One of the first things we do when talking to a new client about their website is ask who their online competitors are. It’s important to know who they are, and be aware of what they’re doing online. I spend a lot of time looking at competitor websites for my clients, evaluating them, and seeing what they’re doing well and what they’re not doing well.
Often when we’re hired to make a website, we are tasked with “outdoing” the competition. People want a site that’s modern or cutting edge, with fancy features. Things that will show up their biggest rival, perhaps even prove that you’ve spent more time and money on your website than your competitors. While I am myself very competitive, and I enjoy a good contest, the problem with planning your website with your competitor in mind is that your competitor is not your customer.
The person you need to design a website for is your client.
Another question we ask when start working on a website is who your target audience is. Who are they? How old are they? What are they looking for? How old are they? Where do they live? And we use this information to figure out what they need on a website and how to meet those needs. We can also use this information to determine if your competitors’ websites are meeting the needs of those clients or overlooking those needs.
If your competitors aren’t planning their websites with the customers needs and desires as their primary goal, then you can beat the competition by planning a strategy to meet those needs, and that may or may not include adding fancy features.
In fact, I would say that more often than not, adding fancy features can be a detraction when it comes to your small business website. Look at this way: once someone lands on your site, usually it’s because they are looking for what you have to offer. They are already interested in what you do or sell. They didn’t land there because they were looking at a cat video and clicked through (unless you create cat products, then maybe they did.)
For most businesses, once a potential customer lands on your website, they’re interested. And the task at hand is to give them what they need to take the next step.
What do they need? Well, that can vary. Do they need more information? How about an FAQ page?
Do they need to know you are good at your job? How about some testimonials from happy clients? Or maybe a photo gallery of your work?
Once you’ve determined what your customers are looking for and what they need, go back and look at your competitors websites and see if they are offering those things. If not, you have an opportunity to “beat” them simply by planning your website for your customers.
You can literally use a little audience research combined with competitor research to beat out the competition, and you don’t have to jump to a “cutting edge” design, animations, or funky features.
It’s important to be aware of your competitors and what they are doing, but it’s important to remember that they are not your customers. Use the research you do on your competitors to plan and strategize a website that will meet the needs of your customers better than your competitors’ websites. That’s the best way to ensure that your website is working for you and not against you.
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