Curious how your site is doing relative to your competitors, and looking for benchmark metrics to improve upon? Here's a roundup of free (and freemium) tools that can help you track traffic, SEO, social sentiment, business ratings and site speed performance.
Google Analytics offers an opt-in benchmarking service where you can see how other opted-in sites of similar size and topic area perform in terms of traffic and bounce rates. This can answer the common question "is our bounce rate too high" relative to birds-of-a-feather, but the data quality depends on how many sites have opted-in, and how good Google is at determining which sites fall in your industry.
Personally, I prefer Coremetrics benchmark data. Though the data is only collected from Coremetrics customers (and may be a smaller sample than Google), it's free to access even if you're not a customer. (You must opt-in to share your data in order to view Google's benchmarks).
Coremetrics also offers you more information, including average order value, conversion rate and items per sale. The reports are updated each quarter and can be downloaded from their US website and the UK website.
Compete.com and Google Trends
Compete.com's free version is much like Google Trends for Websites - reporting traffic "trends" for multiple sites.
These are quick and easy tools to gauge your volume and popularity against competitors, but also useful for media buying. Some sites boast "X visitors per month" when really they had a peak one month which does not represent current traffic. I also like to compare seasonality. If others in the industry all rose or fell during the quarter, it's less of a concern for the business owner.
The paid version of Compete is pretty killer, you can see data on traffic sources, demographics, traffic loss/gain, paid search and keyword referrals if you're serious about CI (competitive intelligence). Wouldn't it be helpful to know if conversion and traffic was falling across the board because of the economy, seasonality or world events?
I've used a lot of backlink checking tools in my day, but Open Site Explorer takes the cake. Rather than pull data through search engine APIs, SEOmoz has built its own web crawlers, indexed the web themselves and developed their own "MozRank" system of judging a site's authority. Open Site Explorer allows you access to their data to see not just backlinks, but their follow / nofollow / 301 status. You can also see backlinks ranked by authority (MozRank), so you get the "best" data first). You can also compare sites side-by-side to see who has the more valuable links.
Why should you care about backlinks? Knowing the high authority sites that link to your competition shows you who to target first with your own link building campaign. Many of the top links are blogs and news sites, so work with your PR team to acquire your own exposure and links.
For serious SEO, paying customers can run unlimited reports, see up to 1000 backlinks and more metrics than the freebies (as well as access to the other goodies the Mozeratti have built).
Using natural language processing, sentiment apps can scour the 'Net and social networks for mentions of any keyword (e.g. your brand) and spit out a rating or percentage of positive, neutral and negative comments. While it's not foolproof (misunderstanding "not bad" as "bad" for example), it does help you and your social media team identify potentially negative situations that could be rectified by reaching out to the user.
There are many sentiment apps, but here are my top 3:
I find this app doesn't always "get it right," but it allows you to correct boo-boos and re-classify comments as positive, neutral or negative manually and update your score. (As you can see, some are marked "negative" which are really "neutral").
You can also save searches for later, and scope searches between a certain time frame.
Don't limit yourself to just Twitter, search anything with Socialmention - video, microblogs, blogs, news, Q&A and more. It also provides more data and export tools than Twittersentiment.
Aside from the fact you'll never remember how to spell this domain, this tool has the nicest UI. This is nice if you're only interested in one type of sentiment. But it lacks the features of the other two - it's Twitter-only, and you can't "correct" mentions or export data.
Though there's not much you can do to benchmark or "improve" sentiment - you can have the best quality service and product but there will alway sbe someone to complain - gathering feedback helps point out areas of your business to improve, and identify opportunities to satisfy an unhappy customer.
Did you Google Product Search aggregates business ratings from review sites like BizRate, ePinions and Yahoo? Well, now you know. Check out your site by heading to Google Products and searching the following, replacing "google.com" with your domain.
I love how it breaks down to areas of your business like shipping, customer service and ordering process. Use this qualitative data in addition to customer surveys.
By now we know that page load speed is critical to conversion, customer satisfaction and even search engine rankings. But how you doin'?
Take the free WebPageTest tool for a drive and you'll get, among other things, a waterfall view of your page object load speeds and a page optimization checklist.
Test by location and browser version (IE7 or IE8). This is important as the farther away a user is from your servers, the slower the page load (this can be improved with site optimization tools). One request to WebPageTest, don't forget us Macs! UPDATE - WebPageTest.org now supports testing for Chrome.
Looking for help with your ecommerce strategy and site optimization? The Elastic Path research and consulting division is available to enterprises selling digital goods and services. For more information, visit us at http://elasticpath.com/ecommerce-consulting/ or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.