Competitive Analysis: Take a Look at the Market

competition-1168637Whether you are just beginning your foray into online business or are an established site looking for fresh direction, taking a peek at competitors’ methods is never a bad idea.

How you position yourself in a competitive market can have as big an impact on your success as whether your product or service is appealing and worthwhile. You can’t add value to the world if you aren’t conveying your message to the people who have to hear it. You have to know your audience – and you have to know where they are sending their money and attention instead of to you.

Are You Front-Page News?

What search queries do you hope to rank for? Surf to a search engine and initiate a local queryThis occurs when a user asks a search engine to perform a search and provide relevant results. The term can be used either for the string of words that made up the query or for the action of asking itself.. For example, “carpet cleaners Madison, WI.” What’s on the first page?

First off, if it isn’t your competitors, maybe you’re going after the wrong terms. This is a simple way to test whether you’re thinking like your target customer. If a lot of informational websites come up instead of commercial services, maybe this isn’t the best keyword phraseThese are the words or phrases users type into search engines as queries. to target after all. Wikipedia and government agencies are nearly impossible to compete with, and anyway, the people who end up there typically are pulling out their notebooks, not their wallets.

Remember that offering a similar product or service as some other company in the same area does not automatically make you direct competitors when it comes to SEO and Internet marketingThis broad term includes everything from content marketing to display ads, PPC (pay per click) ads, social media marketing, directory listing work and online reputation management.. Check whether they are targeting the same keyword phrases as you. If not, why not? Maybe they have already gotten a handhold in a particular niche where it would be hopeless to compete – but left the rest of the marketing ecosystem wide open for the taking.

Competitors: Anyone Taking Your Customers’ Money & Attention

When it comes to search engine strategies, competitive analysis starts with understanding who your competitors are. And it isn’t just the businesses selling exactly what you are selling. It’s anyone who captures the attention of your would-be customers and clients. If you own a hotel in the backcountry, nearby campgrounds stand a chance of stealing your business – and so do any travel or tourist sites that don’t list your lodging as a destination option.

Take a look at the strategies your competitors are employing. Note the pattern of keyword phrases they are going after; what aesthetic design choices they have made on their pages; what their target market tends to be. If their ideas inspire you to cater to a market you hadn’t considered, great – but don’t tread too heavily in the shadow of your competition. One main goal of this exercise is to do the exact opposite.

Find a Niche in Your Ecosystem

Sometimes just by taking an inventory of the field, you can get an immediate sense of what is not being offered in your service area. What niche is missing that you could tidily fit into? Maybe your competitors are all pushing bargain-level services but no one is offering comprehensive, VIP treatment for a little more money. Selling the element of prestige may snag customers who aren’t being fully satisfied elsewhere. Or the opposite may be true:  If your competitors only offer fancy service packages, consider a lower-cost entry-level version.

Similarly, are there demographics your competitors are missing? Consider a page telling that audience why they, uniquely, can benefit from what you have to offer. Fit into as many niches as are available in the market.

For that matter, is there something you already offer that no one else does? Even if it seems like it doesn’t deserve the spotlight, such products and services can help you stand out above the crowd. All these angles are aspects of the same question:

What is your unique value, and how can you market it?

You can also see how businesses like yours handle other markets, and those can be a little safer to copy. Try searching “your keyword phrase + distant city” and look for ideas. Just be sure that customer needs match up. For instance, just because a malt shop vending unusual flavors is finding success in Miami doesn’t necessarily mean that bacon-flavored malts should be the focus for your restaurant in Saskatchewan.

When seeking keyword phrases to target on your website, you’re looking for highly relevant, low-competition terms. That’s just as true with your overall marketing strategy. You don’t want to become so much of a niche market that you only have four or five customers – unless, of course, they are big contracts that will keep your employees constantly busy. At the same time, universal appeal that doesn’t make you stand out will make traffic wishy-washy and unpredictable, and that’s if you get any calls at all.

Trial & Error

After making changes to better fit your market, watch your site to see how well it performs. To do this, you need to record before-and-after numbers. Give any changes you make at least a month to register real measurements, then adjust as necessary to zero in on an effective strategy.

In short:

  • Determine who your online competitors are (for both money and attention).
  • Learn from their design and marketing strategies, but complement, don’t copy. Find underserved niches and cater to them with offerings, language, and plan packages.
  • If you do take tips from similar businesses, look at ones that are not in your service area but it’s reasonable to expect the target market would be the same and have the same demand for what you’re selling.
  • Test your changes by checking in a few weeks whether your changes have made any difference in search results.
  • Use trial and error until you hit upon a winning combination.

If the analysis part is giving you headaches, consider hiring a professional. The analysts at Online Image® work all day with just such techniques, to gather information that will help your website reach its full potential even under the weight of hefty competition.