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How to Set Up Automated Email Marketing Workflows (+ Examples)

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How to Set Up Automated Email Marketing Workflows (+ Examples)


Without email marketing automation, your marketing team is missing out on major opportunities to nurture and engage your target audience and existing contacts.

In this article, we’ll review common types of email marketing automation, the tools to help you establish and maintain an email marketing automation strategy, and different automation triggers you may implement at your company. But first, let’s begin by answering the most important question: what is email automation?

Email Automation

Email automation helps convert leads into customers, delight existing customers, and encourage activity like greater product adoption, upsells, evangelism, and additional purchases.

Email marketing automation eliminates time-consuming tasks, such as preparing email lists, sending generic messages, or scheduling events manually. This gives marketers and salespeople more time to work on projects that actually require their attention (or cannot be fully automated).

Email marketing automation is centered around workflows which are a pre-determined, triggered set of actions you’re directing your automation software to take for you.

Now let’s look at how this process actually works.

Pro tip: While you work through the following steps, keep the teachings from this video on email marketing in mind — many of the topics covered below are also touched on in the video and vice versa — after all, your email marketing automation is part of your email marketing strategy.

1. Select email automation software.

There are a number of email automation software on the market today — the key is selecting the option that works best for your business and goals.

For the sake of this article, we’re going to work through the following steps in this section by looking at HubSpot’s Marketing Automation tool.

But here are a few more tools for your consideration with their main features and benefits to give you an idea of what these tools are capable of.

Email Marketing Automation Tools

1. HubSpot Marketing Automation

email marketing automation software: hubspot marketing automation

Best email marketing automation software for: Automating email campaigns and personalizing them using integrated CRM contact data to move prospects down the funnel.

Price: Free, $45/mo (Starter), $800/ mo (Professional), $3,200/ mo (Enterprise)

With HubSpot’s Marketing Automation Software, you can automate your email drip campaigns without any code. Select triggers, conditions, and actions so your emails are sent to the right audience members at the right time.

Pair your email campaign workflows to goals so you’re able to track and analyze their success. And speaking of workflows, you can visualize, customize, and personalize them to help you target every individual in your contact database.

(You can also use HubSpot to automate a number of other tasks aside from email such as lead scoring, lead rotating, setting up web hooks, etc.)

Pro Tip: Use HubSpot’s Marketing Automation software to automate and personalize email campaigns to move prospects down the funnel and generate qualified leads.

2. Versium Reach

email marketing automation software: Versium Reach

Best email marketing automation software for: B2B businesses that want to segment their customers to more effectively reach them across a variety of marketing channels including email.

Price: $300/mo (Tier One), $500/mo (Tier Two), $750/mo (Tier Three)

Versium Reach allows you to create target audiences that you can use across various marketing platforms (like HubSpot) and channels to help you effectively target and reach those groups through your email (and other digital) campaigns.

Versium Reach helps you visualize and segment your customers so you can tailor your email campaigns to them no matter which stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in.

The tool also helps you maintain a cost-effective lead generation strategy — Versium gives you the ability to experiment with a single data source for better-performing customer segments.

3. Mailchimp

email marketing automation software: mailchimpBest email marketing automation software for: Connecting your ecommerce platform to your email platform so you can target customers based on purchase behaviors.

Price: Free, $9.99/mo (Essentials), $14.99/mo (Standard), $299/mo (Premium)

Mailchimp makes it easy to deliver personalized and relevant messages and purchase paths to individuals based on their contact information and how they interact with your company. Send-time optimization then schedules your emails to be sent when your customers are most likely to engage with them.

Mailchimp offers a number of ecommerce integrations (e.g. WooCommerce, Shopify) so you can connect your online store to the email tool — this way, you can target customers based on their purchases.

Mailchimp offers six main types of email automation to make your team more productive and efficient — these include 1) customer journey automation, 2) behavior automation, 3) transactional email automation, 4) postcard automation, 5) date-based automation, and 6) RSS-to-email automation.

4. Moosesend

email marketing automation software: moosesendSource

Best email marketing automation software for: Managing several email campaigns and mailing lists, and creating any condition combinations to segment your audience.

Price: Free, $8/ month (Pro), custom price (Enterprise)

Moosesend is an email marketing platform for managing several email campaigns and mailing lists. Design and A/B test responsive emails and newsletters to ensure they effectively target your audience.

Personalize your emails by creating any condition combinations in order to segment your audience based on the specific behaviors you care about on both your emails and your website.

