Not knowing your competition is like not knowing who you’re fighting in World of Warcraft. Is it Alliance? Horde? Night Elves? Blood Elves? Goblins? Oh my!
When analyzing your competition, you’re assessing their strengths and weakness. Your analysis should include direct and indirect competitors as well; any alternate method of solving the same problem your product or service solves is a competitor, even if it’s not a formal business entity. Online Marketing Software and Marketing Experiments Journal both have nice primers on doing competitive analyzes.
For web-based businesses, there a fair number of online competitive analysis services out there. Some are free, some require subscriptions. Here are a bunch that I’ve come across.
Free Online Competitive Analysis Services
One of the more popular services out there, Alexa ranks websites against each other based on traffic. Additionally, it provides data on rank trends (up or down), download speed, reach, page views per user, visitor origins, related links, and in some cases, business information like number of employees, annual revenue, and business contacts.
Alexa gathers its data from users who’ve downloaded the Alexa Toolbar. There is some controversy over this method as some websites have gamed Alexa’s rankings in the past. Also, it only provides this data at the domain name level; data for sub-domains and directories not offered.
For a general idea of popularity trends, this can be a useful service. Just give the Alexa ranks some margin of error.
Compete is also a traffic ranking service like Alexa, though it offers slightly different data. It aims to provide the number of unique visitors to a website, in addition to time spent, pages per visit, and top search keywords driving traffic to the website. Compete also makes it very easy to compare several sites at once.
Compete gathers its data by recruiting users, much like Nielsen Ratings did for US television viewers. These users come from the Compete Toolbar, ISPs, and opt-in panels. Its number of unique visitors metric isn’t accurate, it’s an approximation; use your traffic analysis tools for a more accurate number. Also, Compete only provides data for US users; non-US users are not counted.
Like Alexa, Compete can be useful for general popularity trends and comparisons.
One of the newer traffic ranking services on the block, Quantcast also provides demographics data, such as gender, age, household income, ethnicity, head of household education, and children in household. This data is all from US users only.
Quantcast gathers its data through research panels (essentially, anonymous surveys) and beacon tracking on websites which need to be installed by website owners themselves. Their demographic data is obtained from their research panels, which they acknowledge isn’t entirely accurate.
Like all online traffic ranking services, Quantcast can be useful for general demographic information, but assume some margin of error.
Competitious is a new offering that aggregates the data from traffic ranking services into one location. So far, it only pulls ranking data from Alexa. It also provides a way to compare features across competitors and store news clippings. Your analyzes are saved as “projects” and multiple people can be added to a project.
Although its offerings aren’t very comprehensive yet, Competitious has a lot of potential for being a hub for your online competitive analyzes. I’m anxious to see what features they add next.
Not really a full-fledged service, SearchStatus is an extension for the Firefox web browser. It provides a quick snapshot of any website’s Google PageRank, Alexa Rank, and Compete Rank. There are also a lot of other features, such as showing nofollow links, number of links, meta tags, a whois report, the robots.txt file, keyword density, back links, pages indexed in popular search engines, and other SEO-relevant information.
All of this data is freely available. This extension simply aggregates all of it onto your web browser. It’s an extremely handy tool and very popular among SEO specialists.
Paid Online Competitive Analysis Services
One of the most widely-cited sources, comScore is the Nielsen Ratings of the Internet. It provides traffic rank data in addition to typical marketing metrics such as engagement, reach, frequency, demographics, and daypart reporting. Many journalists and bloggers use comScore’s numbers as a gauge of market share.
comScore gathers its data from users who’ve opted in and downloaded their usage tracking software. Since self-selected populations can be biased, comScore adjusts the data using weights to make sure that different demographics are adequately represented.
comScore is fairly expensive and probably out of reach for most small-to-medium sized businesses. The free traffic ranking services like Alexa, Compete, and Quantcast can provide adequate competitive data for now.
Andiamo Systems is a new service that aims to provide a measurement of a business’s word-of-mouth reach. It does this by collecting mentions from blogs, forums, review sites, message boards, PR newswires, news, and other web sites. A lot of your customers could be sharing their opinions about your products & services online right now, good or bad. This service acts like a targeted search engine to aggregate all of those opinions for you.
Pricing is set on a monthly basis and increases as you get more mentions, starting at $79 for up to 50 mentions. This scale makes Andiamo more affordable for small businesses. A 14-day free trial is offered.
Not every mention out there is equally important, but this new service could provide an effective way to monitor a tiny negative word before it explodes into a PR nightmare.
Watch360 is a new service that keeps an eye on your competitors’ websites and reports every little change they make. It’s a way to monitor announcements and new product offerings from your competitors on a daily basis.
Pricing is on a monthly or yearly basis and increases as you monitor more companies, starting at $29.95/month for 10 companies. The top pricing tier, $99.95/month, allows you to monitor an unlimited amount of companies. A free trial report is offered for one company.
Assuming that your competitors update their website and blog regularly, this new service could give you the information you need to react to their moves.
Ever use any of these free or paid services? If so, what did you think? And do you know of any others that are also good?