Digital SWOT analysis: What is it and why you should care?

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

A big part of forming a digital strategy is doing our research. We can gather a huge amount of information about a business. Through stakeholder interviews, reviews and analysis we can gather valuable insights. But that is not enough.

Although better informed, this amount of information can feel overwhelming. A logical step is to rationalise this information into something more tangible. Something that will help identify clear goals.

Looking at the kind of information we collect in a discovery phase, it often falls into one of two broad categories:

  • Pieces of information that makes your eyes light up as something with a lot of potential. For our fictional law firm (Wolfram & Hart) this could be their reputation in the tech sector. After all this is 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 is.
Wolfram and Hart is a fictional law firm I have been using in a series of posts to explore governance and digital strategy.
Wolfram and Hart is a fictional law firm I have been using in a series of posts to explore governance and digital strategy.

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

What is a digital SWOT analysis?

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

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This mirrors the gut reaction you have in a discovery phase. Opportunities and strengths are the things that get you excited. 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 are external forces that have an impact on the business.

You can think of SWOT as a quadrant.

Think of a digital SWOT analysis as having four quadrants.
Think of a SWOT analysis as having four quadrants.

Although SWOT is often used to review entire businesses, you can also use it on single projects. There is no reason why you cannot apply it to your digital strategy or even individual areas within that.

So how does a digital SWOT work? What happens if you apply it to a company like our fictional law firm?

Applying a digital SWOT analysis to a business

I often find myself applying SWOT criteria to notes I take while gathering information on a company.

I hear a stakeholder say something like "I have stopped referring clients to the website. It is an embarrassment." I then tag this as a weakness. This means that by the time I sit down to write a formal digital SWOT analysis, a lot of the hard work is already done.

That said, it is worth working through notes after a discovery phase, assigning elements to each of the four quadrants.

The kind of things that will fall into each quadrant will vary. But, 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. 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. technology). This is better than trying to appeal to everybody in every industry.
  • That many attorneys are already 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 to change laws.

Weaknesses

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

  • A 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 busy doing minor updates and not thinking strategically.
  • 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 the 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 publishing legal advice and information.
  • None of the competitions sites work on tablet devices. This is becoming the number one way the target audience accesses online information.
  • The web provides a unique opportunity to gather information on the target audience and leads. This is something that Wolfram & Hart have not been able to track before.

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 their sites. These are much better than Wolfram & Harts current offering (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.

These lists could be much longer, but that gives you a taste of the kind of thing a digital SWOT analysis could include. Note that the items listed are a mixture. Some points relate to digital (e.g. the existence of a web team). Others are more general business points (e.g. the unique approach to handling cases).

Do not focus just on the digital aspects of the business. Broader issues also have a direct impact on the success or otherwise of a digital strategy. For example Wolfram & Hart's focus on specific sector makes content marketing easier. It also allows them to be much more targeted in any online advertising they undertake.

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

Matching and converting your digital SWOT analysis

There are two ways of addressing the weaknesses and threats from a digital SWOT analysis. These are to match and convert.

Identify matches in your digital SWOT

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 the quality of sites across the sector is low. We can match this with Wolfram and Harts ample budget and managerial support. The result is an exciting opportunity to surpass the competition.

Another example is Wolfram and Harts experience in the technology sector. A sector who heavily use digital tools. This creates an opportunity to better engage their audience.

Converting weaknesses from your digital SWOT

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

This is easy to say but not so easy to do. Yet 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. This made it impossible to show users a price until they had given the site their postcode.

When we started working with Wiltshire Farm Foods, users had to enter a postcode before seeing anything on the site!

The original Wiltshire Farm Foods site had a serious weakness in that it required users to enter a postcode before entering the site.
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 saw information on their local franchisee. This included a telephone number, name and photo. The elderly audience that buy from Wiltshire Farm Foods loved this. They worry about dealing with a faceless company, but felt reassured to see a friendly local supplier.
We turned the WFF weakness into a strength by using post code entry as a way of meeting your local franchisee.
We turned the WFF weakness into a strength by using post code entry as a way of meeting your local franchisee.

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

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 should minimise the risk of being sued by complying with privacy legislation.

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

A word of warning about a digital SWOT analysis

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

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

That is why it is 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 digital 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 digital SWOT analysis can be a valuable tool in establishing what your business goals are. That and whether they are achievable or not.

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