We often talk about how important it is to focus on your own project and not get distracted by what others are doing. That’s true. But a little friendly spying never hurts either, especially when it comes to your competitors’ websites.
You can get ideas for new things to try, for new content to write, and new opportunities to steal some traffic. And you can do this without spending a lot of money on different tools to track competitor data.
Here are some simple and free ways to analyze your competitors’ websites and get some great ideas for your own.
What can I learn from my website competitors?
Word to the wise: Before you open up the firehose of information, figure out what you actually want to learn from the competition. Otherwise, dwelling on your competitors’ websites might turn into a real time-waster, where you’re comparing yourself to others and feeling more and more self-doubt. Don’t fall down that rabbit hole!
Start your competitor research with a specific goal in mind:
- Are you trying to increase your website traffic?
- Differentiate yourself from the competition?
- Improve your search engine ranking?
- Find out where your competitors advertise?
- Improve your social media strategy?
Knowing this will also help you effectively make use of 7-day free trials on some more expensive competitor analysis software so you’re not wasting time.
How do I find my website competitors?
You might already know who the competition is. Maybe you’re looking at them across the street right now. But in many industries, your competitor can be in your neighborhood or on the other side of the world.
- Start by compiling a list of 10 or so websites that are comparable to yours (similar sized business and target audience). You can do this with a free tool like SimilarWeb. Enter the URL of your own website or a competitor you already know, and select “Similar Sites” (Note: with the free version, you’re limited to 10 results).
You can also do this the old fashioned way by simply typing in some of your top keywords into Google, and seeing which websites appear in the results. Low tech, yet free and effective.
- Once you have your list of competitors, figure out which websites are the most successful so far. Type the URLs into SimilarWeb and you’ll get an overview of their monthly traffic and other stats. You’ll also be able to see where their traffic comes from (e.g. social media, email, search engines), and where they’re getting referrals from.
This is a good way to get the lay of the land and you might just discover that the website you thought was really popular doesn’t get that much traffic at all (or vice versa).
So now you know who your competitors are and what kind of traffic they get. Great! Now, what are some free ways to spy on a competitors’ website?
1. Evaluate your competitors’ website content
Just because a competitor gets a lot of traffic doesn’t mean they’ve won the website game. Sometimes a website gets traffic for content that isn’t very good!
That’s why it’s so important to go beyond the numbers and take a close look at what is actually there on your competitors’ pages. What information do they cover? Are there any clear gaps? Do they have an FAQ section? If they do, maybe it’s missing something obvious.
What you’re looking for here are ideas for content that you can put on your website that’s better than what they have. Use a free trial of BuzzSumo to see what their top-performing content is, and then see if you can create something better.
2. Pay close attention to their brand
Do they have a logo? What are their brand colors? Do they have a “look” that they use consistently throughout? Perhaps they are trying to go for a certain type of personality–sophisticated, playful, expensive.
By knowing your competitors’ brand identify, you can either emulate it or make your brand different. Spending some time on your own brand, including getting a logo, can give you the polish and professionalism you need to stand out.
3. Find out what website tools they’re using
Use a free service like Builtwith to take a look at the tools and plugins your competitors are running on their websites. You’ll see where their website is hosted, what email services they use, and maybe get ideas for tools you’d like to try on your own site, too.
4. Monitor competitors on social media
There are a lot of social media tracking tools out there. But beware of expensive software that will take up too much of your time.
For a basic overview of your competitors’ social media activity, you can simply follow them and observe what’s going on in their feeds. If they’re mostly focused on Facebook, maybe you can put your time into a different social media channel.
What posts do they have that are performing well? Is there anything you would do differently? Are they posting a 100 times a day? How is their response time? These questions will help you craft your own social media strategy.
5. Look at their pricing page
Take a look at your competitors’ prices. What features do they offer? How do their prices compare to yours? Are they using any discounts and promotions?
If they don’t have a pricing page, that’s a good opportunity for you. It may be scary to stake out your prices if your competitors haven’t, but transparency in pricing is actually a good thing. Plus you can offer features and perks that they don’t. Here are more tips for building your pricing page.
6. Get a picture of their SEO strategy and traffic
There are a ridiculous number of tools out there to dig down into your competitors’ backlinks, keywords, referrals, and more.
If you’re new to the SEO game, start with a free tool like SEMRush. Type in the URL for your competitors’ website and you’ll find out the keywords that are bringing organic traffic (traffic from search engines) to their site. (The free version of SEMRush has a limited number of searches and results, but it’s a great way to get started).
We also like the free MozBar extension. This will give you a picture of your competitors’ “domain authority,” an indicator of how strongly they perform in search engine results.
7. Become a customer
You might hate the idea of spending money on a competitor, but it’s important to swallow your pride and do it. Sign up and make a purchase.
What was the process like? What worked well and what didn’t? Note the flow of their checkout, the information they’re gathering, what their brand’s tone of voice is like. Are there any shortcomings that you could take advantage of (for example, maybe their shipping times are really slow)?
If they have a newsletter, sign up for it so that you can keep tabs on what they’re doing. Try contacting customer service with a common question and see what their response is like.
Nobody’s perfect, even that competitor website that looks all shiny and nice. When you’re a customer, you’ll see where the gaps (and opportunities) are.
When should I do competitor research?
Don’t get bogged down looking at the competition. The best time to do it is when you’re starting a new website, considering a redesign, looking for a blog topic or something to write, or just a couple of times a year as a regular housekeeping task.
In the end, most competitor research won’t tell you something you don’t already know: that building traffic and online success means sticking to the basics:
- Writing good content,
- using social media and other PR tools,
- building links, and
- taking advantage of your SEO tools.
Conclusion: Using a competitor’s website to your advantage
A competitors’ website is a tool to make your own site better, not anything to be scared of.
These free methods will give you a basic picture of who your competitors are, what their traffic is like, and also give you benchmarks and ideas to apply to your own website.
Even better, you’ll start seeing some opportunities and spaces for your own website to fill.