By Carrie-ann | Sep 25, 2014 | Internet Marketing

Why copying competitors isn’t always a good idea

Data drives success, particularly online. This is true whether you’re adjusting an existing website or building a new one. I am therefore stumped when a business asks me to look at a competitor’s site with a view to copying their latest initiative. What people fail to realise is that frankly, their competitor may not know what they are doing, and the same can be said for their web designer. I am not saying ignore competitors, far from it, but all marketing initiatives should be grounded in hard data.

How Decisions are Really Made

It’s tempting to borrow an idea from a competitor. I see it in sectors I follow. Perhaps the market leader comes up with a new WordPress site. Before long, similar sites are springing up all over the place. You may wish you’d thought about getting a new site first, but simply playing follow my leader isn’t the answer. You see, you have no idea on what basis the new site was developed. Was it grounded in data or did they simply copy an idea from another sector? Or was it simply the whim of the person in charge? Many business decisions about things as important as a website are in fact opinion driven. As an outsider looking in, you have no idea how effective the new site is going to be and your competitor probably doesn’t either!

The Formula for Success

You can’t copy what you think is someone else’s formula for success. Every business is different. Even if you know a competitor is having great success with a specific campaign (for example) it may have nothing to do with their new website. I prefer to think in terms of turnover, profit and cash flow. When it comes to website visitors, all are not equal. What really matters is getting targeted visitors who will actually buy something and a website that facilitates the process. The question then becomes how do you actually engineer this? The answer in a nutshell is data.

Using Data to Build your Business

Analytics is the key thing. I encourage all my clients to use an analytics package. You can use any of the well-known ones to measure how visitors behave on your website. You can measure what pages they visit, how long they stay on particular pages, where they click, where conversions come from and so on. Of course having all this information at your fingertips isn’t worth anything unless you actually do something with it. This process of testing and reviewing should be a continuous process. You make refinements/changes and test and so on. The point then about data is if something on your website can be measured (and many things can) it can be monitored and altered accordingly.
However, it’s important to measure the right behaviours.

Making Changes to your Website

You’ve probably got the idea now that when making changes (including building new sites) you should really regard changes as experiments. This naturally includes any ideas you may pick up from competitors. No changes should be regarded as set in stone.
With re-designs or completely new sites, the process is naturally more involved. Based on my experience of coming to the aid of ailing sites, website designers don’t seem to appreciate the importance of testing in relation to business objectives. Too often their concerns are technical. My view is clients are partly to blame because the design of the website may well be scrutinised by opinion rather than fact. All changes should be subject to testing before the design is finalised. Otherwise, how will you know it will support your profit and cash flow objectives?