What Is “Website Reverse Engineering” and How To Do It Right

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Digital marketers will talk all day about strategy. They’re happy to share how they choose the best keywords, conversions, their social media calendars, the analytics they use, and how well their clients are doing. What they are not always completely transparent with is the processes and research they use to produce results.

Website reverse engineering is one of the most effective ways of creating a high-performing website in the fastest possible timeframe. It’s effectively using the success of your competitors or similar businesses to learn and launch your new or improved website.

If you’re considering having a new website designed and developed for your business, it’s my strong belief that the reverse engineering process is the best way to get started. Here’s how it works.

What Is Website Reverse Engineering?

Let’s start with the basics. Reverse engineering, according to Merriam Webster, is “to disassemble and examine or analyse in detail (a product or device) to discover the concepts involved in manufacture usually in order to produce something similar”. It’s a way of learning from and modelling on the proven success of others to improve your own chances of success.

So this means that website reverse engineering is the process of studying successful websites for their User Experience (UX) and SEO strategies. The goal is to understand their website strategies as best you can and determine how similar techniques may apply to your own website so you can produce similar results.

You might look at things like:

  • The overall design of the website
  • The User Experience (UX)
  • The content (Copywriting)
  • Menu hierarchy and structure
  • The colours used
  • The fonts and text sizes
  • Image selection and style
  • The Call-to-Action (CTA)

Anything related to the function and design of a website can be reverse engineered to improve your own site’s performance. Of course, you’ll need to use discretion and make a judgement call because no two businesses are identical, nor should you copy another business exactly. The advantage with this process is you’re not making decisions on guess work and personal preferences alone.

What Website Reverse Engineering Is Not

It’s important to note that website reverse engineering is not the same as plagiarising. When you’re looking at the strategies your competitor websites are using, you aren’t aiming to use the same content that they produce and the same exact design that they use.

Simply copying another website’s layout and content isn’t going to work for you because it will lack authenticity and connection.

It also won’t help your SEO, in fact it  will do exactly the opposite. Sites that are determined to be too similar to their competitors will be seen as ‘duplicate content’ and earn no credit in the major search engines. Worst still they could be seen as spam and may not show up in search results at all.

Website reverse engineering is all about modelling, meaning taking the competitor strategies as an example and reworking those strategies to fit your needs. Your business is unique, or at least it should be. Often, it’s this little piece of your business that is different that sets you apart and it’s this piece that can help you shine in a crowded marketplace online.

If you can learn what strategies others have used and why, you can use modified versions of those strategies to build a powerful website of your own.

How to Reverse Engineer Like a Pro

Now that you know what website reverse engineering is, it’s time to put it into action. Here’s how to reverse engineer a customer-attracting website in six steps.

  1. Compile a competitor list. Create a list of your competition by deciding the keywords you would like to rank for, then searching those words and examining the top results. 
  2. Complete an audience audit. Discover as much as you can about the websites. Find the highest-performing pages and content and examine them. What are they? What do they look like? How were they promoted? 
  3. Assess your digital assets. Review what you currently have to work with in terms of branding, web design and content. What could you reuse or rework and what should you scrap?
  4. Find a strategy that fits your needs. A certain website structure, type of content, a colour scheme, or a call-to-action. What have you seen that could be applied to your own website?
  5. Review what happens. Even with the greatest reverse engineering processes in place, you’re still making assumptions so your website needs to be tested and reviewed in the real world. Gather as much data and analytics as you can and assess your success.
  6. Tweak and adjust. If you notice a positive change in your results, continue with your strategy. If you don’t see any change, or you notice a negative result, sit down with your team and reassess your strategy. You may have to try something completely different however you’re more likely to be just a few small tweaks from success.

Keep Working the Process

Even if you’re website is performing exceptionally well, there’s still room for improvement and you can still learn a lot from your competition. The online world changes fast. You may even notice competitors starting to model on your strategies. That’s the price of being the leader in your niche.

While there’s lots of tools and data we can use. All the technology in the world can’t compare with the ‘eyeball’ test and your own understanding of your unique business. You don’t have to be a brilliant psychologist or the best marketer on earth to understand how website reverse engineering works. All you need is a basic understanding of SEO and a creative mind.

It’s all about having the proper processes in place. If you can assess what your competitors are doing well and do it better than them, you’ll have the marketing edge you need to improve your online success.

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