If You Like Inaccuracy, You’ll LOVE Alexa!

Alexa.com is regarded by many people as an authority. However, if you’ve been reading a lot of SEO blogs recently you’ll know that many of us in the industry are fed up with this site and its utter lack of accuracy. Save everyone some time and read this Slashdot article for an excellent piece on just how bad Alexa really is. I couldn’t have put this any better.

So therein lies the issue of what else to use for internet measurements? Alexa may be the name that everyone knows, but it certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on this type of information. There ARE alternatives. OK there are TWO free alternatives that I found that seem even remotely decent (meaning they don’t show N/A for important areas and they give me numbers that I know are somewhat in the range of accurate), but here they are:

Quantcast
Quantcast bills itself as “the world’s first open internet ratings service” and it’s FREE (like anyone wants to pay for what may not be accurate data.) Quantcast gives you estimates (like Alexa does) but also allows more accurate reporting if you’re willing to paste a bit of javascript into each page on your site. Since you may already do this with Google Analytics, it might not irritate you but for those of you who are grumpy non-green monkeys, this might not be something that will make you put on some Scroobius Pip and moonwalk. The main issue with Quantcast is that it’s currently only applicable for US-based audiences. That’s not going to help my little nutbrown hare Mahoud over in London. The wording for the results IS quite nice though and gives you tidbits such as this:

“This site reaches approximately 24,640 U.S. monthly uniques. The site attracts a slightly male slanted, more affluent, skewing older following. The site’s visitors’ interests are specialty retail (Cost Plus, Pier 1, West Marine, Crate & Barrel), sports (PGA Tour) and television (DIY – The Do It Yourself Cable Channel, Fine Living Network, Home and Garden Television (HGTV), Food Network).”

Pretty cool information, but is it ACCURATE information? This was for a site that doesn’t use the javascript they give you and the numbers seem reasonable enough, but this site also gets 85% of its traffic from the U.S. so how does that affect the statistics? Whether or not Quantcast is the most accurate reporting tool on the planet, it does give you lovely little graphs so that those of you who need to communicate with bosses who only understand pretty pictures will have an easier time. However, considering you will only get truly accurate numbers by adding code to your site, I don’t expect to see people lining up to use this one.

Compete’s Site SnapShot

Another FREE one…Using my above site example, Compete gave me approximately 21,568 monthly uniques. This is also based on U.S. traffic. This may be fine for some sites but to Alexa’s credit, their stats are international and that’s what I need on many of the sites that I work with. There aren’t as many nice graphs as on Quantcast but we’ve all been wowed by visuals when they’re needed to hide numbers haven’t we?

What really gets me about Compete is this: “for small sites and/or sites with significant international traffic, Compete will report site traffic and rankings that may vary significantly from log file reports.” Enough said. My sites fall into both of these cases so I’m not going to bother with this one right now.

Overall, in researching this I would say that my mood went from the usual mostly OK to downright nasty. Why is this information so difficult to get? Why are the main alternatives only U.S. targeted? Why aren’t these programs coded so that great big skews are less likely to happen? I do not personally rely on any of this information in the work that I do currently, so this isn’t anything that should impact how I do my job. However, I do realize that many people (including my clients, bosses of my clients, other people who simply don’t have a clue) rely on this type of information in their decision-making, which DOES affect me. Crude comparisons are fine…that’s how we do keyword research and figure out how well we’re doing day to day. However, there comes a time when crude isn’t going to cut it. Obviously this doesn’t apply to my sense of humor, since crude is the only way I know to be, but when it comes to numbers, I really could use a little more refinement. If you’re able to use trends and work from there though, you’re a lucky lucky ducky.

There are also programs that you can pay for, if you’re so inclined. I’ve even consulted my sweet little EvilGreenMonkey about this, since he knows all. Hitwise is one that he mentioned and it’s also the paid program that kept popping up during my research. It’s network is international (not just U.S. targeted like Quantcast and Compete) and uses your logs to give you information on your site and your competitors’ sites. I’ve heard figures of around $2k U.S. per month is the norm, so if you’re thinking about this one, expect to pay that. Apparently many large companies use this, and you can see why…you get great data. Go through the product tour and you’ll be drooling like you’ve just had a giant veggie pie placed in front of you.

If you have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

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10 Responses to “If You Like Inaccuracy, You’ll LOVE Alexa!”

  1. Ed Bennett says:

    Julie,

    I manage about 20 domains with traffic ranging from 500 to 1,000,000 unique US visitors per month. I’m pleasantly surprised at how accurate Quantcast is when compared to the numbers reported by Google Analytics. Even the demographic info is good. We have a few sites that we know draw high numbers from certain groups (Female or Africans-American audiences for eaxample), and their demo info is about right.

    I’ve looked at the fee-based services like Hitwise, but for now I can’t justify spending the money over the free info from Quantcast.

