The Importance of Website Competitor Research (And How to Do It!)
December 7, 2023
Have you done any website competitor research lately? Eh hem…Have you done any competitor research for your website…ever?
I certainly hope the answers to those questions are “yes” and “of course, silly!”
If not, and you’re not keeping up with your direct and indirect competitors, then you don’t have all the information you need to make your own website successful.
In today’s episode, I’m talking about website competitor research and its significance for small business owners. You’ll learn how to navigate the competitive landscape, enhance your own website’s user experience, and differentiate yourself from the pack of other businesses offering the same or similar products and services as you do.
But here’s the thing: It’s incredibly important to me that you do this while still respecting the intellectual property of the companies you’re reviewing. Website competitor research does not mean that you can copy what your competitors are doing. If anything, you’re just learning what you like and dislike so you can make informed decisions about your own site.
You ready? Well then, listen in because it’s time we talk copy.
Here is what Erin wants you to know about website competitor research
What competitor research is (and is not!)
Why competitor research is so important
The three types of competitors you should be reviewing for your website research
Why industry pros don’t need to follow the same website rules as you do
How to actually do website competitor research on your own
Why it’s vital that you never copy your competitors
Other podcast episodes and resources mentioned in this episodes:
Quotes about website competitor research this episode
“[Website competitor research] will help you understand your market. It can reveal trends that are happening within your industry that you may not be aware of. Copy and design fluctuate over the years of what becomes popular or what consumers tend to be more drawn to.” – Erin Ollila
“You want to know how people are finding your competitor’s website.” – Erin Ollila
“I tend to tell people to pick two direct competitors, two indirect competitors, and one dream website or one slightly advanced competitor to analyze so we can get information about what’s working and what’s not.” – Erin Ollila
“You will learn so much about how to improve your own website and the choices you should make when you start to see the gaps that other people have.” – Erin Ollila
“The key here is to differentiate your content in your copy from your competitors.” – Erin Ollila
Learn more about your host, Erin Ollila
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and went on to co-found Spry, an award-winning online literary journal.
When Erin’s not helping her clients understand their website data or improve their website copy, you can catch her hosting the Talk Copy to Me podcast and guesting on shows such as Profit is a Choice, The Driven Woman Entrepreneur, Go Pitch Yourself, and Counsel Cast.
Stay in touch with Erin Ollila, SEO website copywriter:
Learn more about Erin’s VIP Day options if you’d like to learn more about how you can hire her to help you with your marketing
Here’s the transcript for episode 102 about website competitor research
NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by an AI tool. Please forgive any typos or errors.
website competitor research, competitor research, website, research, copy, copywriting, messaging, website research, competitive research
Erin Ollila 00:04
Hey friends, welcome to the Top coffee Timmy podcast. Here we empower small business owners to step into the spotlight with their marketing and messaging. I’m your host, Erin Ollila. Let’s get started and talk coffee.
