by Jon Ostler founder of First Rate

WE ALL know that search engine optimisation and search engine advertising are fantastic marketing tactics but search has a lot more to offer the marketer than just targeted traffic.

Every second of every day search engines are gathering huge volumes of data about business and consumers. It is in fact the world’s largest and most up to date market research initiative. So search engine data can be used for market research and competitor analysis; you just need to know how to access and interpret it. In this article I will examine just a few of these techniques.

There are a number of sources typically used to estimate the popularity of specific search phrases and over the years these have become quite powerful. By finding all the phrases that represent a product, service, or industry it is possible to estimate the demand for these and therefore estimate your online traffic and revenues before you even develop your site. The best two tools are and Google’s Traffic Estimator. Using these tools you can get some quite accurate market size and traffic estimates and can even narrow it down to countries or cities using Google’s filters.

As well as telling you the demand, these tools can also be used to estimate the number of Web sites that contain specific content (products or services) as well as how much the competition is willing to pay per click for specific phrases. Estimating the levels of competition is a vital part of any business planning process.

One example that used some of these techniques that springs to mind was a client that came to us four or five years ago and said, “I’m going to launch a Web site but I want you to tell me what it is going to sell!” We researched the most popular phrases where low levels of competition existed and found that ringtones represented a huge opportunity. The site marketing was restricted to search engine optimisation and as a result it received 1.5 million visits in its first year.

One other example of where search data can assist in deciding what a site should offer is to analyze the way in which consumers use search to research specific products or services. One good example was a consumer electronics store that had a fairly traditional e-commerce offering but wanted to do more gaming sales. A quick bit of research showed that more people searched for PlayStation cheats and walk-throughs than searched for the PlayStation games themselves. Apart from the obvious optimisation opportunities, it also shows that a site that supported its customers post sale by offering assistance using the product was likely to be able to make repeat sales and extend its marketing database. has recently released a number of search research tools allowing new levels of analysis including increased competitor analysis opportunities. Hitwise captures its data at the ISP level and therefore has data across all search engines and all sites.

One of the tools that I find invaluable when I start to research a client’s marketplace is the Search Term Analysis tool. Simply enter a phrase and it shows you the most popular sites for that phrase and even what percentage of the traffic generated by that phrase goes to each site.

For this article, I decided to do a bit of research to illustrate some of the techniques above and the results were quite interesting…

The most popular search phrase over the last two months (source: has been “Paris Hilton.” This name generates thousands of clicks per day for any site lucky enough to rank. But where is this traffic going?

  • 230,000 searches per day across all search engines (source: wordtracker)
  • 25,000 clicks per day from all search engines (source: Adwords uses First Rate formula)
  • 4.2 million Web pages contain the phrase “Paris Hilton” (source: Google)
  • 18% of the traffic generated goes to (source: Hitwise)
  • 9.7% goes to (source: Hitwise)

Liquid Generation interested me as it only ranks fourth, but easily outperformed IMDB who holds the No. 1 slot. It did not take me long to work out why: the listing title is “Paris Hilton Sex Tape.” Although I’m probably too old to be a member of the “Liquid Generation,” in the name of research I felt I had to investigate further. If you are not a member of the “Liquid Generation” either, I suggest sticking with the IMBD link.