  2. Julie Joyce says:

    Ed–good to know. The site I examined looked pretty accurate to me too so maybe this one IS a decent alternative. If you can get this for free, I certainly wouldn’t spend to get it.

  3. Judith Lewis says:

    I have to say that I have some reservations about Hitwise.

    First and foremost, my understanding from speaking to someone who works for Hitwise is that it is an enterprise solution. This means if you are an SME, it is not as useful.

    One site I work on is on the ragged edge of this demographic. Recently they were told gains had been made against their much larger rival who hash better market penetration and better brand awareness. I have trouble with this since I know their stats :)

    But as a comparison, Alexa sais the smaller site had double the traffic of the larger one. Ouch – that seems wildly inaccurate.

  4. Julie Joyce says:

    Looks like the theme of inaccuracy is simply rampant with this type of thing, unfortunately. It’s very annoying…seems like it would be a simple thing to do well, and to do nicely! I’m also quite sick of people stretching the truth to get business. Good points as always Miss Judith!

  5. Ed Bennett says:

    Julie,

    Please contact me by email if you want more details.

    I don’t agree with the usual criticism that these services are “wildly inaccurate”. Tracking traffic to 10 million different websites is a much more difficult problem than determining the top TV shows last week.

    Even numbers that stay within an order of magnitude of the actual traffic can have some value – especially if the demographic data is close.

    It’s an interesting process to watch.

  6. Julie Joyce says:

    You have a good point Ed. Even web stats for one site are inaccurate in many cases…I guess that, since we use trends for many other aspects of determining how to proceed, this really shouldn’t be too different.

  7. Judith Lewis says:

    Ah Julie – your posts just inspire too much deep thought. My brain is overheating and my coworkers are worrying about the smoke coming out of my ears!

    Could simple trending be of value – not sure. If it is then we have kicked some wicked butt here *grins* In fact, maybe I’ll start believing Alexa if just for the ego boost *winks*

    You are correct – stats for one site can vary. I have the proof in a recent audit. It’s so fraught with difficulties I can see why you blogged about it!

  8. Julie Joyce says:

    Judith–simple trending is the only thing we have apparently! So yes, it’s of value, definitely. It’s certainly what I used to show to clients to get my point across, so I’m not sure why the lack of concrete numbers that make sense gets to me in this way. There have been too many times in which I relied upon numbers, however, then found out that they were way off. If you’re working on a pay-for-performance basis, for example, and you charge by the traffic, what do you do when someone disproves the numbers you used to charge the client? Even though this isn’t an issue for me right now, it has been before and I suspect that it will be again. I just really would like to see something that is on target, for once!

  9. Corinne says:

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  10. james says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the information on alternatives. I too have been searching for an alternative to Alexa now and then when I have a few spare moments. My own sites which are blogs barely make the radar of Alexa but that’s not my biggest concern. But I have seen how stats can be manipulated to increase one’s ranking there.

    One example of such manipulation is the use of a blog cycle in sites such as Alphainventions.com and Condron.us to generate mechanical views. One might easily argue that generation of phony statistics is the reason d’etre of these sites. Alphainventions (and not Condron yet anyway) also appears to make considerable income by allowing spammers easy access to his site and to yours. Bloggers go to these sites to publish their own blogs or to view blogs which have recently been updated and possibly to connect with other bloggers.

    While doing some research on how to increase views I eventually came across the ranking sites. I don’t know enough about the source or quality of statistics to understand some of the arguments about why Alexa oughtn’t be so highly regarded. I can detect a phony stat now and then when it crosses my path though; and see some of the means of manipulation and generation of stats.

    I’ve been looking at Alexa stats on a site (not my own) for several weeks and have noticed a startling face about their stat graphs: the week and the month graphs do not agree. I don’t mean that the lines don’t look the same; that could be explained by the magnification. No, the fact is that if you compare the “trailing one month” stat given by the graph for any particular day to the same day’s stat on the “trailing one week” graph you will find as often as not that they are not the same. How can they not be the same? They ought to be exactly the same. Yet you will typically find one to be 3.8 and the other to be 2.6 or some such large inexplicable difference. Is it due to a sloppy graph drawer? Poor mathematicians in the Alexa graphics department? Whatever the cause of these large discrepancies they certainly do NOT suggest the work one would expect from the standard of the industry.

    That’s all. — James

    Regarding your suggestion (above) to use a “bit of javascript in a widget” to increase the accuracy of stats. How? Yes, you might get a more accurate count of the statistic for a single site but there are plenty of free statistic counters (Statcounter, Ritecounter) which do that albeit with some inaccuracy. But these ranking sites are supposed to do more than count your stats. They must compare your site to other sites before ranking can be done. Until a large majority of these sites have that javascript in place then any attempt to compare them or rank them might be ludicrous. What is used when they don’t have the counters in a widget? Is it estimates based on some profile of the site?

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