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In this post, you’ll learn how to analyze competitor websites. What you discover will help you transform your site into a digital brand advocate.
Most businesses have a website. But only a tiny portion have a website that enhances brand value. Even fewer generate organic traffic comprised of qualified prospective customers.
You may wonder if a website can do all those things. It can.
The secret to developing a website like the one I have described here is much like auto racing. You can’t win a race if you don’t know what—or who—you’re competing against.
Think about it. There’s no way to know how fast your car must be to win a race unless you know how fast the other cars run. Likewise, you must understand the dynamics of the track, conditions, and so on.
This illustration of competition is the foundation for competitor website analysis. The website is the car, the Internet is the track, and your competitors’ websites are like the other cars in the race.
You can access a cache of invaluable information when you analyze competitor websites. Then, you can leverage what you learn to supercharge your site—like a car running on rocket fuel.
Who Are Your Competitors?
In today’s market environment, most companies compete on a global scale.
This is a reality for your business, too—whether you know it or not.
Your customers shop online for the products and services you sell. Even if they plan to buy from you, they use online pricing to help them determine what they should pay. They read posts, reviews, and watch videos that help them make better buying decisions.
Everything your competitors do online impacts your bottom line.
But it’s challenging to determine who your competitors are because there are so many of them. So, when you want to analyze competitor websites, whose sites do you study?
When you finish reading this post, you’ll know how to:
- choose the right competitor websites for analysis
- set website analysis goals
- how to analyze competitor websites
- improve your site’s competitiveness
Which Competitor Websites Should You Analyze?
The number of competitors you should analyze depends on your target market. But you should study at least five competitor sites to get useful results. The ideal number is ten.
Most local businesses know who their competitors are. They’re down the street, across town, or even a hundred miles away.
For most regional and all national companies, identifying competitors may be more challenging.
A practical approach is to use your search engine of choice to find relevant competitors. It’s best to try several searches and look for the businesses that come up most often. Use specific search terms to get accurate results.
As a guide, think of five search terms related to your business. Then, search each and make a list of the top ten results.
As you make this list, ignore ads in search results.
Because those sites are paying for ranking placement and may not be good models for analysis. Ads change almost every day. So, the websites on page one of the search results via advertising will likely change as well.
Another way to find your competitors is to use an online SEO tool. Ubersuggest is one of my favorites. It’s a keyword research tool that allows you to find relevant online competitors.
To get started, go to Ubersuggest.
Next, type in your website domain (i.e., yourcompany.com) and hit enter. Under the “keywords” section (on the left side), you’ll see an option called “Competing Domains” as you see here:
From the “Competing Domains” report, you can view a list of relevant competitors. This report shows you how much traffic each competitor website receives. It also helps you determine which competitors to analyze. Website traffic levels indicate which sites are doing well online and which aren’t.
You can still learn a lot from a competitor’s website even if it doesn’t get much traffic. Many businesses have a great site but don’t know how to get exposure. If you know a competitor is relevant but their website doesn’t get traffic, analyze it anyway.
Without minimal traffic, it will be difficult for any SEO tool to suggest competitors. So, if your website doesn’t get much traffic, then you’ll have to use the manual search approach above.
When in doubt about which sites to analyze, use your best judgment.
Goals to Set When You Analyze a Competitor’s Website
Each competitor’s website will reveal nuggets of valuable data you can use to improve yours. But to extract this information, you must know what to look for.
So, let’s start by identifying goals for your competitor website analysis project. I’ll dive deeper into each one later in this post, but let’s start with a summary of the most important components.
Target Audience and Segments
The purpose of a website is to reach the target audience—that is, the group (or groups) of people the company serves. Segments are niches within a broader audience.
It’s critical to identify specific target market segments. To illustrate, let’s assume your broad target audience is “wealth management teams”. Insurance agents, financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys work in wealth management too. Each of these represents a smaller audience segment. So, you may be more successful in marketing to each segment instead of targeting them as one group.
What specific market segments could you add to your brand marketing strategy?
One reason to analyze competitor websites is to create brand differentiation.
What can you do to exploit your competitors’ weaknesses? What have they forgotten or omitted that you can include on your site?
During analysis, take note of each competitor’s brand position. A brand position reflects how the audience perceives a business.
Companies often use a strategy to position themselves in the marketplace. Here are some examples of brand positioning:
- Economy or affordable
- “Style on a budget”
To assess each competitor’s position, make a note of the following:
- benefit claims
- pricing structures
- target audience
Other factors play a role in brand differentiation. Here are a few components of visual branding to consider as you analyze competitors:
- brand colors
- other images and photography
Once you have identified your competitors’ positions, think about how you compare. What can do that they aren’t? How can you set your business apart?