Erin Ollila 00:22
Have you sized up your competition yet? If not, you’re probably lacking some very important research that can absolutely help your website copy project. So often I see people afraid to research their competitors, because they don’t want to feel as if they’re copying anyone. And I get that, I appreciate that. I understand that. But it’s important to start this episode talking about the idea that competitor research is not spying on your competitors. And it is also not rooted in copying anything that your competitors are doing. What you’re doing when you’re doing competitor research is studying what the people within your industry are doing when it comes to marketing and messaging. So that you can make informed decisions about how you would like to adjust your own marketing and messaging. In this instance, we’re talking about website copy, you know, for sales, copy launches, things like that competitor, research is also important. And honestly, this is something I see forgotten about all the time, or left off the table, because it doesn’t feel important to research competitors. But it’s vital to making sure that you’re going in the right direction for your own business. So let’s run down some of the reasons why competitor research is so important. And we can get that out of the way before we talk about how to do that. First, like I mentioned, it will help you understand your market. So it can reveal trends that are happening within in your market or industry that you may not be aware of, you know, copy and design can fluctuate over the years of what becomes popular, or what consumers tend to be more drawn to. And I don’t necessarily think that we should be following trends when it comes to our messaging. But we should be paying attention to what’s happening in the overall marketing. It can also help you understand how to improve your own marketing. One, because you may identify some market gaps that you didn’t know that maybe we’re missing within your own marketing, once you can see what your competitors are doing. It also helps you understand what might be motivating your customers or clients based on how your competitors are presenting information to them, it can help you gather some important information on search. So if we’re focusing on SEO, which you should be, you want to know how people are finding your competitors website, you want to know that their site is lean and how people are navigating throughout your competitors site to either encourage you to you know tighten up your own user, never net user navigation or user experience. Or to identify the longer route people have to take on your competitor site. So you can impress them with a much smarter site navigation on your own site. It helps you to identify competitors that you may not know that you have, which I think is a really good segue into the next part of the conversation I want to have. How do you even identify who your competitors are? When I asked the question of my new clients, you know who their competitors are in onboarding survey, what I tend to find are one business friends that they have, who may be doing similar things to people who are on the same level as business as them. And three, a lot of confusion to be honest with my clients as to whether they even have competitors and who they may be. Because it’s not really something that’s people are comfortable talking about. Let me just say, Guys, we all have competitors, it is healthy to have competitors. If you do not have a competitor in your business, that means you do not have a viable business. But anyway, back to the important part. How do we identify our competitors? First, I want you to think of competitors in three different categories. First, there are your direct competitors, your indirect competitors, and the competitors who may not even be in the same industry as you. I’ll get back to that in a moment. And I also want to recommend that you think both local and global as it relates to your competitors. Sometimes when I work with clients, they’ll give me the names of local only competitors. And I get that that’s familiar with their business. You know, maybe they’re those are the people that they know that their clients might go to if they have a more regional based business, but especially as we’re considering a
Erin Ollila 05:00
SEO and how it relates to your website, you need to have a global or online perspective to knowing who your clients customers or more specifically, your leads, will find if they’re searching for what it is that you’re offering. So because I mean, if we’re going to be honest here, your competition is just a Google search away. And whether your leads find you or someone else will directly impact your bottom line, and who they choose to connect with, right reach out to first, and then potentially, who they choose to give their money to. So we want to talk about how to gain that benefit from those search engines, from industry directories, or even social media so that all of these algorithms and all of these search functions are pointing the right people to us and our businesses. So if you’re not really familiar with what direct and indirect competition is, your direct competition is really businesses that are offering the same types of products or services to the same target market. So for example, as a website copywriter, my direct competition or other website copywriters, your indirect competition is slightly different. Your indirect competitors are the businesses that offer a different product, but similar to yours, specifically, if it could be like substituted, for example. So while I’m doing a lot of website copywriting for my clients, and indirect competitor could be someone who is offering, let’s say, templates on how to write website pages, which I do have my friends in my business, but it could be someone who is not doing the services, but they are doing a shop that offers templates, it could be someone who was not doing the service or the writing, but they could be doing the editing of drafts, which friends, I also offer in my business, so