20
Dec
10

How to measure traffic statistics for someone else’s website – for free

SYNOPSIS: Being able to do a competitive analysis of the amount and nature of traffic going to a competitor’s website has a number of advantages for marketers and businesses. In this blog post, I will compare the 4 main tools that allow you to procure this competitive analysis free of charge, namely Compete, Quantcast, Alexa and Google Trends / Double Click Ad Planner. If you’re not interested in the details of where one of these is stronger than the other, you can jump straight to my conslusion.

very now and then, most marketers will want to know traffic data from a site that is not theirs. Measuring competitive intelligence for a site other than your own can be useful for many reasons in marketing. You may want to know how many unique users are going to a competitor’s site compared to your own. You may want to track how many people are viewing a site that you are potentially going to advertise on. In my case, I am often quite interested in the online reach of one or more potential Influencers I may potentially begin engaging with. Typically, there are some great proprietary tools that can help you find this information – Hitwise, for example,  is such a solution which will give you data on competitive websites.

Comparing Compete, Quantcast, Alexa and Google Trends for websites.

Sometimes, however, us marketers just don’t have a budget for tools like Hitwise. Or perhaps the budget is there, but you can achieve more by focusing that spending elsewhere. The fact that some of us aren’t willing to pay for competitive analysis tools doesn’t stop this competitive intelligence from being interesting and useful. The good news is that you don’t have to pay big dollars for semi-decent data.   Keep in mind though that ALL of these tools simply make an estimate of website data – if you compare the results these tools give you about your own site with your own analytics, you will quite often see anomalies. As such, it is important to take the results supplied by each of these tools with a grain of salt. It is also a good idea to employ several of these tools together to cross reference accuracy – each of them use slightly different methods to estimate website data, so compare results between the below for the most accurate results.

1 – Compete.com

PRO’s:

– (Very) basic competitive intelligence data supplied for free

– Claims to take it’s data from “the largest, most diverse, most actionable, panel in the industry.” (http://www.compete.com/resources/methodology/)

– Basic stats for free, but there is a proprietary service that allows you to dig much deeper into your competitor’s web traffic data, including audience profiles and sub-domains.

CON’s:

– Free version does not do sub-domain data (eg, http://microsoft.com/education or similar)

– English language only

– U.S. audience only

– Relatively small sample compared to the potential size of Google’s sample (see below), which may impact relevancy and accuracy of results.

– Struggles to provide traffic profiles for smaller / more niche sites.

Compete_competitive_analysis_screengrab

Compete analysis - this is all the detail you get for free. Fairly bare bones, as you can see from all the instances of "Only Available with Pro" blocking out key data.

2 – Quantcast.com

PRO’s:

– Usually returns roughly the same results as Compete, suggesting that despite their different methods of estimating competitive intelligence, both compete.com and quantcast.com are, generally speaking, probably reasonably accurate (again, remembering that these sites only estimate traffic, they are not guaranteed to be precise).

– The free version of Quantcast’s competitive intelligence reporting is more comprehensive than Compete. Whilst you still cannot obtain data for subdomains under Quantcast, the report you get in the free version is still fairly useful and you get much more free data than Compete.

– Quantcast will also give you information about the related interests of people visiting the site you are analysing, which can help you better target everything from content creation on your own site to choosing keywords in your online campaign. For example, if I look up Microsoft.com, Quantcast will also show me a list of other interests generally held by people who visit the site.

Quantcast shows some general additional interests of others who have visited the site you are interested in.

– Quantcast are MRC Accredited. I don’t pretend to know what this actually means, or if it’s even important, but apparently they are the only online traffic management company to obtain this accreditation.

CON’s:

– English language only

– U.S audience only

– Relatively small sample compared to the potential size of Google’s sample (see below)

– If a site is smaller or focused on a niche topic, Quantcast (and Compete) may not have a traffic profile for it.

Quantcast_audience_breakdown_data

Quantcast measures much the same data as Compete, but you can see that instead of making you upgrade to a Pro account for the bulk of your competitive data, Quantcast provides alot more detail for free.

3 – Alexa.com

PRO’s:

– Free

– Global data, not just U.S audiences!!

– Allows more than just English language, although I cannot vouch for how, say, Chinese Alexa compares to English Alexa.

– Takes data from the highly popular Alexa toolbar, meaning that any data gathered around pages per visit etc is probably reasonably accurate (although how well the users supplying that sample data then represent the rest of the internet-using population is debatable).

– Provides much more data than Compete and Quantcast for free – everything from an analysis of search keywords that lead users to that site through to click stream data, gathered via the Alexa toolbar. All of this is super handy if you are looking to compete for some of a competitive website’s traffic.

CON’s:

– Taking data from the Alexa toolbar can have it’s drawbacks… it is hard to feel like you are getting a good cross-section of participants if the data taken is solely from people who have either chosen to install a toolbar plugin or who have installed a product that installed the Alexa toolbar.

– Like Compete and Quantcast, Alexa struggles to provide a traffic profile for smaller or niche sites.

– Alexa seems to be hellbent on providing estimates about the percentage of total internet users rather than hard and fast estimates of total number of uniques heading to a site.

Alexa_geographic_segmentation_data

One of Alexa's key advantages over Compete and Quantcast is that it will deliver international data, not just U.S-centric data. It also provides alot more data to cross analyse, like a heatmap of which regions in the world your competitor gets most of it's traffic - useful if you are trying to win specific geographies.

4 – Google Trends for Websites / DoubleClick Ad Planner

PRO’s:

– Combines data from both the hugely popular Google Toolbar and from the virtually unknown (kidding) Google Search engine. With around 80% of world searches being conducted using Google, this means that the sample data set much more closely represents the world population, meaning that any estimates made are (hopefully) much more likely to be reliable.

– Provides International traffic data, not just U.S. data

– Provides data on what other websites people have visited (see screen grab below).

CON’s:

– Doesn’t provide the level of data that Alexa (and to an extent, Quantcast) do. This tool only shows a very specific set of competitive data to help people better plan ad planning.

SUMMARY

Unless you’re heavily focused on monitoring only the U.S Market (or are specifically interested in entering the U.S market), Quantcast and Compete are probably unlikely to be of much use to you. If you are interested specifically in the U.S market, I think that Quantcast’s ability to give more robust reporting in the free version makes it my preference – there really is some nifty data you can pull out of Quantcast.com.

However, for the rest of us who realize that there is actually a world that exists outside of the U.S, Alexa and the Google offering are your best bet. I honestly cannot make a decision between which one of these is better, and I honestly think that they’re better used in conjunction – each of them has their respective strengths. Alexa will allow you access to much more information about a site, but Google’s abundance of data gathered through its ubiquitous toolbar, crossed referenced against data from it’s http://google.com search engine results means that it’s sample is probably more representative, and thus maybe more accurate. So out of all these free tools, I’d recommend using Alexa and Google Trends in conjunction with one another.

What do you think? Have you compared either of these sites with your own server / analytics results? Do they even come close to being accurate?

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