Our 2 cents about how to run a successful app-marketing competitive analysis. Includes recommended free or almost free app marketing tools to use.
Reading time: 10 minutes (the actual work is a different story…)
In today’s world, doing competitive analysis is like doing opposition research: it’s just simply a given. It’s a method everybody must follow.
Yet knowing that you must run competitive analysis is one thing. Doing it right is another.
Since we started helping app developers & marketers learning which tools (SDKs) are used by their competitors, just by using our free App X-Ray tool, we received many requests for our advice on how to properly run a mobile app competitive analysis. So, we’ve decided to roll out our sleeves and help.
Mobile app professionals are a part of a very competitive industry. It is therefore no surprise that they always need to be vigilant and adaptive. As many developers have smaller budgets than established companies, they must get extra creative when it comes to their business and marketing efforts. That’s why some app developers I know (and very much respect) are not just checking items off their to-do list. They are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to learn from their competitors’ activities and methods and utilize that information to grow their own business. Moreover, they are constantly looking for faults. Things that their competitors aren’t doing, or aren’t doing well.
I personally think that the “me too” strategy is legit and shouldn’t be instantly rejected, just because of an oversized ego. Running a smart competitive analysis will help you add more hacks and tactics to your list and gain a good understanding of the important tactics or strategies being used. It’ll also uncover which tactics your competitors aren’t using so you can leverage them for your use.
Many app developers focus almost their entire efforts on keywords research (on ASO tactics), and they tend to neglect other vital areas such as high level business data, partnerships, content strategy, PR, and social media strategies etc. In turn they get to see and understand only a small part of the picture.
To cut a long story short, here is a more comprehensive list of competitive analysis areas, that aims to cover all aspects of mobile app business and marketing, or at least most of them. You are probably familiar with some of the items on the list and I hope to introduce you to some more which might generate news ideas.
What are the questions you should ask (warning, there are a lot):
Initial business details:
- What funds / budgets do direct competitors or competing products own?
- What milestones have other companies (with similar resources to yours) already managed to achieve?
- What assets do other app companies own, for example, website, social pages, communities?
- What key roles do other app companies have (senior team members)?
App store and installs / usage data:
- How many apps are developed by the same publisher?
- What geos are they dominating in regards to installs, retention and revenues?
- What are their current growth rates, and what is their current growth trend today compared to previous months / years?
- What retention and engagement rates do they have?
- What monetization strategies do they have, or tried before?
Marketing data – PR, content, social and alike:
- What public coverage have they gained?
- Which external tools (marketing tech, sales tech, SDKs) are they are using?
- What kind of paid campaigns do they run?
I warned you they’ll be a lot of questions. So not it’s time to focus. You need to find the right competitors to compare yourself to. Measure companies that are not only business relevant, but scale relevant as well. Remember – complementary apps and not just competing apps. Once you know the right competitors, figure out how to systematically gather all the data you need, including of course which data tools to use.
Unfortunately, I can’t name the apps you should look at for you, but I can and will share my knowledge of how to smartly collect the precious data and which tools to use. Here goes:
Get to know your competition. Identify and learn your competitors’ basic information: company size, location, number of employees, how they are funded, target audience and target geos. Ask questions like “What internal resources do they have?”, “How much money did they raise?” and “when and where they were established?”.
This will give you a good understanding of who you are dealing with, how feasible is it to compete with them, whether you can forecast your achievement based on their milestones and what made them successful (or what caused them to fail). To find the answers in this section I usually use Crunchbase (revealing all needed data about money raising), LinkedIn (discovering how many team members and in what capacities other app companies have) and App Annie (data regarding when the app was first published).
App Stores analysis, growth, installs and usage
If you analyze your competitors’ store and data usage you will learn plenty. You’ll find a boatload of information regarding app rating, descriptions, install numbers, ranking and so on. Thankfully, there are some tools to help you with your research. Sensor Tower is a very popular tool which helps you gain access to critical data, regarding your competitor’s keywords and app ranks in the app store. The information is divided into territories, so you can learn which geo you should be focusing on. The Geo data is especially valuable, because it will influence your entire advertising strategy, meaning, instead of just figuring out what your successful geos are via trial and error and spending quite a bit of money along the way, you can learn from your competitors and target the best geos for you, from the get go.
You can also use AppAnnie, a tool that can give you data regarding keywords and rank in specific territories. Apptopia is a great tool to figure out the number of monthly installs per geo. I use Apptopia to get a better understanding of other apps current growth trends. I’ll share a little juicy tidbit I learned with my Apptopia analysis: that huge number of installs that you see for an app in Google play isn’t reflecting the current situation but is rather the result of a past trend, i.e. many installs in the past doesn’t mean many installs in the present.
