In this week’s instalment of Words that Bite, I look at the murky task of researching and analysing competitor websites.
A lot of people might feel uncomfortable with the idea of conducting competitor research. Even contemplating it might make you feel a little like the person in the photograph above. It might seem much easier to put your blinkers on and politely continue doing your own thing.
The question you need to ask yourself is ‘Is this smart?’.
The answer is a resounding ‘No’.
There is nothing wrong with becoming familiar with what your competitors are doing online. You can’t run a business effectively by burying your head in the sand. Unfortunately, however, a lot of business owners do just this, and it means that their marketing strategy ends up operating in an imaginary world instead of in the real one. The results can be disastrous.
Every business owner needs to conduct competitor research because it ensures you don’t operate in a void, and forces you to refine and update your marketing strategy. It also assists you to expand your customer base by providing a better online resource.
The best way to find your competitors is to look at three main criteria:
So that the task does not become too overwhelming or time-consuming, I suggest you start working with five carefully selected competitors.
There are almost endless possibilities when it comes to creating a research methodology for analysing competitors. Lengthy textbooks, guaranteed to make your head spin, have been written on the subject.
I’ve tried here to simplify the process into something that can be applied by the average small-business owner who is pressed for time but needs to obtain a clear picture of what their competitors are doing in cyberspace.
Here are 20 criteria you can use to examine a competitor’s website:
You might come up with some additional criteria that are specific to your industry or service.
The next step is to set up a competitor analysis table. It is not as technical as it sounds: simply create a table in MS Word or Excel. I suggest you have your competitors’ names running across the top of the table and the criteria you are going to use to assess their websites running down the side.
Don’t forget to include your own website. You should try to be objective about its performance.
Your competitor analysis table might look something like this:
The next step is to undertake an analysis of each of your competitors’ websites, according to the criteria listed above.
I suggest you create two identical tables.
In the first one, take notes on each of these criteria for each competitor.
In the other, use a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the highest score and 1 being the lowest) to rank each competitor in each category. There’s nothing more exciting than adding up the scores and finding you have trumped someone else! More importantly, it will give you an idea of where your own website might be lacking.
Obviously, this is subjective. However, I still think it is important to decide whether or not you think a given website is pleasing to look at.
The question of usability overlaps with that of design. This is where you need to explore how user-friendly the website is. The most important thing is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never used the website, rather than those of someone who knows a lot about the particular industry it relates to.
Just as the question of usability overlaps with design, both these criteria overlap with information architecture.
Here, you need to look at the structure of the site:
Look at your competitor’s home page and analyse whether the purpose of the website is clearly stated.
As a visitor to the website who knows little about the product or service being sold or offered, do I know exactly what this business is offering its customers or clients?
Has your competitor identified what makes it different from other businesses selling similar products or services?
Is it clear on the home page what the customer or client who is interested in the product or service should do once they have entered the website?
If so, are these ‘calls to action’ likely to inspire anyone to act?
A useful marketing strategy is to have an ‘offer’ on the home page.
Examine the content. How would you rate its quality?
If your competitor has a blog:
If your competitor includes downloads:
Check whether your competitor’s website includes an eNewsletter to which potential customers or clients can subscribe, so that it can build a database of potential clients.
If your competitor uses social media:
Obviously, the first step is to identify competitors who use the same keywords as you.
A useful tool for seeing which keywords a competitor may be ranking in is Search Metrics.
Page rank is also a useful measure for assessing a website. While not foolproof, it is straightforward, easily understood and gives you a good idea of potential website reach. Obviously, though, websites for small local businesses aren’t going to do well on their page rank score.
A useful tool for checking page rank is PR Checker.
It is always helpful to get a sense of how much traffic your competitors are receiving.
A valuable tool for estimating traffic is Google Ad Planner.
Analysing links is tricky because, these days, it isn’t about their quantity, but their quality.
The speed at which a site loads is an important factor to consider when doing competitor analysis because it is a good indication of how easy a site is to access. It is also a ranking factor used by Google.
A useful tool for analysing site speed is Google Page Speed Insights.
This is a tricky question and you probably won’t be able to find out the exact answer. Check whether there are any articles on the business either in the press or online. What’s the word on the street? In the end, for this particular criterion, you may have to take an educated guess.
Researching and analysing what your competitors are doing online is a vital part of any business strategy. It may involve quite a bit work, but it will tell you a great deal not only about their businesses, but yours as well. All in all, you may also be surprised how much you learn and how much it helps you improve and refine your website’s performance in the dog-eat-dog world of SEO.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I will look at how to approach another important aspect of SEO – link building.
Are you too busy running your business to look after your SEO? Would you like someone to look after it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.