – What’s your competitor’s website’s DA score? How much is their site speed? Is their website mobile-optimized?
- Backlinks – Questions to ask: Which authors are linking to your competitor’s website? How many backlinks does your competitor have? How many of them are quality?
- Traffic sources – Questions to ask: Where your competitors are getting the most traffic? (organic search, paid search?). Which websites refer the highest traffic to their website?
- Keywords – Questions to ask: What keywords is your competitor ranking for? Are they low-competition keywords? Do they have high search volume?
- Search engines – Questions to ask: Is your competitor’s website available only on Google? Are they ranking on Yahoo & Bing?
- General – Questions to ask: How many followers do they have on each social network? Is their page active or dead?
- Posts – Questions to ask: Do they share only their content or do content curation? How frequently do they post? Are the posts getting enough engagement? How many percent of posts are promotional?
- Advertising – Questions to ask: Do they run social media ads? Do users engage with their ads?
- Free trial users – Questions to ask: How often do they bother their free trial users? What tone of voice do they use? What advantages do they emphasize?
- Lead nurturing – Questions to ask: Do they start an email flow after you download a resource? Do they immediately pitch their software?
- Subscribers – Questions to ask: How often do they send emails to their subscribers? Are emails promotional, educational or both?
We have created this section for two reasons: a) the points mentioned below don’t fall under website, SEO, social media category or email marketing category; b) it’s not always possible to have access to that data (even with a tool!). Anyway, let’s have a look at them because they are not less important.
- Revenue/ market share/ number of customers – Research groups sometimes publish industry reports, allowing us to know how X, Y, Z companies are performing. Crunchbase and Angel.co are other reliable sources on companies you are interested in. And you will find other options too. For example, MarketWatch is revealing who are the major players in supply chain management software market. But you don’t know every company’s ARR or growth rate.
Regarding the number of customers, companies themselves sometimes provide information on how many users they are serving or have already served. Those numbers can help you understand the pace of their growth: how many years did it take them to achieve such success.
- Unique advantages – Maybe your competitor’s CEO is an influencer or industry expert who quickly attracts new users. Maybe your competitor company follows some specific internal rules that promote their growth. Investors matter too. If your competitor is getting funds from an influential and recognized person, that’s an advantage hard to compete with.
- Customer acquisition channels – You really would like to be informed where your competitors are getting leads and customers. You can see their traffic, though high traffic isn’t a guarantee for high conversion and the other way around. Maybe Quora works wonders for them and you should try it as well.
Maybe your competitors are running affiliate marketing campaigns on several blogs and that’s a great way to acquire new signups. Would be extremely rewarding if you discover which channels work best for them.
9 handy tools for competitive analysis: When competitor data is in your hands
When you want to get something necessary and valuable, do you always have to pay? In the majority of cases, the answer is Yes. With the points mentioned below, we want to provide you with both free and paid tool options for your SasS competitor analysis. Thus, you will be able to you spend more time analyzing data and taking action and less time looking for information.
- VisualPing – If you don’t want to visit your competitors’ website every month to see what has changed, you can use VisualPing. It allows you to monitor your target webpages. How does it work? You enter what webpages you want to analyze, write your email address and mention how frequent you want to get updates. Note that with their free forever plan, you can conduct 65 checks monthly. That’s a great way to keep tabs on your competitor website, especially pricing and solutions pages. When your rival makes changes to his pricing plans or offers, you will get notified shortly.
- Ubersuggest – Neil Patel’s free tool will provide you with domain overview (number of organic keywords, organic monthly traffic and backlinks, domain score, keywords your competitors are ranking for, top-performing pages), site audit (site speed, top SEO issues) and backlink analysis. Other minor and major data is again at your disposal, including how many times your competitor’s content has been shared, traffic sources by countries, etc.
If you know your rival’s domain score that will not directly tell you what actions to take. But monitoring keywords and backlink sources can be your best consultants on what to focus in your marketing strategy.
- Google Alerts – Another free tool from Google with which you can have your competitors’ moves at your fingerprints. You login to your account and create alerts for terms you want to monitor (unlike VisualPing that requires web page URLs). Then you inform Google Alerts how often you want to get notifications, from which sources (blogs, news, videos…), in which language, etc. What happens next? When your competitor is featured in a blog or news or is announcing about new product launch, Google Alerts will let you know.
- Ahrefs – Ahrefs Site Explorer provides you with in-depth information on your competitor’s website’s organic & paid search and backlink profile. You can not only discover which websites are linking to your competitors but also learn – from which webpages, in which context and even learn which websites are sending the most referral traffic to their website. Thus, you can target that particular website, do an outreach and try to get backlink.
- iSpionage – You can use iSpionage’s services to gain intelligence about your competitors’ SEO and PPC strategies. What exactly will you know? You will get a good feel for who are your AdWords competitors, what paid and organic strategies they implement, how much monthly budget they allocate for marketing campaigns. Finally, you will discover your competitor’s AdWords keywords, pick the most profitable ones and include them in your upcoming paid ad campaign.
- Oweletter – Time to analyze your competitor’s email marketing campaigns. Maybe you have already subscribed to their email list or downloaded a resource to keep track of their email messages. And maybe you are receiving hundreds of emails monthly and don’t read every message your competitors send you. Because it’s too time-consuming. Oweletter is different because it helps you determine keywords and get a notification when the sent email contains certain keywords. You can also get monthly/weekly/daily roundups not to switch from one email to the other.