Social media should be part of your competitor website analysis project. Social media plays a vital role in developing an organization’s online reputation. Though it doesn’t directly improve search rankings, social media impacts website authority.
Social media helps grow website traffic in a few ways. First, content usually sends traffic to the organization’s website (via links). Second, multiple social channels can be used to increase the site’s reach. Finally, active social profiles add psychological credibility in the eyes of the audience.
Social media content tells you how competitors are trying to reach the audience. Some are better at it than others. Regardless, you’ll discover what’s working for them, what isn’t, and how to improve your own content.
Getting organic (free) traffic is mandatory for any business that wants to grow online. While it’s challenging to get organic traffic, it’s even more difficult to get quality traffic. Competitor website traffic levels help you find valuable organic traffic sources.
I covered organic traffic analysis in the section above. But as you study competitor website traffic levels, look for trends. These trends provide insight into the type of content you can create to generate traffic. They also clue you in to other products or services you could offer to increase revenue.
Getting Started With Competitor Website Analysis
To get the most value from your analysis, start with at least five but no more than ten competing websites. Fewer than five may not provide enough depth. More than ten can make the process confusing or overbearing.
Most the websites you choose to analyze should belong to direct competitors. A direct competitor is a business that sells the same products or services you do in the same target market.
Study a few indirect competitors too. These competitors offer an alternative solution to your product or service.
How to Analyze Competitor Websites
Once you’ve compiled a list of competitor websites to analyze, it’s time to get started. But what details should you look for? And how do you collect the most valuable information from each site?
The process used for analysis is called a competitor website audit. To perform an audit, follow these steps:
Step 1: Scan the Design
Most website users scan the layout, content, and design features when they land on the home page. So, it makes sense to start your analysis by doing the same.
What’s the first thing you notice? Why did that particular element grab your attention?
Was it the color of a section, a headline, or an image that stood out? Whatever it was, make a note of it and why you noticed it first.
After you’ve taken inventory of initial impressions, study the home page layout. Look over each section carefully. Then, document the information contained in each section along with details.
The top section of a website is sometimes called the “hero”. This is usually the first section visitors see when they land on the site. The hero should grab attention and communicate the company’s value. Most of all, it should stir the visitor’s interest and keep them on the page.
Here’s a competitive analysis website example:
This is a screenshot of MailerLite’s home page hero section. The headline is bold and makes a clear value statement. The sentences underneath the headline tell the user what MailerLite is all about.
The images on the right side of the screen show a happy customer and text blocks with services listed. So, without moving the mouse, MailerLite’s website tells us they:
- are an email marketing company
- help entrepreneurs sell digital products
- offer business websites
As you scroll down the page, what do you see? Does each section support the previous one? Does it reinforce the business’s benefit claims?
You may discover that this is not always the case. Many times, a competitor’s website won’t follow the pattern I have described. This means you’ve found an opportunity to improve on something they’ve missed.
Step 2: Site Structure
Site structure is one of the most important, and often overlooked, elements of a good website. Proper structure makes it easy for visitors to find the content they want. It also means they’re more likely to stay on the site and engage in some way.
A website’s structure is critical for performance on search engines. Well-organized websites are easier for search engines to index. A site with a solid structure will get ranked higher in search results.
To assess structure, look at the site’s navigation (menu), usually located at the top. Observe the order of web pages. Top-level pages are the primary pages of a website that are the most obvious and easiest to locate. The home and about pages are the most popular examples of top-level pages.
Critical content should be available and accessible—no more than one click away. Click through each web page to see what information you can find and how easy it is to locate.
Step 3: User Experience
Have you ever landed on a website only to get annoyed because you couldn’t find what you were looking for?
No one likes a website that is confusing, difficult to navigate, or doesn’t give them what they want.
Your website visitors feel the same way.
In this step, we’ll assess each competitor’s site to determine how easy or difficult it is to use.
The goals in this part of the process are simple. If you find any part of a competitor’s website difficult to use, avoid making that mistake on yours. Likewise, if something makes the site interesting or engaging, consider using it.
Here are some website elements that enhance or detract from the user experience:
Websites that don’t load fast are dead in an on-demand world. Google, the largest of all search engines, prioritizes load speed. Google recommends that all websites load in two and a half seconds or less.
And that baseline will continue to drop as technology advances.
Use Google Page Speed Insights to check the load speed of your competitors’ websites. Then, test your own and compare.
How does your website perform compared to competitors? Does it meet Google’s recommendations? If not, use the steps given by Page Speed Insights to improve load speed or get help from a professional.
