Benchmark your site
How do your analytics stack up to other sites that compete for a similar audience? Do your visitors stay longer, or view more pages than other media sites that get the same amount of traffic? If you know where you are underperforming against similar sites, you can build a rational plan to improve your site.
There are many ways to get at this kind of information; I'll talk about five we use.
Google Analytics Benchmarking (free)
If you're using Google Analytics, you can get some good benchmarking data for free. Benchmarking allows you to compare your site's visits, pageviews, pages per visit, bounce rate, average time on site, and new visits data against benchmark data from categories of other participating websites.
You can choose a category of sites to benchmark your site against, but you won't see data about specific sites, because it's anonymous & aggregated data. However, because all the data comes from other Google Analytics users, it's accurate and timely. Oh, and don't forget free.
This service is located under the "Visitors" section of Google Analytics. There is typically a two week lag time from when you agree to share data to when you start seeing benchmarking data.
Compete.com (freemium, paid subscription $199 to over $2,000/month)
Compete tracks and surveys a large (over 2 million) panel of US internet users. They have a proprietary methodology to aggregate, normalize and project the data to estimate US Internet activity. Compete estimates total traffic, rank and other statistics for the top 1,000,000 sites on the web for use by consumers. Want to see how you compare to several specific competitors? Compete can give you that.
We value Compete data for keyword research and to learn what sites are sending traffic to our competitors. It's also useful to see major shifts in traffic from other sites and trace those shifts back to actions taken. For example, last October, Editor and Publisher had a huge traffic spike, but their traffic declined year-over-year since December. What happened?
Quantcast is similar to Compete, but their difference is the "Quantified Publisher". Create a Quantcast account, drop a Quantcast script on your site pages, and Quantcast starts collecting data about your site. Why would you want to do this? Well, how about independent, 3rd-party demographics? That's a pretty good reason to participate in this free program. Here's an example of our current user demos:
Quantcast also offers a free media buying tool (Quantcast Media Program) that lets marketers or agencies find sites that meet their targeting needs. Quantcast's end game is to sell real-time audience segmentation to marketers. In the meantime, they offer a huge amount of value to publishers for free.
SEMrush (freemium, paid subscriptions $19.95 to $499.95/month)
SEMrush is a keyword research service that lets you see paid and organic keywords used to get to competitor websites. It's Google-centric.
Wordze is another keyword research service that uses metacrawler data to look at searches performed across the web. It includes very useful data about keywords beyond popularity, especially keyword effectiveness index (KEI) scores. Wordze is a monthly subscription product. Similar services include Wordtracker and KeywordDiscovery.
Other competitive analytics companies
Alexa, comScore, Hitwise and Nielsen Online all offer competitive analytics. This is a fast-changing space, and these are the pioneers. I've used Hitwise data before, and it's good stuff, but expensive. Before investing a lot of money in detailed competitive analytics, make sure you have the ability to use and act on the information you're getting.