Understand the success of your email marketing campaigns with Moosend’s analytics dashboard — track email opens, clicks, social shares, unsubscribed, and more.

2. Identify who you’re sharing your email campaigns with.

Determine who you want to send your emails to. For example, you might use lifecycle stages to group your email recipients — for upsell campaign, you send emails to existing customers who have not purchased a particular product yet.

Your email marketing tool should be able to help you efficiently segment your customers ahead of your campaign using the criteria you’ve decided upon. Again, your contact data in your CRM should help with this — for instance, in HubSpot, segment your email recipients by lifecycle stage.

3. Determine your email campaign’s goal.

Your email marketing is only as good as your strategy — so ensure you know exactly why you’re contacting these individuals. Do you want them to buy something? Learn something? Do something?

Once you answer this question, you can figure out the messaging you need to take them from where contacts are currently to where you want them to go.

You also have to plan for what happens when you succeed.

For example, imagine a 10-email series to get prospects to request a consultation. Prospect A converts within the first email. If Prospect A continues to receive emails telling them to do what they’ve already done, they’ll get frustrated.

In HubSpot, if you define your goal, it will unenroll any contacts who meet the goal.email marketing automation tool: define your workflow goal

4. Set enrollment criteria.

Enrollment criteria refer to the qualifications that must be met for a contact to be entered into a workflow.

If you’re using HubSpot Workflows, for example, you can create personalized, automated email workflows that can get triggered in a number of different ways — when a contact gets added to a list, submits a form on your website, clicks a link in an email, views a page on your blog, clicks on one of your ads, or becomes a marketing qualified lead.

You can also set up email workflows based on any information you have about the contacts in your marketing database, such as page views, email or social media clicks, content downloads, contact properties, or any combination of these and more.

5. Determine which processes you want to automate with Workflows.

If you were manually emailing these contacts, what would you do? Think of your email marketing workflows as blueprints that outline each action your tool will take for you.

For instance, in HubSpot, specify which actions you want the software to take. Examples of automatable actions are:

  • Sending an email.
  • Scheduling an email (and/or delaying it).
  • If/ then email branching.
  • Updating and syncing all email and contact data to your CRM.

email marketing automation software: Select your workflow action

6. Create your email campaign assets.

By this point, you know how many emails you want to send, the general messaging you’ll include in the emails, and which groups of customers the emails are going to.

Now ensure all of your email campaign assets are created and available in your email automation software so you can add them to campaigns.

make your assets available in hubspot

7. Check your email automation setup and run a test, if possible.

Some things to consider implementing into your workflow publishing process are:

  • Looking at your list of enrolled contacts for errors.
  • Ensuring the number of enrolled contacts is what you’d expect.
  • Considering your workflow chart and use cases.
  • Checking your “Send” settings.

In HubSpot, you can test your workflow to ensure the automation you plan to set live is working as planned.

email marketing automation software: test your automation to make sure it's working

8. Make our email automation workflow live and monitor its progress.

Once you’re happy with the workflow, set it live.

Mistakes can happen, so monitor for anomalies. Don’t be afraid to adjust as needed to resolve issues or improve the performance of your email automation workflow — similar to your other marketing strategies, this is also an iterative process.

Additionally, you can always expand upon your workflows to support other business goals. Use them to automate other actions such as setting or clearing a contact property value, updating a contact’s lifecycle stage, adding/removing a contact from a list, and other administrative tasks that allow for more targeted, effective marketing to your prospects and customers.

15 Examples of Email Marketing Automation Workflows You Should Try

Now let’s walk through some examples of automated email workflows you can set up to start getting more out of your contacts database and marketing automation software.

1. Topic Workflows

Main triggers: Page views or content offer downloads.

Create a workflow for each of the industry-related topics you create content about.

Imagine you’re a unicorn breeder whose main content topics include unicorn diets, unicorn gear, and unicorn boarding. Then you could bucket your content marketing offers (e.g. ebooks, webinars, kits, etc.) and blog posts by these topics. You could also create an email workflow for each topic and then trigger the appropriate workflow when one of your contacts views a page or downloads an offer centered around that topic.

Trigger a content download workflow based on a form submission from a tool conversion tool like HubSpot’s Free Marketing & Lead Generation Software. To trigger an automated workflow in HubSpot, you can use the “Lead Flow Submission” option as the starting condition.

