SWOT Analysis: Identifying opportunities and threats to your site

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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Tuesday, 4th December, 2012

SWOT Analysis: Identifying opportunities and threats to your digital strategy

Because companies often have a confused view of their digital strategy it is often useful to bring some order to the chaos with a SWOT analysis.

Digital Strategy:
The estimated time to read this article is 9 minutes

In my last post of this series we collected a huge amount of information about our clients business through stakeholder interviews, reviews and analysis.

Although considerably better informed, this amount of information can feel overwhelming at first. A logical step is therefore to rationalise this information into something more tangible, which will help identify clear objectives.

Looking at the kind of information that is normally collected in this initial phase, it often falls into one of two very broad categories:

  • Pieces of information that makes your eyes light up as something with a lot of potential. In the case of our fictional law firm Wolfram & Hart, it might be that they have a strong reputation in the tech sector, an audience well known for their heavy use of social networks. There is obvious potential in expanding what the company does in this area.

  • Information that gives cause for concern. For example in the case of Wolfram and Hart it might be the internal conflicts over who owns the website and what its role actually is.

With the information falling into these two broad categories, it makes sense to write a SWOT analysis.

What is SWOT analysis?

Most of us have heard of a SWOT analysis, but it is much rarer to see it applied to your web and digital strategy. However, before I look at how we could apply SWOT to Wolfram & Hart, lets remind ourselves about how SWOT works. There are often subtleties that are overlooked.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This mirrors very closely the gut reaction you have while researching a client. Opportunities and strengths are the things that get you excited, while weaknesses and threats are the ones that cause concern.

Of course where I broke things down into two areas (positives and negatives), SWOT splits things four ways.

This is where the subtleties come in. Strengths and weaknesses refer to internal factors. In other words they are about the characteristics of the organisation itself. Opportunities and threats on the other hand refer to external forces that have an impact on the business.

You can therefore think of SWOT as a quadrant.

SWOT Analysis

Think of a SWOT analysis as having four quadrants.

Although SWOT is often used to review entire businesses, it can also be used on single projects. There is absolutely no reason why it cannot be applied to your web strategy or even individual areas within that.

So how does SWOT actually work and what happens if you apply it to a company like Wolfram & Hart?

Applying SWOT to your digital strategy

I often find myself applying SWOT criteria (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to notes I take while gathering information on a company.

You hear a stakeholder say something like “I have stopped referring clients to the website, because I am embarrassed of it” and immediately tag that as a weakness. This means that by the time you actually sit down to write a formal SWOT analysis, a lot of the hard work is already done.

That said, it is still worthwhile to work systematically through your notes after information gathering, assigning elements to each of the four quadrants.

The kind of things that will fall into each quadrant will vary. However, lets look at what a typical online SWOT analysis might look like. We will use our fictional law firm as an example.

Strengths

Strengths are internal characteristics. Therefore the strengths of Wolfram and Hart might include:

  • The near universal agreement within the company that there is a problem with the website and it needs sorting.

  • The lack of budgetary constraints.

  • The fact there is an existing web team already in place.

  • The companies clear focus on certain sectors (e.g. techology), rather than trying to appeal to everybody in every industry.

  • That many attorneys are already actively using LinkedIn to network with potential clients.

  • The unique approach to handling cases. Wolfram & Hart does not just focus on litigation, they will also lobby government when a law needs to be changed.

Weaknesses

As with strengths, weaknesses are internal characteristics of the company. Wolfram and Harts weaknesses include:

  • An aesthetically bland website that does nothing to make itself memorable.

  • The lack of a content specialist within the web team.

  • The conflict between various parties over the role of the website.

  • The fact that the web team is kept constantly busy doing minor admin.

  • The site’s content is out-of-date, unfocused and makes it harder for users to complete their key tasks.

  • Limitations over the type of content published for fear of the competition reading it or legal risks.

Opportunities

Opportunities are external factors that could have a positive impact on the company. We see the following opportunities for Wolfram & Hart:

  • The poor websites across the entire sector.

  • The fact that competition have done little with social media.

  • That Wolfram & Harts primary sector (technology) are heavy users of online tools.

  • There is no law firm acting as an online thought leader, by regularly publishing legal advice and information.

  • None of the competitions site works on tablet devices, which are emerging as the number one way the target audience accesses online information.

