Competitive intelligence for free: a practical example

Competitive intelligence is an important element of any ideal analytical framework. While measuring and benchmarking your online performances is a must-do, your website is part of an ecosystem. It is not just about you and the customers but you, the customers and competitors! So it is important to understand how you are performing against the competition.

Competitive intelligence is also usually one of the most difficult or expensive data to obtain. For a long time, it has been mainly limited to the Northern American market or to specific industries. Until Google introduced services like Google Trends, or Google Insights for Search. Basic competitive intelligence for all and for free!

Avinash Kaushik wrote a very good serie of posts on these services – definitely recommended reading (see related resources at the end of this post). Here is a practical example I made – inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight.

Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight

No need to present the Toyota Prius, the “most-famous-best-selling” hybrid car in the world. The Prius has contributed a lot to Toyota brand image and popular success in a context where the “green” factor has become critical for a majority of car buyers(1). In 2009, Toyota launched the 3rd generation Prius. The Toyota Prius had no real contender until recently when Honda launched a new hybrid model, the Honda Insight – a Prius look-alike for few thousands Euro’s/dollars less. The fight has begun! (here’s where you insert the “Rocky” movie theme :-)) Will the Honda Insight put an end to Prius supremacy? What is the interest in the new Honda? Does it equal or surpass interest in the Toyota hybrid?

Understanding customer interest

Interest can be measured based on related search volume. And who is best placed to provide you with insight about search? Our good ol’ friend Google of course and in particular Google Insights for Search. It is really a great tool as you can easily get actionable data out of it and more important – some competitive intelligence. “Yes, you can!”

For my example, I will take the French market (I working in Europe and I am French speaking :-)) and I will compare following terms “toyota prius” and “honda insight”. Let’s start to look at the last 12 months. Here is what Google Insight for Search returned:

First, let’s have a look at the interest trends and see what we can learn from these:

  • Trends clearly shows the impact of key motor shows on customer interest: Paris Motor show in October (with the reveal of the Honda Insight), Detroit in January (with the reveal of Prius 3rd generation and official launch of the Insight) and Geneva in March. Clear peaks are visible at these times and one can see how the event influenced search activity.
  • The graph also shows that interest in the Honda model increased over time to get closer to the level of interest in the Toyota Prius. Good for Honda. Not that good for Toyota.
  • The other thing this graph can show us is the impact of advertising or media campaigns: in April, the Honda Insight curve jumped as major advertising campaign started in France for the launch of the new hybrid car. It even surpassed temporarily interest in the Toyota Prius before settling down.

So you see how you can use interest trends to compare your products against the competition but also to see the impacts of external factors like advertising campaigns, press & media coverage or events.

Now, you can drilldown to look into more details when exactly peaks occured by using smaller time range (last month, last 90 days…). For example, we can see a rising peak in May for the Prius – so let’s look at last month trends.See that peak that started around the 18th-19th? Is it a coincidence that it happened after the official launch of the new Prius in Japan and after the coverage of the news in the French media?

You get the idea and you see how it can be used to get insights from the interest trends. Want more? Want “actionable” insights? Good because there is more you can get from Google Insights for Search.

Finding out customer “carewords”

I will not spend time on the regional interest – up to you to see if it can be of any value for your business – and I will jump to the last section of the page: related terms & rising terms.

This section is fantastic as you can see most popular related terms used by your customers – not the one you may think they should use 🙂 The rising terms give you indications about “hot” terms and trends.

(Tip: Only the top 10 terms are displayed on the screen but you can get more if you download all figures and terms in CSV format. All you need is a Google account and to log in)

Looking at a wide time range (e.g. last 12 months) gives you a snapshot of the main trends. In the above results, we can see that new Prius is part of the rising terms with terms like “Prius 2009”, “Prius 3” and variants. Note also the presence of the “Honda Insight” in the rising terms. The presence of competitors in the list is an important information.

The great thing is that Google Insight for Search allows you to see the same list for the other terms. For “Honda Insight”, this is what we get:

Here we can see that people where also looking for prices and reviews (“essai” in French) on the new Honda hybrid. And here again, “Prius” related terms are among top related & rising terms – showing how these two models are competing each against the other.

What you should do with this information? Well, first thing is to check your search engine ranking forthese “customer” words and then use these as input for SEO and/or SEA (if you can not achieve a good organic ranking). Adapt your content and adword copytext so they include these terms! You can also check competitors ranking for their own terms to see if they do a better / worse job than you do and possibly use this info to convince your boss about the necessity of improving organic ranking and paid search investments.

I also advise here again to drilldown to smaller time period (last 3 months, last month) to detect specific recent hot trends for search terms. However the inconvenient is that you may not get enough search volume and the result list may be quite short if not empty.


Free competitive tools are often underutilized while they can sometimes provide insightful information, depending on context. It is not because they are free that it means you can not do anything valuable with it. The problem is that most the time, people ignore that such competitive information exists and is available.

The main inconvenient of Google Insights for search is that it is not always usable. It will provide information only if there are significant search volumes. Also the level of details will vary according to the market/region you look at.

But still it worth the try – you never know what you could learn or discover. And it is free so what are you waiting for?

What do you think? Did I make sense? And you, how do you use such tool? Or others you may suggest?

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