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Competitive Intelligence for Marketing

There are numerous ways to get competitive intelligence, and because we emphasize online marketing we are a little biased in getting this type of intelligence primarily online.

There are many levels of competitive intelligence but we are going to focus here on two areas that we look at in determining the potential market and who the top online players are, namely the pay per click arena and the SEO arena.

If your potential competition has a website, there is a lot that can be found out about what is working well for them, which you can then reverse engineer and beat them at their own game. Conversely, if you are not yet in the market yet but want to evaluate its potential, its good to know who the real top players are, their online strategy, their advertising budget, and their relative strengths so that you aren’t surprised when you do enter the marketplace.

We offer this as a service and for us to do it is relatively inexpensive compared to the money you save by not having the data. We have 4 figures a month of various services we subscribe to to get our data, and you could do this yourself but it would end up costing you the same or more because can aggregate our costs from many customers. Plus, knowing how to get the data that is important is 9/10ths of the battle……


How does competitive intelligence work for online marketing? What are you looking for and how do you do it?

Basically when you are doing competitive intelligence you are doing two things:

1) Gathering Data

2) Analyzing that Data to find strengths and weaknesses in your competitors.

Under 1 above,  there are lots of data sources, but what we want to know is first, given a basic set of keywords that relate to our website and are very relevant to our business, who is dominating the search engines for those terms and who is buying the most traffic at Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Bing?

Further, who is showing up for the maximum number of percentage times for all these keywords? In other words who is buying 100 percent or close to it of the terms that are most relevant to the business? And out of all these competitors who is truly the most efficient?

Pay per click data is a little different than SEO data, and most competitors are good at one or the other, rarely both. You could of course argue that why would you pay for traffic if you could get it free, and you would be right, but ppc is still very important to look at, because if you are paying for traffic, you darn well better be able to convert it.  Realistically I have found that looking at both areas is important.

Fortune 500 companies

You will definitely come across fortune 500 companies in almost any niche these days, especially in pay per click. This does not mean that they are smart marketers or that their ads are great. Usually the advertising agency they hire does some pay per click really inefficiently, puts them at number 1 for all of their keywords at $100,000 a month, there are high fives at some meeting with mid level executives on either side where they are shown that they are number 1 in the search engines, and further meetings ensue.

Ok maybe we aren’t being fair here, I am sure there are competent ad agencies out there somewhere, we just haven’t found any yet….

The point is, this is a factor because any big company can spend you under the table quickly, and if there are fortune 500 companies advertising on your keywords you just have to accept that they will be number 1 and you are going to have to have your ads further down the page and take the traffic that is left. You will be able to know however, that what you are doing will make sense dollar for dollar, while they go on with their “branding” program.

First you need your keyword list. Use your favorite keyword tool or if you don’t have any, you can build a keyword list using these free online tools and

Done? You need at least 30 and for our purposes, no more than 100 keywords that directly relate to your site.

Next, essentially what you want to do is spend the rest of the next 2-3 weeks searching google every hour or two for each one of these keywords, taking a note of each date and time, the position and text of every ad, the positions of the sites in the free results and put all this information into a database.

Got it?

(We use software and services to do this for us because we want to have a life)

However you do it, you have to gather this data of, for your target market, who shows up consistently, what pages are they taking their visitors to, what percentage of the time are they showing up and in what position, and out of the keywords you picked, who is showing up in the majority of these keywords.

Here’s an example of some advertisers graphed the correct way for Google, yahoo, and msn for the keyword weight loss:

In the examples above, the time period obviously is very important.


The graphs above that you are looking at is basically what position the ads are shown in vs the percentage of time they are showing. The search engines won’t let us search every minute, but we can get away with doing the search every hour or two and noting the results. A lot of advertisers don’t understand how this works because they are looking at their advertising account, and maybe they have a 50 dollar a day budget and they see that their budget was met and their click through rate was such and such, but they are missing the bigger picture, which is that as their budget is met, the search engines are rotating advertisers in and out of the system.  A very inefficient way to advertise we’ll use in a kind of rediculous example, lets say your budget was 10 dollars a day and you decide to bid 10 dollars per click.

So on a keyword like weight loss that gets hundreds of thousands of searches a day you are in the system for a couple minutes, you get your click and then are out. Thats how it works.

So in that case you would be number 1 (yay!) but only for a few minutes and then smarter advertisers take over. There is a ratio between the click through rate, the amount you bid, the amount of clicks you get, the amount of clicks available and your budget for every keyword. There is an optimum position and strategy somewhere for every advertiser.

So basically these graphs give you a picture of the entire market you are looking at or at that particular keyword you are focusing on.  There are other factors such as advertisers doing lead generation in certain markets and rotating themselves in and out of the system on purpose during specific hours

such as only showing the ads between 9-5 when a salesperson is there to take the call, and this can be a factor as well, but its pretty easy to filter for those things. The first factor that is important however is the big picture- who is the most efficient advertiser in this market?

I have found that 2-3 weeks is really the minimum time to get any meaningful data. The above data was taken over a 199 day period in 2008-2009 and over 3251 competitors were found in the pay per click area alone.

One thing that is striking is that during this time Jenny Craig was the top advertiser at Google but not at Yahoo and MSN.  It is true that most of the traffic is at Google but there are also more competitors and in many markets the clicks are more expensive. Jenny Craig could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and gotten more clicks by just dropping their position at Google a little bit and spending the difference with yahoo and msn, and gotten a lot more clicks for less cost.

So to summarize:

We gathered all the data of who is showing up, what the positions of the ads were, all the text of those ads, the specific landing pages people were sent to, and can relate it back to any given keyword. We also have the aggregate picture of all the keywords combined, and who is the most efficient advertiser across all of our “bucket” of keywords.

From this, we can then look further to find out which keywords certain advertisers that are the best, tried to advertise on and stopped. We can also find the keywords that they are advertising on most often. From this we can determine the probability of attaining a high level of return on investment per keyword for those terms.

We can then reverse engineer their entire pay per click campaign and start ours with the keywords most likely to be successful. We won’t copy their ads exactly but can use their most successful ads to write ours, and we can model our landing pages from the top landing pages of our competitor.

Want us to do this for you?  It’s less expensive than you think!

SEO competitive intelligence

Similarly SEO competitive intelligence can be done to identify who is getting the most “free” or organic traffic, but there are a few more factors to be considered. Basically in looking at the SEO competition we are interested in how powerful the competition is and what are the barriers to market entry. For this we have to pull information on each of the websites that turn up as top competitors, look at among other things, the age of the sites, how many links point to them from other sites on the internet, the number of pages the site has, how well optimized those pages are, the blogging or social bookmarketing activity of the competitor, the quality or sources of their backlinks, and a few other factors.

This tells us, if we wanted to dominate that market in SEO, how long would it take, what would we have to do and how much would it cost? From there we can formulate our own strategy which might mean limiting the scope and going after a sub niche within that keyword market where there is less strong competition. But at least we know what is what.

After we have the SEO research done we put it together with the ppc research and we can then get an even better picture of the market and see who is getting the lions share of traffic, sales and leads.

Want us to do this for you? It’s less expensive than you think!

Call (800) 920-1985 and we’ll tell you which ones are good for YOUR industry