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Creating Great Online Product Content: Competitive Research is Essential July 1, 2018, in: ,

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(This is part one of our five-part guide, Creating Great Online Product Content: Five Secrets the Pros Know.)

The first step in planning your strategy of providing best-in-class product content is to audit your competitors’ rich content. It’s the first thing we do for our clients.

Spend some time (and create a spreadsheet to track your results, if necessary) evaluating each competitive product’s key metrics. How good is their copy? How appealing is the imagery and photography, and does it tell the right story? We score product content by these metrics:

  • Copy quality: Was it written by somebody with good command of the language, and was it properly proofread? Most products score high marks here, but you’d be surprised.
  • Copy effectiveness: Does it present a clear value proposition? Does it describe the product in enough detail to make an informed choice between this and another product in the manufacturer’s line or a competitor?
  • Photography quality: How appealing does it make the product? Are there sufficient images to give the customer a sense of understanding how the entire product looks?
  • Use of supplemental content: To what lengths has the manufacturer gone to provide tables, charts, videos, interactive features, and cross-sell content?

Doing this will allow you to quickly build a list of resource gaps. If improving your content requires getting financial approval to put more resources toward particular areas, an audit spreadsheet is just the sort of tool you need to help make this happen.

Data shows that when customers visit a retail site, they tend to view several products before making a purchase decision. And, retailers make it all too easy to browse away from your product page by providing links to the pages of other products that customers looked at. They do this because they want the customer to be able to find the product that’s best for them (which increases customer satisfaction rates and lowers returns) — that’s a given. But they also do it because they want to guide the customer to product pages which convert better. And, as we’ve seen, product pages with better rich content convert better.

This means that if you have a product that’s every bit as good as your competitor’s, is sold for the same price and yields the same margin, but your competitor has better content than yours, Amazon wants to get the customer away from your page and onto your competitor’s page.

Having better content than your competition isn’t just about providing more details, or having a prettier presentation. Each way in which a brand or product faces the customer influences their perception of that brand (this is the essence of branding), and it’s easy for consumers to to make the assumption that if the brand didn’t take proper care with one item, then perhaps the maker cut corners on the quality of the product itself, too. This continues past the sale, which is why leading brands pay so much attention to the out-of-box experience. Would you have thought as much of that shiny new piece of electronic gear and the brand that provided it if it inexplicably came in a low-quality package with a thin, poorly printed manual?

We have decades of research which supports this; it predates the web but the fundamental psychology remains the same. We know that customers’ expectation of a product’s quality affects their subjective opinion of the product once they own it. We know that people prefer things that are easier to understand — the term is cognitive fluency — and we know that product preferences (and ultimately, purchases) are determined by unconscious decisions. One study shows that it takes people only 50 milliseconds to form a first impression of your web site.

You need to provide a first impression that’s the same or better than your competitors. And the first step is to know what your competitors are doing.