What Are Your Competitors Doing Online?

By Jason Hill, Papercut Interactive

You have a website. And you’ve done all the right things. Your site is intentionally designed. You're developing content, thoughtfully answering the questions your prospective customers are searching for on the internet. You’re doing everything right.

And so are your competitors. You might be doing everything right, but it’s also possible that they’re doing everything right…and better. And maybe you already know that. But you may not be aware of small holes in their seemingly impenetrable digital marketing strategy, places where you can put them on notice.

Competitor analysis—especially when conducted by a professional—is essential in developing and furthering your digital marketing strategy. Here’s why:

1.  Understanding Your Competitors Helps You Understand Your Customers

I hope you’ve visited your #1 competitor’s website before (if you haven’t, pulling it up now is a good place to start). What do you do when you visit? I’m willing to guess that you poke around on the site -- checking on the products and services that most clearly align with yours. Maybe you go down the rabbit hole of their social media links or check out their blog.

In my experience, when a company is looking at their competitor’s website, they’re looking at it as a competitor. As in, they’re looking at the company’s web presence with industry insider information. But your competitor didn’t build their website and digital marketing plan with you in mind. Ideally, if their digital marketing strategy is good enough that you’ve identified them as a threat, they’ve tailored their web presence to best fit your shared customer base. To evaluate the customer’s experience on a competitor’s website, you need to think like a customer.

How would you go about ordering a product on their site? What steps would you take? Can you easily find a dealer in your area? Are common questions related to your industry answered succinctly on the site? Is the progression of the site logical to the way your customers think? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Are you overwhelmed/underwhelmed by the elements on pages? Do you get a clear sense of what they can do for you as a customer?

Once you have all of this information, then you can start to evaluate the company with an eye toward competition within your market. What are they doing that’s working? What are they doing better than us? How do they answer our customers' questions? How does it measure up to us? And, of course, what tools do we have to be better?

2. Their Social Media Presence Will Explain Yours

Where is your competitor spending their time on social media? Where are they posting content? How frequently are they posting content?

Are they short-and-sweet Twitter users? Are they image-focused on Instagram? Are they engaged on LinkedIn? Facebook? What do their followers look like? How many people “like” them? Their content? Are customers engaged?

These questions can help you evaluate where you choose to spend your time on social media as well—what’s worth your time and what isn’t. For example, if you’re both having a hard time developing an audience on Twitter, maybe it’s time to drop Twitter. Your shared customer base isn’t looking for you or folks like you on that platform. And you could be refocusing your efforts on social media platforms that have a solid engagement.

At the same time, if they’re receiving a lot of attention on platforms you underperform on—maybe they receive a lot of engagement on LinkedIn while your customers don’t seem to be congregating in your direction—then it may be time to reconsider your approach on those platforms. Maybe LinkedIn didn’t warrant your attention when you first developed your social media strategy, but if your competitors are able to be successful on those platforms, that means your audience is there. You just need to figure out how to speak to them.

3. What Questions Are They Answering That You’re Ignoring?

Many companies know they need to conduct their own keyword research. It’s important to know how you are being found online. What questions do you answer best, as determined by all powerful Google? What could you develop further?

Having a digital expert in your corner can go a long way with keyword research. They know the tools and tricks to get the most out of your analytics…and they can look into your competitors too.

Simply put, knowing how your competitors are being found online is knowable. It’s likely that they’re ranking in areas that you haven’t considered. They might be answering customer questions you haven’t been considering. This could inform your content. Maybe there’s a hole you’ve missed that they’ve capitalized on. You can fix that…

4. Let’s Compare Blogs…

It is truly astounding how underutilized blogs are on many major websites. If your competitors are updating their blogs with quality content more frequently than you, I can almost guarantee that their traffic is better than yours.

A quality blog is updated regularly with relevant information—with typical articles ranging in the 1100-1500 word count range (typically the one range that establishes you as the expert on the subject).

An underutilized blog is updated infrequently. I’ve seen large, substantial companies whose last blog post was in 2017 (which, by the way, if you’re unable to commit to consistent posts, consider taking the dates off of your blogs). This delegitimizes the content instantly. The world changes quickly. This is especially true for digital content. It needs to be current.

I often see blogs that function more like a newsfeed than a hub for articles. Basic internal information—promotions, quarterly reports, etc.—are all to be found on a blog. That’s a choice companies can certainly make. But it’s an underutilized component of a site that can do some heavy lifting in driving qualified traffic to the website.

So, maybe your competitor has let their blog lie fallow. This is a huge opportunity for you. Keep it up! Develop content, write articles about your industry. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you experience return on investment.

And maybe you’re the one whose blog doesn’t quite measure up. Now you know. The good news is that beefing up your blog can do wonders in increasing your site traffic.

5. The Nuts and Bolts

Everything I’ve discussed up until now is primarily aesthetic, hard to nail down. It’s about the way a website feels, how it functions to a subjective user. But there are elements of a good competitor analysis that are easy to nail down. The markers of a technically solid website can be quantified and easily answered:

  • What is the page speed? Mobile page speed?
  • Does the site use CMS (Content Management System)?
  • Is Schema markup implemented?
  • Is the site responsive and mobile friendly?

The answer to these questions all speaks to the technical proficiency in which the site was built and is being maintained. These are the building blocks on which the other elements reside.

And if they’re faulty, this provides a great opportunity for you. Maybe, for example, your competitor has a lot of great elements to their site with high quality content, but if their page is slow, their visitors aren’t going to stick around long enough to experience that, especially if your site is quick.

Turning It Back to You

The information gleaned from a solid competitor analysis is devoid of meaning if you don’t also conduct analysis on yourself. How fast is your site speed? Are you developing informative, relevant content regularly? How easy is it for users to get what they need from your site? What does your social media presence look like?

The goal of good competitor analysis is not simply to measure up to your competition. It’s not about getting on their level; it’s about surpassing them. If their site speed is quicker than yours, focus on how you can sprint ahead. If their social media presence has more of a following than yours, it may be tempting to think that copying their strategy will work to get you on equal footing. And that’s true. It certainly might. But developing a uniquely robust strategy, one that considers your competitor’s weaknesses and where you can develop a niche, will be instrumental in your race to put your competitor on notice.

What do you think? Are you ready to take a look at the major digital thorn in your side?