- Mediatoolkit – Only social media monitoring was missing from our list, now we will cover it too. With Mediatoolkit, you can track an unlimited number of keywords, at least 10,000 mentions per month, get real-time alerts. 4 social networks can be monitored – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and VKontakte, plus websites, blogs, and forums. When you enter a keyword combination, the crawlers find on which website or social media profile it appears and inform you. Engagement statistics are also provided for every mention.
- Kompyte – If the tools mentioned above were designed for specific purposes, Kompyte is an all-in-one competitor analysis software. You can conduct web tracking, search engine marketing monitoring (keywords, landing page, SEO rankings, paid ads) and content tracking (blog and social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube) from one tool. If you are a large company with dozens of competitors and all of them are worth monitoring, this tool will best work for your case.
Expert Opinions: SaaS competitor analysis made easy
Head of marketing at Nifty Project Management
If you want to dive even deeper into your competitor’s email campaigns research, our first expert is ready to share his ideas.
“Before you start researching your competitor onboarding emails, you need to define what aspects you will focus on. I recommend you put emphasis on the following:
From which email type are you creating an account? Is it a private Gmail address or business email with your company’s domain?. There can be a difference between the email content and frequency depending on the email type.
Pay attention if you are creating a trial account from your competitor’s paid or non-paid channel (Adwords vs direct). Trial users identified from paid channels can have one email pattern, while the ones from non-paid could be sent completely different messages in terms of frequency & content.
Based on what content you get from the competitor you can divide nurturing into two categories:
more focused on the transactional aspect (demo invitations, discounts, case studies, etc.) vs learning aspect (sample project, templates, website blog).
Define the time phases you want to analyze to find the pattern of the email frequency.
It can be something like this:
0-2h since signup
0-24h since signup
24-72h since signup
72+ since signup
You shouldn’t just research just owner’s accounts, but also emails that team members and other invited users receive. Check how competitors activate users and if there some connection between owners and team member emails.”
Business Coach and Marketing Consultant at Sapiens Media Coaching
Here is another tip on how you can successfully use customer reviews in your SaaS competitive anlysis process.
“As a SaaS business, coming up with groundbreaking, never-before-seen solutions is not always the best way to keep ahead of the competition. Educating yourself about your competitors, their positioning, their offering, but most importantly defining their weaknesses, is the key to gain a competitive advantage. Customer reviews are really a powerful source when it comes to identifying any features or services that your competitors don’t offer and that you could offer, any improvements you could make to what they already offer or just to find out what customers love about their product and services. Ultimately, it is not about reinventing the wheel but about understanding what your customers value the most, so you can compete by providing additional benefits in line with your customers’ needs.”
Founder at Content Distribution
Our next expert is providing more details on the importance of organic traffic and how to outrank your competitors in terms of search engine results.
“I always start with where my competitors are getting their organic traffic from. If you look at most B2B category leaders, you’ll find they generate a significant amount. To me this reads – if they’re investing in organic search, it must mean it’s a viable strategy for their business – and worth investing in myself. Your competitors aren’t dumb.
The first thing I’ll do is keyword research to figure out how prospects search for solutions when they are ready to buy. It’s important to use data because if you guess, you might identify keywords that no one is actually searching for, and it can throw off your results.
I’ll start adding companies that are ranking for these keywords on the first page into a spreadsheet. And when I have 10–30 I’ll start looking at their top pages generating the most traffic using Ahrefs. Then I can filter out pages and keywords that are too competitive right now, and identify the low hanging opportunities I think I have a good shot at ranking next to, or outranking them.
Then I identify areas I can beat them. I not only want to provide more valuable content to the reader, but I want to beat them in every aspect that matters. I want a better optimized URL and meta description. I want more H2s, more words, more lists (1,2,3, etc), more bullet points, and more tables. I want more internal links and external links.
I think Google wants to provide users with the highest quality, most relevant content for any given search query. My rankings (43,000 1st page keywords) without investing into backlinks (just more relevant, higher quality content) indicates user engagement metrics are better heuristic than backlinks.
And this strategy allows me to outrank stronger, more powerful domains and pages all day, every day.
Once the page is live, I try and send as much referral traffic as possible – from any source – to start warming up my Google Analytics data, allowing Google to compare my user engagement metrics to the pages they are currently showing on the first page.”
CEO & Founder at ColdEmail.ai
Finally, our last expert speaks about the goal of your research, which kind of competitors are the most ‘’dangerous’’ and how you can beat them.
“There’s an important thing that’s usually underrated by people who perform that research – the goal of the research.
As a startup advisor, I see this problem all the time. Entrepreneurs don’t focus on the right thing, making this research almost unachievable.
It’s nice to know every aspect of every company in the market that somehow competes with you. But this is not the right goal. We need to know very little about some companies and a lot about others.
To find out which competitor companies you should focus on, you need to seek a particular parameter set: customer orientation vs. product feature set vs. pricing. The closer that set to what you offer, the more information you need to know about that competitor.
Once you’ve defined that list, go and talk to their customers, pitch them your product, and carefully collect all the objections. Once you’ve finished – analyze and structure that list and find the repetitive patterns.
Voila – you have a result — the answer to the question of what you need to improve to get your competitors’ clients.”
Time to sum it up
We saved the most essential part for the final section and we are glad you are here. Competitive analysis isn’t only about creating Google sheets, entering some data, and being proud of what you have done. You may conduct the deepest research but what matters in the end is – WHAT ACTION DO YOU TAKE? If you acknowledge your drawbacks and do your best to improve them, your competitor analysis efforts eventually pay off.
Did you find our guide useful? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.