2013 Conference

Stay Ahead of the Curve: Conducting a Competitive Web Content Analysis

Presented by: Rick Allen – Content Strategist, Meet Content

Description: In order to make informed decisions about your website, you need an understanding of what content you have and whether or not it’s any good. Hello, content audit! But how do you know if your findings are appropriate, if your recommendations will work, and if your new-and-improved content will put you ahead of the competition? Hello, competitive analysis! A competitive analysis of web content is an assessment of competing websites based on your content goals. Your assessment criteria might include branding, usability, accessibility, information architecture, or any other element of your web content strategy. In this session, learn how to evaluate what web elements work well for other higher ed institutions, what problems you want to avoid, and how you can innovate. There are many examples of great content in higher ed, but there are just as many examples of poor quality content. A competitive analysis will help you stay on the winning side.

Recap: As content managers, we’ve all been there before: you’re sitting in a meeting, or around the lunch table, or at your desk, and someone mentions that the content on your website…leaves something to be desired. It’s easy to get bogged down by your own content problems:  it’s too outdated, it’s too boring, it’s not relevant, it isn’t engaging. But before you jump off the bridge to the nowhere that is a full content audit of your own site, you need something crucial: context.

How do you achieve context? You do a competitive content analysis. Find websites like yours – sites you long to be like, schools you compete with directly, and look at their sites before you look at your own. What’s good? What’s bad? What are they doing that you aren’t? What are they doing that you’d rather not? Only after you’ve explored these questions can you have the proper leverage to make changes to your own site.

The most valuable outcome of a competitive analysis is that it challenges your assumptions. By looking at other websites, you put yourself at the starting line of a race. And what are you facing when you’re at the starting line? Not a problem. That’s already behind you. You’re facing a solution. And it’s a solution that you don’t know yet. After all, if you think you know the answer before you even ask the question, then you learn nothing.

What else can a competitive analysis do for you? It allows you to keep your finger on the pulse and to identify new trends. Then, once you see how your competitor is implementing a new trend, you can apply it to your own site, but BETTER. Win-win!

Before you begin your analysis, it’s important to know what you’re going to focus on. Is it navigation that you want to improve? User experience? Consistency of messaging? If you try to do it all at once, you WILL fail. By focusing your view, you will find that your findings are all the more actionable.

Rick made phenomenal use of examples, comparing the top five party schools according to The Princeton Review. For all their not0riety for being a good time, their websites were, well, not so much. Menus were confusing, dean’s statements weren’t engaging enough. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn from their mistakes!

Once you’ve made some conclusions, the next step is to share them with your stakeholders, and this is where it can get tricky. Beware the data beast! When you feed it, it overwhelms viewers. You can just see their eyes glaze over. Use simple graphs to explain your goals. Illustrate problems and solutions not with a long block of text but with a “less like this, more like THIS” approach.

If you follow these steps and keep your eye on your goals, you’ll find it’s quite easy to improve your website. Just look to others to lead the way on what you should and shouldn’t do. And, if you ever have doubts on how to take your next step, remember this mantra:

Less blah. More booyah.

Photo Credit: Philipp Lücke via Compfight cc

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