  • The web provides a unique opportunity to gather detailed information on the target audience and incoming leads. This is something that Wolfram & Hart have not been able to track before but would dearly love to.

Threats

Threats consist of external factors that could undermine Wolfram & Harts online presence. These include:

  • Analytics show a slow decline in traffic coming to the site.

  • Two of the competitors have relaunched new sites that are considerably better than Wolfram & Harts current offerings (although still poor).

  • Wolfram & Hart have slipped down search engine rankings for key terms.

  • Although tracking is poor, it would appear that the percentage of visitors who turn into leads is on the decline.

  • New legislation on privacy has come into force and the current Wolfram & Hart site does not conform to them.

  • A well known legal offline publication has recently launched a blog. This threatens to reduce the chance of Wolfram & Hart becoming the definitive source of online legal advice.

Obviously these lists could be much longer, but hopefully that gives you a taste of the kind of thing a SWOT analysis could include. Note that the items listed are a mixture of points directly to do with online (e.g. the existence of a web team), while others are more general business points (e.g. the unique approach to handling cases).

Do not focus solely on digital aspects of the business, because broader issues have a direct impact on the success or otherwise of an online strategy. For example Wolfram & Hart’s focus in terms of sectors they target makes generating relevant content for visitors to the site much easier. It also allows them to be much more targeted in any online advertising they undertake.

With our SWOT analysis in hand we need to address the weaknesses and threats identified.

Matching and converting

Traditionally the way to address the weaknesses and threats from a SWOT analysis is to match and convert them.

Matching

Matching involves taking your strengths and seeing if they line up with any of your opportunities. For example, one of Wolfram and Harts opportunities is that despite the fact two competitors have recently relaunched their websites, the general standard of site is very poor. When matched with Wolfram and Harts lack of budgetary constraints and internal buy in about improving the site, there is an exciting chance to pass the competition online.

Equally Wolfram and Harts experience in the technology sector, combined with this sectors heavy use of online tools, creates an opportunity to better engage this audience.

Converting

The other tactic for addressing weaknesses and threats is to look for chances to convert these into opportunities or strengths.

This is easy to say but not so easy to do. However it is possible. I can give a real example of this relating to the Wiltshire Farm Foods website.

They had a serious weakness because they used a franchise model. These regional franchises could set their own prices and so it was impossible to show users a price until they had given the site their postcode.

When we started working with Wiltshire Farm Foods, users were forced to enter the postcode before seeing anything on the site. Obviously this was a major weakness.

The original WFF website

The original Wiltshire Farm Foods site had a serious weakness in that it required users to enter a postcode before entering the site.

We turned this into an opportunity by taking the following steps…

  • We showed the highest price to users when they arrived on the site, allowing them to immediately see products and a price.

  • Once they enter a postcode and if the price is lower, we tell the user they have received a lower rate (making them happy).

  • When they enter a postcode they are given information on their local franchisee, including a telephone number, name and photo. The elderly audience that buy from Wiltshire Farm Foods loved this because they worry about dealing with a large faceless organisation, but feel reassured if they know their local supplier.

Local Franchisee information

We turned the WFF weakness into a strength by using post code entry as a way of meeting your local franchisee.

Obviously, it is not always possible to change a weakness or threat into an opportunity. Where it is impossible, the alternative is to minimise its effect.

For example Wolfram and Hart will want to minimise the threat of prosecution by complying with new privacy legislation.

Other examples would be the decline in conversion rates. There are a variety of ways to address this, however it has to begin by understanding the reason. The obvious starting point would be to do some usability testing.

As you can see SWOT analysis is a useful way of providing clarity to the confusion most organisations have around their digital strategy. That said, there is a danger.

It is easy to look at a SWOT analysis and see a long list of items in one quadrant (e.g. strengths) and go away feeling buoyant about the state of the site. However, it maybe that although you have fewer weaknesses, one of those is so serious that it overwhelms the long list of strengths.

It is therefore beneficial to weight elements so you get a sense of how strong each entry is. This will prevent you getting a too negative or positive view of the state of things.

With your SWOT analysis in place, you can now turn your attention to a business case and roadmap for your digital strategy. As you will find in my next post, a SWOT analysis can be a valuable tool in establishing what your business objectives are and whether they are achievable or not.

Business strategy graphs and SWOT analysis from Bigstock.com

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