Numbers, rates and statistics are great for finding out what’s happening on your site and where opportunities for testing lie, but quantitative insights can only take us so far. This series covers the importance of the qualitative insights we run for our clients at Conversion.com.
Last time, we looked at the value of on-site surveys and just how effective they can be when used correctly.
Competitor analysis is a vital part of understanding your industry.
Anyone familiar with a SWOT analysis knows that understanding who your competitors are, as well as what they’re doing can allow you to understand your place in the market, differentiate yourself from the competition and stand out in the right way.
However, when we look online we see that strategies are more often than not a case of the blind leading the blind, whereby we copy elements from others that we like, but with no insight into if they’re effective, nor what makes them effective.
Of course, we will never truly be able to answer these questions without access to competitor data and a variety of tests exploring the element – but never fear. My hope is that by the end of this article you will be equipped with a framework that gives your competitor analysis…the competitive edge.
Just like in many other aspects of life, knowing yourself is just as important as knowing others. The same applies for a competitor analysis. The better understanding you have of your users, their motivations and barriers, as well as the key site areas for improvement, the better you will be able to diagnose competitor elements that may be of use.
Often a competitor analysis can be an exhaustive task, spanning every page of competitor sites with few actionable insights at the end. Therefore, it is always better to focus your competitor analysis on one specific area at a time. Whether it is the landing page, the checkout funnel, or a product page; by focusing on one area it becomes easier to identify where your experience differs and formulate experiments around this.
At Conversion, we begin by mapping out a client’s main customer journey before using insights to identify key levers on the site (these are the key themes we feel can have an impact on conversion rates). Combining this with analytics data shows us where a site may be underperforming, and this is a great place to start looking at competitors.
How do I conduct a competitor analysis?
I will show you an example using a credit card company, Company X.
After examining our quantitative data, we have established that Company X has a low conversion rate on its application form.
We begin by comparing Company X to its closest competitors. In doing so, we realise that many competitors are chunking their application forms into bite-size steps.
Often, this is where many people would stop and act quickly to replicate this experience on their own sites. However, just because everyone else is doing it, does that make it the best way? The reality is, we still don’t know whether this is the best way to present an application form.
In order to find out, it is important now that we look beyond the client’s industry – this is a great exercise to help us think beyond what our close competitors are doing. How does your registration form compare to Amazon? Does your size guide match up to Asos?
Taking industry best practice, combining this with competitor research and then sprinkling on the uniqueness of your site and users, often leaves you with a test idea that is worth prioritising.
Understanding what your competitors do can help you frame your strategy and optimisation efforts. It is an insight rich exercise that is good for looking at the industry at a macro level, as well as honing in on particular levers and how competitors utilise them.
Here is the standard template we use at Conversion when we begin a competitor analysis. This is a great starting point and can be tweaked and framed to suit different industry needs. With such a large scope of potential insights to gain, a one size fits all approach can rarely be taken. That’s why we use four different templates depending on our desired outcomes.
I will now share two frameworks – one for a broad competitors analysis, and another for a more in-depth analysis.
Broad competitor analysis
If you haven’t conducted a competitor analysis before, this is your first step.
You’ll want to identify 4-5 key competitors within your industry – these can vary from both the low-end to the high-end of the market and will be useful for both understanding what you do and cross-referencing it with your market position.
Starting with your own site first – map out the main user journey as you would a storyboard. An ecommerce site for example, may have a funnel like this:
Landing page -> Category Page -> Product details page -> Basket page -> Checkout
You get the idea.
Take screenshots of each step and make note of the key elements of each page.
Now do the same for your competitors, noting any clear contrasts in the tone, content or functionality of the sites.
At Conversion, we would use the template above for mapping this out as it creates a strong basis for comparing sites at a later stage and allows us to add small notes to each site as we go along.
You will soon start to establish patterns across the sites and often these will be the hygiene factors that are consistent within your industry. But most importantly, you should look for the key differences across the sites as these will help form the basis of future test ideas. Maybe all your competitors have a guest checkout – this test concept could have been at the bottom of your backlog, but now you have more context on the industry you will look at your prioritisation differently.
A step further
Now that we have a better understanding of what your competitors are doing in general, let’s take a more focused look at a key element. Using my earlier example of a guest checkout, here is how we would explore this idea.
Once again, we are mapping out the flow – but here we would focus on plotting each step of the guest checkout process, comparing each competitor’s execution at each step. This is a great point to go beyond your competitors and look more broadly at how other companies are addressing this.
Looking further ahead, you may want to do a competitor analysis that looks at a specific lever, e.g. how are other sites presenting social proof to users, what are the ways in which you can include trust elements online. The possibilities are (almost) endless. Always remember though that a competitor analysis should have a goal or key question that you are seeking to answer.
When combined effectively with other qualitative insights such as usability testing and on-site surveys, a competitor analysis can give you a really focused understanding of how your customers behave as well as inspiration for how to improve your website experience.
Through testing these ideas, you will gain a clear understanding of what works best for your users and how to make your website stand out from the crowd.
Look out for our next article in this series where we discuss the importance of heat-maps and scroll-maps.