Conducting a website competitive analysis is often your first chance to feel true empathy for your client’s customer. It’s a great opportunity to see all the different online offerings from their perspective. In this post I’ll share my approach to conducting in-depth reviews of competitor websites and apps.
Why Conduct A Website Competitive Analysis?
The purpose of this exercise is to determine how your client’s website or app should be positioned within the overall competitive landscape. It’s also a good opportunity work with stakeholders to identify site likes/dislikes and do a high-level SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).
Your goal should be to create a comprehensive list describing each competitor’s online presence, core business, content, messaging and overall UX/UI design. Besides gaining a better understanding of the market during this process, you may also uncover some unmet customer needs.
By the time you are finished with your competitive review you should be able to answer three basic questions: What are they selling? What are they communicating? What are they missing?
How Many Total Competitors Should I Review?
I usually recommend looking at three to five competitors to get a good overview of the marketplace. It’s definitely good to review more if time and budget allow, but in my experience there’s a point of diminishing returns once you get past seven or eight. I would rather help my clients focus on just a few key competitors rather than taking on the entire interwebs.
Once you know which sites you will be evaluating, ask your client to send the URLs for each. While there are many ways to skin a competitive cat, the following process works well for me.
Step 1: Collect and Organize
Once I get the list of competitor URLs I setup a basic spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs with a column for each competitor. This helps me organize everything from the start.
It also gives me a handy checklist across every competitor for later reference. Once it’s complete I often use all of this information to create a more polished presentation with annotated screenshots (see below).
Step 2: Analyze
Now that you have some basic information, you can start taking a closer look at each competitor. I usually begin with a high level SWOT analysis:
Strengths: What are they doing that we should emulate?
Weaknesses: What are they doing that we should avoid?
Opportunities: What’s missing that we can leverage?
Threats: What’s their secret sauce? How can we positively differentiate ourselves?
Here’s a list of other items I typically look at. For most of them I’ll check yes or no in the spreadsheet as I go along. But I also take detailed notes and screenshots as appropriate.
- Alexa Score – the free tool is very basic, but it’s useful since competitors don’t publicly share analytics data.
- Website Grader – this free tool from Hubspot is great for getting an overall pulse on a competitor’s website. It’s also great for assessing your own site.
- SEMRush – SEMRush has an excellent free tool that can help you figure out where competitors stand in organic and paid search, what keywords they are using, other competitive sites and any incoming backlinks.
- Key messages – what are they?
- Social icons – what platforms are they using
- Updated design
- Compelling visuals
- Responsive/adaptive design
- Unique functionality
- Lead magnet/email signup
- Sign in / gated content
- Paid content
- Chat function
- User survey
Step 3: Presenting Competitive Research
Many UX professionals and web designers keep their competitive review to just a simple spreadsheet. But I think it’s far more useful to provide a detailed visual reference.
Yes, this takes more time. But you will save lots of time later in the project because you can reference a single doc with annotated screenshots.
Using a simple PDF slide deck with key visual information highlighted is much easier than referencing a giant spreadsheet, especially for teams. It will also help you make better design decisions more quickly when you’re on a tight deadline.
Pulling It All Together
Depending on the breadth and depth of your research, a high quality website competitive analysis can take an average of 1-3 days to pull together, including presenting to stakeholders. While it does take considerable upfront effort, this document will become a valuable touchstone for all stakeholders throughout a digital project’s lifecycle.
Download my competitive analysis worksheet below to help you get started. Even better, setup a 15-minute call to discuss how I can help you conduct your website competitive analysis. As always, thanks for reading!
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