Different tools to help you with your competitive website data analysis
Updated in 2017 – This post was originally posted in 2012 and has been revised / updated in 2017
In an earlier post SWOT analysis for your website, I mentioned the four elements of your SWOT analysis include identifying your website strength (S), uncovering your its weaknesses (W), identifying opportunities (O) for the site and uncovering threats (T) against it. While a decent web analytics application like Google Analytics can help you get insight into your own website S and W elements, what and how can you know about your competitor’s web performance in order to make your SWOT analysis more complete? I emphasized “web performance” as opposed to other general information that you can obtain by browsing your competitors’ websites. Below are some tools to help you get some idea about your competitors’ website performance.
Let’s start with the easiest one first: comparing keyword ranking
Compare your competitors’ keyword ranking against your website’s keyword ranking
This is perhaps the easiest and also the most accurate data you can get. All you need to do is to go to Google, Yahoo! and Bing and enter certain keywords that are important to your business/industry and see how your site is stacking up against your competitors’.
However, instead of doing this manually, there are several tools that can help you complete the task more quickly. The tool I used the most is the Firefox plug-in called Rank Checker. This tool also has an option to let you not use Google personalized search results. You can download the result in spreadsheet format and later to compare results. If you don’t use FireFox or don’t want to use the plug-in, Google for “keyword rank checking” or something like that.
Since my company is using Marketo (a marketing automation tool), and Marketo includes an SEO tool (powered by SEMRush), so I’ve also used this tool to keep track of keyword ranking for my site as well as my competitors’ sites.
Other tools and how data are collected
Let’s move onto exploring tools that can help you shed some light into your competitors’ website performance. However, before going there, let’s talk briefly about how these tools gather and report data. As you might have known from my other blog post about web analytics method, there are basically two ways to get web traffic data: one is through your web server log files, and the other one is through tagging every web page with a snippet of code. If websites like Alexa.com or Compete.com and the like (mentioned in further details below) can’t get to your log files and can’t access and tag every page of every website with their tracking codes, then how can they gather and report the data? The answer is they get data with your approval (when you install their toolbars or apps or opt in to voluntarily provide data) or behind your back without you even know about it (when you install their or their affiliates’ toolbars or apps but don’t know that those toolbars, apps secretly collect your personal data, including websites you visited, your online buying behaviors etc.). They then normalize the data gathered and output results.
One of the most common websites where you can get web traffic data of your own site and your competitor’s websites is Alexa (Alexa is an Amazon.com company). All you need to do is to enter the site url and Alexa will let you know some basic statistics.
Update 2017: At the time of revising this post (April 2017), Alexa has redesigned their website. They’ve moved the search box from the center to lower on their homepage. You can still find basics information about any sites for free, but you’d need to look a bit more closely to find the search box. Currently, it’s under Browse Top Sites right above the super footer. Alternatively, you can sign up for a free trial.
One of the way that Alexa gathers their data is from visitors that have the Alexa toolbar installed on their browsers. The data, therefore, is based on a small group of the population, which may or may not representative of your website target audience. When using Alexa, make sure that you don’t rely on their absolute count, but pay attention to only the trend data. You, however, can use the reported absolute count to compared your Alexa site stats against that of your competitors. Click on this link to learn more about Alexa’s traffic ranking methodology.