A little information can be a dangerous thing, especially if you think it's ALL the information you need. This is especially true with web analytics data. It may give you an accurate view of your website, but if don't combine it with other data, you can lose sight of the bigger, more important picture.
Mike Fleming offers a particularly stark version of this in his article for Search Engine Guide. He uses as his example a site owner whose goal was to increase traffic to his website by eight percent for the fourth quarter of 2011. In fact, he sees his traffic increase by 10 percent, easily documented by his web analytics tools. So is it time to break out the champagne?
Not even close. Using a free and easily available tool, Fleming finds signs that the site owner's industry might have grown by as much as 20 percent during the same time period. It's entirely possible, with that much growth in the industry, that the site owner's competitor's traffic grew 30 percent during the same time period. So if the site owner's traffic grew by only 10 percent, well, one hardly needs to be good at solving word problems to see the site owner might turn to drink for some reason other than celebrating.
Let's take this out of the abstract now. You probably use web analytics tools on your website. But what do you use to alert you to the status of your industry? If you're only focused on your own site, you're in the same boat as Fleming's example site owner, quite possibly celebrating when you should be concerned. You need to include competitive intelligence analysis in your web marketing strategy.
Competitive intelligence analysis can tell you what sites or keywords are sending your competitors lots of valuable traffic – “the one where you are invisible or don't know about or are unwilling to raise your paid search budget for,” Fleming notes. It can tell you about new keywords that more searchers are beginning to use which you haven't targeted yet. It can even tell you about regions of the world where your industry is on the rise, and other information your competitors might not know yet.
Fleming suggests a number of free and paid tools to help you get a picture of the Internet as a whole, and your industry's standing within it. These include Google Trends for Websites, Insights for Search, Ad Planner, Compete and Hitwise. These sites can help you analyze your traffic to better understand where they're going, what they're doing, and what keywords they're using to get them there.
Fleming notes that this is the kind of information that can help get you ahead of your competition, and keep you there. “You can compare your brand name to your competitor's and see locations where you are and/or aren't more popular. Maybe your industry is on the rise in a particular state. Who's taking advantage of that more. If you know what's going on, you can be the 'first mover.'”
I'm not saying you shouldn't use web analytics on your own website, but you definitely shouldn't rely on it to tell you the whole story. As Fleming explains, “It's great to know how your business has changed, but it's even better to know how it's changed in light of your industry landscape and compared to your competitors.” That's the kind of information that can give you a REAL competitive advantage. Good luck!
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