By Alex Cohen
Compete.com, a competitive intelligence tool in the family of Quantcast and HitWise, recently launched a new search analytics tool. I got a tour with Product Manager Jeremy Crane. Overall, I think the product provides some useful basic functionality at a great price and a few clever features. One major issue can limit your insight (see the caveats). Read on for my full review of Compete Search Analytics. I have a lighthearted discussion of the competitive intelligence market over at Digital Alex.
Full disclosure (see WOMMA guidelines): Compete's PR agency gave me some free credits (20 credits or $40 worth) to play with the tool.
What You Can Learn From Compete Search Analytics
Essentially, Compete Search Analytics is a competitive intelligence and keyword discovery tool with a few basic functions:
- Keyword Referrals - Learn which sites receive traffic from a word.
- Site Referrals - Discover the phrases that bring visitors to a particular site
- Compare Sites - Essentially the same as site referral, just with the ability to compare the results side by side.
The data are reported for a rolling 90 days. Reports usually cost 1 or 2 credits ($2 - $4). Expanded reports, such as the complete list of thousands of keywords that brought users to a site, cost 10 credits ($20).
How To Use Compete Search
Aside from the obvious ability to do some competitive intelligence and keyword research, I think there are a few interesting ways to get the most out of the tool.
- Keyword Share - If you're targeting a particular basket of keywords, you can determine how much of the share of traffic from those keywords you're getting vs. your competitors. Compete calculates the share for you directly.
Compete does not report an estimated volume of referrals from a particular word for a site in this report. If you want that metric from this data, you'll need to export the data and calculate it thusly Average Monthly Referrals * Site Share = # keyword referrals for a site.
This report can also be useful for uncovering competitors you never even knew you had. You can examine their sites to size up the competition and, perhaps, integrate their brand terms into your PPC campaigns (in compliance with the rules of the various engines). Hat tip to Avinash for talking with me about keyword share down at eMetrics.
- Browse By Category
One of the more interesting features in the site referrals report is that you can browse by category of sites, Job Search sites, for example. The categories they list are Compete's current standard taxonomy based on the work they've
already done on consulting projects (they do custom work as well, just like comScore.
They don't always have a a category that corresponds to the industry you're looking for. Jeremy says they may add more categories in the future and reveal which sites are in each category. Next year's features may include custom segmentation
based on the X domains that you're interested in.
Not all of the segments seem to have reliable data, sometimes you get some surprising and humorous results, which I noted over at Digital Alex.
I compiled the complete list of site categories at the bottom of this post.
- Browse by Lifestyle Segment
Even more interesting than category segments are the behavioral segments. These reports attempt to lump together the keywords that interest particular groups of users, such as Bargain Hunters or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). The data are based are sites that "fill into the realm of that behavioral group".
This is an interesting and potentially useful tool for media planners depending upon how reliable the data are (see Compete's data collection methodology here). Democratic candidates take note: I ran the report for the Liberals and apparently Huffington Post and a site call Common Dreams news top the list. Better work those PR contacts.
The complete list of behavioral segments is also at the end of the post.
Caveat 1: Is This Organic or Paid Traffic?
Perhaps the biggest drawback to Compete Search Analytics is that it
does not distinguish whether a site is getting traffic from organic or
paid search. This can lead to some confusing analysis.
Jeremy says Compete hopes to to break out paid search in some form
in a future release, hopefully by the end of 2007. That would be one
sweet stocking stuffer for the web analytics community, since even
Hitwise doesn't separate these data. It's a tall order, however, since
many of these data are stored in destination URLs and campaign IDs that
come in more variations than I can count.
Key Metrics and How They're Calculated
The site level reports, like site referrals, report a "Keyword Engagement" metrics. Compete is just using a different name for time on site (as opposed to something like Eric Peterson's more in depth assessment of engagement).
As you may have known from following any of the web analytics blogs, there is no standard for how to calculate average time on site. Google Analytics time on site has changed more than once.
