How to Best Evaluate a Competitor’s Website

Tools and tips for assessing your competition's web presence

Man holding a magnifying glass over a computer
Evaluating websites is an important part of website strategies.

One important component of a successful business strategy is an understanding of what your industry and your competitors are doing. This includes what they are doing with their websites and digital marketing initiatives.

Whether you are assessing the competition’s online presence as part of a website redesign for your own company, or simply because you are reviewing overall marketing strategies and want to see what may or may not be working for companies similar to your own, evaluating other websites is likely to be a part of that process.

The challenge is that many people have no idea how to effectively evaluate a website or exactly what they should be looking for. As you can imagine, this makes the process much more challenging.

What to Look For

Evaluating any website (this works for your competitors’ sites, other sites online, and even your own website) begins by knowing what to be on the lookout for. These include the following:

  • Is the site well designed? – Look to see if the site is visually attractive and professional looking. While aesthetics are subject to someone's personal opinions (what looks attractive to one person may not be so appealing to someone else), a professional design versus an amateur one (or a bland / generic template layout) is often pretty easy to spot. Also look to see if it is obvious what is important on that site through a quick glance. Is it immediately obvious who the company is and what they do (you should be able to answer this question in 4-8 seconds)? Do the primary calls-to-action of the site stand out to you and direct your experience? Positive answers to these questions are some of the marks of a well designed website.
     
  • Is it user friendly? – As a follow up to that point about the site’s calls-to-action being obvious, the site as a whole should be user friendly and easy for people to navigate and use. If you find yourself confused as to what you should do next, that is certainly not a user friendly site.
     
  • How is the content? Is it current? – Look at the site’s content, including blog posts, news releases, etc. (these types of content usually include publication dates as part of their display), to see when the last one was posted. Was it fairly recently or was it months ago (or even longer)? You can also look at the copyright statement, usually at the bottom of a site, to see if that date is even set to the current year. While many sites are coded to automatically update that copyright date each new year, a site with a copyright that is a few years old is a surefire sign that the site itself is being ignored. If the website has had no new content published to it in some time, it feels neglected and it is a sign that the company is likely doing little to nothing with it from a marketing perspective.
     
  • Does the site load quickly? – No one wants to wait for a website to load. When you visit the pages of a site, do they load fast or are you left waiting for slow-loading images. If it is the latter, you know that website performance has not been an important part of that site’s initiatives.
     
  • Is the website mobile-friendly? – To be successful, today’s websites need to work well on a wide variety of devices and screen sizes. This means much more than just appearing on those various devices. A site should present an optimized layout and experience suited to mobile and other devices. If you have to “pinch and zoom” on your device in order to actually use a website or click a link, that is a sign of neglect for multi-device support.
     
  • Does the site rank well in search engines? – Fire up a search engine and query some terms relevant to the site you are evaluating. Does it rank favorably or is it nowhere to be found? Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is an important factor in a website’s success, and the factors that contribute to positive rankings are varied and complex. For instance, that aforementioned mobile-device support, as well as quick loading times, are two factors that contribute to search engine rankings.

    Evaluation Tools

    So what tools to you have available to use when it comes to evaluating a website?

    • Web Browsers – The most basic evaluation tool is the browser itself. Whether you are using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, IE Edge, Safari, Opera or some other browser, this software is the first step to seeing how a website works.
       
    • Search Engines – I already mentioned how search engines can be used to evaluate a site, but they really are a key tool in this process and they should not be ignored.
       
    • Devices – Want to see how a site works on a smartphone or a tablet? Visit that site using one of those devices to get a real sense of how they work on various screens. Yes, there are online emulators that can be used, but there is no substitute for actually using the real device to see how a website works on it.
       
    • Performance Testing – You can see how quickly a site loads by simply visiting it, but if you want more detailed statistics and numbers, you can use a variety of website performance testing tools.
       
    • Comparison Tools – Want to compare your site to others? You can use a variety of comparison tools to do just that, including Open Site Explorer and Alexa.
       
    • Your Informed Opinion – Probably the most valuable tool in your arsenal is your own opinions and experience. You can visit websites the way any person would and use your own common sense as to whether that site is effective or whether it is lacking.

    Work With the Experts

    The points in this article can help you evaluate websites on your own, but there is no substitute for working with web professionals who will be able assist you in this endeavor and who will be able to more deeply assess your web presence as well as those of your closest competitors.

    I addition to helping you make sense of what you are seeing during these evaluation exercises, web professionals can also identify ideas and opportunities where your own site may be able to excel and place your business ahead of those competitors that you are evaluating.

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    Your Citation
    Girard, Jeremy. "How to Best Evaluate a Competitor’s Website." ThoughtCo, May. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/how-to-evaluate-competitor-website-4045461. Girard, Jeremy. (2016, May 12). How to Best Evaluate a Competitor’s Website. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-evaluate-competitor-website-4045461 Girard, Jeremy. "How to Best Evaluate a Competitor’s Website." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-evaluate-competitor-website-4045461 (accessed December 17, 2017).