So if a contact downloaded your ebook called 10 Tips for a Balanced Unicorn Diet, your “unicorn diet” workflow would be triggered, sending that contact more helpful content, such as blog posts describing unicorn dietary tips.

2. Blog Subscriber Welcome Workflow

Main trigger: Subscription to your blog.

Give your brand new blog subscribers a nice, warm welcome with a blog welcome email. Use this email to thank contacts for subscribing, remind them what they’ll get out of reading your blog, review their subscription settings (and allow them to make adjustments), and promote your blog’s best-performing articles or other offers.

(Get tips for creating a successful blog welcome email here, and learn more about optimizing welcome emails here.)

3. New Customer Welcome/ Training Workflow

Main trigger: Lifecycle stage.

While we’re on the subject of warm welcomes, consider setting up a series of welcome emails when a contact converts into a paying customer, which you can trigger when a contact’s lifecycle stage gets updated to “customer.”

Not only is this a great way to kick off your new customer relationship on a positive note, but it can also keep your customers engaged after they buy. And if your product or service requires a little training on your customers’ part, use this workflow as an opportunity to introduce helpful training materials on an incremental basis.

4. Engaged Contact/ Evangelist Workflow

Main triggers: Visits, clicks, or form submissions.

Create a smart/ dynamic list that automatically updates to include contacts that you’ve really engaged.

To create this list, use trigger criteria such as a high threshold of visits to your website, clicks on your emails or social media posts, or form submissions. Then create an email workflow to leverage this list as a way to encourage evangelism of your top content in social media.

Because these contacts are highly engaged with you already, they’re more likely to share your top content. You can also consider adding list criteria to pull in contacts with a certain number of Twitter followers to leverage the power of those social media influencers in your database.

5. Lead Nurturing Workflow

Main trigger: Multiple top-of-the-funnel conversion events.

If a contact has downloaded several of your top-of-the-funnel marketing offers like ebooks and webinars, it might be a sign that they’re ready for a bit more. Set up workflows that help advance these contacts further down the funnel.

If the contact is a lead, send them emails containing more middle-of-the-funnel content that can upgrade them to a marketing qualified lead (MQL) or an opportunity in your sales process.

This workflow may include content and web pages you’ve identified from an attribution report analysis as influential in converting leads into customers — perhaps content like customer success stories/case studies, free trial offers, or product demos.

6. Internal Sales Rep Notification Workflow

Main triggers: Bottom-of-the-funnel page views/ conversion events.

On any given website, there are certain page visits and conversion events that indicate more product interest than others.

First, identify these pages and conversion events using an attribution reporting tool like HubSpot. You’ll notice that, more often than not, the pages you unearth will be your pricing page, product pages, etc. — the pages that your contacts view when they’re truly considering your products or services.

Use workflows here to trigger an internal email notification to your sales rep to inform them of these high-value activities. Using personalization, give the rep all the information they need about the lead in question, including relevant mid- and bottom-of-the-funnel content that they can send to the lead in their outreach email. This allows you to connect sales reps with the best possible leads at the right time.

7. Re-engagement Workflow

Main trigger: Inactive contacts.

Reawaken inactive contacts with a re-engagement workflow, enrolling contacts once they’ve met certain list criteria.

For example, you could set conditions such as the length of time since their last form submission, website visit, or email click, triggering the email once it’s been a while since a contact last engaged with you.

In your workflow, try sending them an exclusive offer or coupon to get them excited about your company again. For more tips about launching an effective email re-engagement campaign, check out this post.

8. Event Workflow

Main trigger: Registration or attendance.

Hosting a live, in-person, or virtual event? Use email workflows to automate your communication to event registrants and attendees before, during, and after the event.

For example, create a workflow that delivers important information registrants should know leading up to the event, such as hotel accommodations and agenda information for live events, or webinar log-in information for online events.

When the event ends, set up a workflow that gives attendees online access to session slides and continues to nurture them with additional content or promotion for future events.

9. Abandoned Shopping Cart Workflow

Main trigger: Shopping cart abandonment.

If you’re an ecommerce business, you’ll likely benefit from an abandoned shopping cart workflow.

The concept here is simple: When someone adds an item to their online shopping cart but leaves your site without completing the purchase, you can trigger an email workflow that reminds them of their forgotten purchase. By offering a special discount code or incentive to buy, you motivate the individual to return to your website in order to complete the transaction.

10. Upsell Workflow

Main trigger: Past purchases.

Communication with your customers shouldn’t stop after they make a purchase. This is especially true if you sell a variety of different products and/or services. Use workflows to help you upsell or cross-sell existing customers.