just stick with me here. But those would be indirect competitors. Another way to look at indirect competitors are people who are offering very similar things, but not necessarily the same end result. So indirect competitors, for me could be website designers, right? So we’re working with the same clientele people who want to update their websites, but they’re not necessarily doing the words, and I’m not doing the design, yet, we’re working with the exact same client for the exact same result. And the final group, which I really need to come up with a fun name for here, because I talk about this all the time. But when I encourage my clients to think about competitors for their business, I also encourage them to think about businesses that may not even be offering the same type of products or services, or even the same industry, but they are individuals or businesses that they greatly admire, who may be a slight step above where they are in their business. And if you’re wondering why I do this, and why I encourage people to have this third competitor group, it’s because you can learn so much about what you personally want for your own website, when you are admiring a website that has done really well. So it doesn’t have to have the same type of client, you don’t need the same pain points or the same messaging structure. But you do need to know what you like about the website. So you can bring some of that into the discussion with your copywriter on how to create a website that you like for your business. And that really does stand out to your clients. So when it comes to this third group of competitors, you know, even though they’re not competing for clients with you, when it comes to this group, always look for someone who is slightly above you in business. Do not look for people who are leaps and bounds above you, because you they don’t follow the same rules as you. I’ve heard so many times. I just want a website like Marie Forleo, or I love everything about Amy Porterfield website or Danielle Laporte has such a beautiful simple website. Friends, they don’t follow the same rules as you if anything, they break the what the website rules. You know, sometimes people will say, well, they have this big long story on their about page you know, it’s you scroll and you scroll and you read this long story or the opposite. They don’t have anything on their about page they don’t even have an about page. That’s because they don’t need to. They already have such a vast audience, such a large group of buyers, and they don’t need to follow marketing best practices because their incoming leads are so well funneled into their business that they can make decisions on their own on what To avoid what to adjust and how to do things differently, so we cannot rely on their websites to make decisions on our own. We can, however, look to maybe a speaker and an event, who you know, is maybe making more money than you or has more visibility than you do, who has maybe done a website recently, that you’re very impressed with, we can look to them because they’re within the same playing field as we are in our business. And it is something to aspire to. But it is not jumping, and skipping steps along the way when it comes to marketing. So again, quickly, three groups, your direct, very close to you almost exactly what you’re doing your indirect where you’re either offering different types of products or services with the same end result. Or they’re just approaching the way that you’re giving a deliverable or a product in a different way than you are. And then the third group are people who may not even do anything that you’re doing, but you really know what it is you like about their site, and what you would love to replicate on your own site. So now that we have figured out who our competitors are, or we have a good idea of who they are, it’s really kind of time to dive in. And if you’re listening, and you’re like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Aaron, this is the first time hearing of direct indirect in your third group of competitors. Like, I don’t know who these people are. A simple way to approach finding competitors is doing a Google search. Even though you know, I think an episode ago, I just talked about how we cannot rely on our own assumptions. When it comes to redoing our website copy, do a Google search on what you think people are searching you for, or what you’d like people to search you for. Sticking with me again, for example, if if someone searches for a like website copywriter, I’d hope that they’d find me on the internet, but they’re also going to find other people. So what I can do is I can look at those people who come up in search, and review their websites and pick just a few that I think are very similar to what I do that I think there are doing well with what they’re presenting on their website. And those could be some of the competitors. You can also ask around to people within your network, who they may suggest could be your competitors. And then you can use tech tools, SEO tools generally will pull up websites that are similar to yours, I don’t always recommend this because what they’re doing is that they’re looking for things that you may already be ranking for. And if you’re adjusting your messaging, or your services or anything like that, you don’t necessarily want to consider your competitors as someone who’s already similar to your own structure of your website. But if you’re very much in the dark, you can absolutely use some tech tools to help you figure out who your competitors may be. Then, when you have your short list of competitors, and I want you to keep it short. Ideally, for me, what I found is really good grouping of competitors is about five people. Now remember, those are three categories. So I tend to tell people to pick to direct competitors to indirect competitors, and one like dream website or one slightly advanced competitor to analyze so we can get information about what’s working and what’s not. But I don’t want my clients to give too many more names. Because what tends to happen