Conduct a competitive analysis

1. Set your goals based on the decisions you want to affect and the area of your business that you want to modify.

If you know your goals upfront, that knowledge will help you structure the research to meet those goals. Answer these questions: Which decisions will your competitive research impact? Are you looking to refine messaging? Experiment with the funnel structure? Get inspiration for A/B or multivariate testing?

2. Identify your competitors using web searches, industry conference listings, and customer research.

You should know your industry well but still conduct this step to see if there are any new players, or if anything has changed with the old ones. To find out who your top competitors are: Run a Google search. Check Google Trends, SimilarWeb, Compete, or Alexa. Check the list of presenters and companies running booths at your industry’s conferences. You can find industry conferences on sites like 10times and Eventbrite. Ask your customers who else they considered.

3. Perform comparative user testing where you ask participants to evaluate your website, and the websites of your top two competitors.

Don’t tell participants which company you’re with, and randomize the order of the websites to minimize biased feedback. Ask participants to search Google for a product or service that you offer. Record the query they use and the results they click on. Give a participant 5 seconds to look at each website, then ask them to describe the site in three words, explain which products or services it offers and for whom, and how the site makes them feel. Ask participants to carry out a task on each website, like checking out or solving a problem. Ask them: What was the worst thing about your visit to this website? Which aspects of the experience could be improved? What did you like about the website? What other comments do you have? Ask participants which website they preferred and why.

4. Go through the funnel and checkout steps for yourself, on competitor websites and similar websites in your business area, looking for good and bad elements of their design.

Look for: Steps that don’t make sense from your customer’s perspective. Steps that are combined or eliminated compared to your funnel, as they may be superfluous. Upsells and cross-sells – additional revenue opportunities you could exploit. Content types, personalization features, and community features on competitors’ websites. Design elements on competitors pages, such as copy, number and placement of images, page structure, page length, the next step in the funnel, amount of calls to action, and types of call to action.

5. Create a Venn diagram to compare your unique value proposition to competitors', and how they relate to customer needs.

Use this Venn diagram from Chris Goward from WiderFunnel that covers three aspects: Points of Parity (POPs): Features that are important to your prospects and shared among you and your competitors. Points of Difference (PODs): Features that are important to your prospects and not available from competitors. Points of Irrelevance (POIs): Features that customers don’t care about.

6. Use your network to reach competitors' customers, and interview them about how satisfied they are with a competing product or service.

Ask your customers if they have had an experience with your competitors. Also, try “snowball recruiting” and ask every research participant whom they could introduce you to for subsequent interviews. Ask current customers to recommend their peers for the study. Ask competitors’ customers these questions: What caused you to start looking for a solution? What were your top five buying criteria, in order of importance? What were the main reasons you chose the company you did? NPS surveys can also come in handy. Ask: On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being Extremely likely, how likely are you to recommend the competitor’s product to a friend or a colleague? Please explain why you have chosen [number].

7. Run a competitive design analysis that looks at the navigation, number of steps in the funnel, and structure of focused landing pages on competitors' sites.

Look for common trends in visual design and copy. Analyze the story that competitors are telling with their landing pages, user experience, and social proofs. Find opportunities to improve on competitors’ efforts by making flows shorter or more logical, or providing a clearer and more concise value proposition.

8. Use a website traffic intelligence solution like SimilarWeb to conduct a quantitative competitive investigation, and pull out data like traffic volume, key traffic sources, organic and paid keywords.

SEMrush allows you to find your competitors’ best-performing keywords and get insights into your competitors’ display advertising, organic and paid search, and link building strategies. Spyfu and iSpionage allow you to download your competitors’ most profitable keywords. Look at your competitors’ keywords and how their page ranks by authority. This will inform you if it’s even realistic to try to rank or bid on a specific keyword, or whether you need to look for alternative keyword opportunities. Dig for very specific search terms that can bring unique visits and increase your conversion rates. Craft irresistible copy variations for keywords you want to rank for. Use the research to find useful sites to earn backlinks from.

9. Use BuiltWith to do a functional investigation of your competitors' websites and find out exactly what software they use. Prioritize software and competitors' ideas to test.

Install the Ghostery extension in your browser. It examines the tags that live on a website to give you insight into the tools they’re using. Score your competitors on a scale from Rookie to MVP. Rookies have no analytics or experimentation tools on the site. MVPs have a full suite of analytics, UX tools, and A/B-testing solutions. Give a company 1 point for an analytics package, usually Google Analytics. Add 1 point for tag management, usually Google Tag Manager. Add 2 points for UX tools like heat-map and session-recording tools or survey and feedback tools. Add 5 points for A/B testing tools. If they’re using these tools, they’re using some of the most reliable data available. If your competitor scores 7–9 points, test ideas you find on their site first. If your competitor scores 3–6 points, test their ideas second. Anything below 3 points, consider their ideas with great skepticism.