Hitwise is a great tool for competitor analysis. The amount of data you can get access to through Experian's tools is great. From down and upstream click trail information to search query information for both paid and organic. Unfortunately it has a price tag to match. However just because you don't have the budget for an enterprise tool like Hitwise does not mean you can not monitor your competitors in search. Especially if you already know what you want to monitor.
For any business online, ranking for the terms that drive traffic to products that sell is just the first half of the battle. Ensuring you keep that valuable search traffic is just as important. Competitor analysis is a vital part of any ongoing optimization plan, especially if you rely on traffic from sought after search terms.
Keep An Eye On The SERPs
There are a number of ways to watch the search engine results for those keywords you need. Even with the fragmentation of the search ecosystem due to context and personalisation factors, monitoring how you and the competition rank in search still matters.
There are a number of tools that make this easier, from online services like SEOmoz, Raventools, local tools like AWR and simple scrapers running from spreadsheets. How you get the information is not as important as how you use it once you collect it.
Monitoring movement for rankings within search engines is important for assessing competitor activity, and collecting enough to be able to assess trends over time is very important. Being able to tell the difference between a consistent improvement from optimisation activity and the changes that an Algorithm change or Panda update matters, and is vital for determining what you need to do next.
What Changed, What Didn't
Nothing moves in the SERPS unless something changes. Be it Google, the site itself or the Internet in general. Monitoring what Google has changed is not easy. It is actually very hard, where the best outcome is an educated guess based on incomplete information.
Fortunately it is a little easier to see changes in the conversati0n and content created around and about a site, and practically simplistic to monitor a competitors site itself. There are a range of tools that can help to automate this, including link monitoring tools such as ahrefs.com and Open Site explorer, and news, updates and social media monitoring tools like Google Alerts and Hootsuite. Monitoring sites for changes can be as simple as running a crawler over it periodically and monitoring their sitemap.
Making Better Decisions
The tools and information to monitor competition in the search results are easy to access and use, the difficulty is in bringing it all together. Historic data and awareness of what is happening in search (subscribe to Google's official blogs, they are a lot more transparent about their updates these days) it is easy to pick competitive activity from normal movement in the results.
Monitoring their social media activity and brand mentions as well as link profile will give you an idea about their online promotional activity and monitoring their site should let you know if they have started to optimise certain sections.
Monitoring your competition in terms that matter to you is important to maintain your hard won rankings. Knowing when they are generating more links than usual, rebuilding their website or even generating good buzz online from above the line marketing activity, being able to see this and identify it early lets you be proactive in maintaining your rankings. When you can identify where the competition is improving, you can make better decisions on where you should put your own time and money to ensure you stay ahead of the pack. Which is better than the alternative.
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Anthony works as an SEM Manager in the tourism and travel industry. Most of his free time is lost to creating comics about the digital industry, writing blog posts and drinking coffee.