Online Competition Analysis

Online competition analysis is essential for web-based businesses. Just as you would evaluate your competitors if you had a storefront, you must check out websites who sell the same product or service.

When you know what your competition's strengths and weaknesses are, you will be better able to structure your marketing to get more business. You will find out things about your industry, your products and your customers that you don't know right now.
Before you start surfing, create a spreadsheet or form to note your impressions as you survey your online competitors. You will want to remember key points and you will want to re-visit some sites, so keep your notes handy.
Spend some time on this--check out 20 to 30 websites in depth. Try to put yourself in your customer's shoes, and look through their eyes. Some general things you should look for when researching internet businesses include:

--Overall look & feel (colors, graphics, fonts, use of space. Is it professional; do the colors work; is it too crowded and busy; is it easy to read?
--Downloading time (Is the site too slow, losing customers?
--Are you bombarded with pop-ups and banner ads?
--Navigation (is it easy to move around the site, easy to find information?
--Is it a sales only site,with an online catalog or just pictures and phone numbers?
--Do they have audio or video clips? How do they affect the overall performance and presentation of the site?
--Do they have forums? Newsletters? ezine? ebooks? How do they interact with their customers?
--Do they provide tips, instructions, education?
--Do they have free link exchange? free classifieds? paid advertising opportunities?
--Can you find contact information for a real physical location (address, phone,)? Do they have maps, driving directions?
--How much product are they offering? Do they have online coupons or specials?
--How is their pricing? Lower than yours? Much higher? About the same?
--Can you order easily online? How is shipping (quick, expensive, free with purchase)? Payment methods?

--Other things specific to your product or service --i.e., if you are selling nail polish online, you would want to check out what brands other sites are selling, what colors, what packages or special deals they are offering?
This research should give you an overall feel for what you need to build, or re-design a site that can be competitive in your market.

Review and evaluate your competition by making notes on your spreadsheet--list what you think is great about them (i.e., what are their strengths) and what is not so great (weaknesses). Can you combat their strengths? For example if all or most of your competitors offer free shipping, can you afford to do so,too?

Can you overcome their weaknesses? With faster shipping, a better website, more product variety, etc?

When you create your marketing plan or calendar, you will refer back to your competitive analysis for ideas and strategies to help you grow your business.

You will want to do a new competitive analysis every year, or more frequently if your industry is going through rapid changes. It's a good idea to review pricing and products monthly or quarterly.

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