Knowledge is power. Data drives decisions, but some data is hard to get to. Some of the most interesting data is impossible to get to. Ever wish you could peek at your competitors’ Analytics?
You could ask nicely, but they’re not likely to share access. Not gonna happen. But actually a lot of the data is public. And there are competitive analysis tools that take the public data and create reports. Some of these reports mirror the reports in Analytics.
Here are five free tools, available to anyone. Just plug in the web address of your competitor. Some of these tools are more accurate than others. We’ll judge their accuracy by comparing their numbers to the actual Analytics of orbitmedia.com.
Here they are in the order of the corresponding reports in Analytics…
The first report is overall traffic levels and it’s one of the least accurate. Unfortunately, the tools that estimate traffic levels are either not free or not very accurate.
Alexa and Compete don’t include traffic levels in their free versions. So here’s a report from trafficestimate.com. Keep in mind that estimates may be way off, especially for smaller, lower traffic websites.
Accuracy Check: Terrible. I recommend using Similar Web instead!
This particular example is way off. The actual site had 31,000 visits during this time frame. The estimate is 20x higher than the actual. Ouch.
The next intelligence report is demographics. Here Alexa does include the data in the free version. Where Google Analytics shows gender and age, Alexa shows Gender, Education, and Browsing Location.
Keep in mind, these are just estimates. This data comes from users of the Alexa Toolbar, which is used by less than 1% of internet users.
Accuracy Check: Good
The gender data aligns almost exactly with the Demographics report in Google Analytics.
Where are their visitors coming from? The same insights from the “Geo” report in Analytics is available in Alexa, but only on the country level.
Accuracy Check: Fair
Google Analytics data shows the same countries in the same order, but the percentages are off. GA shows 55% US traffic and only 9% India. There must be lots of Alexa Toolbar users in India…
In Analytics, the “All Traffic” reports show the percentages of several traffic sources. There’s no way to see their direct or referral traffic, one of the Alexa reports is an estimate of the percentage of traffic that comes from search engines.
Accuracy Check: Poor
Alexa is underreporting our search traffic percentage by half. Google Analytics shows 59% of traffic coming from search.
Are they using pay-per-click advertising? What phrases are they targeting? How much are they spending? Rather than search for every imaginable phrase, enter their address into iSpionage. It shows you the budget, clicks and keywords for any site.
Accuracy Check: Fair
Accurate budget estimates for every AdWords advertiser are extremely difficult to derive. iSpionage does a good job with larger AdWords spenders since there is more data upon which to base the estimates.
One of the most useful reports in Analytics is the “Queries” report, since it shows what phrases your site is ranking for. You can use this to find new phrases and optimize your blog. Seeing this data for your competitors can give you insights into what’s working for them, and what might work for you.
Again, iSpionage makes this public data easy to see. Enter a competitor’s address and see the phrase, rank and search volume for the top ten phrases. Subscribe to the pro version to see the complete list. This is extremely valuable data.
Accuracy Check: Excellent
This data may be more accurate than Analytics, or at least easier to read. Analytics shows “average position” which may combine the position of several related rankings. This makes the iSpionage report more meaningful and practical.
Let’s go back to Alexa to see the basic engagement data. Three numbers are provided that correspond with reports in the Behavior overview: bounce rate, average pages per visit, and time on site.
Accuracy Check: Excellent
The bounce rate here differs from the Google Analytics data by only a few percentage points. Time on Site is off by only 12 seconds. Pageviews per visit are almost exact.
Page load time is also public data. One of the best known tools for seeing the speed of any site (including yours) is the Pingdom Website Speed Test.
Accuracy Check: Excellent
As with the iSpionage ranking report, this report is actually better than the report in Google Analytics. It shows you the load time for a specific page, rather than the average for the entire site. Analytics data includes the load time for third-party tools, such as social media widgets. This inflates the numbers, making the report less meaningful.
There’s a very important report in Google Search Console for anyone who relies on search engine traffic. It shows which of the pages have attracted the most mentions on other websites. It shows which pages have incoming links and how many.
To see this data for competitor sites, enter the address into Link Explorer, then click on “Top Pages.” The free version shows the top five pages. The paid version shows them all.
These pages have the most ranking potential, but they are also the pages (and topics) that have won the most respect from other sites. The home page is always on top, but the next pages on the list may be a surprise…
For the Orbit site, this report shows two of our major marketing initiatives: our book, Content Chemistry, and our annual philanthropic program, Chicago Cause.
Accuracy Check: Good
Although Link Explorer is a huge database, Google Webmaster tools shows about twice as many links. But the relative link popularity between pages is roughly the same in OSE and Search Console. Good enough for me!
