Hi Enerica fans. On today’s edition of Turning Gears, I am going to talk about how to do research and environmental analysis when developing your business website. You will surely ask what environmental analysis is. Well, it’s an attempt to understand your environment. It’s impossible to create a good website without understanding your business environment and competition. There is nothing wrong with trying to understand your competition – what they do well and not so well. The particular angles I take are the information architecture, search engine optimization or SEO, social media presence and consumer reviews.

When it comes to environmental analysis, Google is your best friend. Google the keywords people would normally use to find your website and see what pops up first. Google prioritizes paid results. Don’t ignore these. It will tell you about who is paying to get ahead and if they are mostly new entrants to the market. Next, look for organic search results. Those who managed to climb to the top of the search engine ranking must have done something right. Don’t just write it off to black hat SEO.

Figure out what they have done well. Pay attention to site design, layout, navigation structure, any special tools they use, and how long they have been in the market. What sets them apart? How are they better than the competition? Look for clues everywhere and write them down.

Next, SEO. Open up their code and see what keywords they use on the home page. Try to understand why they rank well for these particular keywords. Google rewards those who become uncontested experts in their field. Their expertise is determined by how many other reputable websites link back to them. Google also looks at content stats to see if the traffic coming to the website sticks and if people spend time on the website reading the content. It is very important.

Copying their strategy is almost a sure fail. Instead, look for clues which niches are less crowded and position yourself there. A good way to do that is to use Google’s keyword tool. See how many monthly searches are done for the keywords you want and how much they cost. Anything below a dollar and a few thousand monthly searches is gold. Your competitor might be selling garbanzo beans. See if you can succeed by positioning yourself as a kidney bean expert.

Use web intelligence tools.  Sites such as WooRank help you see keyword density, title stats, metadata and social media exposure in a convenient format. Moz provides excellent tools for competitive analysis, but it is fairly expensive. Use Google Plus to see consumer reviews and what exactly the consumers are saying about the business. Both positive and negative feedback is revealing.

Look at social media presence. Ask yourself, “Does it tell a story?” I find Facebook to be the most telling medium in terms of how active a business is on social media and what techniques it uses to engage its audiences. It also gives you a good sense of what the business does outside of their social presence. Do they organize customer appreciation events? Do they engage their fans online and post fresh content?

For each website we develop, we conduct an extensive competitive analysis and prepare a report for the client. The report benefits the client and us. We believe it is impossible to create a good website without understanding the business first.

That’s all for today. See you in the next edition.

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