DSC00726 smallWe already have a lot of data at our disposal in the world of Web Insights. Clickstream, Outcomes, Surveys, Usability etc. That in itself is hard to wrap our brains around.

But there is one more really great source of data out there that I am sure some of you are already tapping into, perhaps not as many of as that could benefit from it. I am of course talking about the data that falls broadly into the category of “competitive intelligence”.

The most compelling reason to tap into competitive intelligence is that in many ways it allows you to step away from your silo, the existence that is pretty much defined by your web analytics tool or data warehouse or all things connected to your website. In optimizing our website and experience and expenses based on just our website data we might not be optimizing for the overall business landscape.

Why should you care?

  • Revenue for your e-commerce business, selling DVD rentals, is up 30% year over year (YOY). Cause for celebration? Maybe or maybe not, it would depend on how the overall DVD rental business is doing on the web. If it is up YOY by 100% then that is not so great.
  • You have a cute pet mascot and the TV ads for dog food you run have increased traffic by 100% in two months. What is the impact of that, your ads, on your chief competitor?
  • After spending half a million dollars on a SEO (search engine optimization) project over six months you have increased your traffic from top five key phrases by 20% (that is huge). If the number of people searching are the same is that increase the expense of your affiliates or competitors or the fact that in those six months traffic on the web increased in your category by yyy%?
  • An industry rag reports that your competitor has been eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner. You look bad. To save your job you need to find out if your competitor has started new kinds of campaigns (say affiliate) or they have started advertising on websites you don’t know of or have massively ramped up PPC spending or targeted certain new demographic.
  • You are looking to provide true business strategic insights in a culture where web analytics suffers its life as a “reporting” function. Competitive intelligence provides an option to get ahead of the business with some game changing actionable insights.

These are very simple scenarios but in each of these competitive intelligence is key to providing the answers that you need.  It helps you understand your performance in the context of the greater web eco-system and allows you to better understand causality due to “eco-system trends” vs. your actions (or lack there of).

It is pretty easy to celebrate success (or sometimes failure) of our websites based on just our numbers (Omniture, ClickTracks, WebTrends, HBX etc), true delight comes knowing how you are doing vis a vis your competitors or industry as a whole.

[We get into tools below so a quick link here to my Disclaimers & Disclosures page.]

What options are out there?

A search of the phrase web competitive intelligence yields 45 million results. I am sure there are that many ways to get competitive intelligence. : ) The focus of this post will be on two of the “big boys” in this space: ComScore and HitWise.

[A poor man’s option for basic competitive data is Alexa. I use it on my blog goal tracking page. Alexa collects its data via folks who install its tool bar and the data is extremely basic for this reason I am not including it.]

HitWise and ComScore are radically different services, as we’ll outline below, and you should be very careful in your choice and ensure that you are choosing the right one. Success of your valuable dollars invested depends on choosing the right service for your company, and of course then diving in and playing James Bond. : )

How do they capture data?

At a summary level HitWise is “ISP based” and ComScore is “Panel based” in terms of data capture (vastly different ways of collecting data).

HitWise has agreements with ISP’s worldwide whereby the ISP’s share the anonymous weblog data collected on the ISP network with HitWise. This data is analyzed by HitWise. They also combine this data with a worldwide opt-in panel to get demographic and lifestyle information.

ComScore on the other hand has a panel of people who opt in to be 100% monitored as they surf the web (by ComScore installing monitoring software on their Panel Member’s computers and then funneling 100% of the surfing via their proxy servers). In exchange for being monitored the Panel Member gets one (or combo) of these benefits: 

  • Server-based virus protection
  • Attractive sweepstakes prizes
  • Opportunity to impact and improve the Internet

ComScore’s service is very much modeled after the US Neilsen TV ratings system.

According to HitWise they have roughly 10 million US and 25 million worldwide users that they get data for.

Per ComScore their global network is 2 million (though the Media Metrix audience measurement is 120k US panelists and Media Matrix Global services is 500k outside the US).

For Methodologies directly from the horse’s mouth: HitWise, ComScore.

Cornell University has a in-depth outsider view of how ComScore collects its data, please Click Here. I recommend the section titled: Exactly What Does MarketScore do? Quick five minute read and quite illuminating. (I looked for a rebuttal from ComScore to the Cornell University article / concerns, I could not find anything via google or on ComScore’s website. If you know of a webpage with such info please email me and I’ll add a link to it here.)

Benefits of using HitWise:

  • The sample size is a huge benefit, multiple times that of ComScore.
  • The basic data capture mechanism means they have a much more diverse pool of people in their data.
    (For example I would personally never agree to ComScore monitoring in exchange for sweepstakes or virus protection because they will take 100% of my data, including any credit card information and what I buy and what sites I surf and my social security number and logins and everything that they capture via their proxy servers. This means I, Mr. Valuable Internet Participant, will never be in ComScore, but there is no way for me to avoid HitWise but atleast it is 100% anonymous and HitWise has no access to my https, hence private, data.)
  • HitWise has much deeper and richer search traffic data.
  • The psychographic (demographic, lifestyle) data HitWise provides is via the “Prism” database which is a significantly better than self reporting of such data.
  • HitWise has a lot more on-demand reporting available through their web access interface, very much amenable to self service.

Benefits of using ComScore:

  • ComScore has deep data from their Panel and they can go really deep in terms of website data.
  • ComScore can provide metrics such as Conversion Rates or Purchasers. They have all the traffic for their panel and they apply aggregations and sophisticated computations to approximate these metrics.
  • ComScore can break down some websites into deep embedded pages, for example they can measure microsoft.com/office/avinash/awesome.html, a potential page that could be embedded deep into some directory and can’t be tracked effectively by others from the outside.
  • ComScore can do more custom work on your behalf because they have every page, http or https, from their Panel Members and all the data associated with that Panel Member and their surfing habits.

Both companies state that they have the highest of protections of customer data and their privacy policies explicitly state what they will do with the data.

Give me a sound bit for each service:

  • HitWise is more suited as a marketing tool: Acquiring new customers, benchmarking performance, measuring search campaign effectiveness and what competitors are doing.
  • ComScore is more suited for decision making in advertising: how many people go to each site each month for their panel, and from which site to which site and deeper site behavior (conversion). 

Which one should I use?

It depends. : ) See immediately above.

But I do have one guidance: If your website gets more than one million Unique Visitors a month for similar metrics you can use ComScore and trust the data. If you get less than one million Unique Visitors a month you are better off with HitWise.

The reason is simple: Each service uses its ok statistical computation and aggregations to approximate “representative” all world internet usage. There is a much higher probability of error for smaller sites, less than a million, due to these statistics and weighting as they are applied to show “real world behavior”. You are better off with the HitWise sample of millions of visitors than the ComScore sample of hundreds of thousands.

As you decide please balance for sample bias in case of ComScore because of the kind of Panel Members who’ll be ok with 100% monitoring in exchange for sweepstakes or anti-virus protection vs. the benefit of depth at a site level data that ComScore certainly has.

 Hopefully this post makes a case for using Competitive Intelligence data and the kind of value it can add to your organization. My next post on Thursday will go deeper into the specific kinds of metrics you can report and analysis you can perform once you have access to this data.

Agree? Disagree? Have you seen other benefits of Competitive Intelligence? Was it a waste of time? Did this post miss anything for or against this type of analysis or the two vendors? Please share your feedback via comments.

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