Competitive intelligence is one highly underestimated aspect of web analytics reporting. It really needs to accompany actionable insights in your web analytics reports.
Without competitive intelligence, your company's stakeholders won't know whether trends reported are good, bad, or really bad. Don't stop at just one source of competitive intelligence, such as competitive intelligence for social media. Consider at least a handful, and up to 8 different types!
How to Apply Competitive Intelligence From Panel Data
Using panel data isn't without its shortcomings, but companies such as Nielsen and comScore have come a long way to counteract problems in extrapolating smaller sample sizes in online behavior to larger populations across the worldwide web.
Even for higher-trafficked websites, competitive intelligence from panel data doesn't always match "real-deal" analytics metrics. To their credit, though, the data often does trend similarly.
Therefore, try to avoid inserting panel data points into any visualizations like graphs, but feel free to enrich observations to convince others of important competitive differentiators.
Example: "Despite a third straight month of lower unique visitors, according to comScore, October's declines lead market losses by a significant amount."
Translation: Don't fire the marketing guy yet. We suck, but aren't the worst.
How to Apply Competitive Intelligence From ISP Data
Sure, you can choose to only focus on the 30,000 foot view of your website's metrics, comparing page views, unique visitors, or funky calculated indices in an effort to gauge overall success or opportunities for growth, but the power of ISP data comes from determining how traffic to websites differ.
Slice and dice segments, such as visitors originating from organic or paid search marketing and even referral traffic (great for link building analysis). Use ISP data to support general statements and cut off inevitable "why" questions.
Example: "Traffic to our customer help portal increased significantly after the addition of several articles that covered iPhone 4 frequently asked questions. This month's analysis from Hitwise indicates Competitor 3 no longer captures the majority of organic search traffic for several phrases."
Translation: We really missed the boat on including content regarding the iPhone 4 so people went to a competitor's site instead. But now we have the missing content and people like us again.
How to Apply Competitive Intelligence From Search Engine Data
While ISP data is good, search engine data is awesome, mainly because most of their tools are free (or "provided at no cost to users").
One such tool that consistently blows my socks off is Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), which isn't really a competitive intelligence tool at all, but data available in reports from GWT can easily be paired with insights from Google Trends for Websites, Google Adwords Keyword Tool, and Google/DoubleClick Ad Planner.
Example: "Increases to search terms such on our websites can be explained by data available through Google Webmaster Tools, which indicates that several pages historically ranking on the second and third page of Google Search now dominate the first page."
Translation: A trending topic sent us a lot of great new traffic.
Although this column only covered three sources of competitive intelligence, it's easy to apply several different types to any given report your organization uses to prioritize actionable insights and identify different areas of opportunity.
Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone of simply reporting the numbers and coming up with ideas in a vacuum of competitive intelligence.