Create dynamically updating lists of contacts who purchase a certain productor combination of products — and create workflows aimed at recommending other products/ services or encouraging upsells or add-ons.

11. Customer Happiness Workflow

Main trigger: High or low NPS scores.

If you administer regular Net Promoter surveys of your customer base, you can use customers’ Net Promoter Scores as a property to trigger workflows.

Simply determine what your ideal customer happiness score is, and use that as the threshold for your dynamic list of happy customers. Then trigger a workflow for customers with “happy” scores and reward them with exclusive content, offers, or discounts.

Trigger a different workflow for your “unhappy” customers that includes content/offers aimed at helping to improve their happiness.

You can even segment unhappy customers by the specific reasons they’re feeling unsatisfied — then, send them even more targeted workflows aimed at addressing their issues.

12. Customer Success/ Engagement Workflow

Main triggers: Success metrics or product usage.

If you keep track of customer success metrics, you have a prime workflow opportunity on your hands.

For example, if you’re trying to build up your arsenal of customer case studies, automatically trigger an email that asks customers if they’d be interested in being featured as a success story once certain customer success metrics were met.

Furthermore, if you track of customers’ product adoption or feature usage, you could trigger a workflow for users who are exhibiting low product engagement, providing resources that educate and train them on how to use the product features they’re not taking advantage of.

13. Upcoming Purchase Reminder Workflow

Main trigger: Purchases made on a cycle.

Does your contacts database include customers who typically purchase on a cycle? Enter those people into a workflow that gets triggered when they make a purchase.

For instance, let’s say you sell eye care products, and a customer purchases a six-month supply of prescription contacts. Enroll that customer into a workflow that sends them an automated email five months later as a reminder that their six-month supply is about to run out, and it might be time to order a new batch of contacts.

14. Customer Service or Ticket Workflow

Main Trigger: A customer or prospect contacts customer service via email or an online form.

Sometimes, your customers or prospects might have trouble using your free or paid software. When this happens, fielding a bunch of customer service emails and messages can take tons of valuable time from your schedule.

One way to avoid this is to create a workflow that turns customer concerns into tickets that can be categorized, labeled, and assigned to customer service reps on your team. These tickets can also help you keep track of ongoing problems as well as when issues with a customer or prospect are resolved.

15. Deal-Based Workflows

Main Trigger: When someone e-signs a quote or contract.

Sealing the deal is obviously key to successful marketing and sales. Automating small aspects of this process, like emails someone might get after signing a contract or quote page with you, allows your sales reps more time to nurture the client over the phone, during demos, or via other messages.

With a deal-based workflow, you can trigger confirmation emails when a prospect becomes a client or qualified lead by signing a quote or contract. With systems like HubSpot, you can also set the workflow to change the contact’s status to show where they are in the lifecycle.

Automate Your Email Marketing Campaigns

Email marketing automation increases efficiency and gives your team back valuable time that can be spent on customers and other work that requires their attention.

Additionally, the process helps optimize your email marketing strategy and personalize email content to increase its effectiveness among your target audience and customers.

Identify your ideal email marketing automation tool and begin setting up the workflows your team needs.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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Worsening economy has more shoppers getting online info before making in-store purchases

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Worsening economy has more shoppers getting online info before making in-store purchases


Summer’s here and the shoppers are wary. Consumer spending increased in May, but only by 0.2%, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This explains why 76% of U.S. shoppers are searching online for reviews and better prices before buying in store, according to a new Adobe Commerce study of sentiment among over 1,000 U.S. consumers. Also, when they’re in a store 60% are using their phone to look for better prices elsewhere.

Another sign of the slowing economy: 24% say they won’t be able to take advantage of big summer holiday sales because they have less discretionary money to spend due to inflation and the higher cost of goods. 

Read next: Adobe: Online prices were up only 2% in May

On the good news side: 76% of those planning to participate in summer sales say they’ll spend more or the same amount as last year. And the motivation varies — more than half (56%) of consumers say they save money by shopping on Prime Day and other sales events, while others want to get ahead of their seasonal holiday (32%) and back-to-school shopping (23%).

However, most of those who intend to buy don’t believe big retailers’ promises of deeper discounts because of overstocking. Almost 65% expect discounts to be smaller than last year. 

