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  • Killer Competitive Research – Going Beyond Back Links and SpyFu

    Competitive Intelligence  

    Dec 12 2011

    I got asked a lot of great questions at Pubcon after my Competitive Intelligence session a while back, so I wanted to take some time and answer a lot of those questions here.  If anyone else had questions that were not answered, or I just forgot (in my defense there were A LOT of questions) feel free to fire them away in the comments.  Hopefully this covers everyone that came up to me and asked a question (or that I promised something to).

    A lot of times when online marketers think about doing competitive analysis we just look at the SEO and PPC side of things. But if you really consider yourself to be an “online marketer,” you need to look beyond just the two obvious channels. You should also try to figure out what your competitors are doing for testing, retargeting, and any other advertising networks they might be using.

    It won’t be possible to figure out everything your competitor is doing, but by doing a little detective work you can get an idea of at least some of the tactics they’re using. Once you have that information, you can then evaluate and see if there are additional tactics that you should be using as well.

    The key to finding out if your competitor is using any of these tactics is simply to dig through their code and see if you can find the right signals.

    Split or A/B Testing

    There are a lot of tests that a site can run on it’s content, but in the end the goal of doing testing is to make changes to your site that lead to better conversion. If you can find out what your competitor is testing, you can then evaluate it to see if it’s something you should be testing as well.

    Some of the common testing platforms include:

    Each of these platforms will require the site to install a snippet of code for it to work. One of the great things about code snippets is that lots of times the default version will have a comment tag identifying what the script is. For example, in the instructions for Google Website Optimizer this is the beginning of the code that they give you:

    <!– Google Website Optimizer Tracking Script –>
    <script type=”text/javascript”>

    Good pages to look for this kind of code would be any landing pages, product pages, or shopping cart pages. Testing almost always has to do with conversion, so look on the pages of your competitor’s site that are focused on conversion.

    If you find a snippet of code that you don’t know what it is, search for it in Google and you’ll likely find a tutorial about it identifying what platform it belongs to. The best way to do this is to copy a generic part of the code. For example, if you search in Google for “mboxCreate()” most of the search results have something about Omniture Test&Target. But if you just do a search for ‘mbox’ you’re going to get a lot of electronics products in your search results, which obviously isn’t very helpful.

    A lot of the testing companies will also require you to put a snippet of code around the element that your testing. If your competitor is using this kind of platform you can easily see what they’re testing. If they are using a more advanced system, you will want to try cacheless refreshes, or coming to their site through different channels and see if you notice any changes to the page.

    Retargeting Pixels

    If you’ve been reading online marketing blogs or gone to any Internet marketing conferences lately, you’ve likely heard a lot about retargeting. It’s a really hot topic, and for good reason – if done right it works really well!

    So how do you know if you competitor is using a retargeting network? Once again, HTML comments are your best friend. For example, here’s a sample code for Google Remarketing (one of the most popular remarketing networks):

    google remarketing code

    Google Remarketing Code

    As you can probably guess, there are a lot or retargeting networks out there. The nice thing is that these tracking pixels will almost always be at the bottom of the HTML code. So once again, go to a product or lead page and look at the bottom of the code to see what kinds of scripts you can find. Then, search for a generic part of that includes words that might identify the company.

    Here’s a list of some retargeting company names to watch for when looking for retargeting snippets:

    Conversion Tracking Pixels – The Goldmine

    The goldmine for this kind of detective work is in the shopping cart, or the lead confirmation page. Think of it this way: if you’re doing any testing, retargeting, or advertising with some kind of specialized network you have to be able to tell if a visitor actually converted or not. This is the same for different banner networks, PPC, and anything else that you’re tracking conversion rates on.

    For example, if someone converts you don’t want to retarget them for a regular sale anymore. If someone came to your site through a banner ad you’ve placed on a site, you need to be able to tell if that banner helped lead to the conversion. All of these conversion pixels are found on the receipt of lead confirmation page.

    HTML comment tags are once again your best friend since most conversion pixels will have an identifying comment before and/or after them. If they don’t have a comment, you will most likely be able to see the name of the company in the code since most companies will include their company name in their function names.

    This is one of the only ways that you can really find out what kinds of specialized banner networks your competitor is advertising with which is another reason why I call this the goldmine.

    Who’s Smarter – You Or Your Competitor?

    As you can see, by digging through the code of a site you can learn a lot about some of the additional online tactics they are using. And this can really help you understand how sophisticated and advanced your competitor is.

    In some cases you’ll find that you’re ahead of the game and they aren’t doing much. But in other cases you’ll find that you have a lot you can learn from your competitor. Make sure that if this is the case, you take the time to learn the lesson well and further investigate what networks and technologies they’re using so you can become a more sophisticated competitor to them.