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3 reasons why you can safely ignore your competitors’ traffic metrics
Competitive analysis can be helpful, but columnist Dianna Huff explains why it's important not to get too focused on your competitors' performance.
Website traffic is one of those metrics small business owners use to determine if their website is “working” — along with the number of inquiries, leads or sales they get from it. Traffic is also a metric that gets a lot of hype; you can find millions of articles explaining how to increase website traffic.
In addition to looking at your own traffic, you can use tools that tell you how much traffic your competitors are getting. When small business owners see this information, they get concerned because generally, the traffic numbers are sometimes very high — or at least higher than what they’re getting.
As one business owner said, when an agency presented competitor traffic data to him, “All I could think, when I saw the data, was, ‘They’re eating our lunch’ in terms of sales.”
As I explained to him, however, these tools don’t tell you the full story. They don’t tell you, for example, whether the traffic is the right kind of traffic or if the traffic is resulting in inquiries. And, they certainly don’t tell you if the business is meeting its sales and marketing KPIs.
Not all traffic is created equal
Back around 2003 or 2004, Nickelodeon, the TV network, created this ingenious marketing campaign for the animated show, “Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius” (which my then six-year old son watched faithfully).
The marketing campaign, which reached kids through the TV show, told them to look for special game codes on product packaging. These codes could then be used in the games featured on the show’s website. Then each week, players’ activities would be featured on the TV show.
I found this campaign, and my son’s active participation with it, so remarkable, I wrote an article about it for my newsletter and then posted the article to my website.
Although this was back in the day before social media, blogs and so on, traffic to my website skyrocketed within a couple of weeks. Why? That article was showing up in searches for “Jimmy Neutron game codes.” For a couple of months, I watched this traffic pour in — but ultimately, I made the decision to take the article down.
Why? This was back in the day before Google’s “Not Set / Not Provided,” so I could see exactly which search queries were driving traffic to my site. The search phrase “Jimmy Neutron game codes” didn’t exactly align with the keywords used by people looking for a B2B marketing consultant.
I can list lots of other examples like this, but I think you get the picture. High traffic doesn’t necessarily mean the right kind of traffic.
High traffic doesn’t always translate into inquiries
Last year, my company conducted a website and marketing audit for a small business owner concerned about the lack of inquiries. Traffic to the website was healthy — over 9,800 sessions a month — because the company was very diligent about creating content.
One of the problems, however, was that 65 percent of the traffic was due to blog posts, and of the hundreds of posts created over the years, four were responsible for 36 percent of overall traffic. While these posts were related to the service offerings of the business, they were also the type of “how to” post where a person could use the information without taking any further action with the company.
Hence, the content wasn’t helping with real inquiries — except the occasional newsletter subscription.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again with small business websites — and even with the Huff Industrial Marketing (my company) website, too. One year, for example, I wrote a blog post listing over 50 ways to drive traffic to a website. That post was picked up by numerous SEO practitioners and marketers, and over time, it became the number one traffic generator to the website — accounting for over 50 percent of traffic.
The problem, however, was it didn’t result in one inquiry, and all that non-targeted traffic was skewing the data in Analytics. We finally deleted it in early 2016, and at the same time, began creating content more in line with our client base. Yep, we took a huge hit initially, but it was the right decision. Traffic is up again — as are inquiries.
You have no idea what your competitors’ marketing strategy and business goals are
Because we provide marketing strategy for our small industrial manufacturing clients, we’re often privy to their business plans. These plans typically have a main objective: to grow the business to X number of dollars in five or seven years. To reach this objective, the plan will list various things the company will do: improve quality, enter a new market, introduce new products, replace antiquated equipment with automation and so on.
Thus, we base recommended marketing strategies on our clients’ business goals.
When you run reports using the tools available and then see your competitors and their (higher than yours) traffic numbers, what you’re viewing is data that is absolutely meaningless. Unless you have the company’s business and marketing strategy in front of you, you have no idea what the company’s KPIs or targets are, or if the traffic is meeting them or not.
And, since this data lacks context, basing your marketing strategy on it is a sure recipe for marketing disaster.
Viewing metrics about your competitors’ website traffic shouldn’t be used as an indicator for deciding how to proceed with your marketing strategy. One, you have no idea if this traffic is “working” or not; two, you don’t know the reasons why the traffic might be higher than yours; and three, the traffic number itself is meaningless because it’s taken out of context.
Instead of focusing on your competitors and their traffic numbers, focus instead on your marketing. Rigorously track and measure your marketing tactics to determine what works — that is, which tactics result in inquiries that become sales — and then let go of the stuff that doesn’t work (even if everyone else is doing it). You’ll be much happier, and you’ll look really smart, too.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.