For the record, Compete Search Analytics does include single page visits in their time on site metrics. What's interesting about Compete's calculation vs. typical tag based web analytics is that every URL event has a timestamp, so they can get time on site for single page visits. As with regular sites, there is no way to adjust for tabbed browsing. Jeremy says they throw out referrals for weird outlier phrases that would distort results.
The time on site for keywords are indexed against each other with 100 having the most time and 1 the least. I'm not particularly fond of time on site, especially in isolation. At least showing the average time on site and labeling it as such would be a start.
Effectiveness, as Compete defines it, is a combination of the volume of traffic a keyword brings and the time on site. Again, the same limitations that apply to time on site will apply here as well.
I asked Jeremy why they aren't including other metrics for engagement or effectiveness, such as bounce rate, page views, etc. Evidently, they do plan to add more columns (metrics) in upcoming releases.
When you're looking at the Compare Sites report (which lets you contrast keyword searches and "engagement" on 2 sites) and you see both metrics as >1000%, you can assume almost no one is going to the 2nd domain you're comparing.
He suggests looking at category terms and compare volume and engagement to see who's winning in the non-brand areas.
Future Changes to Compete Search Analytics
Jeremy gave me a glimpse into what the future may hold for the product. Dates, I'm sure, are subject to change.
- May offer filtering tools for keyword data after the purchase, also things like related terms
- An enterprise solution could be on the way
- Selectable time frames will eventually be available, possibly in the first half of 2008
- Eventually, flexible rollup of keywords (you need a certain amount of data to get long tail terms)
- Trended data for high volume terms, domain (100s of unique visitors required) in the second half of 2008
- Engine breakouts, related terms
- undefined access in the future, including integration for bid management tools
- More columns in reports, such as page views and bounce
Caveat 2: No Love For Subdomains
If the site your most interested in analyzing happens to reside in a subdomain, you're out of luck. Compete Search Analytics reports are not available at the subdomain level.
It also appears that Compete might be lumping subdomain data into the main domain. Based on a report I ran for Commerce360's website, you might think Maine Senator Susan Collins was on Commerce360's board. Actually, she was the subject of a post at the Commerce360 blog.
Areas For Improvement
Judging from the list of upgrades in the works that Jeremy mentioned, I expect the a continual stream of updates to come out of the Compete Search Analytics camp in the coming quarters. Aside from the aforementioned caveats, there were several things I noticed that could be easily remedied.
- Export Options - Right now you're stuck with a CSV. It would be nice to have a few more options: PDF, Excel, Google Docs, etc. Being able to share the data with the charts intact is easier than recreating them or grabbing a screenshot.
- Report Subscriptions - Currently, when you run a report you only have access to that report for that day's snapshot and you need to download it for posterity. Running the report when you log back in another time costs credits. Apparently, it's storage problem to retain everyone's old reports.
One thing I suggested to Jeremy is that they let you "subscribe" to a particular report and be permitted to access that report whenever you want. I'd love to be able to buy the reports for my client's once and never have to worry about been nickled and dimed every time I wanted to see the updated data. 20 credits? 50 credits? Compete would have to work out the LTV and the potential effect on sales of other reports for regular user, but I think it could be done.
- Better Sorting Options - Whenever you get keyword data, it's ranked in such a way that all you really see are head terms in the top 50. You have to spend $20 to get the full list. It would be great if you could filter and sort the data to hone in on the things you're looking for without having to shell out all 10 credits.
- More Data Transparency - Regarding the keyword engagement metric, I disagree with the choice of the word "engagement", since it presents a picture of involvement with a site based on only one metric.
It's okay if you want to show time on site, but at least show the actual values next to the engagement calculation and label it as time on site. Is the top performer 5 seconds and the bottom one 1 second or is it 600 seconds vs. 500 seconds? There's no sense of scale here.
For Search Marketing Gurus, Alex Cohen of Digital Alex