Measuring Up: Why Every Business Needs To Digitally Audit Itself Against The Competition

Published 08/07/2020
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The word 'audit' rarely conjures up excitement within companies. Audits are usually compulsory and tedious procedures, involving opening doors, emails and bank accounts for external inspection. Financial audits conducted by accounting firms, for instance, exist to prevent other Enrons or Wirecards from emerging.
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Audits can also be part of legal investigations into corporate misconduct, such as the papertrail audit into Renault’s former chief, Carlos Ghosn, and his alleged embezzlement of company money to buy Cartier watches and trips to the Brazilian carnival. 

The audit I discuss here though is entirely different. It’s internally-driven, proactive, voluntary and exciting. And it can make or break a business. We’re talking about a digital audit: a comprehensive evaluation of a company’s digital strength versus its competitors. And it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. B2C or B2B, product or service, big or small, global or local, it matters. Even in traditional B2B contexts, a prospect will still visit a website up to 5 times before making a decision. And Covid-19 has massively accelerated digitisation across all sectors. 

In this article, the first in a series, we will explore what a digital audit is, why it’s important and then look at two practical exercises you can run to help with your own customer acquisition. Join us as we take the first step in looking at how to get your digital house in order. 

What is a Digital Audit?

A digital audit is an assessment of a company’s digital strength, which is its ability to attract, convert and retain customers effectively online. There are, of course, other elements of digital strength like the use of technology and data to improve operational efficiency that are not covered by this definition. However, in my experience, companies that are digitally strong in customer acquisition and retention are also sophisticated in their use of data and technology to drive operational efficiency gains.

Why do digital audits matter?

Digital strength drives revenue growth and market share. There are countless examples of companies across industries that have come to dominate due to their digital prowess, often toppling incumbents that have existed for decades. Compare Western Union, founded in 1851 which has ten thousand employees and Transferwise, founded in 2011, which has two thousand employees. In the period 2013 to 2018, Western Union increased its annual revenue from $5.5B to $5.6B, whilst Transferwise increased it from $980,000 to £150 million. Put slightly differently, Western Union increased its annual revenue by $100M, whereas Transferwise increased theirs by $149M over the same five year period. 

There is no doubt that Transferwise’s ability to effectively attract, convert and retain customers online is a massive factor in how it has been able to grow market share and increase annual revenue growth so quickly, despite being much smaller than the incumbent. You can see this dynamic play out in every industry- think ASOS versus Gap in fashion, or Airbnb versus Hilton in travel. 

Digital strength also has compound effects. A company that is digitally strong can be hard to unseat as digital strength snowballs over time. For instance, when a company has the top position on Google’s Search for a given search query, it will generate more clicks to its website. More clicks, means more visitors and therefore a higher probability that visitors will link to the company’s website from another website.

Backlinks are a major factor in how Google decides which companies get top positions in its search rankings because they act like ‘votes of confidence’. So more backlinks means higher search rankings, more visitors and more backlinks and the virtuous circle continues. Customer reviews or YouTube subscribers are other examples of the compounding nature of digital strength: the more positive reviews or Youtube subscribers a business has, the higher its chances of getting new customers and Youtube subscribers.

Digital audits also give companies reasons to evaluate the competition in a structured way. Competitors are important for two reasons: firstly, power or digital strength is a relative concept. As Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese military strategist said, “the weakness of an enemy forms part of your own strength.” The inverse is obviously true, too. Secondly, competitors are a great source for identifying better ways of doing things. As Pablo Picasso said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. 

Two ways to improve customer attraction

On our digital audit course, we cover all the theory you need and several practical exercises to help companies evaluate their and their competitors’ digital strength. I want to share two practical exercises here that you can take away to help benchmark and improve how you attract prospects to your website.

The first exercise is related to Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, which is a set of tactics that increase the quantity and quality of visitors that come from the non advertisements on Google. SEO is crucial for any company because Google is still the main place people go to to find what they’re looking for (Google gets an estimated 70,000 searches every second!).

One of the smartest things a company can do is to uncover keywords (words that people search for on Google) which are a) relevant to what the company sells but b) relatively easy to rank for. Companies can then build high quality content targeting this keyword and over time climb the search rankings for this term. These keyword opportunities are often found in what are called ‘long-tail keywords’ which contain multiple words and are often informational in nature (i.e. they start with ‘what, ‘why’, how’ words). To find these opportunities, I love using ahrefs which is a brilliant tool that makes this keyword analysis exciting and fun. Converge’s monthly email is also a great resource. 

To give you an example of this in action, at Exactimo we build products, alongside delivering digital training courses, that help people get to where they want to go in their career. One of our tools is called Interview Coach which helps people organise their professional experiences in flashcard format so they can simulate interview scenarios. In looking at relevant search queries for interview preparation, we noticed lots of people search Google to get tips on how to answers specific interview questions.

Based on keyword volumes, we’ve written a detailed article that helps people with the interview question ‘If you were an animal what would you be?’, which includes relevant examples of animals that correspond to certain character traits and attributes, as well which wild beasts to avoid.

This tactic of identifying high-volume, low-competition keywords can be applied to any company once you have the necessary basic knowledge. You can also easily use tools like ahrefs to find the keywords that are driving lots of traffic to your competitors’ websites. You can then do what Pablo would tell you to do and get creatively inspired. 

The second practical exercise I want to share is using Facebook’s Ad Library to snoop on how your competitors are using Facebook Ads to get new customers. Not many people outside the marketing industry know that Facebook has this tool that allows anyone to view all the ads that a company is running and has run across Facebook’s applications.

It’s a very powerful source of information and inspiration for messaging, imagery, landing pages and targeting. Simply type in the name of the company you wish to evaluate and then adjust the filters by clicking ‘All’ countries, and ‘Last 30 Days’ to make sure that the results are up to date. 

Facebook Ads are an incredible way to market to prospects as the targeting options are vast in number and specific in nature given the amount of behavioural data Facebook has on its users. You only need to look at Facebook’s revenue growth which has grown from $18m to $70m in 5 years (98% of which comes from ads) to get a sense of how effective Facebook Ads can be in getting new customers. 

These are just two from many practical exercises that constitute a comprehensive and powerful digital audit. I hope this article has inspired you to think about conducting your own digital audit so you can fully benefit from digital channels to grow your business. In the next article, we’ll look at another section of the digital audit: how to convert customers (i.e. getting them to do what you want them to do on your website) by harnessing cognitive biases and behavioural economics. 

Frederic Kalinke is founder of Exactimo which delivers practical digital bootcamps to businesspeople based on his experience of working at Google.

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