Keeping Up with the Joneses

May 1st, 2002

by

Originally published in Unlimited

Most companies with websites don’t realise their competitors are winning the race — coming up higher in the search engines, getting more traffic, converting more visitors into buyers and generating a better return on their investment. One Auckland company knew its turnover from online purchases was dropping, but didn’t understand why. It was surprised to learn its competitors had considerably more pages in Google and, consequently, far outranked it in traffic. Armed with this new competitive intelligence, it initiated sweeping changes to its website.

How do you stack up against your competitors? Let the web guide you:

  • To get an idea of how much traffic your competitors are getting, download either the Alexa Toolbar or another tool called Pop Meter. Both downloads are free. Curious about what information your competitors posted to their sites last year? The Alexa Toolbar also provides easy access to the Wayback Machine, an extensive archive of web pages going back as far as 1996.
  • Check how many pages competitors have in Google.com by searching for a common word plus “site:” along with their domain name. Scour these search results for confidential information. Often a competitor won’t realise Google.com has indexed commercially sensitive content buried deep in their site. Use the Google Toolbar to check their site’s PageRank, a numerical representation of how important Google considers the site to be, and thus how well it will rank. Also employ the Toolbar to find out how many “backward links” connect to their site.
  • Gather these three metrics for your own site, as well as your competitors’, every month from now on. If a competitor’s site is gaining in backward links and your site stays stagnant, you’ll need to act.
  • How are your PR campaigns, advertising, email marketing and search engine optimisation affecting your market share? Consider signing up with Hitwise for day-by-day monitoring of your online market share in New Zealand.
  • What’s the word on the streets? Search for discussion of competitors on the nz.general forum at groups.google.com. Search news sites for articles mentioning competitors and your own company.
  • Subscribe to your competitors’ email newsletters to stay informed on what offers, contests, sales, products and features they’re launching. Don’t use your work email address, though, as the competitor will probably notice you in their list.
  • Monitor competitors’ sites with an automated service like Mind-It and be alerted via email when key pages get updated.
  • Do a quick SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of competitors’ sites. What are they doing well and not so well? Are they doing any kind of e-commerce? How can you exploit their online weaknesses in the offline world, and vice versa?

Stephan Spencer is founder/president of Netconcepts, a Madison, WI-based Web marketing agency that offers search optimization services.

This article first appeared on Unlimited in May 2002.