Craggy Peak Research

Learning from the competition

Todd Haskell | December 10, 2018

According to Entrepeneur.com, competitive analysis involves "Identifying your competitors and evaluating their strategies to determine their strengths and weaknesses relative to those of your own product or service." You may have done competitive analysis as part of developing your brand or creating a marketing campaign. The same idea can be applied to your web page, though with a few twists.

As discussed in the blog post To Innovate or Imitate, an important part of making your web page easy to understand and navigate is following common conventions. As a simple example, let's take web sites for colleges and universities. These are often big sites with lots of information, so it can be useful to have a search feature. If you're going to have a search option on your home page, where should you put it? Well, let's look at a few college home pages to see what different schools are doing:

University of Washington home page
Washington State University home page
Gonzaga University home page
Central Washington University home page

All five of these schools place their search feature at or near the top right corner of the page. All five schools also use a magnifying glass icon in addition to or instead of the word "search." So, there appears to be a clear convention for where to put the search feature, and how to label it. Users will therefore expect the search feature to be in a certain spot and look a certain way. In this situation, you should almost certainly do what everyone else is doing.

Other times, though, you'll find that there isn't a clear convention. One such area involves the symbol to use to indicate that some content is "expandable." Here's how that's shown on the University of Washington page:

University of Washington site menu

And here's what it looks like for Washington State University:

Washington State University site menu

And finally, here's what it looks like for Gonzaga University:

Gonzaga University site menu

In this case, there's no clear convention. And here's where you can express your creativity. It's to at least consider borrowing the strategy used by one of your competitors. After all, they probably all put some time and energy into coming up with something that works reasonably well. But the fact that a consistent convention hasn't developed yet suggests that there may be room to find a new and better way to do things.

Whether you discover established conventions or find room to do things your own way, the point is that it's well worth your while to look at what your competitors are doing, both when you first develop your own site, and at regular intervals thereafter. You will be better informed, and you will think about your site design more deeply. And that may just give you your own competitive edge.