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Study Your Competitors To Build Or Improve Your Sites

I’ve said it before and I’m going to repeat it: monitoring competitors is an important part of any webmaster’s strategy. Not that you should invest all your time and resources in this activity; after all, you have to take care of your own business above all. But if you don’t know what your competitors do and how they achieve success, you may miss several learning opportunities.

Why am I writing about this topic once again? Because I feel this is an activity many webmasters neglect. But I know that just saying something is good doesn’t mean much; people want details. And this is what I’m going to give you today.

What should you analyse on a competitor’s site?

First of all, you must be able to determine how successful your competitor is, because this will influence all the rest. If your competitors are successful you’ll want to use their sites as models. If they aren’t, you’ll want to identify their mistakes and/or see if they are just about to achieve success.

I’ve already written a whole article on how to choose the competitors you’ll monitor and measure their level of success. Go read it if you still haven’t.

Now let’s see which aspects of a competing site you might study:

  • Design: This should be the easiest one. How does the site or blog look like? Cluttered? Clean? Sophisticated? Amateurish? If you’re studying a site that is popular despite having a cluttered, amateurish design, how can you explain its success? Maybe the niche is a less demanding one, or maybe the content is just too good to be ignored.
  • Technical stuff: How is the competing site built? Does it use html, php, asp, cgi or what? If it’s a blog, which platform is used? Is there any kind of plugin, extension or widget installed? How fast the pages load?
  • Content: How is it displayed? Is it superficial or thorough? Is it informative, helpful, entertaining? Is it divided among several pages or is it concentrated on a few ones?
  • Promotional efforts: These ones will also require visits to other sites in order to be detected. Do your competitors encourage visitors to recommend their sites to friends? If so, how do they do it? How often are your competitors linked by other people in their niche? Is their content usually voted for on social media sites? In case it is, do the votes look spontaneous or self-promotional? Have you ever found paid ads promoting a competing site? Where?
  • SEO methods: Can you spot any signs of conscious search engine optimisation? How do the pages’ titles look like? Do the images have descriptive alt tags? What meta tags are used on the pages’ code? Do the authors seem to worry about keyword density? Can any attempts of PageRank sculpting be detected?
  • Visitor activity: Can you find any evidences of visitor activity? Look for comments forms, guestbooks, forums, mailing lists… How do visitors behave? Do they look engaged? Are interaction opportunities taken by a small group of usual visitors? Or do they attract a larger audience?
  • Monetization techniques: How do the competing blog or site make money? What are the ad spots like? Text links? Banners? Contextual ads? Where are they placed? How many ads per page? If the site owner offers any type of service, how is it promoted?
  • Progress: This is easier when you study blogs, because they usually have archives. But some sites also contain lists of past updates. In any case, check the older material out and compare it to the current one. Has the webmaster or blogger made any visible progress? What has been changed for better (or for worse)?

You can always expand the list above by including other aspects that might be particularly important in your niche. Conversely, you can exclude aspects that you don’t deem to be so relevant, although I believe that none of the things mentioned in this article should be ignored.