Understanding your online marketplace

Understanding your online marketplace

Understanding your online marketplace is crucial for success and future planning. This article will primarily be focussing on an e-commerce website, however, any online marketing activities should be supported with an online marketplace report.

Understanding your or your clients’ online marketplace is all about getting a grasp on what your marketplace is doing, who your customers are, your competitors, influences and potential partners. Now your client/executive may already think they know this, but in my experience any insights your client/executive provides are usually based on opinions and not data.

So let’s jump into how you’re going to achieve each of these.

Your Customers

Everything is about your customers; you need to know their gender, age, characteristics and behaviours. If you already have an e-commerce website ticking along, the best way to do this is by using the data available to you. If you don’t have the data there are alternative methods which I will cover a little later.

Use data and pivot tables

It’s time to put the all the data you or your client has ever collected to work. Collate all the data you possibly can about each of the customers and transactions into a spreadsheet. This might be as simple as hitting export in the backend of the e-commerce site or it might be spread over several SQL tables stored on your web server which you may need your developers to export for you, but it’s definitely worth it.

Pull every single detail that is collected about each customer: their registration date, last visit, age, gender, state, country, sizing details, carts, average cart, purchases, date/time of last purchase and get it all into a spreadsheet, I use Google docs, however if there is a lot of data Google may run out of memory in which case you should switch to excel.

Now this is done, it’s time to create a pivot table. A pivot table allows you to sort, count, total, average and summarise data. Make sure you have a hypothesis of what you want to find out and expect to see, this way you’re only looking for trends and not coincidences.

Let’s jump into an example;
Say you want to find out the gender and age of your biggest audience. You have both an age column and gender column in your spreadsheet.

Firstly, let’s clean up the data; to get much cleaner results we first need to create age ranges. For example: under 18, 18-25, 26-33, etc. To do this we need to create a vlookup formula in your spreadsheet. So create a new column next to your age column, then create a new sheet.

You can download my sample spreadsheet here.

In column A of the second spreadsheet run the numbers through 1 to 100, in the cell beside them define your age ranges. You may want to also define a blank or NULL field incase any ages are missing.

Now go back to your first sheet, and the newly created column next to age define your vlookup formula. A vlookup is written like this

VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num ,range_lookup)

which in english translates to
VLOOKUP(find this value, in that table, return the value in column x of the table, but only return a result if you can match the value exactly)

Again to make this easier you can download my sample spreadsheet here.

So our vlookup will look like this, using the $ to stop the values moving when I use the drag function.


Drag the formula down the column to replicate into every cell. Now each age will be defined into a target range.

Now create a pivot table report, in Google docs it’s data > pivot table report

When creating a pivot table you need to select your rows, columns and values. For finding out the age and gender of our audience let’s select age range for the rows, gender for the columns and age range again for the values and summarise by ‘COUNTA

Which will give you a table like this:

Highlight, the data and leave out the grand total and hit chart.

Obviously you can produce a range of different graphs, and correlate many different sets of data. Just experiment with different hypotheses and the data that might support that.

Of course, a graph is not good enough by itself, so write a paragraph or two of analysis around it and what it means for the business.

You can download my sample spreadsheet here.

Side tip

You can save your Google charts in vector format. To do it, open your spreadsheet in Google Chrome, go to view > developer > developer tools, hit the magnifying glass at the bottom of the browser and click on the graph. Scroll through the code and look for <svg and right click on it and edit as html. Copy all that text and place it into a text document. Save as with the file extension .svg . Open it in illustrator and there you have it – a vector graph.

Got Facebook?

This is really an easy one, but use your Facebook data. If you have actively been doing Facebook marketing, use the insights available to you to categorise their customers.

Insights > Likes you will be able to see a breakdown of likes by age group, gender and location.

Alternative methods

There isn’t a lot of personalised data that comes out of Google Analytics and if you don’t have other analytic programs like KISSmetrics there isn’t a great deal you can do in pulling out real data about your customers.

The alternative method is to make assumptions based on what you do have and your marketplace data which I will touch on shortly.


Personas are quickly becoming part and parcel of every digital marketing strategy. A persona allows us to put a name and face to a typical customer in a demographic. Also a story is much easier to remember than facts and statistics. This will help you make smarter marketing decisions that will always cater to the target customer.

Personas are created through research, surveys and interviews and data you have collected about your client’s target audience. You then need to lay it out in a way that is easy to understand for either your client if you’re on the agency side or your internal team.

