How to Start an Online Store: Competitive Research

Competition is natural. From the moment our predecessors crawled out of the ocean, they were at odds with one another: vying for food, comparing tan lines, and arguing over where to put beach chairs.

The ecommerce marketplace is basically the same (minus the sunburn). If you want to sell online, it’s important to remember there are a few big fish in the sea trying to do the same – not to mention thousands of little ones. That’s why competitive research is the natural progression from doing your own keyword research.

Searching for competition

Unlike the “real” world, there is no distance that defines where your customers will and won’t go. If users find a trustworthy site that has what they’re looking for at the right price, it’s in the running for competition. There could be any number of sites selling already your product lineup. How do you even know who they are?

It turns out the best way to find your competitors is also the simplest: search your keywords. That’s how your potential customers are going to find them, so it’s only natural to do the same.

Before you start, make sure your Google search is not set to be personalized. This will ensure the results you see will be more like what your customers would see (instead of customized to your own preferences).

You can do this by clicking the globe icon above your results or by appending the string “&pws=0″ at the end of your search’s URL.

Your search will yield both natural and paid results, which should be treated differently.

Natural results (below the paid results) are generated by Google’s search algorithms finding related material around the web. They may not even be online retail pages at all, depending on what you’re looking for. A query for unicycles will definitely yield a lot of fan sites created by one-wheeled enthusiasts, for example. These sites could definitely steer (not with their hands, of course) attention away from your online store, but they won’t be stealing sales. More popular ecommerce sites will show up near the top of the list

Paid results (above the natural results, marked as ads) are the result of your competitors buying the keywords you’re researching, making these spots direct competition to your future search engine marketing (SEM) efforts. For the most part, these stores have already determined these keywords have the ROI to be worth targeting, which at least means you’re headed in the same direction as other competent businesses.

Jumping to conclusions (on landing pages)

Now that you have a screen full of unicycle-themed search results, it’s time to click through some of these links and learn more. The first thing you’ll want to ask is whether or not the pages you land on are even relevant to your keyword search. As we learned in our keyword research article, it’s very possible for SEM to be tied to something unrelated if keywords are too broad. If you find, for instance, that a search for unicycle helmets yields an ad for motorcycle helmets, it’s possible someone simply bought space for helmets or cycle helmets – essentially wasting money.

Assuming most of the results are relevant, however, you want to open your SEO for Chrome menu. Take a serious look at the value of each landing page, evaluating several important factors:

  • What is the site’s Alexa traffic ranking? The lower the rank, the more likely it is this store has the most clout in the online market. That said, a good ranking doesn’t mean this page is necessarily the best known specifically for the keywords you’ve searched. For instance, Amazon‘s Alexa ranking is #10, but it’s not the best resource for every product it sells, just overall. By comparison, deals in single wheels exclusively. Its Alexa ranking is more likely to reflect how important it is in the greater unicycling world.

  • What is the site’s Compete traffic number? In your SEO for Chrome tool, the Compete unique visits line estimates how many people visit this competitor’s site on a monthly basis. How much of the search traffic for your keywords is ending up on this site? While you certainly can’t influence this number, it’s an indicator of what you might be able to draw with a similarly-executed Google ads campaign.

  • What referring keywords rank highest? The Alexa referring keywords list shows you which search terms most frequently bring customers to your competitor’s site. Pay close attention, because you might find phrases you overlooked! Maybe you thought of training unicycles and sport unicycles, but forgot secondhand unicycles or the deceptively lucrative solar-powered unicycles.

  • Look into the site’s meta data. To do this, open the page’s source code (see example) and do a search (CTRL/CMD + F) for meta. In the HTML, you’ll find the site’s meta keywords, which are input by the developer/webmaster manually. While these keywords no longer have the SEO importance they once did, surveying them will give you an overview of what your competitor is trying to target.

  • Are people searching for this brand? Sure, all the sites you investigate after searching cheap unicycle will have traffic from that term, but how many people are searching for brand-specific terms like Torker unicycle? And how much of that traffic ends up on the Torker website? If a lot of brand-specific traffic is being driven to that brand’s site (or an exclusive retailer), odds are they’re a recognized name in the industry. If not, those visits are probably incidental.

While there are certainly a lot of other PPC and SEO data you can dig up on your competitors, answering these questions will provide you with an extremely solid knowledge base. Now you know who your competitors are, which keywords they’re (successfully) targeting, and how much customers value their brands.

To that end, you’ve just covered the place and (to some extent) promotion of the 4 P’s of Marketing. Now, you’re ready to complete your initial research by planning out your price and product range, so stay tuned!

Ripen Services:

You don’t have to do your research solo. Ripen’s ecommerce marketing team can help you identify your business’ strengths and your competitors’ weaknesses. Contact us today to learn more.


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