A cool hack: You can learn about your competitors’ campaigns in different geos by learning if they localized their app store pages. Simply browse to the app page in Google Play via a regular browser. Google Play will redirect to a page that’s specific for your language. But if you change the language preferences, or even cooler the language section in the URL, you can see if the app description changes to accommodate that language.
For example, here’s the URL of drupe app in English https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=mobi.drupe.app&hl=en
If I change the last URL letters to fr (France), I get the French store app page. You can see it’s localized:
SurveyMonkey app Intelligence, a relatively new and great tool from an established company, can assist you in gaining ultra-valuable information regarding your competitors’ apps usage trends. You can see which of your competitors’ presents the most impressive active user base and retention trends, hence be more focused on who to look at in your analysis. (You should know that their data is currently reflecting only the US store. Waiting for it to be updated for global stats.)
Similarweb offers amazing insights, for multiple geos, including top apps that are ranked by usage. I find this concept much more up to date and relevant than looking at store ranking or the install base.
A cool hack: Reviews are a good indicator of both quality and growth. Write down the number of reviews your competitors have the day you start your analysis and start tracking the number of daily reviews. Some of the data analysis tools we all know and use are leaning on calculating the number of reviews that are added in each period, for instance a day.
Tools like Appbot can help you analyze the reviews your competitors are gaining.
When this section of the analysis ends, you will be a lot more informed regarding what is really going on: What’s the actual retention of your competitors and which reviews do they actually see? What’s the current rate of growth? What are their weaknesses, based on the reviews they are getting? What geos are they dominating versus where are they relatively unknown and are enjoying only a small install base.
Our own SDK X-Ray (FREE) will help you track 3rd party SDKs that are being used by any (free) Android app. This data will shed light on the mobile development tools (SDKs) your competitors are using for growth, retention and monetization.
I don’t think I need to explain what you can and should do with this data, right?
By the way, don’t just get excited when you find out about their problems and fails. You should be concerned as well, as it can project on the market you are in, or the product you have chosen to focus on…
While ASO is one of the most common steps in competitive analysis every app developer takes, many often overlook a PR competitive analysis.
It’s a pity, as the media is a great judge of quality and many times asks the tough questions for you.
Look at your competitor’s website, or search for their name in Google’s ‘News’ section to find out which publications and reporters they are involved with and what kind of coverage they received. Keep these publications and specific bloggers in mind (and preferably in an organized list) because when the time comes, they are more likely to be interested in writing about your app. Doing this will save you precious research time for when it’s time for your PR.
Though we can all agree that content is a B2B king, it is often neglected by B2C companies, let alone mobile app companies. Sometimes rightfully so, but at other times not. One can find many apps that offer unique values, but they are hard to get, difficult to operate, not easy to get used to and so forth. In these cases, a ‘market education is needed’. But, many app developers keep failing when it comes to content marketing.
If your app is this kind of app, you should analyze what content strategy your competitors follow. What type of content do they post, if at all? Are they sponsoring content? Publishing guest posts? Look at all types of content, whether it be case studies, research, or blog posts. Learn which topics are especially interesting, which social networks are relevant, and in what frequency should you be posting at (and what time of the day).
Doing this might make all the difference between having content and converting it. Figuring out your best benchmark for what topics interest your target audience, what type of content, at what frequency and on which social networks, is a major part of the challenge.
Use Buzzsumo (including their brilliant Chrome extension) to instantly reveal how many shares your competitor’s content has gained (by simply typing in the URL.)
Like content, it’s also interesting to learn how your competitors are using social media to promote their content, and obviously their app. Simply Measured gives you a glimpse into your competitor’s strategies in the social media sphere while taking information from major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, without neglecting the less known social media networks.
Speaking of less known social media networks, networks such as Reddit, Quora and alike, are a good place to search for your competitor’s presence. See if they have a strong online presence, if they create any content there, or if there is any chatter about them. You’d be surprised how well the users in these networks react to the right content (as long as it’s presented to them the right way). If your competitors are there, you should be there too.
I always look at the engagement level that the social posts of my competitors gain. Note that the number of followers in each page doesn’t necessarily mirrors the level of engagement they manage to achieve.
I also look at their posts, to better judge the effort they put in to branding, visualization and so forth. It shows me an estimate of the amount of effort it will take to stand out.
All in all, running a descent competitive analysis or learning from the experience of others, is an art. Understanding the habits and behaviors of your competitors (or colleagues) is the key to your success. This can help you save a lot of precious time and money.