• Home

  • Automation with Zapier

  • Zapier tutorials

Zapier tutorials

7 min read

How to use automation to keep an eye on the competition

By Kiera Wiatrak · January 17, 2023
Three people icons with arrows pointing up over their heads on a light blue background.

When you were young, your mom may have asked you if you'd jump off a bridge if everyone else were doing it (mine did). In the world of marketing, what matters more is understanding why everyone is going off the bridge in the first place.

In other words, knowing not just what your competitors are up to but the strategy around the decisions they're making will give you an edge when it comes to standing out in your space and owning market share.

This post will outline how to create a completely automated competitive audit and how to use it to dissect your competitor's strategy while sharpening your own. 

How to track your competitors' PR, content, and social strategy with Zapier

With a little legwork, you can set up a database of intel on your competitors that will continue to build over time, without you manually tracking down info. With Zaps—Zapier's word for their automated workflows—you can automatically build a competitive audit with a little help from RSS feeds and Google Sheets. Here's how.

New to Zapier? It's workflow automation software that lets you focus on what matters. Combine user interfaces, data tables, and logic with 6,000+ apps to build and automate anything you can imagine. Sign up for free.

Step 1: Create your Google Sheet

Before you dive into the Zapier platform, set up the Google Sheet that will serve as the destination for your Zaps to organize competitor intel. You'll want to create individual Worksheets for the different types of brand mentions and activity you'd like to track, including:

  • The brand's proprietary blog

  • Mentions of the brand in other blogs

  • News articles

  • Video

  • Web mentions

  • Social media

Add Title, Link, and Description headers to each of your Worksheets, which you'll need when you set up your Zaps.

A Google Sheets spreadsheet with multiple worksheet tabs and Title, Link, and Description headers.

Feel free to start with this Google Sheets template and customize for your own competitors.

Step 2: Set up your Google alerts

Create Google alerts for each competitor you want to watch. For each competitor, create a separate Google alert for each media type. You can do so by selecting the source in the Show Options dropdown.

Setting up a Google alert for Zapier with the Sources dropdown shown open.

For the Deliver to option, select RSS feed

Once each alert is created, grab individual RSS feeds by right-clicking the RSS icon and copying the link address. Save those RSS feed URLs, as you'll use those in your Zaps.

Step 3: Find the brand's proprietary RSS feed

Grab the RSS feed for your competitor's owned blog or website by following the steps in this post or by typing the website directly into RSS.app's Webpage to RSS feed tool. Save these URLs also for use in your Zaps.

Step 4: Grab social media RSS feeds

You can also use RSS.app to create RSS feeds for a brand's Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook feeds. You may also choose to create RSS feeds for Instagram or Twitter hashtags, Twitter search results, or even any Tweets liked by your brand.

A generator to create custom Instagram feeds.

Save these URLs too.

Step 5: Create and run your Zaps

Now that you've set up your Google Sheet and aggregated your RSS feeds, you're ready to create and run your Zaps. 

You can create your Zaps from scratch in the Zap editor or click on the pre-made template below.

Create Google Sheet row(s) for new items in a RSS feed

Create Google Sheet row(s) for new items in a RSS feed
  • RSS by Zapier logo
  • Google Sheets logo
RSS by Zapier + Google Sheets

To get started with a Zap template—what we call our pre-made workflows—just click on the button. It only takes a few minutes to set up. You can read more about setting up Zaps here.

If you're creating your Zap from scratch, select RSS by Zapier for your trigger app. You'll have the option to select New Item in Feed or New Items in Multiple Feeds for your trigger event, which is the event that starts your Zap. Although you'll have multiple RSS feeds, you'll still need to select the singular New Item in Feed trigger event if you'd like each RSS to feed into a separate Google Sheet Worksheet. 

If you select New Items in Multiple Feeds, all of your feeds will populate in the same Worksheet, and you won't be able to segment different types of content and media from one another.

Paste your first RSS feed into the Feed URL field. You won't need to enter a Username or Password in either of those fields. 

Leave Different Guid/URL in the What Triggers a New Feed Item? field. Click Continue and test your trigger to ensure the RSS feed is recognized.

Now it's time to set up your action, which is the event your Zap performs once it's triggered. Select Google Sheets for your trigger app and Create multiple spreadsheet rows for your action event.

Connect your Google account, then select the Google Sheet you created earlier and the Worksheet corresponding to the RSS feed. 

Now you want to make sure info from your RSS feed goes to the right spot in your spreadsheet. To map the data from your RSS feed, click in each field that corresponds with your spreadsheet headers (matching Title, Description, and Link) and select the correct item from your RSS feed from the data dropdown.

Fields in the Zap editor filled in with RSS data points.

Next, test your Zap to make sure it's set up correctly. If everything looks good with your test, your Zap is ready to use.

Here's how your RSS feed info should look once it starts sending to your spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet with details from news stories added to the three columns.