is when we’re doing the research, and we’re taking notes, they all get muddled together a bit in all honesty, and it’s hard to decipher, like what’s really strong about one particular element of a website for one person. And what is you know, a few other people are doing so so so keep the number of competitors small. And then you’re really going to just jump in and start doing the actual research. Now when you do the actual research, I really want you to do two different types of research. One is technical research, and the other is a heuristic review. So talking technical, you can use tools like sem rush, Uber Suggest any type of SEO tool that you have to get a review of the technical elements of your competitors websites, as well as a competitor Keyword Analysis. Super helpful, super easy to I mean, even if you have to pay for a tool if you’re DIY this, I would highly recommend it or when you’re doing the planning and deciding who to hire for your copywriting. Make sure that they have access to paid tools like this so you can get the best information. You can also find out some other things about your competitors such as using the Inspect Elements of their website, or in looking at any type of like Google analysis that you can Get on a competitors website. But then most of the work that you’re doing in a competitor research is actually a heuristic review. So you want to have a, an outline of what you’ll cover on each website, page, for example. So you want to look at all of the pages. So you’re going to say, alright, for every competitor, these are the things that I’m searching for on the homepage, these are the things I need to know about the about page, the Services page, the Contact page, and I’m going to just take brief notes on any other pages that I may come across, while I’m on reviewing their site. You also in addition to what is on the page, and how it is structured, you want to look at things like voice and tone and messaging, you know, how are they talking to your shared clients? How are they relating to them? Or is it very personalized? conversationally, is it professional and maybe a little bit distance, it’s the idea of what brand voice is right. And you don’t have to have the same brand voice at all as your competitors. But you want to have a general idea of how your competitors are speaking to your audience. One of the key things to look at when you’re doing the page search is how they’re presenting their products and services. So you need to look at the products they offer, do they have their pricing on their site, where is the placement of those products, and when I say products, I also mean services here as well, and how they’re then promoting that. The key thing that a lot of people tend to do wrong on their website is that they don’t have a consistent flow to this information. Next week, we’ll actually be back here where we talk about how to organize information on website pages. And I think that will be really helpful. But you want it to look at what seems successful. And if you have any key feelings about what is not successful, or what is maybe rubbing you the wrong way, about how your competitors are presenting their products or their services, the placement of where they are on the page is also vital. So you know, a lot of the times when we talk about things like long sales pages, or, or short sales pages, which there’s an actually a whole episode on that I can link to. But when we talk about these things, people tend to give their own personal feedback on what they like as a buyer. And it’s very important to remind my clients or you right now listener, that the type of buyer you are makes no difference when it comes to selling your products and services. Because there are a few different types of buyers, right? Like you may be a fast action taker. And someone else may be like a longer term, like a slow burn, who needs to do research. They’re both great potential clients, and you have them, they exist in our audience, whether you know it or not. And not everyone makes the same buying decisions as you. So we need to put our assumptions aside, we need to put our own personal buying preferences aside, and we need to then consider the placement of how we’re offering things on our site. And what we can do when we look at our competitor site is to say like, is this successful? You know, are they are they having really long pages? Are they maybe just being too verbose and like they’re losing the audience member? Because at this point, you are an audience right for them, you’re reviewing their website based on the lead based on it and audience member not
Erin Ollila 18:31
necessarily based on the business owner. So review it and see, you know, is it too much? Is it too little? Do they make their point? Do they not make their point? Is there a flow to the site. And don’t forget to look at design as well, I know this is a copywriting podcast. I know that we’re talking about copywriting, but it’s really important design plays a key element in decision making, right? So for example, one of the things that one of my recent clients said to me is, I don’t want to have paragraphs upon paragraphs on my about page, I see a lot of my competitors doing this, I really don’t like it. You know, my personal story is not so much what will make my clients buy from me. However, I would love to kind of sum up this story or this, you know, transformation that I have had as a business owner into a timeline because on one website, I saw a very clearly designed timeline that presented pretty specific information in a, you know, a flow that worked really well. And by the time you finished, were looking at that short design, you had all the information you needed to make a decision. So instead of having paragraphs upon paragraphs, I’d love it if we could find a way to have a bit of a timeline of my business. So if that client hadn’t already seen this when they were doing their own light competitor research, we wouldn’t have been able to have that discussion ourself. And it was very helpful for them to be able to say I like