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 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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