Other findings:

  • 61% said receiving personalized promotions or recommendations will make them more likely to make a purchase.
  • 43% said they are more likely to purchase from a retailer that offers buy now, pay later.
  • 72% want the online purchases delivered the same day or via two-day shipping.
  • 50% are now more likely to make retail purchases on their phones, 26% prefer in-store shopping and 24% prefer shopping via their computer
  • 57% search for and buy products online if they can’t find them in stores.
Categories for which consumers report using buy now, purchase later.

Why we care. Inflation and higher interest rates are, as expected, taking an increased toll on consumer spending. That makes marketing more important than ever, via activities like personalization and customer experience. That should also include offering payment options like buy now, pay later. People are used to putting everything on a credit card, but interest rates are making that less attractive to them.


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About The Author

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.



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Getting Started with the Agile Marketing Navigator: Building a Marketing Backlog

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Freeing agile marketing from its software development roots


We recently introduced you to Agile Marketing Navigator, a flexible framework for navigating agile marketing for marketers, by marketers in the article A new way to navigate agile marketing. The navigator has four major components: Collaborative Planning Workshop, Launch Cycle, Key Practices and Roles. Within these categories, there are several sub-pieces for implementation. In recent articles, we covered the pieces in the first stop of the navigator, the Collaborative Planning Workshop.

Now we’re going to dive into the next stop on your agile marketing journey — the Launch Cycle. The Launch Cycle is a repeatable cadence for delivering valuable marketing experiences early and often. Within the Launch Cycle there are five key components — Marketing Backlog, Cycle Planning, Daily Huddle, Team Showcase and Team Improvement. If you’re familiar with the Scrum framework, there are a lot of similarities here — with a few different nuances to make it more applicable to marketers.

Building and managing an effective Marketing Backlog

Now, let’s dive into the Marketing Backlog and some tips and tricks for marketers to be most effective. 

The Marketing Backlog is an ordered list of prioritized work that the agile team will pull from to work on in their Launch Cycle. The backlog is emergent, not static, and changes as new information is learned. 

This part of the framework is incredibly important and can have a major impact on how marketers work. First of all, there’s one shared place where all work lives. This avoids work happening “behind the scenes” that no one knows about.

In fact, one client that I worked with took all of the work that was already assigned to stakeholders, put it in a single backlog and realized that it would take five years to deliver! It’s with this level of transparency that teams and leaders can begin to visualize everything the team is doing and start to really understand what’s important and what may just be someone’s pet project.

There are many tools for managing your marketing backlog and they all have their pros and cons. The main thing to watch out for is ensuring that everyone on the team, as well as stakeholders have access. We want to build a transparent system.

If you’ve started with the Collaborative Planning Workshop, you’ve already begun to build out the Marketing Backlog. The items in your Minimally Viable Launch will go near the top, and other items will fall below. Work is never guaranteed until the team starts working on it, and even then sound business reasons could cause them to pivot, although that shouldn’t be the norm.

Prioritizing the backlog is one of the key responsibilities of the Marketing Owner. While they don’t do this in a vacuum and conversations with stakeholders are imperative, this role has the ultimate authority to decide what order the team will work on and which items won’t be considered (there are always way more good ideas than time).

The role of the Marketing Owner

The Marketing Owner needs to really understand the business value that each idea brings. Each marketing backlog should be thought of in terms of:

  • Level of effort it will take the team to complete (let’s face it — all things aren’t created equal. Building a Tesla may take longer than a base model Honda, so think through marketing ideas as well).
  • What value does it bring to customers? Joy? Satisfaction? Solves a problem? Addresses a cause?
  • What will the business gain from this idea, and how does it tie to business goals, KPIs and revenue?

Stakeholders, customers and team members should all be thinking about new ideas all of the time and everyone is invited to submit ideas to the backlog. However, it’s at the Marketing Owner’s discretion to decide which ideas will be worked on by the team and when.


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Work should never be directly assigned to a team member in agile marketing. It should be submitted to the backlog or discussed with the marketing owner as it needs to be visible and prioritized among everything else.

In agile marketing, backlog items should be used to test and learn and are thought of as micro-experiments, rather than large campaign blasts. 

While a backlog item may be for a post on Facebook, the team should be thinking in terms of testing elements, such as content. If the content is successful, similar content pieces would be on the backlog. However, if the content doesn’t perform well, the team would want to think of new backlog items with different content.


agile marketing workflow

Catch up on the Agile Marketing Navigator series!


The backlog may contain some business as usual items to keep the lights on, but the majority of items should be small, testable experiments that can quickly get to customers for real-time feedback.

