Hundreds (if not thousands) of other events are competing with yours for attention, especially online.  By incorporating competitive intelligence into your event’s online marketing strategy, you can get the insights you need to stay on top of your competitors while enhancing your own event marketing efforts.

For starters, there are a number of free tools that you can utilize to gather competitive intelligence and begin benchmarking your event’s online marketing effectiveness.  For example, Compete.com provides free information for every site on the Internet including site traffic history and competitive analytics.

Using Compete.com, I took a look at six months of unique website visitors for three of the largest fundraising events: March of Dimes’ March for Babies, American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training, Susan K. Komen’s 3-Day for the Cure, and JDRF’s Walk to Cure Diabetes.

Not sure where to get started? Here are Compete.com’s 5 steps to online marketing success using competitive intelligence:

1. Know the Competition: Define your competitive set, learn what “normal” really is for specific metrics, and know where you rank.

How can you win the game when you don’t know the playing field?.  Who are the leaders in your space?  Who are the copy cats?  Do any of your competitors do anything in particular that interests you?  How many competitors do you think you have? Creating a list of the competitors in your space and indentifying why each poses a competitive threat will be the foundation of your competitive strategy.  After identifying your competitive set, start to dig deep and realize where you stand for metrics that matter most.

Some competitive intelligence solutions will give you visibility into metrics for your competitors’ sites that are much like the ones you analyze using local web analytics tools.  Comparing all of your competitors against key performance indicators such as Unique Visitors, Page Views, Time on Site, Average Stay, and Pages per Visit will give you a sense of real norms for your competitive landscape.  This will allow you to make logical business decisions and maximize ROI.

Example: Your site may rank low in terms of unique visitors, but your average stay (users time on site) and pages per visit may be better than your largest competitor. Since your website is more engaging than your competitor’s site, it is safe to assume that your focus should be on driving new traffic to your site and not necessarily making on-site optimizations.

2. Cover Your Search Marketing Bases: Increase search traffic and campaign performance through analysis of your competitors’ search marketing trends and keywords.

Millions of internet users let search engines decide where they should go to find what they’re looking for. Clearly, it is imperative that you control everything in your power to maximize your website’s search exposure and drive relevant traffic.  Using your local web analytics tools, you can see what keywords are sending traffic to your site, how much of that traffic is paid vs. natural, and what percentage of traffic the individual search engines contribute to your site overall. 

Through optimization and testing of your paid search campaigns, SEO keyword research, and content creation, you can maximize conversions and increase search ROI.  However, optimization and testing are not guaranteed to provide beneficial results.  Competitive search analytics tools let you quickly gain insights into your competitors’ search strategy so you can capitalize on their success.  Much like you defined your competitive set in Step 1, it’s important to record and analyze search engine traffic, keywords, and performance for each one of your competitors. 

Competitive intelligence helps you grasp what search trends are related to seasonality and easily determine when your competitors make changes, like increasing/decreasing paid search spend or starting a new SEO campaign.  Some tools will even let you dig deeper and allow you to see what keywords are driving traffic to your competitors’ site through paid and/or natural search.  By regularly monitoring your competitive search landscape, you can easily find new keywords that are proven to drive performance, and also minimize the benefit your competitors’ are getting specific keywords or phrases.

EXAMPLE: If you are having trouble moving up the SERP (search engine results page) for a particular keyword, or it’s too expensive to bid in paid search, you can always perform a reverse keyword search (called a Keyword Destination Report using Compete PRO). This report allows you to identify websites that are getting the bulk of the traffic from these keywords. You can decide to seek advertising opportunities on those websites or learn from their SEO strategies to help you move up the ranks.

3. Copying is a Sign of Flattery: Identify what websites are sending your competitors traffic and get in on the action.

As the population continues to move everyday activities online, competition for web traffic will continue to grow.  Just like there are a few keywords that drive most of the traffic to your site (the head) and thousands of other keywords that drive a little (the long tail), traffic to websites works much in the same way.  There are millions of websites out there, however only a small percentage account for the bulk of traffic.  The relationships you forge with other online businesses can determine the fate of your marketing success.

By analyzing referral (upstream) and destination (downstream) traffic for your competitive set you can easily identify new affiliate websites, business relationships, and link-building opportunities.  If your competitors are receiving traffic from specific sites, it may be worth reaching out to those sites to see how your business can benefit.  Plus, you can vet potential websites you would like to advertise with and see who they are sending their traffic to.

Using your competitive intelligence tools, create a list of websites that send traffic to your competitors.  Exclude websites that you are already working with.  You can then determine which sites you want to reach out by analyzing how much traffic these websites receive.  At first, this may seem like a daunting task, however over time you will notice only a handful of new sites that pop up.  Analyzing traffic referral reports is a great way to generate new relationships and increase your online reach with minimal effort.

4. Fix Your Leaky Bucket: Retarget users that leave your site and capture lost conversions.

Your local web analytics tools will let you identify which websites are sending traffic to your site.  Based on page views, bounce rates, and conversion rates you can easily identify which websites deliver the most benefit.  Think of your website as a bucket.  Using various marketing tactics you can scoop up site visitors that may be interested in your products or services.  Then by creating conversion funnels, you attempt to lead your users to perform a specific action.  In an ideal situation, all of the users would stay in your bucket until they performed the desired action, however in reality, your bucket may be large and strong, but it will most certainly have leaks.

Using destination or downstream traffic tools, you can easily see where your users go when they leave your site.  Are they going directly to a competitor, a search engine, or back to their favorite social network?  Maybe they are searching for coupons on their favorite deal sites or conducting research before they decide to purchase your products or services.  Regularly perform a destination traffic report on your website and easily find opportunities to quickly patch the holes in your leaky bucket.

5. Stay on Top: Monitor, set benchmarks, and realize how your site enhancements and marketing strategies impact your competitors.

In order to stay on track and continue to grow your business, you need an online marketing strategy that can adjust to ever-changing economic, technological, and social environments.  Incorporating competitive intelligence into that marketing strategy can give you the critical information you need to minimize risk and ensure success.

Monitor your competitive set and use your competitive intelligence tools on a regular basis.  You will find much of the information you collect to be critical in making decisions about your overall marketing strategy.  Then, set benchmarks and monitor changes across your entire competitive set.  Only then will you realize the true impact your of your efforts.

Over time your online competition is only going to heat up.  Adding competitive intelligence to your day-to-day online marketing strategies will ultimately give you the upper

hand and allow you to accurately forecast recovery, growth, and success in 2010 and beyond.

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