this, and I don’t like that, right. So, again, you know, design elements can be really helpful in making decisions on how you would like to present information as well on your own website. But before we leave this design part of our conversation, I also really want you to look at your competitors websites as it relates to user experience. I talked about this, I talked about this, and I talked about this in the last few episodes. The site navigation is what will determine whether someone will purchase from you or not, if you get new leads to your website, let’s say using great SEO practices, but they have to click 17 times to get from your homepage to actually purchase an item on your website. They’re going to leave no one wants to do that many clicks to give you money, like it’s their money, they have to give it away in order to get what it is that you offer. Why would they want to go through so much effort, right? So look at your competitors website to see the route that they have their audience taking? Because there’s really helpful things you’ll learn. So example, how do they prioritize content? Do they have a blog? And if so, is it performing? Well? If so, they have this great blog, let’s say Are they putting it on the homepage? Do they have pop ups that direct you to to new blog posts? Are they you know, using great breadcrumbs to move people throughout those those blog posts? If so, you’ll know that’s performing really well for them? Maybe they have a podcast, for example, are they showing off any episodes? Do they encourage people to listen to the episodes on their site are they then maybe having really strong calls to action on their podcast, show note page that link them to your services, excuse me their services, or link them to some something that they can buy in someone’s shop? Those are the things we want to be looking for, if what I generally find when I’m doing this level of competitor research is gaps. And gaps are so helpful. And this is where I think people kind of start to really understand competitor research a little bit better. Because it’s not just about what your competitors are doing well, it’s where where do they have the gaps on their site? What are they missing out on, you will learn so much about how to improve your own website, and the choices you should make when you start to see the gaps that other people have? Or how you can kind of tighten up some of the messaging that they’re doing, or some of the things that they’re offering that they’re not doing quite well. So look at the user experience. How do people navigate through the site? When they’re navigating? Is it easy to understand the messaging. And I know this is gonna sound a little bit crazy. But speaking about both messaging and user experience, sometimes it’s really helpful to go off site when you’re doing competitive research. So I mean, this is going to be wild, but like maybe join their email list. How do they talk when it compares to their website versus email? Is it that same conversational tone or same professional tone? Obviously, depending on what their voice is like? Is there a disconnect there? Do they follow up with some of that key information that might help make a sale? But it’s not necessarily relevant on the site per se? Look at their social media, how are they connecting with their audience? Are they showing up? Are there large gaps there? Is there something that they’re doing significantly? Well, in these different forms of content, mediums, podcasting, even YouTube channels, wherever it is that they show up off site? are they presenting themselves in a way that’s maybe more captivating, or maybe something that’s more convincing to their audience? And one way that I think it’s we can make decisions doing competitor research on these things is looking at customer feedback, which is why sometimes I point out social media, you know, really quality websites have great case studies and great testimonials like so and throughout the site. And then if you have that on a really good website, then that’s enough information to talk about what clients have to say about working with your competitor. But if not, you can look at their social media feeds. Do they have feedback from clients? Are they testimonials that they’re sharing on their social media? And what are the clients saying? Particularly because those key points, that facet of information is something that you can really drive home on your own site or within your own messaging? One more thing, another thing that you can look at is paid ads. So if someone is paying for ads on their site, specifically on social media as an example, you can find out the types of ads that they’re doing just by looking at their ads account, you know, so go and see what did they Spending money on? What are the the key messages that they’re trying to get across. And then it’s time to kind of analyze the data that you’ve collected, you know, you’ve done the on site research, you’ve done the off site research, it’s time to reverse review it and say, Well, what is working for them that will work for me? What is working for them that I choose not to do? What is not working for them that I know I need to do better at? And how can I take all of this information and kind of now transfer this into my own website copy? The key here is to differentiate your content and your copy from your competitors. So if you find, let’s say, something about their messaging you really love, how can you do it differently, you know, maybe you can do a different take on the same idea are the same topic, or maybe you can present yourself similarly. But when you’re doing it, the approach is very different, you know, so it’s like, you’re talking about, like your strengths as whatever job title or industry you’re in. But you’re different, because XY and Z. So before you do any adjustment, you need to think about differentiation. Because, again,
Erin Ollila 26:21
