Where Marketers Go for Information, Part 4: Free Resources

We’re reaching the end of a four-part series covering free sources of information for marketers. Check out parts one, two, and three if you missed anything.

We left off in the middle of competitive data and information, a vital category in today’s fast-paced environment.

Alexa offers a downloadable tool bar that allows you to peek behind the scenes of the sites you visit. I know, who needs another toolbar? This one’s worth checking out. Pick a competitor and hit its site. and Alexa displays its latest traffic rankings, contact information, and more.

For example, how do your average page views compare to your competitors’? Which competitor’s traffic is trending upward or downward? Visit your own site and the Alexa bar shows you related sites visited by Alexa users. Caveat: Alexa doesn’t claim its traffic stats represent the Internet population as a whole. The data is informative, but don’t read this as unbiased fact.

Press Releases

Take your pick of sites for staying on top of competitors’ press releases. PR Newswire, Reuters, and Business Wire all allow you to search a competitor’s name and get the latest news. Product launches, earnings releases, hirings, and firings.

Of course, for the most part you’ll only learn what the company wants you to learn, but press releases are still a good information source. As I’m writing for marketers, I needn’t warn you occasionally a press release’s claims may be a bit biased, do I?

Hoover’s

Hoover’s is a popular tool with many ClickZ readers. It’s used for unbiased, in-depth information about specific companies. Every good marketer wants a complete report on her major competitors. To get the full story, you must pay. But free information is available, too. Sales, net income, number of employees, officers, and links to complete Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings such as annual reports are free stuff that gives you a great start in learning about your competitors.

Look up your own company to see who Hoover’s says your competitors are. Then, check them out. If you’re boning up on an industry, Hoover’s is a good way to identify the players. As an example, I typically rely on Business Wire for press releases. But a quick Hoover’s search reminded me of the other players in the category. Voilà! You now have several to choose from.

U.S. SEC

The SEC offers free access to its EDGAR database. (What does EDGAR stand for? See the next section.) I find it much easier to use Hoover’s to access the latest filings, but the SEC is the ultimate source.

Defining Abbreviations and Terminology

Embarrassed to admit you don’t know the difference between a direct cost and an indirect cost? What the heck is a breadcrumb, anyway? From seldom-used financial terms to the latest jargon, there’s never a shortage of terminology to decipher, even if we’re nodding as if we know exactly what’s being discussed.

Try your online dictionary of choice for starters. For financial terms, The New York State Society of CPAs offers a helpful guide to accounting terminology. (Ah, so that’swhat goodwill means…).

For technology terms and the many creative terms that describe life on the Web, try Webopedia; you can even subscribe to its free Term of the Day email. Internet marketing terminology can be especially confounding. Try MarketingTerms.com for that.

Finally, check out the Glossarist for a glossary of glossaries.

And an honorable mention to one of ClickZ readers’ favorite sources of information: Google. I’m not covering search engines in this series, and I’m sure you have your favorite. But it’s clear from your feedback that kids aren’t the only ones who use “google” as a verb. Thanks to everyone who wrote to share their sources, and my apologies for those I was unable to include.

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