Lions! Tigers! and Bears! Oh, My! Competitive Intelligence and Search Analytics

Article excerpt

According to the digital generation's "go-to" reference manual, Wikipedia, competitive intelligence is "the process by which business enterprises gather and analyze information on their external competitive environment." Wherever there's traffic, you'll find marketing mavens looking for an edge. The recent scandals over large companies paying Wikipedia editors to alter their entries show that the Internet has emerged as a true battleground for marketing and mind share. Microsoft, among others who have attempted to alter Wikipedia entries, knows that a negative entry in Wikipedia is a victory for their competitors.

Why do Microsoft and others worry so much about an entry into a user-generated Web encyclopedia? There certainly is no shortage of negative or positive information on the Internet about any large organization. The answer lies in the burgeoning new field of what's called competitive intelligence and search analytics (which falls under the broader category of business intelligence).

A query for "Google File System" (did you know there was one?) on Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Ask.com all produce Wikipedia entries near the top of the results list or a search engine results page (SERP). As such, Wikipedia listings and their content have become a case example of the importance of competitive intelligence and search analytics.

Microsoft knows that if a user searches on "Microsoft," he or she has a high likelihood of going to Wikipedia and seeing the negative entries. Thus, Microsofties reason that Wikipedia must be "helped" to present the correct version of reality to users. Every edge counts in the ultracompetitive world of the Internet. If Wikipedia did not show up so highly on the commercial search engines, this behavior would not happen. This is one example of the importance of knowing where the traffic is, and the guts of traffic analysis is search analytics.

Search analytics is the process of looking at search engine statistics and developing decision plans based on the analysis. The goal is to create a competitive advantage on the Internet between a business and its competitors. Proper competitive intelligence from search analysis has three distinct sources of information:

* Commercial Search Engines--Analyzing user behavior from the commercial search engines and attempting to increase an organization's position and/ or purchase keywords

* Commercial Search Engine Referrals--Tracking how people use the commercial search engines to find a business' Web site and deciding how to cater to those users

* Site Search Analytics--Leveraging information from the commercial search engine to provide users with a satisfactory search experience from an organization's own Web site

Our work reveals that very few organizations take the time to properly analyze these three factors and to develop competitive intelligence reports that deliver measurable results. This process is very different from search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the actual execution of techniques on a Web page or a Web site to ensure that your Web site appears at the top of a Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, or Ask.com results list.

However, most implement this process haphazardly without the proper scrutiny of search analysis and competitive intelligence. Choosing the words that define your company, products, and Web site are not small decisions.

SEO should fall under search analytics strategy, but managers of a Web site must understand and appreciate that SEO is not search analytics. If an organization does outsource its search analytics, the Web professionals will want to go through a separate selection process from SEO vendors, who tend to underappreciate competitive intelligence.

How many ad agencies conduct competitive intelligence for their clients? A few provide those services, but that is rare. The same holds true for SEO and competitive intelligence. …