Knowledge is power and because every business today is so closely tied to technology, the ability to understand your competition is better now than it has ever been. However, one important aspect of researching your competitors is to take a holistic approach to your research and analyzing the results of your research.
This is true if you’re planning a new business or product, or improvements to existing businesses or products. If your website plays any role in customer acquisition or sales, understanding the elements and design of competitors’ websites can be critical. Here are some fundamentals.
- Finding the competition. I assume you have a good idea who your competitors are, but if you don’t – or you want to broaden your vision – use this Google search: “related:www.mybizURLhere.com.” It will return a list of sites that Google believes have a purpose similar to yours. See if you’ve missed anyone.
- Architecture and infrastructure. Once you have a feel for who’s out there, what platforms are they using? Wappalyzer is a free Chrome and Firefox extension that will identify the software that is powering any website. The better you understand how the websites of your competitors operate, the better positioned you are to create something that’s superior.
- Graphics and user experience design. Every site has a “look and feel” and this can separate the winners from the losers. Sometimes it’s the most critical element of a site or a product. Recently, 888Ladies published a post that takes readers through their entire process of developing a new circus-themed game. They knew that they had to create something entirely unique and brought virtually their entire team on board for the development process – including measuring up the competition.
A key finding for them was the fact that competitors were not yet using 3D animation, so achieving that became a design goal early on. It’s obvious how important killer graphics and an intuitive user interface is to a gaming company, but frankly those elements are just as important to any business that has a presence on the Internet.
In ecommerce, we have all probably abandoned a purchase because the checkout process was too cumbersome or confusing. Work hard to identify those kinds of weaknesses in your competition. These analyses take the human touch. Have people thoroughly explore and test competitors’ websites and note their strengths and weaknesses. And unless you’re going for a “retro” feel, be sure your graphics are in line with today’s style standards.
- Traffic sources. When user acquisition is important to the success of your business, you need to know where your competitors are getting their Internet traffic. SimilarWeb and Alexa both offer limited free traffic analytics and more in-depth information with a paid subscription. These traffic-source websites are most useful when a small business is trying to compete with a big business. Smaller sites often don’t generate enough data to register on these services.
- Social media audience. Use Twitonomy to gather insights about your competitors’ social media, specifically Twitter, audience. See what hashtags are getting results. With a paid subscription here you can download a list of your competitor’s Twitter followers. If you felt it was appropriate, you could then Tweet an offer to them.
- Google alerts. Set up Google alerts for all of your major competitors. These are almost like a spy plane roving the Internet. You can have reports automatically emailed to you on whatever frequency you desire. You’ll be able to keep a close watch on them and find out when anything significant occurs with their business and it gets mentioned online.
- Sales outlets. If you make a product that is sold in stores, knowing the outlets where your competitors merchandise is sold is critical. Explore all of your competitors websites and look for pages like “Where to find our widgets” and put all of those locations into a spreadsheet or customer relationship management system. When you have that information, explore those websites trying to find the name of the person who would be the buyer. Begin a relationship with that person.
- Keywords. You certainly want to spend some time using Google’s keyword tool in Adwords. Also check out übersuggest. However, very often your competitors will have their important keywords identified in the code of their webpages. In your browser, find out how to “view source” and then search for this phrase:
Following this will be a list of keywords that were deemed important, at least when the web page was originally put together. See if you think they apply to your business and if so, would they be worth securing with Adword bids.
You can see from this list that some of this is using tools to “spy” on your competition, but in virtually every case, human analysis is even more important. Use the tools to dig deeply, but then take some time to determine what is most important and act on those items first.