we talked about this in the beginning, but it’s so important to not copy your competitors. One, if everyone’s copying each other, no one is going to stand out, you’re all going to be in the sea of sameness. But way more importantly, I think you I think we all need to pay a lot more attention to intellectual property. If you don’t know what that is. I’ve written about it for descript, I will share the link to that in the comments. And I will share an episode that I did with Sarah wall bucer, where we talked about AI in this instance, and intellectual property, what’s on someone else’s website is their intellectual property, their IP, it is not yours, you cannot copy anyone else. When you do competitor research, all you’re doing is gathering data, making informed decisions based on that data. But you are not doing anything, with their words, with their style, with their outlines. And with their approach, you’re just reviewing before you start to make decisions for yourself. So I mean, I can’t say this enough. And I know that if you’re listening to this, and you’re putting in the effort to improve your own copy, you’re already where you need to be. And I think you understand how important it is to differentiate and write your own copy. But I do have people ask me, you know, what, how do I know if I’m copying someone, you know, if you’re copying someone, if you actually steal the words that they’re using, or if you steal the structure that they have, and you write almost the same thing. You’re when you do competitor research, you’re doing none of that. You’re just reviewing, think of it like, I don’t know if high school or college, let’s say you had to watch a movie or read a book and then kind of write like a report on it. When you’re asked to do that your teacher does not say, you know, read this book, and then rewrite the book. No, they say, read this book, and then write a report about your feelings toward the book, why you think it was successful, what you think is important? I’d really like you to think about competitor research like that for a little bit like, what have you gained from reviewing other people’s site? And how can you use that information yourself? Because as soon as the competitor research is done, as soon as you have your notes, you’re going to put it aside and then do the work for yourself. You’re not copying, you’re not pasting. But you are just getting inspired, or getting annoyed, right? Like you might review a competitor’s website and be like, this is trash. How are they getting clients? This is trash. And I say this as a joke, obviously, because we don’t we don’t want to make our way one of our competitors. But you you realize I’ve seen so many people’s website, and I’ve asked myself like, well, this is really curious, like, I really don’t know how people are converting, there’s not enough information here. I know. Then once I see this website that I need to do better for my clients. And I say this because I’m the website copywriter, right. So you will find a lot out from your competitors that you don’t want to copy. But if you find things that you love, just remember they own that that is their intellectual property. You can love everything about it, and you can let it inspire you but you cannot paraphrase it. You cannot directly copy it or do any of those things and you don’t want to do that because you Want to stand out and you deserve to stand out for your own business? And so that you get the right clients that come to you? Before I end, just remember, competitor research is not a set it and forget it thing you don’t do it once. You know we’re talking about it now as it relates to website copy projects. And everyone that does a website copy project swears that this is it. Like once you write the copy, like you’re not going to do it again, you’re not going to touch it again. You’re done. But websites evolve, businesses evolve. And as they do evolve, you also want to make sure your competitor research evolves. You know, I’ve been in business now almost eight years, I think over eight years, gosh, I can’t. Once I hit year seven, I think I just completely like that’s it, it’s done. I don’t know how long I’ve been in business anymore. But in this amount of time, I cannot tell you how many competitors of mine in the copywriting industry have stopped copywriting and opened other businesses like they’ve become coaches or they have niched into different marketing fields. And that’s fine. But that means that I need to continue my research to make sure there are other people within my field that I can review and that I can pay attention to and that I can be inspired by, or any of those things. All right, thank you so much for your time here today, guys. We’re going to just end now by saying, if you haven’t done competitor research, again, do it, please. But I want you to come back again next week, because we’re going to take all of these things we’ve talked about which if you need a reminder, we’ve talked about competitor research, we’ve talked about customer research, we’ve talked about how to pick what website pages you need, how to prepare for a website, copy project. And we’re going to kind of combine everything that we’ve learned to now talk about the actual effort of writing the copy. We’re going to talk next week about outlining the page and how to know what goes on each website page. It’s going to be a very important episode, if you’re redoing your website, copy, so don’t miss it. And if you’re not redoing your website, copy, maybe you can just join us and follow along and ask yourself the question like, Does my homepage do these things? Does my about page do these things? Is there a flow to the message that I’m sharing on my site? I think it’ll be really helpful for you. As always, thank you so much for listening, and I can’t wait to have you back here next week. We’re going to talk more copy. Bye. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Top copy to me. If you enjoyed spending your time with me today. I would be so honored if you could subscribe to the show and leave a review. Want to continue the conversation. Head on over to Instagram and follow me at Erin Ollila. Until next time friends
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