Online Marketing and Competitor Analysis Tools

It can be really easy, when managing an organisation, to carry on with your business completely blind. Sure you have an idea, or even more of a feeling of what to do, but how grounded in reality are your decisions?

It’s really important to get that input. Common inputs are:
– Market research (to determine whether there’s enough demand before you dip your toe into the market, and what shape your product should take)
– Customer Feedback – How well did your product or service meet the expectations of the person who paid for it? This is invaluable
– Competitor Intelligence – What are the competition doing? While it can be dangerous to watch the competition too closely (you should pick an area and take the lead instead), it can be helpful before you get big to see what the land looks like from the eyes of those giants.

So today I’m just going to detail a few great tools you can use to get that competitive intelligence into your fingertips…

Overall Size
First of all. If you’re not already using it I’d highly recommend using Chrome as your browser. It’s fast, lightweight and secure. Firefox, Opera and Safari are also good but the reason I like Chrome is also because of this plugin:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/pneoplpmnpjoioldpodoljacigkahohc

For every page you visit, it gives you a score from 1-10 of how big Google thinks that site is. So if you go to Facebook you get a 10, a niche site might get a 0. That’s the first question, how ‘big’ is your competitor’s online presence? How popular is their domain?

Market Demographics
If the domain is large (pagerank > 4 say) it might have some information in the DoubleClick Ad Planner. Of particular interest is traffic stats, ‘sites also visited’ and ‘keywords searched for’. What this will do is tell you how big the market is, who the -other- competitors are and what those visitors are actually looking for. A couple of clicks later, you might find that the current providers are not offering products to fulfill a major desire of those visitors, you’ve found an instant market niche.

Search Terms
For the search terms discovered in the previous tool, or any that you think are relevant to this market or competitor, what other information can we find from the most popular search terms? Google Insights provides a really useful way to look at the market. For example a search for ‘cars’ tells you that used cars is the highest search, well above cars for sale and rental cars. It also surprisingly shows that ‘disney cars’ is overwhelmingly the fastest rising search term, and that Africa is searching far more than other countries for the term cars. I wonder if there’d be money in a used cars site translated into Swahili? Sounds like a good market edge if it can be monetized effectively.

Search Term $$$
It can be useful to see how much money is being spent on advertising in this market, particularly for the terms your target is likely to be interested in, and especially if you see any of their ads show up when searching for it. The Traffic Estimator will give you a good idea what price these ads are going for. For example enter the term mesothelioma and allow your Max CPC to be $10,000, you’ll see that you’d be paying a massive $85 per click to be in position 1. This is due to all the attorney’s out there earning money from lawsuits related to mesotheliomic cancer. For them, $85 just to get someone to their web page still makes the money. Whereas if you were scoping out the market for Used Cars in Africa you’d see position 1 would cost $2.21 and net 436 clicks a day. So someone out there is paying nearly $1000 a day for the African used car market already. It’s actually a good thing to see someone in a prospective market spending money on ads, it means there’s money in the idea. So long as there’s room for one more (that’d be you) and not too much competition already, it’s telling you that in theory you should be able to turn a profit here.

DNS Information
This is a little bit technical (perhaps). You can look up thier public Domain Name Server information. A good site is:
http://centralops.net/co/ – Go to the ‘Domain Dossier’

Type in your domain and check all the options except service scan (optional). You should see:

Whois Record: It is required (although not well enforced) for this information to be true and correct. Some registrars are known to use incorrect whois information as an excuse to seize domains once they become valuable enough. Here you can see some ‘real names’ of website owners, as well as their ABN and company name for .com.au domains. From here, you could search http://www.linkedin.com/ for more information on the names found, or type the ABN into http://www.abr.business.gov.au/ for more information on the business. Sometimes, just with this information you can make some very interesting connections!

DNS Records: This will give you some information on their technical setup, which can give an indication to the size and level of technical ability of the staff. For example, mail servers pointing to aspx.google.com (or similar) indicate the company is using Google cloud services for mail. To me this says they know a bit about what they’re doing. Instead of an old, insecure POP3 server inside their network, the Google cloud gives them a huge range of features, the ability to use their Android’s and iPhones, etc. A look at the web hosting provider can also be telling. Are they hosting it overseas? Is it shared hosting? Shared hosting indicates that they have very little traffic. Not that it’s not important or profitable, just that there isn’t much of it.

Traceroute: The traceroute gives you the IPs and domain names of every router between you and the target server. Often you can literally see the trail out of your door, through your ISPs links all the way to the target server. This can give a very good idea of the physical location of the server. Entering the IP into a geolocator such as ip2location can also provide more location information.

Service Scan: The final service provided by this site if a service scan. This is somewhat of a grey area. Service scan’s are usually done as a pre-cursor to a hacking attack, and you should find out whether performing them in your area is legal. You can use it on a server you own to test it out. What the service scan  does is connect to every ‘port’ on the server, grab the banner information which is basically the welcome message, and show you all the results. What it can tell you for example is the server operates as a web server, FTP server, mail server and anything else it might be running. This can give an idea of the number of technical functions performed in association with the domain. Generally the more there are, the -worse- I would say the security of the domain is. Each open port is an opportunity for someone to break into the server, and it might be better for them to delegate some of that functionality the cloud (mail, filesharing, etc) or allow connections via encrypted SSL into the network before exposing services. To me a ton of open ports suggests a medium size operation.

Do you have your own favourite tools? If so, drop me a link in the comments below!

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