In business, keeping tabs on your own website’s performance is a must. But, in digital marketing, keeping an eye on your competitor’s sites too is quickly becoming essential.

That’s because this process (referred to broadly as competitive traffic analysis) can inform more actionable marketing strategies than more traditional efforts. Another reason is that the process itself doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful.

Here are three simple ways competitive traffic analysis can provide value for your business, along with three tools you can use to give each a try.

  1. Use SEO Visibility scores over time to track the strength of your competitors and detect when they make major changes.
  2. Use large competitive keyword sets to create a market share aligned to customer journey phases and product categories.
  3. Track the cross-channel traffic of competitors, almost like you could take a peek into their web analytics reports.

Benefit #1: Understanding Your Overall Presence In Organic Search

In organic search, it’s helpful to know how your website compares with that of your competitors. But when the competition makes changes to their site, competitive traffic analysis also lets you track the impact (or lack of impact) those changes are making. To do so, we need a way to track SEO performance. Searchmetrics, an SEO software company, makes measuring SEO performance over time easy with its proprietary search visibility score.

Search visibility is an index number that Searchmetrics calculates each week, scored zero to infinity. The tool allows you to input any website and see its score. If your website has a lot of pages that rank for many keywords that are popular in your specific industry, then you’ll have a higher score.

When you make changes to your site that affects these rankings, you can see the results in the visibility score. Then, by comparing weekly scores over time versus your competitors, it’s much easier to see which changes are making a difference.

Example: Search Visibility Highlighted Web Site Redesign Blunder

In performing competitive traffic analysis for one of our clients, we noticed a significant drop in one competitor’s search visibility score from the week prior. Knowing the relevant timeframe, we were able to then single out the changes they’d made which had negatively impacted their SEO performance – namely a website design refresh.

In doing so, we were able to help our client avoid making similar mistakes when refreshing their own website, helping them close the gap with this specific competitor.

Benefit #2: Knowing Your Share of “Voice” in Each Phase of the Customer Journey

Now let’s dive a bit deeper and use competitive traffic analysis to look at specific keywords and trends. The benefit here is actually twofold: Again, in relation to our competitors, we can determine how much of the relevant search volume we own at any given moment. But this same keyword data often reveals topics (i.e. content and marketing ideas) our competitors are using that we’ve overlooked or simply never thought to leverage ourselves.

Remember, our goal here is not to simply increase our overall traffic. By working to optimize the relevancy of our content, we attract potential customers who have greater purchase intent.

Using SEMRush, a popular SEO tool suite, we can find tens of thousands of keywords that a website ranks for at any given time and sift through them to find the most relevant opportunities in specific categories of content related to a phase in a customer journey.

But, as we mentioned above, SEMRush also can show us relevant keywords your competitors are ranking for. These might be phrases or ideas you never considered using before, while some may be ranking more strongly than your offline competitors.

Once you narrow down your list of competitors, you can directly compare the keywords both you and your competitors rank for. Using that list of common and unique keywords, you can identify themes and areas of opportunity to gain more traffic. This makes it possible to see if your product section is ranking lower for one category than your top competitor, which can help lead your team toward strategies to develop that part of your website to become more competitive.

Looking at the data over time, you can see when your competitors have made changes or have been affected by search engine updates and identify even more competitive strategies to differentiate your own marketing to stand out in the marketplace.

Using this data, you can create online search market share comparisons that can be drilled down from a whole category of thousands of keywords to find a single keyword that is likely to have the most opportunity for a brand to make gains. From this query, you can begin to develop a campaign to address this keyword opportunity.

Example: Categorical Search Market Share Shows Journey-Centric Opportunity

A client of ours had two big questions; firstly, they wanted to get a view of how their site competed for different search types along their customer’s journey (inspiration, informational, product, and more), and secondly, they wanted to see whether the volume of searches in their category had increased or decreased over time.

We used SEMRush keyword data to categorize thousands of keyword rankings they share their top 4 competitors over a multi-year span. Then, to answer the first question we used those categories to show the trends of consumer search volume in their industry over time. This helped the client further validate assumptions that their target consumers were in fact moving online more than ever during their purchase process.

To answer the second question we used those keyword categories to calculate the estimated organic traffic each site received from their respective keyword rankings. This data shown over time helped us identify the journey phases where the client website was ahead of or behind their competitors. We also used this data to dial in and find the top keywords that had the strongest impact on their market share over time, which has informed our content and SEO strategies deeply in the months afterward.

Benefit #3: Peek at Your Competitor’s (Estimated) Web Site Traffic Reports Across Channels

Have you ever wanted to see directly into your competitor’s website traffic reports? All digital marketers have likely had that thought at one point or another when wondering how well their competitor’s tactics are performing. So while you can’t see straight into your competitor’s reports, there is a way to get a more cohesive estimate of the channels generating their web traffic than the organic search-specific examples above.

To get to the numbers, we need to leverage a tool that can reliably measure clickstream data. Executed correctly, the process of reviewing said data for insights, clickstream analysis (sometimes referred to as clickstream analytics), will reveal how potential customers are traversing different channels to reach a given site, be that your competitor’s or your own. This way you can better compare how your channels are performing compared to your market, and what each of them are investing in most.

Tools like SimilarWeb, Alexa, Moz and more make this possible by using data from millions of web users who have been cookied to track them as they use their laptop, mobile phone, and apps. By sampling these groups and extrapolating their behavior, the software providers can provide estimates of traffic within email, paid media, search, and direct traffic channels.

A note of caution here though: It’s best to use these kinds of metrics at a high level to observe trends over time, not to identify whether a competitor, say, spent exactly $10,000 more in paid social last month than they did the month before. Instead, we recommend using this data to compare the numbers here against SEO numbers and your own real analytics to find performance trends.

We use SEMRush’s Traffic Analytics tool (different than their keyword database tool) because while comparisons against real data for our clients, we’ve found that it has been shown to be the most accurate of the clickstream analytics tools listed in this section. In fact, it relies upon data from the massively used Avast security software that is present on hundreds of devices worldwide and over 4 million in the United States.

Example: Assessing the Direct-to-Consumer Threat and Impact in the Online Market

Our clients are using this data today to measure the performance of new entrants to their marketplace. Like many retail brands, they have direct-to-consumer brands disrupting their offerings and presenting alternatives to shoppers. It’s easy for a marketer to become transfixed by the offerings of a disruptor and wonder, “how well could they possibly be doing?”

By tracking these new entrants over time using clickstream analysis, our client can see which competitors are increasing the traffic they send to their website and through which traffic channels. After comparing the real web analytics reports of our client with clickstream data, we can confidently create a level of confidence in the data, and properly gauge how much one brand is investing in paid media or email or organic search traffic over time. This helps to decide just how big of a threat their efforts really are to the client’s brand.

The Takeaway

Act on What You Learn.You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Together, these three methods are enough to ensure your week-to-week analysis better tracks your brand’s performance in the online marketplace and leads to competitive insights that can be acted on. This could be a layer that your digital marketing analytics are missing.