Hitwise is a very successful company. They are one of many companies that provide web competitor information. You can find out market and traffic share and break it down into market channels, amongst other filters. However, I think that most of the information isn’t of any actionable use. At all.

I haven’t been in a company where any decisions were made on the basis of Hitwise type business information (HTBs). The information is interesting, but I don’t believe it is actionable. If you are taking actions on it, I believe you’re focusing on the wrong things.

I think this speaks to a wider strategic point. When you’re focusing on your competitors, you’re looking behind you rather than in front. Who cares whether you have 25% or 30% market share. Knowing in a wider way if you have 1% or 75% is important. But, the week to week, and month to month, tracking that goes on is a waste of time.

To take a granular example, when you try to work out certain things like if a competitor has more paid search visibility than you on a particular brand, it is a waste of allocation. Don’t analyse, test the concept, not the competitor comparison. Maybe they’re mistaken as well. No matter the results of the analysis, will it provide a definitive enough answer to impact your strategy? No.

Never mind the applicability, the accuracy of the metrics that are used is questionable. There is a difference between whether the information is accurately calculated, and whether it is accurate for you to use it. Competitors are always in slightly different markets. Perhaps one sells to more women than men, or sells more of one type of product. It is very rare to find a perfect match. Therefore, even when you have the information, someone can always say “yes, but that is because women are buying more at the moment” or “X is very popular right now, in 3 months Y will be more popular”. If the information can be reasonably argued with, what is the point? How are you in a better place than before when you didn’t have the information?

Knowing your competitor’s pricing is different, especially in a commodity environment. However, companies often look at this the wrong way around. You shouldn’t be setting your price based on your competitor’s prices. Minimise your costs and maximise your revenue according to what you think they should be. Then check against the market to see if you’re going wrong somewhere. Too often the converse happens and again this takes focus from where it should be – on the road ahead, not in your rear view mirror.

Outside pricing, I think the only competitor information you need is in the quarterly financial statements each company releases. They provide a cross-check on whether you are performing or not. Instead, use the brains you have within the company to work out what you should be doing. If you are reacting to the moves of other companies, you are behind by its very definition.

Employees need to understand the industry and their roles. They should be independently researching and putting what they do in the context of that learning and their day to day decision making should be informed by it. However, it should not be defined by it. Nor should strategy be set according to it. Industry learning should be put alongside book learning and world news when informing strategy. Not as a pre-eminent section on its own.

I’d recommend you cancel your subscription to HTBs and reallocate your resources, and money, away from a competitor focus. There are many more useful places it can go, but spending it on industry knowledge resources, and backing it with suitable initiatives to make it part of an employee’s work life, would be a good place to start.