Need help optimizing your website?
Visit our resources library to download a FREE Website Assessment Workbook!
A call-to-action (CTA) is usually a button or link that takes the visitor to a download, content, or to a purchase page. All CTAs should be in prominent locations throughout the website. They should also contain a clear, definitive action statement, such as “get the free info” or “buy the book”.
Most website calls-to-action are generic, like “click here”. But descriptive calls-to-action have higher conversion rates. What CTAs do your competitors use on their websites?
Click through each call-to-action to see where it takes you. The ideal CTA takes the user straight to the relevant content. This is important because users will likely lose patience after one or two clicks.
When you land on a competitor’s website, do you feel you can trust the company based on what you see? If you do or don’t, then the target audience probably feels the same way.
Your website must give users signals (stated and implied) that build trust. Design quality, resources, testimonials, case studies, organization badges, and educational content are examples.
Visual trust signals are as important as stated ones, perhaps more. For example, poor formatting, misspelled words, and low-quality images diminish trust.
Take a look at the two examples below. Which one looks trustworthy?
Or this one:
As you analyze competitor websites, assess the trustworthiness of each. For simplicity, score each one on a scale of one to five.
Who comes out on top? Why?
Though the definition of trust depends on individual perception, use your best judgment. If you think a site looks bad, ask why—then make sure your site doesn’t make the same trust-damaging mistakes.
Step 4: Assess Content
In this step, you’ll explore the competitor’s website content. Here are a few items to look for:
- Do they have a blog? If so, what topics do they cover?
- Do they offer resources? Are they free or paid?
- How much product or service information do they provide?
Your content survey should be as in-depth as possible. For example, read a few blog posts and click through all service or product pages.
The more information you assess, the easier it will be to improve your website content.
Step 5: Brand Strength
A branded website makes a strong impression and generates more engagement from the audience. Here’s how to check the strength of each competitor brand:
- Does the logo look professional or like a stock design template?
- Are the images clear and in hi-definition or blurry and hard to see?
- Do the images blend with the website’s color palette?
- Does the website’s color palette make sense for the brand?
- Do the fonts blend and make content easier or harder to read?
- Is the brand image consistent throughout the website?
- Is messaging clear and compelling?
Each of these brand elements works together to improve or damage the website’s appeal.
Step 6: Site Engagement
A website should create an opportunity for engagement with visitors. Engagement comes in many forms. Quizzes, resources, giveaways, and inquiries for quotes or consultations are examples.
As you analyze each competitor’s website, note how they create engagement opportunities. You may find some good ideas for your site.
Step 7: Features and Benefits
In this step of competitor website analysis, it’s time to dive into the features and benefit claims. Features refer to specific product or service qualities. Benefit claims speak to the problems the product or service solves.
Many businesses try to sell the same product benefits. For example, they make statements such as “we offer great service” and “take care of our customers”. But these aren’t going to motivate anyone to buy your product.
What features and benefits do your competitors use? How are they trying to grab the audience’s attention?
To uncover trends, make a list of features and benefits you find on competitor sites. Don’t worry about separating them. Then, once you have a list, categorize them as functional and emotional benefits. When you’re finished, you should have a good distribution of each benefit type.
This will help you strengthen the benefit claims on your website.
Step 8: Traffic Strategy
Some of your competitors’ websites get a lot of traffic. Others get a little or none at all. To make a reliable analysis, you must know what each one is doing to get traffic.
Website traffic analysis is an in-depth process. Since you don’t have access to Google analytics for competitor sites, you’ll need help. Competitor analysis tools will enable you to evaluate website traffic. I’ll use Ubersuggest to analyze web traffic in the following example.
Enter your competitor’s website into the search bar to find out how much traffic that site receives. You can also see traffic sources.
As an example, let’s examine Fidelity Investment’s website traffic. Fidelity is a large, well-known investment company in America. I’ll use Ubersuggest to generate a traffic report for Fidelity.
You can see the top four pages that account for most of Fidelity’s organic website traffic in the image above. The home page gets the most. This isn’t surprising, considering that Fidelity is a well-known brand.
However, the third page in the queue is a blog post entitled, “How Much Do I Need to Retire?”
The post gets over 41,000 monthly visitors.
Now, let’s assume Fidelity was one of your competitors. This report tells us that creating a blog post on this topic might bring traffic to your site too. This takes the guesswork out of the content creation process.
Follow this step for each competitor’s website.
Competitor website analysis is a complex process, but what you learn is invaluable. If you need help, please contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m happy to answer any questions you have.
Until next time,
More Branding Insights
By Chris Fulmer |
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