It may sound like a line from a vintage war movie, but the adage “Know thine enemy” is pretty spot-on from a business-owner standpoint. Sure, “enemy” might be a little strong a word for your competitors, but getting to know their strengths and weaknesses surely can benefit your own business or organization.

One of the simplest ways to make sure you are offering bigger and better services than other companies in your field is by doing consistent surveillance. This may initially feel like spying, but it is really just common sense. In order to stay knowledgeable and current in your own business, you must feel out what others are offering to customers. Or, it may be even more important to know how your competitors are getting it wrong.

The end goal of checking out the competition, specifically their websites, is to learn. You may see that they offer a tool on their mobile site that customers really love. Maybe the page-load time is too long and customers are expressing their dismay. Think about it: Your competitors’ customer base is a whole audience of people that you can learn from simply by paying attention! Ready to get started with the research? Here are some of the options.

DIY Approach
The quickest way to create a list of best – and worst – practices is by simply visiting your competitors’ websites. You don’t need to take a lot of time with this, just look around and note how their sites differ from yours and what seems to be working well there. Use this checklist for hitting the main points, and be sure to check back regularly:

  • Does their page load quickly? If it does, make sure yours is just as fast. If it doesn’t, make sure yours is faster.
  • Is their site optimized for mobile? If it’s not and yours is, you already are a step ahead.
  • Is there an online forum or blog? If so, read up as much as you can about their company, and be sure to read all the comments from site visitors.
  • Do they tout social media? Subscribe to their feeds on every platform they are using. You can make up a user name if you want to be clandestine.

Tool Belt Options
If you want to monitor the competition but prefer a more hands-off approach, there are plenty of free online tools that can alert you to important information. Again, remember that the point here is to learn about your audience and adjust your own website accordingly to meet their demands.

  • Google Alerts: Updates you when the competitor’s business name is mentioned online. You should also have one of these set up for your own company.
  • Website Grader: Allots a score to your competitors based on their blogging success, SEO and social media activity. Adjust your site as needed to make sure your score is higher.
  • Google Keyword Planner: Get a list of the keywords other companies are targeting. Choose related – but unique – keywords that you can use instead to make your business or organization stand out.

Secret Shopper
If you really want to compare your company’s website directly with your competitors’, you can go the secret shopper route. Ask someone or hire someone to do a head-to-head analysis of the two sites and how they function for customers. You can then use the results to improve your own site, whether that means creating a better user experience, rejiggering your shopping cart for smoother purchases or adding a feature that your competitor is using successfully.