Spy before you sign: How to evaluate a company by their marketing (1/2)

For a startup or SME to take off, all departments need to be on top of their task. For engineering teams it can be extremely frustrating to work hard & produce an awesome product, only to see the marketing team failing to attract clients.

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But there’s no need to wait until it’s too late. When you know where to look, it’s easy to detect signals representing bad marketing, as well as to evaluate the quality of the communication of a company. This guide presents a selection of easy-to-use tips which will help you spy before signing a contract.

There are two parts to this guide. This first one will help you to analyze from the outside. The second is focussed on the case where you have already more access to information (internship, freelance, test period for permanent contract, etc.).

When should I check? As soon as possible

It’s never too early to check if a company is good enough for you. Even without access it’s possible to gain valuable insights on companies at which you are seriously considering a position.

In total such a spying process takes around 30 minutes depending on how meticulously you execute it. One thing is clear: the more time you allocate to research, the more frustration you will avoid.

At the latest, we suggest to start the research before the first interview. The benefits are two-folded. For one you save a useless interview in case the company is not up to the standards, and should it pass the test, you learn a great deal about the firm, which will certainly help during the first interview.

Enough introduction, let’s get real.

The product/service

Whether you’ll be working on improving the website, the product/service, or other aspects of the firm, the ultimate goal of your activity will always be selling the product or directly/indirectly supporting its sales. It’s more of a B2B or paying service? That’s not a problem, there are other ways than purchasing to gain insights. The most simple one is to listen to the product’s users. Numerous websites are specialised in gathering feedback on companies. Here’s a selection:

In case you don’t find anything on the mentioned sites and the company you’re spying is not a young startup, the first alarm signal is confirmed. However it's important to not forget that customer reviews are what they are: easy to fake. They are never absolute, but they are a first way of determining the strengths & weaknesses and doing a general assessment. Watch out for the points that are mentioned in many different reviews, as they usually are facts that are close to reality.

Also it is important to insist on AlternativeTo, which, additionally to intrinsic qualities of a product, also provides you with a landscape of the competition.

Next up is the website. How does the company present itself?

The website

We will let you be the judge of the clarity and design of the site, as it’s not the most interesting source of intel. Sites like Craigslist look brutally simple, but considering it’s traffic and success, it’s clear that it responds efficiently to the needs of its users. In fact there is no perfect landing page, because everything depends on the target user.

The good news is that many quantifiable tools and indicators exist to gain insights on the way the company behind the site is working. We’ll do a horizontal check by using Manychat.com, a SaaS that let’s you build chatbots for Messenger, as an example.

Popularity of the site

Before diving deeper into more technical aspects, here’s a very informative tool: Alexa. This Amazon service is a gold mine: next to the Alexa rank (representing the relative popularity of a site) you can also observe from which geographical regions the traffic comes from.

This indicator is richer than the simple popularity rank. The evolution of traffic during the last 12 months allows to determine the absolute effectiveness of the company's marketing activities, as its goal (almost) always is growth. This is the case for ManyChat:

site-alexa

Furthermore you’ll find 5 sites similar to the one in question (“Audience overlap”).

The performance of the site

The loading speed as well as the general performance of the website are easily quantifiable. While this is probably obvious to any developer, it remains an important aspect when it comes to the user experience and the ability to be referenced.

As you know, this can easily be checked by opening your browser console, recharging the page and checking the “Network” tab.

site-console

The most important performance indicators are the number of queries (best <30) and the total weight of the page (best =< 1Mb). Minor deviations are of course tolerable, but a page weighing 3Mb usually links back to a team unconscious of the best practices in web optimisation, which is another alarm signal.

To go more in detail with performance measuring (and again you probably know them), there exist different tools to use:

  • Google Pagespeed Insights is the most basic, but is very clear and intuitive. It measures both, performance and mobile optimisation.
  • GTmetrix provides more detailed information on the performance of a site.
  • Dareboost analyses performance and security of a site and delivers a very detailed report to dive even deeper.

site-dareboost

Dareboost analyses a great number of aspects and very few sites remain unscathed. Here are the most critical points for ManyChat:

  • Basic SEO problems: images without alt attributes, no h1 or h2 defined.
  • Some security problems
  • The keyword “important” is used 248 in their CSS, indicating a not much optimised, tweaked style sheet. This can seem particularly nit-picking, but it generally speaks volumes of the optimisation of the code of a company.

In the end their results are mainly positive (except for the style sheet).

Other elements of the site

Without too much detail (this is not an SEO guide😉), here are some more points that can quickly be checked.

The structure of the sites URLs and especially the usage of subdomains or subfolders tells much about the attention to SEO of the ones responsible for the site. Does it have blog? A help center?

Without entering the debate, for a company that’s not a giant yet (like Disney or Netflix), a subfolder is performing better in 95% of the cases. To explore this subject, read this article first, this one to go further, and additionally this study to top it off. In a nutshel, it's safe to say that if a company uses a subdomain for close support like a blog or help center, they are doing it wrong from an SEO perspective.

GPDR Compliance: since May 25th 2018, GPDR changed many things in the collection and treatment of data. While some companies are compliant since day one, other are not. This shows a certain problem with forecasting and strategic agility.

After analysising the site, let's check the communication itself: how does the company interact with its customers and prospects? For this, nothing beats social networks.

Social Networks

As for the website, there are qualitative and quantitative indicators to assess a company's performance on social networks. Your common sense will be left to judge the quality of the company's activity and publications because, once again, practices vary greatly depending on the industry and the product.

Fake Detection

A service like SocialBlade allows you to analyse the evolution of Twitter, Instagram, Twitch and YouTube followers and identify suspicious movements. There are also services specifically designed to detect fake followers, but they often require access to the account and are far from effective. Of course this only works for companies with an established social presence.

The most reliable option remains a verification by yourself (or building a bot who does it for you😉). All you've got to do is check the people who follow the company. No need to peel thousands of followers, the trend is generally clear over a hundred. Here are signs of fake accounts:

  • No profile photo
  • No description, or a questionable description
  • They have people following them but no activity
  • They have excessive activity, hardly human (for example >50 tweets per day)
  • They follow many accounts similar to their own profiles (fake accounts often operate in a network)

The market

One of the biggest challenges in marketing is market research. Many methods and tools exist without offering real certainty. The only way to know if a market exists for a given product is to develop it and try to sell it. But even in this case, a failure does not necessarily mean that the customers do not exist. It could just mean that they haven't been found.

In a quick pre-interview analysis, this is not realistic. However, there are secondary tools for estimating demand, such as keyword analysis. In this regard, everyone has their own tools and marketing professionals tend to use expensive services. However, there are some very efficient free services such as KeywordsEverywhere.

Returning to our example ManyChat, here is what a quick analysis of a few keywords tells us:

keywords

Again, the figures do not say much in absolute terms, but the fact that the CPC (cost per click for ads) is not zero and the organic competition is quite dense (>0.5) suggests that a market really exists for this type of service: companies are willing to pay to be visible on these keywords.

Conclusion

If you have read this far, you will have understood: there is no miracle recipe to analyse the quality of a company's marketing. If they existed, many marketers would find themselves unemployed. On the other hand, there are various signals that indicate trends. When many indicators send alarm signals, conclusions can be drawn from them.

More important than indicators or various technical elements, is the approach of the marketing team and the dynamics it manages to integrate itself in the company's development. An observation from the outside gives you some clues on the subject but the best thing is to see the team in action. If you already have an entry, you can go further with the rest of our guide.

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