Window shopping has gone from main street to the information highway, with many consumers using the internet as the first step to finding the local services and products they need. Local customers use websites at every step of the purchase cycle, from initial research to going online while in-store to compare prices and offerings.
Businesses can attract more customers by doing a little stealthy comparison shopping of their own, evaluating competitors’ websites to understand how they are attracting visitors and driving sales. While you may not want to be led by what the competition is doing or rip off their ideas (remember, differentiating yourself is one way to stand out), understanding how your competition is performing online can help you uncover opportunities to improve your website.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to assessing your competitors’ websites:
1. Determine who the competition is.
From the business down the street you pass on the way in to work to the one whose radio jingle you can’t get out of your head, you may already have a good idea of who your competition is. You can supplement these gut ideas by plugging relevant keywords into a search engine and seeing which local businesses appear in the results, or by searching your business category on Yellow Pages to see who comes out ahead of you. Pull together a list of three to five competitors to focus on.
2. Create an evaluation questionnaire.
Once you’ve identified your main competitors, make a list of questions about the areas you’d like to evaluate. These may include overall look and feel; ease of use; a site inventory (navigation, content and functionalities); messaging and competitive differentiators; interactive tools and value-adds; how key information is displayed; customer touchpoints such as social media and mailing lists; content strategy; and promotions and offers.
Here are some questions you may want to explore:
- What products or services do they offer?
- What site sections are displayed?
- What value differentiators are they trying to promote?
- Who is their target audience?
- How frequently do they update their content?
- Do they have a blog?
- Do they have social media profiles and how are these displayed and linked to from their website?
- What calls to action are they using?
- What specials or promotions are advertised?
- Do they have a newsletter or email signup?
- Are they using video?
- Do they have any interactive tools?
- What keywords are they using?
- Do they display testimonials? From whom?
- Is their website mobile friendly?
3. Gather your intel.
Visit your competitors’ websites to complete your questionnaires (first you may want to block your information by utilizing privacy tools such as Chrome’s incognito tab or Firefox’s private browser windows). In addition to the information on their actual website, there are many free tools that can help you evaluate your competitors’ website, search engine and social media performance. Plugging their landing pages into Google’s keyword planner can help you determine which keywords are driving people to their site, while Alexa will give you their global traffic rank, number of sites linking in to their website, and more; a tool such as BuzzSumo can help you to measure social media performance and how their content is being shared.
4. Compile your insights.
Compile the information you’ve uncovered into a report or scorecard. If you’re a numbers type, you may want to assign a score for each section and compare your ratings, or do a qualitative, point-form reporting of their strengths and weaknesses.
5. Turn insights into opportunities.
Now use your discoveries to develop a plan for improving your own website. While it’s important to consider the features your competitors already have on their websites, it can be even more valuable to look at where they may be missing the mark. Unclear value differentiators, messaging that isn’t targeted to the appropriate audience, difficult-to-find pricing, poor keyword choices, and other shortcomings are all things you can use to your advantage.
Your Yellow Pages website includes a professional one-on-one consultation with digital experts who can help you determine how to turn these competitive insights into opportunities to reach new customers, improve satisfaction among existing customers, and drive more sales.