If you haven’t started a marketing backlog yet, what are you waiting for?


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”



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When Your SEO Competitors Don’t Match What You Know

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When Your SEO Competitors Don't Match What You Know


You know your competitors, and you’re not going to let some damned SEO tool tell you different!

Hey, I’ll give you the first part, but there are a lot of reasons that the results from a tool like True Competitor might not match your expectations, and that could be a good thing.

I’m going to dig into five of those reasons:

  1. You’re living in the past

  2. You’ve hit a brick wall

  3. You can’t see the trees

  4. You’re stuck in one tree

  5. We’re just plain wrong

First, the toughest one to hear — the world is changing, and you’re not changing with it.

1. You’re living in the past

Look, I know Big Wally at Big Wally’s Widget World said your Grandma’s meatloaf was “just okay, I guess” at the church potluck in ‘87, but you need to move on. Even if you’re not quite-so-literally stuck in the past, you may be operating on an outdated sense of who your competitors are. Especially online, the competitive landscape can change quickly, and it’s worth re-evaluating from time to time.

2. You’ve hit a brick wall

Quite literally — you’ve run headlong into your own brick-and-mortar wall. As a business with physical locations, your competitors with physical locations are absolutely important, but from a search perspective, they may not represent who you’re actually competing with online.

Take, for example, McDonald’s — you might expect the competition to include Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and other fast food chains with physical restaurants. Meanwhile, here are the second through fourth results from True Competitor:

While DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats don’t have traditional, physical locations, these are the places where McDonald’s online customers go to order, and they represent a significant amount of organic SERP real estate. From an SEO standpoint, this is reality.

3. You can’t see the trees

You can see the whole forest from where you’re standing, and that’s great, but are you missing the diversity and distinctiveness of the trees?

This is easier to show than tell. Let’s take a look at big box retailer, Target. True Competitor returns the following top three:

No big surprises here, and no one should be shocked that this list includes not only brick-and-mortar competitors, but online retail juggernauts like Amazon. Let’s take a deeper look, though (the following are competitors #8, #7, and #22 in our current data):

Target isn’t just up against the whole-forest, big box retailers — they also have to contend with niche competition. Their competitors in the video game space include not only brick-and-mortar retailers like GameStop, but competitor-partners like Sony and Nintendo (which both sell hardware and software directly online).

Not every grove of trees is going to have the same needs and growing conditions. Your competitive landscape could have dozens of ecosystems, and each of them requires unique research and likely a unique strategy.

4. You’re stuck in one tree

On the other hand, you could be stuck in just one tree. Let’s take Ford Motor Company as an example. Savvy marketers at Ford know they’re not just up against legacy automakers like Chevrolet and Toyota, but up-and-coming competitors like Tesla and Rivian.

That niche is incredibly important, but let’s take a look at what the SERPs are telling us:

These are Ford’s #1, #2, and #5 competitors, and they aren’t automakers — they’re automotive content producers. Does this mean that Chevy and Tesla aren’t Ford’s competitors? Of course not. It means that those automakers are infrequently appearing in SERPs alongside Ford. Ford is competing with mentions of their own products (makes and models) in leading online publications.

5. We’re just plain wrong

Hey, it happens — I’m not here to claim that we’re perfect. SERP-based competitive analysis has a couple of limitations. First, as discussed, SERP analysis doesn’t always reflect the brick-and-mortar world. From an SEO perspective, that’s fine (if they’re not ranking, we’re not competing with them for search share), but there are other essential pieces to the puzzle.

Second, our SERP-based analysis is based on national results and does not reflect regional or hyperlocal competition. Some regional businesses do have national competitors, and that’s worth knowing, but localized perspectives are important as well.

Maybe it’s a good thing…

What if a tool like True Competitor only returned information that you already knew? I guess you could pat yourself on the back and move on with life, but what did you learn? To me, the entire point of SERP-based competitive analysis is to challenge your expectations and your point of view. If the results don’t match what you expect, that mismatch represents opportunity.

More likely than not, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong (unless you’ve let vanity and personal history get the best of you) — it means that you’re missing a perspective or a niche that could be important. If you can see that missing perspective as money left on the table, then you’ve got a good chance to pick it up and walk away with a bit more in your pocket.


The Competitive Analysis Suite is now available to all Moz Pro customers, and we’d love to hear your feedback via the ‘Make a Suggestion’ button in the app.

Sign up for a free trial to access the Competitive Research Suite!

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