One of the things I’ve noticed time and time again is that businesses within an industry tend to exist within their own small sphere. By this I mean that they each look at what the other is doing and copy it. But this “keeping up with the Joneses” approach to business can logically only lead to mediocrity, and not success. Yet businesses say to me all the time, “The market leader’s website does X, so we need X too!”.
So if your leading competitor is doing X should you also be doing X? In short, no!
Your Competitors Probably Have No Idea What They’re Doing
The reason you shouldn’t copy your competitors is that your competitors probably don’t know what they’re doing either. To understand this think about the way in which a website might be put together.
A project is initiated to build or re-launch a website from within the business, and inputs are taken from lots of different people with strong opinions as to what the website should contain and how it should look. Depending on the size of the company this process goes through a number of reviews and iterations until much of the website is decided upon.
It’s then the job of a web design agency or internal team to create the website. How does the design agency then go about creating the website? By looking around for design inspiration and by looking at competitors until they come up with some designs that both seem to make sense and satisfy the brief.
What’s Wrong With This?
Well, everything! The website was created based on a bunch of internal opinions and then a bunch of external opinions from the design agency. This is quite typical of how many websites I see are put together. First, the brief is put together based on internal opinions and then the website is created by copying competitors.
The problem here is that just because they copy everything their successful competitor is doing – copywriting, page layout, returns policy, guarantees, sign-up flow etc., it does not mean that what worked for them will work for you.
Why Copying Competitors is so Tempting, but Flawed
Copying a competitor is so tempting because its out instinct to think that because someone else is doing something different to us and being successful then a quick and easy shortcut for us to obtain greater success is simply to copy what they’re doing.
I’ve seen this done many times are more often than not it doesn’t bring the desired success. Why might this be? Its because success is based on a number of factors.
Let’s suppose you happen to have a conversion rate of 5% and find yourself skimming through a trade magazine where by you read an article in which your competitor is boasting of their 15%.
Stop for a moment and imagine that just happened to you. Can you feel it? Can you feel the temptation to go and copy your competitor rushing to the surface?
The reason why this is a bad idea is that success is complex and based on a number of factors. Maybe their ads are more targeted than yours. Maybe their ads cost more. Maybe their margins are worse. The truth is you just don’t know. So…
What’s the Alternative
The alternative is to stop thinking about your competitor, stop thinking about yourself, and instead start to think about your customers. Think of an idea that you believe might made customers convert better.
What’s that? You can’t think of an original idea. Oh, ok. I that case I give you permission to steal ahem “borrow with pride” just one single idea from one of your competitors.
What you have here is a hypothesis. Something you don’t know will work, just something you think might.
What you now need to do is test your hypothesis by running an experiment. If you’re not already doing so then the first step is to start collecting data from your current site before making and changes. Start by collecting the basic metrics:
- traffic source
- new user conversion
- returning user conversion
- interactions per visit
- value per visit
- cost per conversion
- bounce rate
- exit pages
Now that your understand these values in your existing site, you can A/B test your hypothesis. Now you can see scientifically whether your hypothesis did indeed improve things or not.
Don’t just blindly copy your competitors!!!!!