Being an internet marketer, I am frequently asked for advice from people interested in starting a new website. Some of them already have a great idea of how to develop and market the site, some just have a concept and just want to “go for it” – a website can be made for practically nothing so why not! Very few, however, have actually done even the basic market research that is essential to succeeding in this increasingly competitive playing field. Now more than ever your site does not operate in a silo – no matter how innovative your idea there is competition from all over the world vying for your piece of the web-pie. Luckily, there is also an amazing level of demand for your goods or services if you know how to find it. The trick is finding the balance between competing in an overly-crowded market and marketing to a highly targeted niche that doesn’t have the demand.
Following is a checklist that all websites should go through before spending the time and resources developing and marketing the site. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours of your time, and it can have a significant impact on what you thought you knew about your market. With that said, it is also highly recommended for established sites to run through a list like this at least once every 6-12 months. At The JAR Group we offer a robust market research offering that often heavily influences even established sites’ plans. This is a scaled down version of the research that can at least get you up and running and give you an edge. All of these tools are either free or offer a basic free version of their service, which is good enough for our initial research.
Almost every time someone says they have an amazing and totally unique website idea that can’t lose, there are already about 50 sites just like it already up and running. That is definitely not to say the idea is not worth developing, it just means that you have to at least identify 1) who the competition is, 2) how effectively each site is reaching their customers, and 3) how you can stand out from them
1) First head to Google. That’s right, this is ideally the way a lot of people will be finding your site in the future, so it’s a good idea to understand the landscape your target audience is currently seeing there. Pretend for a second your site already exists, think about what keywords you would use to it in the search engines. Now Google those terms. You may not find sites that do exactly what you’re doing, but you’ll find ones that come close. Start writing all of these down and take notes on their site usability, their feature set, their apparent audience targeting (look at the meta keywords in their homepage’s source code for ideas), their value proposition, and anything else that stands out. Don’t get discouraged right away if you find a site that “took” your idea – there’s a whole lot they could be doing wrong that could prevent their online success and you can use to your advantage.
2) Take that list of sites from step 1 and enter the competitor url’s into compete.com. Right off the bat you can see how the competition stacks up – who is getting the most traffic, which sites are new, where they are getting their traffic, and more. A lot of times the data can be surprising – the seemingly “best” site in your list isn’t necessarily getting much traffic, many of the sites get the majority of their traffic from Youtube referrals, etc. Maybe there’s a site that’s doing a great job of what you’re trying to do, they seem to be marketing themselves well, they’ve been around for a while, and they still are getting very little traffic – that’s a bad sign for you and is worth researching further. Also, you may notice a site had low traffic all along, up until a certain month where it spiked to high levels. You should definitely do your research on the cause of that. You may find some great marketing ideas you would have never thought of until you do a little snooping.
3) Time permitting, you can also dig deeper into the competition using quantcast.com. They provide great data on competitor visitor demographics – age, education, income, geographic location, etc. This can give you a better idea of who your target may be and how to speak to them. As with many of these tools though, they are based on a sample audience so when you are analyzing smaller sites the data may seem fairly skewed in some instances.
4) Now research those same sites in SEMrush.com. This will tell you the kinds of keywords they are bidding on in Pay Per Click campaigns, as well as estimates on their ad spend. This information will give you a picture of who they are targeting and how much the customers’ visits are worth to them. If they are bidding $10/click for your ideal keyword, would you be able to generate an average of at least that amount from each visitor? You won’t last too long in the competitionif your competitors have a better plan of monetizing their site. SEMrush also gives you competitors’ PPC ad copies so you can get an idea of their value proposition to their customers.
Part II: The Demand
In Part II of this series we will review the other side of the coin – the potential demand for your site. Just knowing that you can outdo the existing competition does not ensure site traffic, money, or fame. There has to be actual demand for it – either in the search engines (via keyword searches), the social media sites, or wherever else your target audience resides online.
I believe this list will give you a well informed, high-level perspective on your online landscape. What are your methods of competitive research online? Which tools and techniques have helped you the most?