You have to realize that your online competition is different from your offline competition. Online, you are competing with all organizations that have an online presence and sell the same types of products and services you do. When doing your competitive analysis online, you want to select the “best of breed”— those fantastic Web sites of the organizations selling the same products and services you do—no matter where they are physically located.
One of your Web site’s objectives is to always meet and beat the competition in terms of search engine rankings and Web site content. To do so, you must understand exactly what it is your competition is doing. Take the time to research competitors and compare them on an element-by-element basis.
There are a number of ways you can identify your competition online. You can find them by conducting searches with the appropriate keywords, seeing which competing Web sites rank highly in the major search engines and directories. Similarly, there are many other online resources you can use to research your competition, including industry-specific Web portals and directories.
Once you have gathered a list of competing Web sites, analyze them element by element to determine which Web elements your competitors include on their sites and how their sites compare to one another. You want to look at what types of content they are providing to your target market. Other components you should analyze include the visual appeal of your competitors’ sites, content, ease of navigation, search engine friendliness, interactivity, and Web site stickiness, or what they do to keep people coming back to their site. You will also want to look at the competition’s total online presence: Do they have a Facebook page? Twitter account? YouTube channel? Blog? How are they growing their fans, followers, and friends in their social media accounts? This information can provide you with details on what you need to incorporate into your site and your social media accounts to meet and beat the competition.
When we do a competitive analysis for clients, we reverse-engineer (or dissect) the competing Web site from a number of different perspectives. Generally, you will choose five or six of the absolute best competing Web sites. Then you start to build a database using Excel or a table in Word.
Start with the first competing Web site, and from your review, start to add database elements to the first column. Note any types of content, target markets defined, repeat-traffic techniques used, viral marketing techniques used, search
engine friendliness features used, download time for different types of Internet connections, cross-platform compatibility, cross-browser compatibility, and innovative elements. When you have dissected the first competing Web site and have noted appropriate database elements for comparative purposes, move on to the second competing Web site. Go through the same process, adding those elements that are new or different from what you already have in your database. Continue building the first column of your database by continuing through all the sites you want to include in your competitive analysis.
The next step is to develop a column for each of the sites you want to include in the competitive analysis. Then add two more columns—one for your existing Web site, to see how your site stacks against the competition, and the second for future planning purposes.
The next step is to go back and compare each site against the criteria for column 1, noting appropriate comments. For content information, you want to note whether the particular site has the same specific content, and how well it was presented. For download speeds, note specific minutes and seconds for each type of connection. For each repeat-traffic generator, you may choose to include details, or just yes/no. Continue with this process until you have completed the database, including your own existing site.
By this time, you should have a good feel for users’ experiences when they visit your competitors’ sites. Now you are ready to see how your site stacks up against the competition. The next column should have your Web site. Compare
your site against all the criteria in column 1. Now you can see in black and white how your site compares to your competition.
Now you are ready to do your planning. In the last column of your database, review each of the elements in the first column, review your notes in your competitive analysis, and, where appropriate, complete the last column by categorizing each of the elements as one of the following:
- A—Need to have; essential, critical element; can’t live without
- B—Nice to have if it doesn’t cost too much
- C—Don’t need; don’t want at any price.
Remember that users usually visit at least three Web sites before they make their buying decision. When they have visited a number of sites that have certain elements incorporated, such as a virtual tour, that element becomes the norm or an expectation. If your site does not have that virtual tour (or whatever that certain element is), they may feel as if you are not keeping up with industry standards, that you are not meeting their expectations. The bar is constantly being raised. Once a person sees something on three or four of your competitors’ sites, it becomes an expectation. The Internet has helped create very demanding consumers with very high expectations.
Having completed identification of your objectives, target markets, products and services, and now your competitive analysis, you are ready to develop your storyboard, plan, or blueprint for your site.