Hitwise Search Intelligence Tool: Data on Steroids

It’s been described as being “like nosing around in the competition’s trash…only it’s easier (and legal).” Hitwise’s Search Intelligence Tool 4.0 offers some important improvements over earlier versions. But all that functionality comes at a price.

First, let me give you a disclaimer on this review: I didn’t have a chance to use the tool myself, and its $50,000 to $60,000 yearly subscription fee (which can scale down if you want to have fewer people able to use it at your company, a smaller number of categories covered, etc.) is enough to make anyone pause. But if you’ve ever wondered what the ultimate SEO tool would look like, this can’t be too far off.

Fortunately, Hitwise provides a five-minute video on its web site that gives a very good description of Search Intelligence. It includes an audio element, so make sure your speakers are turned on. The video reminds you to do so before it starts, and gives you a button to click to start it once you turn them on. The video is both concise and comprehensive without being overproduced. I especially liked that it was divided into smaller pieces that covered each part of the product separately, which the user could click on if he or she wanted to jump around and look at certain specific features (it still played automatically in a specific order if you chose not to do this).

As Christine Churchill points out in her intensive review of the Search Intelligence Tool, it’s really a suite rather than a single tool. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In case you’re not familiar with the company, Hitwise has been around since 1997, providing a network-based approach to Internet measurement. Hitwise’s founders wanted to be able to report on more than just the top web sites and monitor the online behavior of more than a relatively small number of people; they knew that kind of information would be much more useful to marketers than what was available at the time.

According to its web site, Hitwise “captures the anonymous online usage, search, and conversion behavior of 25 million Internet users.” It offers a variety of products, and its data and releases are regularly quoted in the press when questions of Internet usage come up. And it’s no wonder; the company covers more than 800,000 businesses across over 160 different industries. With that kind of data set to draw from, you’d expect the Search Intelligence tool to deliver something special.

The video divides the suite’s tools into seven sections, though, as Christine Churchill notes, they “are well integrated and intuitively linked.” It all starts with a rankings tool that gives you an overview of the forest, so to speak. The tool lists the most popular sites in more than 160 industry categories, starting with a display of the top 20 sites and their share of the market for the most recent week. You can display the full list, which might show hundreds of sites.

Naturally this is not a static tool. You can use calendar drop-downs to change the date and time range covered. You can also build your own industry by clicking on check boxes next to sites and saving them in a custom category for analysis. It looks like a great way to keep track of a group of particular competitors.

The charting feature is great for making comparisons; most marketers will want to use it for comparing the traffic of two or more web sites (up to 10). You can compare them based on different metrics over a period of time long enough to pick out seasonal trends. You can also compare different keywords. Just put in the data and the tool displays a very clear chart with many points labeled. If you’re wondering why you’re seeing a certain spike in the chart, you can hover your mouse over the spike (as Churchill describes doing) and investigate events that can be tracked on the web that might have caused the spike (such as mentions in the press, product releases, etc.). You can even check into where the traffic came from by looking at the site’s clickstream for that time period. Some of this reminds me of a recent Google beta called Google Trends, which I reviewed some time ago for SEO Chat.

Speaking of clickstreams, the clickstream tool comes with enough possibilities to make your head spin. The idea is deceptively simple: it tells you where web traffic is coming from for a particular site or industry, and then where it goes after it leaves the site. Think about what this means though: finding out where people are coming from might help with choosing partners, and finding out where they’re going could give you a clue as to whether you’ve served their needs (hint: if you see a competitor looming high in this part of the clickstream data, you might need to rethink a few things).

As Churchill notes, “this is not information you can get from your own logs.” Another point worth keeping in mind is that the tool can show you clickstream data not just for your site, but for your competitor’s, so you can see where their traffic is coming from and going to as well. It can give you “an insightful peek into how competitors are getting traffic, where they are losing it, and how their flow patterns compare with yours,” explained Churchill.

If you’re concerned about the performance of your keywords, you’ll want to check out the search term intelligence tool. It shows you which keywords web surfers use when searching across different search engines, and what sites get traffic from which keywords. As for many of the tools in this suite, you can track a particular website (yours or a competitor’s) to see which keywords attract the most traffic to that site. Clicking a particular keyword will show you which sites receive traffic for those terms. You can also use this tool for keyword gap analysis (see what keywords your competitor is drawing traffic for that you aren’t), expanding your own keyword list with the search term suggestion tool, and examining the ubiquitous “long tail” of overlooked keywords that could lead to conversions.

The demographics and lifestyles tools let you see what kinds of web surfers visit thousands of sites. You get breakdowns based on gender, age, location, income, and more. Hitwise teamed with Claritas and Experian to bring you this information. Web site audiences are also divided by “lifestyle,” giving you a picture of what a web site’s audience does off line as well. Check out this information for you and your competitors, and you can see what kinds of people you’re reaching – and, importantly, what kinds of web surfers you aren’t reaching, which might represent untapped opportunities for your company.

The conversions tool provides custom reports that let you know how customers interact with particular portions of competitive web sites. These reports can tell you which tactics work best to for selling (converting) customers, such as making use of affiliates or particular keywords.

Finally, Hitwise Answers can guide you to seeing opportunities you might otherwise overlook. It prompts you with preset questions in particular areas and topics to consider what you can do to grow your business. The video explained that the questions are organized by particular marketing objectives: benchmarking, search marketing, affiliate marketing, advertising and content partnerships, and business development. One example question has you considering which web sites your competitor receives traffic from that you do not. The answer is shown on the next page of the tool. The suggestion here is that these are web sites you might want to consider for some kind of affiliate or partnership arrangement.

On the Hitwise blog, Heather Hopkins ran a series of three posts showing what kind of data you can discover with Search Intelligence 4.0 and highlighted new features in this version of the suite. “It is the ability to report the paid and organic split that is new,” she explained. “For each term, we can also see the rate at which consumers reached the site from a paid or organic link and rank the search terms sending visits to the site from either paid and organic traffic.”

She then took a look at the MoneySupermarket site. She determined easily that more than nine percent of the site’s traffic came from the search term “car insurance” and that more than 80 percent of the traffic arrived at the site as a result of clicking on a paid listing. This might be because MoneySupermarket appears at the top of second page or the bottom of the first page for organic results for “car insurance” in Google UK, but it consistently appears within the top four paid listings. This is a way to show that a paid search advertising campaign is paying off.

In the third part of Hopkins’ series covering the use of Search Intelligence 4.0, she showed that The Sun (a UK newspaper) received 20 percent of its traffic over a period of four weeks from paid listings. Compared to its competitors, that’s very high. By looking at the top 20 paid search terms sending traffic to The Sun over those four weeks, you can see that many of them were sports-, news-, or celebrity-related terms, like “steve irwin,” “football scores,” etc. What was the take-home lesson here? “It can take time to move up in the organic search results and paid listings can be an effective way for content owners (such as tabloids and broadsheets) to respond to current events and to appear among the top of the search engine results,” notes Hopkins.

This looks like an excellent suite of tools. As I noted at the beginning of this article, though, it is very expensive. Hitwise has a variety of other tools on its site, however, that may be less pricey. If you want the ultimate online marketing intelligence tool, however, and can afford to pay for it, this is the most feature-rich and easy to use suite that I’ve come across. 

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