Hubspot have already created an excellent template for you to follow which you can download here. I apologise in advance that their form is a touch long to fill out for a template.
The template includes:

  • Background
  • Demographics
  • Identifiers
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • How we help
  • Real quotes
  • Common objections

Your Marketplace

This section is where you address industry trends, facts and figures. Basically you are finding research to back up the customer base you defined in the previous section and to support any future plans. How you present it is up to you, but, if you can, an infographic would sit well here.

So where do you start? Google, obviously.
I’m a little bit reluctant to link you to this because you will be there for hours, and may even forget to come back and finish this article.
Think with Google.

Think with Google is a library of infographics, research papers, case studies, videos and tools. If need some figures to support a digital marketing case you will most likely find it here.

One of my favorite tools within Think with Google is the Consumer Barometer.
The Consumer Barometer provides insight into how consumers use online and offline information sources in their purchase process. It allows you to browse, map and graph valuable insights. Here’s an example of Browse functionality of Consumer Barometer for event ticketing purchases online for Australia and New Zealand.

You can also create graphs with the same information. Explore Consumer Barometer and see what you can pull from it.

See all the tools available

I’m not going to explain them or how to use them because it will be unique for every plan, but maybe list your top 5 or top 10 key data points in your plan and try not to overwhelm your clients or executives.

Your competitors

In this section of the report you aren’t trying to determine every single thing your client’s competitor is doing so you can copy them; here you are taking down benchmarks and developing your digital marketing strategy based on insights drawn from the competitors.

Select competitors

Select 1-4 competitors and make sure you justify why they are your competitors and why you may have left out a competitor. There is nothing worse than presenting in a meeting and the client/boss saying “What about Company X, I would think they’re a main competitor?” you need to have an answer for that.


This is very important, there are thousands of possible criteria you can select to compare data. So ensure you are choosing the relevant criteria for the report you are generating. For example:

  • Social media engagement
  • Estimated traffic
  • User journeys
  • Checkout process
  • Content

Make sure you know you are benchmarking with a purpose, and know your goal so you can work towards it. Sample table – Competitor Awareness

Competitor 1 Competitor 2 Competitor 3 You
Description Description Description Description
Estimated Traffic 15,000 22,000 a month 45,000 a month 10,000 a month
Branded Search 5,000 a month 10,000 a month 25,000 a month 2,000 a month
Facebook Fan base 30,000 1,500 150,000 35,000
Twitter fan base 1,000 n/a 70,000 1,200

Make sure you write actions from your analysis at some point; without actions, competitor analysis is an enormous waste of time.


There are a lot of tools you can use for benchmarking; a lot have different purposes so using a range of tools is ideal. Also, knowing the tool you need to use to get each metric is crucial. Before digging into the tools it’s worth reading The Definitive Guide To Competitive Intelligence Data Sources which will shed some light on where the data comes from and how, which is important if you need to backup the data.


Social Media influence


Influences and potential partners

So here you need to list and outline the potential websites and people that will impact and influence your customers’ decisions on your own website. For example, Search engines, bloggers, social networks and news websites.

Name Sentiment Impact
Description +/-/= High/Med/Low
Blog Sindy Cam + High
Website SEOMoz + High
Blog Jez Smith - Medium
Twitter @Example = Low

​(If you’re on a mobile turn your screen to the side to see the full table)

Basically, you need to find who is talking about you, in what sentiment and what impact it has on your brand. The ramblings of someone on twitter with 50 followers may not be that damaging but you want to know about it so you can address it and vice versa for positive comments.

Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT)

To finish up, I like to do a SWOT analysis of the website and online marketing activities. SWOT might be something you did back in high school and thought you would never use again, but its an excellent tool to use to summarise your online activities.

Your SWOT table can be as simple as the one below. You are just giving a snapshot to your client/boss.


  • Existing customer/fan base
  • Website look and feel
  • Brand name

  • Social media driving traffic
  • No mobile website
  • Syncing offline and online

  • Expansion of EDM list
  • Alliances with blogger websites
  • Landing pages

  • Competitors’ social media growing their social media
  • Competitors catching up with mobile websites

Bonus – How to define your goals

There are a lot of ways to define your digital marketing goals; some are a lot more complex than others, but I hate defining a shit load of goals and metrics. This is why I use Avinash Kaushik’s digital marketing and measurement model (DMMM). The DMMM is a five step process that really simplifies the goals, targets and KPIs needed to get there.