When tools are free and fast to access, sometimes it’s fun just to take a look. But the data is only valuable if you use it. The insights you discover will depend on the report and the data within. Here are some likely next steps:
Audience and Behavior Reports:
My site is X, my competitor’s site is X+1. How can I learn from them?
My competitor’s site is X. My site is X+1. Keep up the good work.
My competitors get traffic from X. Would X be a good traffic source for me?
Keep in mind that the data may not be accurate, but then again, Analytics isn’t always accurate either. Competitive Intelligence is all about benchmarks, insights, and new ideas. Like any good spy, stay skeptical, look for connections, and keep an open mind!
Checkout the free Analytics tool at jumpshot… It rubs against the largest B2C panel on the planet, with over 140 Billion (yes “B”) clickstreams records per month.
Thanks for the information about these tools, and not only that but for giving some feedback about how well they did. I wasn’t familiar with iSpionage, but I’ll definitely be checking it out.
iSpionage is my favorite and the one that I use most often. I think you’ll like it!
Great post and thanks for being so specific. Have you found the data on Alexa to be accurate across a wide variety of site types? (big, small…).
Keep up the great content!
T.A. McCann (founder @rivaliq)
Andy, as always, thank you for your insights. Keep it coming. M.Foster
Thanks, Mike! Good to see you here. I love that we’ve kept in touch all these years…
iSpionage is a pretty decent tool, but I also really like WordTracker.
I used WordTracker yeeeears ago and just recently rediscovered it. Still a solid resource. Thanks, Jason!
Once again, this is very helpful. In 5 minutes, I just figured out a handful of other very relevant keywords we’re ranking for on page 1, and updated my opening e-mail pitch with a few of these. I was trying to do this earlier this week. I knew there must be a simple, free tool to help, but didn’t know what it was. Problem solved – and I’ve only scratched the surface of your advice here. Thank you, Andy!!
Like you said Andy “estimates may be way off, especially for smaller lower traffic sites”. Coincidentally, I just did an analysis on 10 “popular” social media blogs comparing their Alexa and SimilarWeb metrics on 1) total visits 2) time on site 3) page views 4) bounce rate and ranked them by USA ranking (Alexa)
I was surprised to see such a big difference in the bounce rate and time on site and page views. These weren’t small traffic sites, some had 1 million+ views per annum. Most were in the 300-500k range, so my message to my readers is freemium traffic tools is not the best way to go.
My SlideShare Deck entitled “10 Social Media Blogs You Should Follow” is where you can see these side-by-side comparisons.
Thanks, Neil. Would you like to add the link here in the comments? Other readers (myself included) may find that interesting…
Yeah, Alexia is iffy and merely inspirational data at best. It’s nice to spend some time cruising through competitor’s websites, though one must remember to “turn inward” and focus on the true drivers of one’s business: attitude of service and quality of work.
Well said, Mr. Brouwer.
I prefer to ignore the competition in general, but it can be very useful to check rankings or link popularity of related websites. In these cases, they may not be business competitors, but just competitors for rankings and attention in general.
You just reminded me of something I heard at a conference recently. It’s from Steve Farber: “Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do!”
I hadn’t heard that quote before, but I love it!
I guess I had no idea that they were logging my gender and education level…how do they get that info? From Google+ profiles or something?
The Alexa data comes from people who use the Alexa toolbar, which is only a tiny percentage of internet users. So no worries, Shellie. You’re still anonymous. 🙂
Great blog Andy! What should be your top analytic metrics to look at if you’re primarily an informational website, not ecommerce or direct sales? I’m sure you’ve written a blog about it! Asking for a higher ed client! Thx!
For higher ed (or almost any industry) I would look at “queries” using ispionage. It only takes a minute and it might lead to some ideas for a content producer like yourself.
Then I would probably glance at the demographics. Do people looking at higher ed websites have college degrees? I’m curious…
The last report might be the most actionable. If you can see which of their pages has attracted the most links, it may show how their site is structured or which programs are the most successful. If it’s something you could emulate or do better, then go for it! It might be a big initiative or campaign, but could be worth it.
Happy to help anytime, Ovetta!
Thanks Andy! I was thinking of queries as well. As a content marketer I’m more interested in what people are reading, clicking and sharing on social media and linking to but also if we’re driving them to our “FMI” pages where they can apply or ask for more information about college programs. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to measure the likeability of our content – news stories: clicks, shares, links, all of the above maybe? Mmmm….I’ll dig and see what others say. I have a feeling that what I thought were actionable metrics really aren’t. My ultimate question: Did this content drive the reader to take a chance on us? Trying to figure out the best way to set that metric up.
What are your thoughts?