When you analyse a competitors website, you need to make sure you're prepared to do the job correctly. Competitors' websites, if analysed properly, can give you all sorts of information that you can use to increase the traffic and the popularity of your site. You can use these sites to analyse your own market. If a site gets a lot of hits it has to be doing something right. Check out where it is ranked, what keywords it uses, how it is formatted, and what you can do to exemplify the good and filter out the bad. Also be sure to keep copyright laws in mind as a copyright infringement suit is never good for you, your site, or your blood pressure.
Identifying the Leaders.
You need to start off by identifying the major players - a good place to do this is Yahoo's directory. It's not as comprehensive as it once was, but it's good if you're looking for the major players. You may want to print out the directory to take a closer look. Look for large companies, as well as innovative approaches and new products. Also use this examination as an attempt to identify the niche markets that the major players have not identified and exploited. If you can find new niches you're basically set as far as traffic goes.
Also consider that since Yahoo!'s directory is the place that you look to find the big players, it may be a good place to get listed in order to become a big player. These little associations are important if you want to start to attain more and more traffic and conquer a niche or category. Try to identify all places that the big dogs hang out and start hanging out there. It's all about who you know in this business so bigger is better. You might not be ready to play with the big dogs, but the only way to get there is to sit down and give it a shot.
Sites like Media Metrix 500 can tell you which companies get the most traffic, and you can learn about the relative traffic by using Alexa. Alexa is a free add-on to your browser that ranks the traffic to each sire you visit, telling you whether it's in the top 100, the top 1000, the top 10,000, and so on. This gives you a rough idea of where your competitors are in the pecking order.
Scrutinise the Leaders.
The next step is to study the top 5 or 10 competitors very closely. There is a lot that can be learnt by looking at competitors website and analysing them. These are the things that you should look for.
1. Make sure you check to see what products or services they offer, and note anything that's different from your own offerings. Look for gaps that you could fill.
2. Think about the look, feel and functionality of their website.
3. See what advertising campaigns and offers they're running.
4. Look at their strengths and weaknesses, from the customer's point of view.
5. See if you can figure out their strategy.
When you're dealing with publicly traded companies, you can often get detailed information from their SEC filings. Write down the names of their key players and then look for any interviews and speeches they might have made about their website.
Look for Strengths, Vulnerabilities, and Gaps.
Now, summarise the information you've found into a few sentences for each competitor, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each one. Note strategies that are going to be necessary to counter their offering - these will depend on your own website's strengths. If you're small, then you'll need to be resourceful to exploit their weaknesses.
With this research, you can create a marketing plan. Be sure to include how you intend to deal with competition, and what steps you think you'll need to take for you site to come out on top. Once you've finished analysing your competitors, you need to consider whether it would be better not to compete at all, and find a less-saturated market.
Don't get frightened away prematurely, though - make sure you know what you're getting into before you start, and don't let big companies intimidate you. Remember that you can move faster than they can! All you have to do is offer your customers things they can't find anywhere else.