Repeat these steps for each RSS feed you want to follow in the appropriate Worksheet.

Analyze your competitor's strategy

Congratulations! You have the infrastructure in place to understand your competitors' content, PR, and social strategy in real time. Now we'll dive into how to best leverage this information to dissect their strategy and improve your own.

Look for common threads

Look for recurring themes within and across Worksheets. Are there specific words or phrases used frequently? Try copying and pasting Title or Description columns into the Free Word Cloud Generator to better visualize the words the brand is using to talk about themselves or others are using to talk about the brand.

Who is talking about them? Is there a cohort of writers, journalists, and content creators who mention the brand often, or is their coverage more sporadic and random?

Pay attention to timing. Does the brand update their own channels with a consistent cadence, or does their content volume ebb and flow? How do the topics and timelines the brand adheres to correspond to the ways they appear across the web? Look to see if the periods when the brand heavies up on content on their website and social channels correspond to an uptick in content created about them.

You may also check if content aligns thematically across different channels. Are they covering the same topics and themes on their website, blog, and social media? Striking the right balance between consistent messaging across channels and playing to individual channels' strengths is a delicate art. If your competitors are doing it well, you can learn from them. If not, you've just identified an opportunity to differentiate yourself in the space.

Identify campaigns

Every brand has a different approach to creating and executing campaigns, which can comprise anything from a new product push or launch to unveiling new messaging to surrounding a commercial or other premium content piece. 

The competitive tracker you've just created will give you a unique view into how the brand handles campaigns. Once you've identified that your competitor is running a campaign, try to figure out that campaign's objective. Is it to sell new products? Reach a new audience? Change how their brand is perceived? Or just create more buzz and awareness?

Then, pay attention to how they execute. What types of content, and how often, do they share on each channel? What kind of coverage are they getting for their campaign outside of their owned channels? Are their media mentions paid sponsorships, organic coverage, or both? 

By breaking down these individual facets of the campaign, you'll discover how your competitor approaches channel strategy and leans on influencers and the media to meet different business objectives.

Scrutinize voice and tone

More than just what they say, how are they saying it? Do they lean more casual or informative? Professional or playful? By studying a brand's voice and tone, you'll learn how they build trust and camaraderie with their audience.

Once you've uncovered the brand personality, look at the ways it's represented in the channels in which others are talking about them. Brands with a mature and well thought-through personality are able to evoke emotions when recalled. The brands who do it best guide others to be ambassadors of their personality when they're the topic of conversation. 

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Nike is famous for motivation and inspiration. This Sports Illustrated article covers how athlete Kevin Durant's Nike shoes honor a New York artist.

  • Apple has built their brand on simple elegance, ease of use, and quality. Their recent campaign highlighting the iPhone's powerful yet simple photography capabilities has taken to social media. The Instagram hashtag #iphoneography features more than 16 million photos taken by iPhone users.

  • Shopify makes dreams a reality for small business owners with no-code tools to make selling online fast, affordable, and easy. YouTube is full of tutorials on how to DIY your own Shopify store in minutes, like this one.

Deciding on a brand voice and tone is one thing, executing it is another. Study how your competitors have closed this gap, as well as the personality traits that have helped them carve out their niche in the market.

Put your competitive audit into action

Learning your competitor's content strategy back to front will help you do two important things for your own strategy: figure out when to emulate and when to innovate.

The best marketers and business owners stay on top of best practices but know when to delve into uncharted territories to differentiate themselves. Your competitive audit should help you both uncover tactics you can use in your own marketing, as well as the spaces your competitors leave open for the taking.

What does this look like in practice? Perhaps your competitor has executed a creative campaign that showcases a pain point you can touch on in your own messaging. Or maybe you've found that your competitor's messaging is so focused on features that they don't put the user at the forefront of their marketing—which is an opportunity for you to appeal to their customers.

Maybe your competitor's new product or feature launch received positive media pickup. Now you have their product positioning as well as a list of journalists, writers, and influencers to reach out to. 

Or maybe your competitor is lacking media interest, meaning you can entice writers and influencers and own the PR for your niche.

There are myriad ways to slice and dice the competitive intel that is now in your hands. With a keen eye for the indicators of what makes a brand successful, as well as where they've missed the mark, you're in the best position possible to decide when and where you're going to jump. 

This was a guest post from Kiera Wiatrak, brand strategy and marketing consultant, and founder of Dogeared Digital. Dogeared Digital provides free actionable resources, templates, and guides for marketers of all shapes and sizes. Subscribe to The Nibbler, Dogeared Digital's weekly newsletter for can't-miss industry trends, tools, and marketing inspiration. Want to see your work on the Zapier blog? Read our guidelines, and get in touch.

Get productivity tips delivered straight to your inbox

We’ll email you 1-3 times per week—and never share your information.


Related articles

Improve your productivity automatically. Use Zapier to get your apps working together.

Sign up
A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'