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RSS As Competitive Analysis Tool

By on October 9, 2006

I posted a blog article this morning on our partner internet marketing blog (Small Business 2.0) titled “Understanding RSS:  A Quick Guide For The Insanely Busy Executive”.  I’m guessing that most of the readers already know what RSS is and are using it daily anyways, so the article will likely not be of that much interest to you.  On the other hand, if you’re not using RSS, go read that article first, because I’m not going to be able to sell you on the concepts of this article if you’re not already using RSS.

So, let’s now assume you’re already using RSS.  Chances are, you subscribe to a blog here and there, a news site here and there and perhaps even a social news site like digg or reddit.  That’s great.  I don’t need to sell you on the utility of RSS for this kind of “keeping up with the news”.

But, RSS doesn’t need to stop with tracking the latest news (both personal and business).  It can also be used as a way to track what is going on with your competitors.

For example, let’s say for whatever reason you were competing with my current startup HubSpot.  Here’s what I would do if I were you:
  1. Make sure to subscribe to the RSS feed for the HubSpot blog.  This one is obvious.  If I’m a direct competitor, you’d want to know every time something new was posted.  You should also track the comments on the blog entries to see what kinds of things are resonating with our target market.

Note:  It is entire possible that your competitor doesn’t have an RSS feed (or doesn’t even have a blog).  If I wanted to be controversial, I’d say that you don’t need to worry about these types of competitors because if they haven’t figured out yet the efficiency of online marketing, they likely won’t be successful anyways.  But, I don’t want to be controversial, so I won’t say that.
  1. Subscribe to a Google search RSS feed.  Basically, this is the equivalent of doing a regular Google search on a specific search term and getting an RSS feed for the results.  You can add a feed URL like this:  (Note:  I’m using the sample search term “startup hiring” on the off-chance that you actually are a competitor.  Don’t want to make things overly easy for you).

  1. Figure out who else is writing about the particular target market segment (other bloggers, analysts, community websites, etc.) and subscribe to their feeds.

So, what are your secret tips for tracking competitors (clearly, RSS is not enough)?  Or, are they so super-secret that you can’t share them?

On a related note, stay tuned tomorrow for a more lengthy (and substantive) article on the issue of competition. 
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The Most Important Feature Missing In The Google Search API

By on October 5, 2006

At my startup, HubSpot, we have been working with the Google Search API to implement some of the features we think would help our customers.

The Search API is reasonably robust in that it supports the various features of the Google search engine (finding related links, approximating the number of results, etc.)

But, there is one critical feature that the brainiacs at Google either forgot to include (which is bad) or intentionally left out (which is really bad).

Outside of normal “search” type stuff, I think one of the most common reasons people would use the API is to answer one simple question:

Most common question:  For a particular search phrase, where does my site rank on Google?

The reason this question is common should not be surprising (most webmasters, bloggers and SEO consultants care about this issue).  It’s also difficult to answer this question via the regular search engine (without manually entering the search term, and paging through the results looking for a “match”.  There are web utilities out there (that let you enter your API key and run a query), but they’re just doing a brute-force iteration over the result set too.

Here are some thoughts on the topic:
  1. As it stands, there is no way to answer the above simple question without making repeated calls to the Search API (basically retrieving a page at a time and checking the results until a match is found).

  1. This is even more annoying because Google only allows you to retrieve 10 result items at a time.  So, to figure out if you are in the top 100 hits for a search phrase, you have to hit Google 10 times.

  1. This is made yet more annoying because Google limits the number of calls you can make to their API to 1,000 (with no clear way of increasing this limit – even by paying money).

  1. It seems (at least from my perspective), extremely easy to implement this feature.  All they would have to do is include a separate method call that took a search query and a site name as parameters and returned the position of the first “match”.  This way, I could figure out that when searching for “software startups”, that this site ( is the #5 hit.

Given how smart the Google folks are and how common this particular need likely is, I have only two theories about why they left this feature out:
  1. Google intentionally left this feature out for some “strategic” reason.

  1. Google doesn’t realize how important this missing feature is.

For the Google API experts out there:  Am I missing something simple?  Is there a work-around to this, or have I stumbled into something that is already widely known and has already been discussed to death?  If you have insight, please leave a comment.  All help is appreciated.
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