“Ask an Expert” is an occasional feature where we ask ecommerce experts questions from online merchants. For this installment, we address a question about tracking website trends, cost comparisons, competitors products and inventory.
The question comes from Jeffrey A. Oster, owner of MyFootShop, a Granville, Ohio-based online pharmacy for foot and ankle care products.
For the answer, we turn to Michael Stearns. He is CEO of HEROweb Marketing and Design as well as MightyMerchant, an ecommerce platform and shopping cart provider. Stearns is also a longtime contributor to Practical eCommerce.
If you’d like to submit a question, email Matt Ferner, contributing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll attempt to address it.
Jeffrey Oster: “I've been trying to pull together an Excel based tool that would enable me to track the product pages that we have on our site. I'd like to track search-engine-results page (SERP) trending, cost comparisons of my products versus my competitors, amount of that particular product sold per month, etc. But then I realized that I'm trying to recreate the wheel.”
Michael Stearns: “It sounds like you are looking for a data intelligence tool that aggregates information from a range of data sources, pulls it into Excel, and gives you actionable intelligence about specific products in your product line. I don't believe you would be reinventing the wheel to create such a tool, but you would be pulling together several wheels and building your own custom chassis on top of it.
“Many of the top analysis tools are web-based and provide an ability to export data in a format that can be easily pulled into Excel. In a certain sense, the heart of your question has to do with what data sources are available and whether the companies that control these data sources, like Google, make the data available for other developers to access and pull into a central management tool.
“I am going to throw out one acronym: API, which means Application Programming Interface. An API is the set of instructions that a service provider like Google publishes to allow others to access their data. At some level, your quest for getting data from the main data sources on the Internet relies on determining which of the main providers has a published API and whether other vendors out there have developed tools to access data or whether you have the expertise to do this yourself (which I realize is not what you are looking to do, but might be of interest to others).
“Here are a few specific tools that provide meaningful ecommerce-related data:
“For specific keyword tracking, Raven Tools is an excellent platform. There are many others out there: SEOMoz also has a range of excellent tracking tools and Wordtracker provides a wealth of keyword data.
“For competitive link intelligence, the tools I just mentioned have top-notch capabilities. A vendor like Raven partners with Majestic SEO to obtain rich link data. You can also use a free tool like Open Site Explorer or Yahoo! Site Explorer to mine link data and export to a CSV file.
“Google has its own selection of tools for site owners:
“As most people know, Google Analytics is indispensable, although not entirely accurate, for looking at traffic and sales data. Google Analytics has a rich API, and there are several excel-based tools on the market where you can connect Excel with your Analytics account.
“Google Trends and Google AdWords Traffic Estimator can provide general data on consumer behavior related to specific products. And Google Webmaster Tools provides critical data related to how Google sees your site.
“On the pay-per-click advertising front, SpyFu provides competitive analysis of what your competitors are bidding on AdWords. This information can be very useful.
“At the core of your question, it sounds like you want to track and analyze product price and sales data for your competitors. I don't believe that you will be able to get at your competitors' sales data. Google has access to a wealth of sales data for all their Analytics and AdWords customers, but this is not data that is publicly available.
“Pulling in pricing information for products is more attainable as it is freely available on the various comparison shopping engines out there, like Google Product Search, Nextag, Shopping.com, and Shopzilla. Several of the shopping engines provide APIs. I am not aware of vendors that are providing a product/service that packages data for individual merchants, such as yourself, to do their competitive research. Perhaps a vendor will chime in with a pointer to its solution.
“In summary, there is a wealth of information available and several powerful tools that you can utilize at a relatively low cost. The final step of creating an Excel "mashup" with all your data tuned in the way you are looking for could take some custom work to finish off the project.”