Typically, I write exclusively about leveraging the data that is collected directly from your organization’s own website via tools like Omniture, WebTrends, Visual Sciences, Google Analytics, etc. For this month’s newsletter, I’ll be looking beyond the site centric data collection methods to discuss a different method that has the potential to play an integral role in the optimization of your website: competitive data. Last spring, Avinash Kaushik gave an insightful presentation on the topic of “Competitive Intelligence Analysis” at Emetrics; I would like to continue the discussion on this topic in this month’s newsletter as it is an increasingly important factor in the way we make marketing decisions.
What is Competitive Data?
Competitive data collection is the process of looking outside of your organization to get a broader view of your industry landscape and obtaining external information that can be utilized to optimize your own website. Competitive data can provide insights into your competitor’s sites through data on demographics of visitors, sources of traffic, keyword performance, clickstream data and more. In the latter half of this newsletter, I will discuss how to obtain this data.
The Importance of Analyzing Competitive Data
When the analytics industry began, collecting web metrics on your own site was enough to put your organization ahead of the curve. However, as online marketing has evolved, it may be helpful to take things one step further and look outside your organization. What better way to gain a competitive advantage, than to have a greater understanding of your industry landscape and be able to make more informed decisions?
How Can Competitive Intelligence Help Me?
Utilize Industry Benchmarking
Analyzing competitive data is a useful benchmarking tool. For example: perhaps your CEO is disappointed that your 3rd quarter online sales are only up by 1.5%. However, with the knowledge that 3rd quarter online sales across your industry are down by 2%, your CEO may instead be delighted.
Maximize Search and Affiliate Marketing Campaigns
Competitive intelligence can give insight into the search terms that your competitors are using to drive traffic to their websites as well as the search engines that are most used by your target visitors. With this knowledge you can more cost-effectively obtain qualified leads through your search marketing efforts. Competitive intelligence can also help you to understand which Affiliate programs are driving leads to your competitor’s sites. This information may prompt you to pursue relationships with these Affiliates so that your competitors are not reaping all the benefits.
Gain a Better Understanding of Your Visitors
Competitive intelligence can help you gain a better understanding of what visitors to your competitor’s websites are searching for online. With this information, you can optimize the content on your own site to help prevent sending visitors to your competitor’s site.
How is the Data Collected?
There are a variety of tools you can use to collect this data; I’ll discuss the four primary methods of data collection employed by these tools including:
The ISP based data collection method is often referred to as a “network-centric” approach. In this process, ISPs collect log data from their network of users. The ISPs provide this data to the tool vendor. Since only the aggregate data is given, visitor identities are kept anonymous. ISP based services do not collect secure data so there is a limit to the depth of the data. ISP based services, however, do generally have more diversity in their samples since data is being collected from users not required to opt-in. The users are from networks all over the world in both rural and urban as well as business and leisure environments. HitWise is an example of an ISP based data collection tool vendor.
Alternatively, the panel based method is referred to as “user centric” and involves internet users who agree to have special software that monitors all of the online behavior, including secure (https) data, on their computer in a secure manner. This data is collected by the tool vendor and organized for consumption by their clients. There is potential for sample bias, since people in the sample are required to opt-in to have their actions monitored. ComScore utilizes this approach with a network of more than 2 million monitored users.
In the toolbar monitoring method, the user downloads the toolbar and each time they use it they are volunteering their actions to be tracked. Toolbar monitoring data is often available at no cost, but it is important to note that it is often a small sample size since the user is required to download the tool bar. Furthermore if the user does not use the toolbar, the action is not tracked. Alexa is a toolbar monitoring service that provides special features such as pop-up protection in exchange for users allowing their actions to be tracked.
Online Customer Panels
With a panel-based data collection method, users opt to take special surveys that collect data such as brand preferences or online shopping behaviors. Nielson/NetRatings allow clients to purchase access to the aggregated survey data. Non-customized survey data can be purchased at a low cost, but it may not be relevant to your particular site. Customized surveys can be especially usefull as you can tailor the questions to the specific data you are interested in collecting, however they can be timely and costly to create.
In conclusion, monitoring your own site centric data is critical, but taking things one step further and gathering competitive data is a growing trend. As more companies begin to use competitive data, it will become an increasingly important part of web analytics. There are a few options for how you obtain your competitive data, but regardless of the method you select, it is undeniable that competitive intelligence can be a valuable asset to your marketing and optimization strategies.
Bill Bruno is the CEO - North America, Ebiquity.