You can spy on any site’s analytics. Think BIG.

When you look for PPC or SEO inspiration, look to your competitors.

When you research another site’s web analytics, go BIG. Or at least bigger.

Often the first sites that come to mind are the ones that you battle every day. “Let’s see my competitor!” However, if they get low traffic volume, we might recommend against using them.

Why Can’t I use That Site?

It has nothing to do with the quality of the site itself or how useful it is to its visitors. Until more users interact with the site, there won’t be enough data to give you any real, actionable takeaways. After all, that’s the point of seeing their analytics.

It might take months to accumulate enough activity for you to find patterns and habits that you can trust.

We try to help by alerting you to this when you first choose a domain to research. Don’t see it as a shut door, though. Try another one.

Look at Bigger Sites for Huge Lessons

It’s tempting to spy on your competitor’s analytics, but you might get more out of someone even bigger. It doesn’t even have to be your industry.

When we first created Nacho Analytics, we knew that we wanted to create a refer-a-friend program for our  new tool.

There are generally 2-3 common ways for a customer to refer a friend to an online program.

  1. They share a unique link generated from the site.
  2. They enter their friend’s email address, and the site owner contacts the friend with an offer.
  3. They could import their contacts, and the site owner contacts them with an offer. (AKA, the creepy option)

Of course we debated the options. Which one would be best?

Then it hit us. We were working on site that could answer that very question. We’d look at sites who had already done it well as follow them as a guide.

Heavy Meta. Here’s how we did it.

The group thought of sites that had good referral programs from a customer’s point of view.

  • Who made you feel comfortable using their program?
  • Who made you want to refer them to others?
  • Who made you say “never mind” and why?

None of those questions required more than people chiming in with their own replies. We did rely on data, though, to measure which of the sites we named would be big enough* to give us enough customer data.

We compiled a list of sites, including Dropbox and AirBnb–their referral programs’ reputations stands out.

Remember, our objective was to find WHICH approach worked best. AirBnB just happens to use both. Here’s a snippet right from their page: “Invite your friends to Airbnb via email, or share your referral code on Facebook or Twitter.”

refer a friend two ways

We could review AirBnB’s analytics to compare the two methods.

The final verdict isn’t as important as the fact that data allowed us to reach a verdict. (But if you’re curious, we learned that importing your contacts was so unpopular that AirBnB seems to have dropped that option altogether. It drove only 4% of signups.)

How Big is Big Enough?

What do you mean when you say AirBnB is “big enough?” You don’t need a powerhouse Top 100 site to give you your best findings. If you target sites that get more than 500,000 to 1+ million page views a month, that should serve up enough diversified traffic to be helpful.

If you’re trying our 7-day free trial then we recommend trying a larger site with 1 to 10+ million page views a month. That way the results you see in the first week will add up quickly to some juicy takeaways. You’ll have to find the sweet spot, though. High-volume (major brand) sites like Petsmart and Groupon are considered premium sites. These are not part of the free trial.

If you’re invested in learning from other sites over a month or more, then you can shoot to something a bit smaller. That’s where you should look for sites with at least 100,000+ page views a month.

All of this, of course, is a broad rule of thumb. You will certainly learn high-value lessons from sites that see less than that.

The point is that hearing from a relative “handful” of people may give you misleading information. When you run an A/B test on a landing page, you wouldn’t make the call after just a few hundred people see it. Those wouldn’t be trustworthy results. That says nothing about the people that visit or the page that they’re on. It becomes easier to trust the results when you get more people to the same test.

Smaller Sites Rolled into One

During that research, we also discovered that many sites used a 3rd party to manage their program. That was huge. We could look up analytics for that one site’s activity and end up researching a slew of referral programs all at once.

How did we stumble upon that? We spot checked a few random sites by going to their referral page. Any action on there (get a code, etc.) should show you the URL it uses when someone clicks. A few of those just happened to direct to the same 3rd party site.

Instead of the chiropractor down the road, is there is larger regional or national service that manages part of their site? Appointment scheduling comes to mind. See what you can glean from any part of customer behavior.

And if your market doesn’t have Massage Envy or Elements Massage, you might still get better insights from the offers they run or the language they use instead of an independent and local massage therapist.

One More Big Takeaway

There’s also the question: why is AirBnb’s referral traffic so strong? What drives people to that page?

We looked further at where that traffic was coming from.

The channel that drove people to AirBnb’s page turned out to be email. We could see this in their analytics, but the work shouldn’t stop there.

We signed up for their emails and found that AirBnb includes a secondary call-to-action. By studying a large site that isn’t even our competition, we found two huge best practices that we could use in our own marketing. Neither one was industry-exclusive.

As for signing up for their emails…

Add Some Online Work

At any point of your research, you might need to add a touch of legwork. For example, buy a small item from your competitor’s site. The innocuous receipt page could actually reveal more details and codes that lead to bigger findings. Look at its URL or your purchase summary. Those seemingly simple pages include transaction IDs and URL structures that might prove helpful deeper in your research.


Great ideas don’t have to come from your direct competitors. Nacho Analytics helps you find answers from world’s biggest players about customer interests and pricing strategies.

It’s meta but we improved Nacho Analytics with Nacho Analytics. (Okay, and with AirBnB.)

  • Richard Saling

    WOW. There is some fantastic insight in this article. I am glad I opened my email and followed the link.