The Wayback Machine is an archive of website snapshots through time. The service crawls many websites, big and small, regularly and takes local copies of the web pages. You can use the Wayback Machine for competitor intelligence, for example:
- Changing priorities: Looking through archived pages of BP's website gives you clues as to how this company's stated priorities have changed over time. The order in which product lines are presented has changed, products have been added and removed, and the environmental messages have changed. This snapshot from 2008, with homepage content referring to BP's safety precautions in deep water, may suggest the company's early awareness that this activity could attract bad publicity.
- Changing strategy: These snapshots of the Yahoo! homepage show how Yahoo's homepage has evolved. Since Yahoo!'s homepage is its core business, rather than just an informational page as it is for most companies, the changing mix of products (for example, content vs services) maps out how Yahoo! has repositioned its business multiple times over the past decade.
- The Wayback Machine can also be used to find content that may have been removed by your competitor, whether for 'innocent' reasons (out of date) or more cynically (to avoid embarrassing implications). The information provided by the Wayback Machine is incomplete, because snapshots are taken at irregular intervals, but can still be useful.
Of course, the Wayback Machine provides competitor intelligence that is backward looking, and is not very useful for predicting next steps. But like any study of a competitor's previous moves, this is competitor intelligence that can be used to profile a competitor and what they may do next.