Last week Mike, from the Groove crew, wrote about on how to measure and estimate what your competitors are doing online. This is a great way to keep track of your space and understand the competitive landscape, but what happens when you lose touch with who 'they' are?

We recently spoke with a potential client who's numbers were increasing on all fronts. Search Rankings, Search Visitors, Direct Visitors, Return Visitors, etc... But over several months their conversion rate was dropping like the Titanic and they couldn't figure out why. What was different? No major changes to their site. No changes to anything.

They were spending so much time internally focused, we felt it was time to stop, look around and ask some questions to see how their marketplace evolved.

Who Are The Players?

Sure the client had looked around 3 years ago when they originally launched their site, but had they kept up to date on the new kids in town? They hadn't... There were new players in the marketplace with better defined USP's.

Starting with our client's search terms we recommended creating a sampling of 5-10 competitors across each of their categories. By using organic results, paid results, blog searches and shopping engines we were able to determine a list of who we deemed worthy of tracking.

This list was broken down by the following:
- The old guard/big budget sites
- Peers
- Up and comers/those to keep an eye on

What Are They Doing?

What are these competitors doing different? Free shipping? Coupon codes? Other special promotions? Better Email newsletters? More payment options such as Paypal or Google Checkout?

What pieces of the puzzle was our client missing? What were they doing better?

How Are They Doing it?

How are these competitors doing it differently? One page checkouts? Better product layouts? Easy links to their best sellers? Easy to add to cart?

What new technologies had these competitors developed to make it easier for customers to buy? Where was our client's site performing better?

What Are They Charging?

Finally we needed to see if price was the issue. We never recommend to our clients to be the cheapest kid on the block. A well designed, credible site with moderate prices can attract quality customers that order over and over. On the same note you don't want to be 50% higher in price than your cheapest competitor.

We priced checked the top 10 products for each category at 10 competitors sites.

What Did We Find?

We created a spreadsheet that listed each of their competitors along with a feature and functionality matrix. We tracked items like estimated traffic and specific site functionality like one page checkout, email newsletter, product blog, live chat, etc. We found that the client's site was lacking several features that had become expected by customers based upon the other major sites were doing.

We then created a second worksheet and documented the average price and found the client was 10-20% higher than the median product price.

How Did We Fix It?

By giving the client's site a facelift, implementing a one page checkout and lowering prices to be more inline with the median has caused 30% increase in sales over 90 days. Not bad results - the client was more than happy.

We recommend reviewing both your own site as well as your competitors every four to six months through a structured process. Although it is a tedious task, It can be well worth it as our client has found out.

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