Experienced marketers know their competitors inside and out, and they know that there is always somewhere to dig deeper. Let’s look at some of the more complex insights that your rivals’ website traffic metrics can reveal. Set your clock: we have got 30 minutes and 7 hidden points to discover.
The insights below were found with SEMrush Traffic Analytics. If you want to learn how to reveal specific website traffic metrics of your competitors, please refer to this article. Check this guide for more detailed online competitor analysis guidance.
Insight #1: Who is really leading the competition?
When planning a marketing campaign, you may be looking at your company’s main rival for insights and strategies, but are you looking at everything you should? If you only judge your competitors by brand awareness, estimated market share, or frequency of PR appearances, you may be missing the competitor who has the best reach and traffic.
A better strategy to find a legitimate digital benchmark is to check out the top five competitors that are neck and neck with you. Detect the one with the highest traffic volume in the last 12 months; note if they showed exponential or stable growth over the year and if they had any declines over the period. Whether it correlates with offline popularity or not, take this company’s website as a role model and build your campaigns with an understanding of their successful and failed activities.
Make sure to check the companies’ traffic sources and be aware of the one that drives the most direct traffic because it is a clear sign of their high brand awareness online. What can you learn from them?
Let's look at some example data:
HelloFresh certainly attracts the most direct traffic. Home Сhef, however, received almost as much referral traffic, which means they may be popular among a particular segment of the target audience (such as blog readers).
Here is how we researched traffic volume of grocery delivery services in the US. This way, using SEMrush Traffic Analytics, you can determine the leader in any other industry too.
When doing competitive research, you may want to concentrate on relative numbers, not the absolute, especially if you are looking for a benchmark for a particular traffic source.
The total number of website visitors may mean nothing compared to the volume of direct traffic, as it represents a loyal audience. Keep in mind, it is harder to win users who already visit your competitor's website directly than those that only visited their website once as a result of a referral or advertising campaign.
Insight #2: What hidden seasonal trends might you overlook?
There is always more than Christmas shopping and vacation periods to be aware of.
You may know all the industry peaks and declines in demand, but you still have to learn the seasonality that exists within companies. Sometimes it is the budget that remains at the end of a quarter and needs to be spent, so you see lots of paid traffic goes to the website on these last days. Other times, it could be a new head of marketing that has arrived with fresh ideas and made everyone turn to blogger relations.
Look at traffic sources in dynamics over the current and the previous years. For both, determine your main competitor’s peak month (by number of website visits). Then compare data and see if it is the same for other industry players, and guess the reasons for such an increase. Repeat the same procedure for the period of decline.
Whether it was caused by a universal trend or some internal peculiarities of your key competitor, you will be on the alert. More importantly, once you have learned how your competitors’ campaigns worked in a low season, you will be able to conclude whether enhanced promotion in this period will be a payoff or a waste.
Let’s continue with an example of grocery delivery services. Post-holidays January may seem like a no-good time for any business. However, below you will see that both HelloFresh and Home Chef managed to reach their yearly peak in this month. Is this because of promotion? Subscribe to your competitors’ newsletters and social accounts, so their special offers will not be a secret to you. We don't get to know the results of campaigns, and this is where knowledge of website traffic dynamics can help.
The graphs show that the majority of increased visits to both companies’ websites came from mobile traffic, while Traffic Sources show significant growth in numerous channels, both referrals and social networks. Search results, filtered by January 2019, showed that both HelloFresh and Home Chef promoted the same offer during this period: $80 off. QED: if traffic grows dramatically in the low season, there is a reason.
Insight #3: Do your competitors really hit the same target audience?
It is not a question of who they target — the most important thing is who they actually hit. To reveal this, study the audience overlap between your rivals. Once you have outlined the broader picture — for example, you see that your worst competitor has no more than 9% of audience overlap with most of the companies but shares some 20% with one — go on to research the website performance of the closest domain. Do they have a high percentage of audience share with you? Is there anything you could borrow from their marketing mix?
A Media Example:
Let's look at five popular tech-oriented online media sites as an example. If you look at their home pages, you may notice they are all alike, as the same news is posted around the platforms throughout the day. If you look at their actual audience overlap, though, you will see the difference in these magazines’ readership. You should then check the websites’ referrals and media placements.
If you get into a situation like this, depending on your goals, you may want to increase the number of placements in the media that you share with your competitor (if you are serious about getting their piece of pie) or try to avoid them in the future (to differentiate your audiences). But first of all, have a look at how we researched audience overlap for tech media and follow the example.
Insight #4: Does your competitor communicate with the target audience better than you do?
What the audience wants, a brand should provide on their website. If it doesn’t, users leave; it is that simple. So, compare the average visit duration and bounce rate that you observe for your competitors with yours.
We used the top US airlines as an example below and discovered that Delta Air Lines, without being the leader in traffic volume, can boast the best score of user engagement metrics.
What should you do if you researched the same metrics for your niche and discovered that a competitor beat you?
Check their traffic sources to reveal the channels and media platforms that attract such a well-targeted audience. Also, have a look at their subdomains (it may be the structure of the website that users find so appealing), and borrow a couple of content ideas.
Insight #5: Are the hottest channels worth the hype (and effort)?
Good old things don’t last long in marketing. Shiny new things can be even trickier. Before you redirect all your marketing budget to Instagram (or whatever has been in trend recently), check how specific traffic sources worked for your competitors, and detect gaps in their strategies.
You may discover that your rivals lack search traffic, so use updated SEO and content strategies to outrank them. You may see a lot of traffic from social or very little, but keep in mind that there fluctuations in traffic from social for several reasons. Compare current and past periods to determine how they function on different channels throughout the year.
There Is No One-size-fits-all Solution
What worked for someone else is great for insights, but duplication isn't the best solution. Every company is different, and experimentation is critical.
The top five fashion e-commerce websites exampled below reveal referrals are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Numerous visits brought in from partner media may end up with a high bounce rate (see Gap). At the same time, ubiquitous social media may bring highly engaged users to the webpage (see Uniqlo).
Insight #6: What is their estimated conversion?*
*For e-commerce websites and online-based companies only.
If users got to a webpage that was made for confirming a purchase or even entering their bank card number, they were likely to make a purchase. Check the percentage of visits to the payment Subdomains (starting with payment, gateway, secure, etc.) and percentage of visits to the payment services’ Destination Sites (such as Paypal.com). These won’t be exact numbers, but you will get some insights.
Here is what we discovered about Booking.com:
This is how we revealed these stats using SEMrush Traffic Analytics:
Insight #7: Is it desktop/mobile optimization that helps them?
You always want to examine how a site performs via desktop AND mobile. Make sure to go through all of the traffic-related metrics (such as traffic sources, geo-distribution, destination sites, and subdomains) separately for desktop and mobile. Note whatever differences you see. What are they doing well that you are not?
We took the example of Tiffany, whose website received 65% of its visits from mobile devices in the US in May 2019. Although the brand seems to enjoy omnipresent awareness among the target audience, direct visits (which, as you now know, are associated with brand awareness) account for less than a third of all traffic volume for both desktop and mobile. What does this say about their audience?
As the stats below reveal, Tiffany’s marketing strategy differs significantly from mobile to desktop. If you observe a similar picture around your main competitor, you may want to review your tactics for stationary and portable devices.
By simply switching from desktop to mobile in the Traffic Sources tab of SEMrush Traffic Analytics, you can discover how your competitors adapt their marketing strategies for different devices.