We all want to create great sites that engage and serve our customers and readers well. So do our competitors. There are many reasons and ways to audit your site content—we’ve covered personas, content performance, and quality, for example. Auditing it against your competitors’ sites gives you an extra lens through which to assess effectiveness and identify gaps and tactical needs.
Much like performing an audit of your own site, the act of auditing someone else’s requires a few basic tasks to start. By now, you’ve created your own site inventory and audit, using CAT, so you have your baseline for auditing.
Before you begin actually scoring the content, you’ll want to do a quick assessment of what their sites contain and identify what’s there. This isn’t your actual set of heuristics yet, but much like doing your own site inventory and audit, it serves the purpose of familiarizing yourself with the landscape you’ll be assessing. For general purpose competitive audits, your list could include:
When you’ve gathered this information, your next step will be to do a side-by-side comparison of your site against your competitors’ sites and objectively evaluate where the strengths, weaknesses, and points of differentiation lie.
Your audit should begin by determining your goals and the measures (or heuristics) you’ll use to score the sites. Assess your competitors’ web sites on the same measures you use on your own—or on the measures you hope to compete with.
Depending on the site and your goals, the measurements, or heuristics, you’ll select may vary. For a blog, you may focus on criteria such as frequency of publication and how frequently it is commented on, rated, or shared via social media.
For an e-commerce site, you will be looking not only at content depth and breadth—how much information is provided for products?—but also how well other site content is integrated with product content and how well content supports the user journey from evaluation to purchase. You may want to partner with your UX counterpart to look at findability, product categorization, and user tasks like product comparison and purchase.
Make sure criteria are specific enough to be measurable, although a certain amount of judgment calls will be inevitable. To keep the task manageable, you may want to focus on the one to three top competitors in your area. To get a wider range of viewpoints and reduce bias, Rahel Bailie suggests having several reviewers independently audit the sites. This makes it all the more important that your heuristics are well-defined and leave little room for individual interpretation.
Establish which features or content sets you are going to assess and create your list of heuristics. For each general heuristic, create a set of questions to ask about the site content. An example for support content might look like this:
The metrics you choose to include in your scorecard can be numeric (rating on a 1-5 scale, for example) or ideograms such as Harvey Balls. Numbers make it easier to create averages, visuals may be slightly easier to quickly scan. Rick Allen, writing for the MeetContent blog, suggests using a High/Medium/Low metric.
Whatever you choose, avoid using simple checkmarks or Yes/No if possible, since that generally provides too little qualitative information to be useful. If the content or your goals don’t lend themselves easily to a literal scorecard, you may also create a written assessment of each of sites, addressing your audit criteria. This makes side-by-side comparison more difficult, but may be a more intuitive way to describe qualitative aspects of content.
Some typical heuristics by which to measure content and what to look for include:
Breadth and depth
What is the range of topics covered? If a product site, how many products across how many categories? Are articles or product descriptions sufficiently descriptive and informative?
Is content written in a consistent voice, appropriate to the audience? Is the writing of consistent quality? Is similar content constructed similarly?
Do site Help functions enable users to get accurate answers to questions? Do product descriptions include all the information you need to know to make a purchase decision? Can users access support documentation when needed?
Currency and frequency
Is content up to date? If a blog, how frequently is it published?
Are the navigational and categorization structures sufficiently clear that users can proceed with confidence? Is site search enabled? Does it include features like synonym matching or support for misspellings? Is there content that is only available behind login? How well does search work? Run a few searches for common terms to see how relevant the results seem.
You’ve completed your audit of your competitors’ sites and put their scores or assessments side-by-side with the audit of your own site. Now what?
Review the goals you established at the outset of the audit process. If identifying content gaps was a goal, look at your completeness scores. For example, do all your competitors include how-to articles to accompany their products? If yours don’t, you may want to add that to your content planning. If your site or products target a particular audience demographic, how well do you compete? How does your content or product range stack up? Does your writing have a voice appropriate for that audience or do your competitors do a better job of hitting that tone? Can people find content or products on your site? Simple searches and timed browse exercises can help you determine how discoverable your content is compared to your competitors.
Conducting these assessments with a clear, objective eye should provide either a very tactical set of insights (e.g., improve search, simplify navigation, create more how-to content, and so on) or confirmation that you are on the right track already.
If there are significant differences or gaps, however, do proceed with caution. It can be tempting to take the findings too literally and jump too quickly to standardize your content and site experience with others’. But you still need to maintain your own voice, point of view, and personality. Do throw out or improve the bad, but remember to keep the good and leave space for differentiation.