6 tips for using Hitwise

Because I can, I am going to continue the theme of writing blog posts about things I’ve presented on recently. It kind of makes sense that I’ve gone to all the effort of putting together a power point presentation, so I might as well write a blog post about it as well – rather than wasting the effort. Anyway, this week we are going to touch on the subject of Hitwise (something I haven’t really covered before). So I suppose that I should really start by giving a brief synopses of what Hitwise is before I give you the big six tips on how to use it.

Often quoted on the web as a reliable source of data (partly because of their very good Analyst’s blogs), rarely do we see posts talking about the best way to use Hitwise. This is partly because they have an intrepid support team who go around the world telling you how to use it. The only downside being that they usually don’t work in a business that needs to use it. So here is the spiel:

Hitwise has developed proprietary software that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use to analyze website usage logs created on their network. The anonymous data sent to Hitwise from the ISPs include a range of industry standard metrics relating to the viewing of websites including page requests, visits and average visit length.

Basically they take a bunch of data from ISPs and transform it in the way that a Web Analytics tool would. How does this differ from other competitor intelligence? Well Alexa, Nielsen, etc rely on you to download a toolbar to sit on your computer and then extrapolate the data – so you are only taking a small sample of people who know that have actively downloaded. Hitwise takes a large sample (up to a third of the UK population) so doesn’t need to do any extrapolation.
Needless to say – Avinash has written about this before (a long time ago). What’s more, I’m not even going to delve into the extras of the demographic or lifestyle information (which tends to be a nice to have, rather than a method for creating business decisions). What I am going to do is start with where everyone who uses Hitwise starts:

1. Use Hitwise to compare your traffic volume to your peers/competitors

It’s all well and good going to your boss/CEO/whoever and telling them that you have an extra 25% visits/sales/sign ups this month. However if you go to your boss/CEO/whoever and tell them that you have an extra 25% traffic this month and your competitors have had a smaller increase, then you are putting some proper comparison in place. Hitwise allows you to use their traditional industry sectors or to create your own list of competitors/peers that you want to be compared against. It is important not to do this once and forget about it. You need to trend this over time to show how your traffic increases compare to your online industries (remember to look at market share and not rankings – rankings can be misleading if one site is way in front of another).

2. Use the Clickstream report to find out where your traffic comes from/goes to
Web Analytics tools will tell you when someone clicks on a link to your site. It’s called the referrer. Hitwise will tell you the site that people were on immediately before coming to yours, whether they clicked on a link or typed your name into the address bar. This is important because it will tell you what your competitors are. The sites that you think are competitors rarely are – look at what your users think. They use your competitors. No really, they do. They also use your affiliates, your sites that may include brand marketing of yours or all sorts of things. This report will tell you the sort of mind frame a user was in when they came to your site. Track it over time – if you are trying to get the same traffic as a competitor through advertising (on or offline) look to see how the traffic coming from them changes over time. Now look at your downstream traffic. No web analytics tool can tell you where your users go afterwards.

3. Use the Clickstream report to find out where your competitors/peers traffic comes from/goes to
Wow – this is the first bit of real competitor intelligence that we’ve done. You can find out where the traffic to your competitor’s website comes from. Look at it. Do you want that traffic? Does the source of traffic you thought was giving that website a real advantage only provide minimal amounts? Does an affiliate of theirs appear high? What websites can you steal from them? Are you a major downstream of their site? If not – who is and can you get their traffic as well? So many questions on this one I don’t even know where to start. Actually I’d probably start approaching their highest ranking upstream site and see if you can get a sponsorship deal with them.

4. Find competitors/peers search terms

Do you know your own search terms? Of course you do, you’ve spent ages analysing that long tail over and over again to see what niche terms you can add to the list. But you’re still worried that competitor.com appears higher than you in the rankings for the search term ‘crazy blue widgets’ and that is all you sell. Well why not look at the search terms that drive traffic to them and you might discover that, hey, you are below them, but they don’t get much traffic from that term. They get it all from ‘foolish blue widgets’. You don’t even have that term on your site. Lets put it on the site and get in on some foolish blue widget action. In fact, why not go the whole hog and bring up a list of terms (using Hitwise answers) that they get traffic for and you don’t. You could use them all (or all that are relevant).

5. Find search phrases around search terms

This is important. You’ve optimised your site for your key search terms. They are driving in traffic. But your competitor websites are still doing better than you. It’s probably because they’ve farmed the long tail. Have a look at the keywords section where you can type in a term and it will come up with all the phrases that include that term and get volumes of traffic. Look at how much traffic the term gets compared to the tail. Get some of those search phrases in your website. Make them become relevant. Tailor your site, to what users are searching for. This isn’t spamming – this is making your site more relevant to more users. So you’ve find the search term – check to see how much of the traffic you get from it. If it is a large proportion, you may want to focus on other search terms. Which sites are doing well for these terms? Why are they doing well? Find them and see what they’ve done.

6. Find what your competitors/peers are bidding on

Use the search facility in Hitwise to show you what search terms your competitors are bidding on. This is important if you are about to start bidding on terms yourself, you need a list of what all the other sites are bidding on so that you don’t just start a bidding war. Choose your terms wisely – those nobody is bidding on will be cheap. Those that your competitors are bidding on may convert well. They may even be terms that you have the organic listings sown up in, but that you want to ensure you have the whole keyword space. Most importantly though, don’t get bogged down by this – they are probably bidding on them, because they haven’t worked out how to optimise their site for those terms.

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