Understand your online competitors

Two men research their online competitors

Do you want to know more about your online competitors? Michelle Strassburg, co-founder of wood flooring specialist Wood and Beyond, offers some advice for retailers

They say knowledge is power, and if you sell online, you certainly need to know who your ecommerce competitors are and what they are up to. Here's how to find the answers to ten key questions.

  1. Who are your online competitors? Initially you might look at the top search results from the major search 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. 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. 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 online? The age of a competitor's domain - that is, when the domain was first registered - is highly regarded by the search engines. Normally 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 backlinks 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 acompetitor has, create a free account for Moz's Link Explorer tool.
  5. What is their site technology? Some types of website 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.
  6. What's their traffic like? It's hard to measure precisely the number of visitors your competitor is getting. You can get useful insights, particularly for larger competitors, from tools like SimilarWeb and Alexa.
  7. What is their marketing strategy? The way in which your competitor markets itself 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 could be where you come in.
  8. What is the market potential? You should aim to enter a 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.
  9. 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 customer support. The point is, you have to know what your USP is before going in.

Written by Michelle Strasbourg of Wood and Beyond. Ecommerce content edited by Chloe Thomas of eCommerce MasterPlan.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.