How much do you really know about your competitors? Many of our clients have a clear idea of who their major competitors are when it comes to online marketing… but are they right?
Are you right about your competitors?
Firelink is a new website ranking tool. It purports to analyze the rankings of your site and those of competitors for multiple keywords and multiple search engines in multiple locations, thus bystepping the search personalization that keeps you from getting accurate results just from Googling. You can specify search engines and locations, so if you want to know how you’re doing on Australian Google, you can check.
You may have heard that Google will ban you for using ranking tools, and that’s true. Firelink says that it does its job so cleverly that Google can’t tell who’s searching or what you’re searching for.
There are a couple of big questions about this or any ranking tool in 2014, but first, let’s have a look at Firelink in use.
It’s very easy to try it out. They offer a free trial, and configuring for your site is a simple matter of typing in your web address, the web addresses of some competitors, and some keywords you’d like to rank for. Firelink makes suggestions for you, in case you haven’t thought about this before.
We tried it out with our lab site, FreshPlans. We accepted Firelink’s suggestions for keywords and competitors, and after a short spell of cogitation, Firelink gave us the results.
First, we see the overall visibility for the set of keywords in question (fairy tale lesson plans, mostly):
FreshPlans is clearly hot stuff for this topic. Now we see the rankings for the keywords we chose (click to see it larger):
Firelink shows aggregate results for keyword groups, which we didn’t set up, and history, which we don’t have since we just put in the information. Moving ahead to competitors, we can see where our site shows up in comparison with our competitors:
Green numbers show us where our competitors have stolen a march on us, and red ones show where they’re only nipping at our heels — or far below us. Click on the picture and you can see it larger, but I’ll tell you that TeacherVision snuck ahead of us for Rapunzel and Scholastic is beating us on Chicken Little.
Finally, we can see the performance of specific pages:
Now for the big questions.
Is this accurate information? If so, of course it could be handy. We can use Webmaster Tools to see where Bing or Google or Yahoo is showing our own websites, but we can’t get that information for our competitors.
I checked these averages against Webmaster Tools for FreshPlans. They did not match. Not even close, in some cases. Webmaster Tools show where, on average, your website was ranked when it was shown to searchers on a given day or over time. They don’t show an underlying ranking, and of course they show nothing at all if, on that day, they didn’t show your page to anyone for the keyword in question. It is therefore conceivable that Firelink is showing some higher truth — but I still think Google and Bing have the most accurate information for their own data.
Even more important, what relationship does this have to what your customers are seeing? Not much, probably. Different people see different things and where your website shows up on the SERPs for a potential customers is affected by many different factors.
Okay, so Firelink doesn’t really show you secret information about your competitors. Does it still have some value for marketing purposes?
Maybe. I won’t show you the results we got when we tried it for our business and our clients, but I will list some of the things we noticed:
- A company we had never heard of was showing up near us for an important keyword.
- A client was apparently in a far stronger position than we had realized for some of the keywords we’ve worked on for them.
- Another client had apparently misjudged who their strongest competitors were — it’s not the one they obsess about at all.
Given the uncertain accuracy of the data provided, these insights may not be that useful. On the other hand, we had previously been going on… well, less information than that.
After all, if you’re primarily interested in comparative data or changes over time, Firelink is probably inaccurate for your site and your competitors’ sites in much the same ways and to the same degree. If Firelink suggests a strong competitor, you can check out their website and see what you can learn from them — and that’s always useful.
Give it a try and see what you think.