Competitive Research, Intelligence, and Search Marketing, Part 1

At Search Engine Strategies (SES) Toronto, an entire session was devoted to competitive intelligence. The room was packed, demonstrating once again search marketers’ high level of interest in the competitive landscape — and knowing what the competition is doing. Competitive research and competitive intelligence really deserve a two-part column. Today, part one of that series.

I’m constantly amazed at the obsession marketing VPs, CMOs, CEOs, and other executives have with their competition. In SEM (define), perhaps more than in any other medium, it’s obvious who the winners and losers are. But this obsession didn’t start with SEM and an obsession with SERPs (define).

Fifteen years ago, when I worked in traditional advertising at McCann-Erickson and J. Walter Thompson, one of the most valued reports discussed every month with the client was the competitive spending report that provided share of voice (SOV) and share of spending (SOS). The same holds true today in SEM, both for organic SEO (define) and PPC (define) search. Of course, due to the concentration of attention at the top of the search results, SOV data, while important, tells only part of the story. A top position means a lot more than a position six listing.

With SEM, campaign success or failure and the desire for competitive intelligence have permeated up to the executive suite and the corporate boardroom. If a listing needs a seemingly irrational bid price, my team pushes the “CEO” button. Some CEOs want to win at any cost. Yet the session at SES Toronto was fairly down to earth, with presentations from active industry participants, including LeeAnn Prescott, Hitwise senior research analyst; David Williams, chief strategist and cofounder of 360i; Cam Balzer, director of search strategy at Performics; and Allan Dick, general manager of Vintage Tub & Bath.

The panelists agreed on one thing: one’s marketing and business objectives must guide the desire for competitive intelligence.

The tools, technologies, and data sets that can be used for competitive intelligence have evolved significantly over the last year. Tools and services mentioned during the SES presentation, and some additional tools that weren’t mentioned, include:

  • AdGooroo: Perhaps the favorite among those with less than $1,000 to spend, AdGooroo is a self-service, ASP-driven data solution. The AdGooroo service graphically displays coverage and rank of you and your competition for a keyword set or individual keywords. By looking at both rank and coverage, AdGooroo overcomes the problem of relying entirely on SOV based on coverage (impressions). Ad copy reports are also available. AdGooroo has started measuring geography-related data and offering it in reports.

  • HitWise: Hitwise is a self-serve data service. The most relevant portion of its search service, the Search Intelligence feature, includes search term data allowing for gap analysis (keywords one marketer has that the other doesn’t). You can create a custom category for analysis of your site against a specific competitive set.
  • ComScore qSearch: QSearch data and reports are particularly appropriate for larger marketers. Many of the reports available within qSearch focus on both the macro- and keyword-level detail of campaigns with a focus on the higher volume keywords. ComScore will also do custom reports. You’ve likely seen its research studies, such as the recent one funded by Google regarding offline purchase behavior and search.
  • Nielsen//NetRatings AdRelevance: Search has become an increasing focus for Nielsen, and its reports have been improving. If you need additional data and have the budget, it’s worth having a conversation with it.
  • Alexa: As a free service, Alexa can’t be beat. Comparing your and your competition’s traffic patterns is loads of fun and can be quite illuminating. Of course, Alexa shows total site traffic in the traffic charts. But if you and your competition rely heavily on search, the main traffic data component may be search. Alan Dick pointed out Alexa’s page views per user stat can indicate traffic quality. I’d add it may indicate site quality, as well. A sticky site with lots of great content has better page views per user. I should also mention a site that uses Alexa data but allows you to compare more domains simultaneously: Alexaholic
  • Another free tool, this site, though not always up to date, provides archival site snapshots of your competition. If they changed designs over the years, this site will likely have a record.

Part two will cover the kinds of reports and data you may want to look at regardless of source and how those reports might influence your PPC search campaign strategies.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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