One useful technique to inspire improvements to your content is to carry out a competitor analysis. This involves assessing how direct competitors communicate similar content including:
- tone and language
- key messages
- format preferences
- content types
- content structure (information architecture)
A competitor analysis can range from a full report on several sites or just a few annotated screenshots highlighting good and bad points. The extent of this depends on how much time and resource you have for your new website or redesign project, but it is always worthwhile to do some kind of analysis. One of the main benefits is that it will really help you to break free of the Imperial bubble and think about your content from a different perspective. To illustrate this, I have included a couple of examples of basic competitor analysis that I have done at the bottom of this post.
A good place to start when looking for competitors is the other Russell Group universities. You should also consider other higher education institutions; some may not have the reputation or standing of Imperial, but may offer really good web content. This is particularly evident in institutions that have to work harder to attract prospective students. Universities in the United States should also be considered, as they are often more advanced in their use of content design best practice.
As well as universities you could include other types of organisations to give you an alternative perspective. The target audience and business objectives may differ from Imperial’s, but they may help inspire some ideas about content that is common to many websites. For example, how they present contact details, news, FAQs or use images and video.
How many sites should I analyse?
A competitor analysis can be an onerous task, so I would suggest analysing 3-7 websites.
What should I be analysing?
When analysing each of the websites, you should be looking at things like:
- What language and labels do they use? Is there a pattern across the site?
- What are the primary communication messages and top tasks?
- What content types and templates are they using?
- What content is unique to them and what is Imperial’s equivalent?
- How detailed is the content?
- What content mediums are they using and how? Video, pictures, maps…?
- What tone of voice do they use? Does it reinforce their brand?
- Which aspects of the site are good?
- Which aspects do not work well?
- What are their target audience groups, and do they prioritise any particular group?
Where possible, you should include screenshots of the sites to illustrate your analysis.
Hopefully at this point you will have you nice shiny report and have some great ideas about how you can improve your content. But the fun shouldn’t stop there. You can take this to the next level with some testing.
One additional stage of a competitor analysis is to carry out user testing on one or two of your competitors to see if users find these websites useful and usable. This will help to reaffirm your analysis of those sites by getting a user’s perspective. This testing does not need to be exhaustive – testing 3 or 4 few tasks with about 5 people is fine. The results of this testing will act as a benchmark, as you could carry out the exact same test on the proposed design of your website.
I will be posting about user testing methods and tools in the next couple of months, so watch this space!
Competitor analysis examples
- Competitor analysis – Graduation website May 2018 (PDF)
This was a very quick analysis of a few different university sites which inspired some of the ideas to improve our own Graduation website at Imperial.
- Competitor analysis – Communications content (PDF)
This was a more in-depth analysis of how universities present information about their communications and marketing functions.
As usual if you are thinking of carrying out a competitor analysis and need some help or advice, then get in touch.