How to spy on your competitors

Google’s secret web tools can help you access competitors’ secrets

Imagine if you could use Google to see exactly what search terms your competitors are using, the web traffic they are receiving, and what demographic profile they are attracting.

Well you can, it’s one of Google’s best kept secrets and it’s free. Google for advertisers uses a mixture of data sources including the Google search traffic to give you an insight into practically any website you can name.

Google’s AdPlanner gives you information about individual websites. Just put in the web address and Google returns traffic stats for worldwide and separate countries, the age of users, gender education, and other sites visited.

If you want to compare websites and search then Google Trends for websites and Google Trends for search give you even more data. With Trends for Search you can see how popular keywords or brands are compared with each other over a set period, and where the traffic is coming from down to a region and city level. With Trends for Websites you can see the unique visitors for multiple sites broken down by date, region and country as well as additional information on demographics if you’re logged in.

It’s not just Google that has tools to help you spy on your competitors. Alexa is a tool that started off as a search bar for your browser, but has over the years evolved into a sophisticated tool for tracking web traffic. Originally Alexa derived its data from information taken from the toolbar users, but since its purchase by Amazon, the site enhances the data with additional information. Type in a web address and you can compare page views per user, bounce rate, time on site, demographics, clickstream and search traffic stats.

If you’re lucky enough to have a budget for competitor research then there are two paid for services you should consider. Hitwise is a paid for service that derives its data from the logfiles of ISPs that cover 8 million users in the UK and 25 million worldwide. The data is anonymous, so you can’t see an individual’s site usage, however the quality and the volume of data in the Hitwise database means it is about the most accurate you can get without actually stealing competitors’ logfiles, or having a spy in every business you compete with. The service is expensive, but for your money you will find out exactly what traffic your competitors are receiving, and exactly where you stand in the web market.  Hitwise does have some free data in the Data Centre which gives you a hint at the level of data Hitwise can provide.

Compete.com, a similar service to Alexa, tracks the top sites and web searches. It’s a US site and the information is taken from the clickstream data from a 2 million member panel of US internet users (about a 1% sample) and estimates total traffic, rank and other statistics for the top 1,000,000 sites on the web for use by consumers. There’s a free analytics service which gives a reasonable level of data, but if you want full analytics you need to subscribe to the Pro version. 

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