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Apples & Oranges - They Don't Compare

Website competitive analysis is important, but it’s often done for the wrong reasons. In my opinion, there’s nothing better than measuring your progress against your own performance, plans or targets.

However, it’s inevitable that at some point during your marketing career you’ll be asked to complete a competitive analysis or review.

If you’ve been asked to review your website, or a client’s site then you’ll want to make sure you’re doing a good job.

Below, I've listed some hints and pointers for conducting a robust and efficient analysis, I hope you'll find these useful.

Why complete a website competitive analysis?

There are a number of reasons why you’ll want to review your site against the competition. You may be planning a new site, looking to improve your performance or maybe you’re looking for additional ways to benchmark.

The main goal should be to inform your own marketing strategy and plans, there’s little point conducting an analysis just so the boss can feel good about your business. Focusing on actionable insights is vital. Ask yourself ‘what am I going to do as a result of this work?’

What should you compare in your website analysis?

This will differ from one business to the next. However, there are a number of common measurements that are relevant for most sites.

These include:

Ranking and traffic estimations

  • Which keywords are they ranking for?
  • What is their estimated traffic?

Search engine friendliness

  • What is their website speed?
  • Mobile accessibility (mobile site or responsive design?)

Site marketing performance

  • Do they have a blog?
  • Do they have downloads?
  • Do they use video?
  • What conversion points do they have (contact, live chat, email, phone etc)?

Social media performance

  • Which social networks are they on?
  • What reach do they have on the key networks for your industry?
  • What are their most shared pages?

Key calls-to-action

  • What is the key call-to-action on the homepage?
  • What are the calls-to-actions shown across the site?

Who should you compare against?

Most businesses select competitors based on personal knowledge. My recommendation is to make your selection based on three criteria:

  1. Businesses you consider to be competitors (your personal knowledge).
  2. Businesses found in the natural/paid search results for the same searches as you, or the keywords you would like to be found for.
  3. Businesses your customers and prospects consider to be competitors.

Using these three criteria provides a more balanced view of who you’re competing against. It also helps select the businesses that are most likely to be leading in your market.

How to structure your analysis spread sheet

I recommend keeping this fairly simple. I like to list the competitors along the top and then the various measures down the side. Some people will choose to write an accompanying document to give a narrative to the analysis.

I personally favour a good old fashioned face-to-face meeting, with the spreadsheet on a screen.

What tools can you use for website competitive analysis?

  • Search Metrics This tool allows you to see which keywords a competitor may be ranking for.
  • Alexa. This tool provides estimations of traffic. However, take what you see with a handful of salt (yes a handful, not a pinch), the figures aren’t always accurate (mostly due to how the data is collected). However, you can use this to see relative performance against your own site. I recommend looking at the traffic ranking and the keywords information Alexa provides.
  • PR Checker. I almost always include page rank in my competitive reviews. It’s a straightforward and easily understood measure. It’s also a pretty good reflection of potential website reach.

    The higher the page rank, the more likely the site is to rank well. My note of caution here is that my last statement isn’t always true; however page rank is still useful.

  • Majestic SEO. This tool is great for seeing a sites link portfolio. I recommend recording the number of inbound links and the number of domains these links come from.
  • Hubspot marketing grader. This tool is fantastic for gaining insights into a number of marketing elements that come together to make a successful site.
  • Google page speed insights. This tool allows you to see how fast a site loads. Load speed is a good indication of how easy the site is to access. Site speed is also a ranking factor used by Google. 

What about your business?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice. What do you like to measure? How do you measure? What tools do you use?

Ian Creek

Published 11 April, 2013 by Ian Creek

Ian Creek is Marketing Director at Rokk Media and a contributor to Econsultancy.

4 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Finn_Jake

Very nice post Ian! I like the way you categorized the important points on why do this type of analysis. Thanks also for the suggested tools. Though we mainly use ColibriTool.com in researching and analyzing our competitors (among other things), will definitely look at the suggestions for bashing Colibri's results.

about 3 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

Nice list Ian. If it's an e-commerce site, I also like to look at the primary 'route to purchase' on the site, i.e. the product list pages, product pages, basket & checkout pages. How slick are they compared to mine? Are there any opportunities to be had? Site search is another area to scrutinise. A lot of sites still handle site search very poorly in my experience.

about 3 years ago

Ian Creek

Ian Creek, Marketing Director at Rokk Media

Hi Albie. Good points. When looking at e-commerce sites there are a number of additional things you can compare. Your points are very valid, I'd also add in:

- Payment options
- Reviews

I'm sure there are others people look at too.

about 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Good stuff - but rather overlooks the User Experience on the site.

Being User centred is central to a strategy, IMHO: the usability / workflow ease of use etc

about 3 years ago

Ian Creek

Ian Creek, Marketing Director at Rokk Media

Hi Deri. Yes, I have to agree I have overlook the user experience in this. In my experience people find it hard to compare these sorts of measurements in an accurate way. That said, if you can pick out points that can be easily compared, throwing the UI and UX into the mix is definitely worth doing. If you have budget and resources available, there is a lot to be learned from seeing how users interact with your competitors site in comparison to your own. Good point!

about 3 years ago

Sarah Alder

Sarah Alder, Managing Director at Cranmore Digital Consulting Ltd

Like Deri I also tend to focus on some of the "softer" elements, which is why I particularly like this post, it will keep me focused on some good measurable points. and the tools you suggest are great, I hadn't heard of MajesticSEO before.

I also look at the branding, looking to see if online and offline are consistent and if there is any indication that one or the other is more current, or if differences are indicating a different approach between on and offline marketing. This can sometimes give you pointers where to look for future competitor activity ie an online rebrand, with little interest in upgrading offline materials, is often a precursor to a renewed/improved approach to etailing or to lead generation online.

about 3 years ago

Ian Creek

Ian Creek, Marketing Director at Rokk Media

Thanks for the comment Sarah and for your tips. I agree with your points on branding, it's certainly worth looking at how online and offline compare. Hope you enjoy using the tools.

about 3 years ago

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Mata Atlas, Marketing Intern at Critical Control

Nice article Ian,

Those are some really useful tips to get an effective competitive analysis on the go. Also, those tools look like they can be really useful. Out of curiosity, which one would you personally recommend?

And just to add in my 2 cents, I think perhaps its best to sometimes just let an external firm handle the competitive analysis rather than do it on your own. Companies like, say, SQM (http://goo.gl/iwx450) for instance usually offer this service at decent rates so its probably worth checking out.

In any case, thanks for sharing this.

over 2 years ago

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