Courtesy navigation

How to get the measure of your competitors

Measuring tapeDo you want to know more about your e-commerce competitors? Michelle Strassburg, co-founder of wood flooring specialist Wood and Beyond, shows you the way

If you're thinking of expanding into new markets or introducing a new product line, you need to evaluate the competition first. Depending on the type of marketing strategy you adopt, this information could make the difference between going full steam ahead or reconsidering your next move. Here are ten ways to help you do your research.

  1. Who are your competitors? Initially you might look at the first search results from the major engines and decide these are your competitors. However, until you become well-established, your competitors are likely to be the players on the second and third page of the search results and they are the ones that you need to evaluate first.
  2. How many players are there in the market? The more active players your market has, the harder you'll find it to excel. Start by searching Google for your key terms and don't worry too much if you see a huge number. Keep refining your search and you'll get a more accurate figure.
  3. How long have your competitors been around? The age of a competitor's domain — i.e. when the domain was first registered — is highly regarded by the search engines. Normally if the domain has a clean record then the older the domain is, the more authority it will carry. To check the domain age of your competitor, head to Domain Tools and use their free whois tool.
  4. How many back links does your competitor have? The number of external websites linking to your competitor is a crucial factor in online competitive analysis. The more quality websites linking naturally to your competitor, the more likely they are to influence their ranking. To check how many external links your competitor has, head to SEOMoz new Open Site Explorer tool and type the domain name. 
  5. How many product pages are indexed? The number of product pages your competitor has indexed can hint as to the way their site was built. For example, if the site has 1000 products and they are all indexed, you can safely assume it has been built in a search engine friendly manner with little or no content duplication and solid web architecture. To check the number of pages indexed in Google use the Google Webmaster tools.
  6. What is their site technology? Some types of web technology are more search engine friendly then others. For example, websites built using flash will find it harder (but not impossible) to rank well compared to websites build using clean html coding. To find out which technology your competitor is using, head to Built With and type the domain name.
  7. What's their traffic like? It's hard to measure precisely the number of visitors your competitor is getting. Nevertheless there are a number of tools which could give you some insights. In particular look at Google Trends for websites and Quantcast.
  8. What is their marketing strategy? The way in which your competitor is conducting its marketing can provide helpful insights. For example, if they are using Pay-Per-Click advertising you can assume the product is selling well enough to sustain this cost. If you know they are doing well, but are missing an active affiliate program, this is where you could come in.
  9. What is the market potential? You should aim to enter the market when demand is strong or projected to get stronger. Use tools that could point out a possible trend such as Google Trends for organic search and Twitterfall for twitter search.
  10. What is your competitive advantage? If there are other players selling the same or similar products, something has to set you apart from them. Your competitive edge could come in many shapes and forms, from pricing, to stock levels and even through customer support. The point is, you have to know what your USP is before going in. 

Michelle Strassburg is a co-founder of Wood and Beyond, specialist sellers of wood flooring and solid worktops. Michelle has over ten years' experience managing online marketing.

More on evaluating the competition: