How to find a competitive advantage for your online business ideas

Do you have an idea for a new business but wonder if there’s too much competition to succeed? The presence of other businesses in your niche doesn’t mean your business won’t make it.

In fact, healthy competition means there’s a market for what you plan to offer.

The key to helping your business hold its own is to offer something your competitors don’t or to reach customers in a way that the competition doesn’t. Here’s how to seek out those competitive advantages.

build your website

1. Explore Your Competitors’ Websites

Set aside some big blocks of time to visit the competition online—not like you’re dropping in for coffee but like a house guest who plans to overstay and snoop in the cabinets. On each site, find out:

  • Which products or services do they feature on the homepage?
  • What other products or services do they offer? You may have something different or better.
  • How easy is it to find items on their site? Proper website structure and search tools can win you points with customers.
  • If they sell physical products, does their site let you filter product categories to make browsing easier?
  • If they’re local, what neighborhoods do they serve? Can you serve areas they don’t?
  • What’s their call to action on each page? Good CTAs can raise your conversion rates.
  • Where is their contact information? Do they force people to use a contact form or is there also a phone number and email address? Make it easy for people to reach you and give them contact options.
  • If they sell physical goods, are their shipping rates easy to find? Shoppers want transparency.
  • How easy to understand is their return/refund policy? Simpler is better.
  • Does their site look professional and organized or amateurish and cluttered?
  • How fast does their site load on your laptop or PC? No one likes to wait.
  • How well does their site work on mobile devices? Slow mobile load times are a big issue with online shoppers. You can capitalize on any weaknesses by using a business cloud hosting plan that loads your pages super-fast.
  • Does their checkout require you to create a customer account? Account creation is a barrier that will push some customers to abandon their cart.
  • What payment methods do they accept? Are there popular options they leave out?

Make notes on each site. You’ll get a sense of which areas they’re weak in and how you can offer a better experience. Don’t have time to do all of this yourself? Services like Alexa offer competitive website analysis for a monthly fee.

alexa competitive research

2. Study Your Competitors’ Marketing Emails

To find email marketing advantages against your competition, you need to know how their email marketing works. When are they having sales, what are they promoting, and how they promote it? Do their emails display properly or do they having coding issues that frustrate customers?

You can get the answers to these questions by signing up for competitors’ emails and studying them yourself, or you can save time by using a paid email tracking service like SendView or Email Insights to analyze the emails for you.

sendview competitive email marketing analysis

3. Keep Tabs on Your Competitors’ Social Media Accounts

Social listening—keeping tabs on your competitors, followers and industry on social media—shows you what your competitors are promoting, how their followers are responding, and what types of conversations they’re having. You can do this yourself or use a social media tool like Hootsuite to follow and analyze competing companies and brands as well as conversations around keywords.

hootsuite monitor competitors

Besides keeping you up to date on what’s trending, social listening can help you home in on areas where you can outperform your competition. Are they slow to respond to customer complains on Twitter (and what are customers complaining about)? Could their Instagram photos be better? Mine the answers for ideas about how to run your own social media accounts, deliver great customer service, and keep pace with trends.

 

4. Check the Competition’s Reviews

Scoping out reviews of your competition can give you a sense of what customers like, what they’ve been dissatisfied with, and what they’d like to see from your type of business. As with the other tasks here, you can do this yourself or use a paid service like ReviewTrackers to handle the analysis for you.

reviewtrackers competitor analysis

5. Do a Competitive SEO Analysis

A competitive SEO analysis can help you find ways to outrank your competitors in search results. This goes beyond studying the competition’s websites to include

  • Researching, ranking, and comparing keywords.
  • Identifying keywords that customers search for but which the competition doesn’t focus on.
  • Incorporating the most relevant keywords into your site copy.
  • Developing content that includes keywords and answers the questions customers ask in their searches.
  • Optimizing page and section titles, tags, and meta descriptions with relevant keywords.

SEO analytics requires an ongoing commitment and tools like Google Analytics to see results. Depending on the web hosting plan you choose, you may receive some SEO services as part of your package. For example, HostGator’s Business Cloud hosting plan comes with an SEO Tools set that includes a personalized SEO plan for your business site to get you started.

hostgator seo tools

Give Your New Business a Competitive Edge

Monitoring your competition takes time, especially when you’re just starting your business and you’re dealing with the learning curve for monitoring and analytics tools.

The effort you put into analyzing your competitors can pay off by showing you the areas where customers aren’t getting their needs met. Is it when they search online? When they visit the mobile site? Customer service? Something else?

When you know what’s missing for customers in your niche, you’ll know how you can meet their needs, earn their loyalty, and grow your business.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.