How to conduct a Web site competitive analysis

Conducting a competitive analysis is an important part of marketing a website on the web. A good competitive analysis not only produces usability metrics but also aids decision makers in their strategic goal-setting and planning. Done right, a good competitive analysis can steer a Web development project in the right direction. Design, usability, and architecture are relatively unimportant to analyzing your own or someone elses website.
Let's look at what you'll be analyzing. Who's the competition? 
It's very likely that you have a list of competitors. Every company that has a handle on their market space knows who the competition is. And just about every company has a list of companies on their "target list" -- that special subset of companies that they want to beat soundly in the marketplace.

Along with a list of competitors, you'll likely get a list of items that they want you to focus on, or at least, a list of items they want to do better than the competition. For example, the team might be fixated on the number of content items deployed on their own site. If Competitor X has 500 content items, they'll want to know how many content items Competitor Y and Competitor Z have. The subtext will be, "How fast can we have more content items?"


What to analyze
• Home page. How informative is the home page? Does it set the proper context for visitors? Is it just an annoying splash page with multimedia? How fast does it load?
• Navigation. Is the global navigation consistent from page to page? Do major sections have local navigation? Is it consistent?
• Site organization. Is the site organization intuitive and easy to understand?
• Links and labels. Are labels on section headers and content groupings easy to understand? Are links easy to distinguish from each other? Or are they ambiguous and uninformative ("click here" or "white paper")? Are links spread out in documents, or gathered conveniently in sidebars or other groupings?
• Search and search results. Is the search engine easy to use? Are there basic and advanced search functions? What about search results? Are they organized and easy to understand? Do they give relevance weightings or provide context? Do the search results remind you what you searched for.
• Readability. Is the font easy to read? Are line lengths acceptable? Is the site easy to scan, with chunked information, or is it just solid blocks of text?

• Performance. Overall, do pages load slowly or quickly? Are graphics and applications like search and multimedia presentations optimized for easy Web viewing?

• Content. Is their sufficient depth and breadth of content offerings? Does the content seem to match the mission of the organization and the needs of the audience? Is the site developing its own content or syndicating other sources? Is there a good mix of in-depth material (detailed case studies, articles, and white papers) versus superficial content (press releases, marketing copy)