How Accurate are Alexa, Compete, DoubleClick and Google Trends?

Back in January, SEOmoz did a test of free statistics services like Alexa, Compete, DoubleClick, and Google Trends. Their conclusion was that the visitor data provided by these services did not match their own analytics.

Does that mean all of the data provided by these sites are rubbish? Not necessarily. We have relied on these tools for competitor research for ages, so we thought we would go beyond just the visitor data and look at other key pieces of information to see if they match up with Google Analytics data. The following is what I found.

Alexa

Alexa offers more about websites than just visitor statistics. Let’s look at how accurate they really are.

Traffic Stats

alexa traffic stats

Since most people think of Alexa as being all about traffic, let’s look at their basic traffic stats in comparison with my own Google Analytics data.

  • Pageviews Per User – Alexa estimates that the average pageviews per user for the last three months is 1.98. Google Analytics shows 1.38 pages per visit.
  • Bounce Rate Percentage – Alexa estimates the average bounce rate percentage for the last three months is 61.8%. Google Analytics shows 79.46%.
  • Time on Site – Alexa estimates that the average time on site for the last three months is 2:38. Google Analytics shows 1:22.
  • Search % – Alexa estimates that the average percentage of visits received from search engines for the last three months is 6.5%. Google Analytics shows 45.37%.

Search Analytics

alexa search analytic

Next on the list of data from Alexa is Search Analytics. Here, I am usually just interested in keywords, especially now that Google Analytics has decided to hide some of that data from users. Alexa, in the keywords department, is similar to my Google Analytics organic keyword data. Four of their Top Queries from Search Traffic are an exact match to terms in the top 25 organic keywords of my Google Analytics. Others are ones that I know I have regularly targeted.

Audience by Country

alexa audience location

Alexa offers some basic audience demographic information about your audience including age, education, gender, and so forth. I decided to look at the Visitors by country section beneath that to see how well they nailed the location demographic for my website. In this case, they are close with seven out of ten countries right as far as the top countries visiting my site.

Clickstream

alexa clickstream

Alexa’s Clickstream tab shows you what sites people were on before they came to a domain and what site they went on to after leaving it. Alexa missed Direct, Yahoo, Bing, and StumbleUpon, but the rest are right on and in almost the same order as the referrers in Google Analytics.

Sites Linking In

alexa sites linking in

Last, but not least, is Alexa’s count of incoming links to my website. They do note that it only counts sites within Alexa’s database and that multiple links from one domain are only counted once. This puts their estimate of 1,963 somewhat close to Open Site Explorer’s count of 1,117 linking root domains.

What This Means

In a nutshell, this means that Alexa’s data may not be spot on, but it does offer some valuable insights into any website you might need to research without having access to their analytics.

Compete

Compete (the free version) allows you to view unique visitors from the United States for the last year to a particular domain. So just how accurate is it? Here is the graph for my website from February 2011 to February 2012.

compete traffic

And here is the same view within Google Analytics.

google analytics visitors united states

While the graph is way off for previous months, February’s numbers seem pretty close. Maybe that means that their system is starting to track things accurately. That, or they get lucky every so often!

Compete also offers pro versions of their service where you can get a two year view of unique visitors from the United States to any domain as well as additional information such as search referral keywords and domains. Note that anything beyond the unique visitor count only works for domains with larger amounts of traffic.

DoubleClick

DoubleClick Ad Planner by Google offers advertisers a chance to get to know the sites they might want to pursue with advertising. Now you would think that a site that has Google Analytics data backing it up would have some accurate information about sites queried. Let’s find out.

Traffic Statistics

First off, let’s look at the Traffic Statistics which are marked as estimates. Specifically: “Traffic statistics are estimated by combining sample user data from various Google products and services and opt-in direct-measured site-centric data.”

doubleclick traffic statistics

Compared to Google Analytics, the Unique visitors, page views, and total views are almost doubled in DoubleClick, including the average time on site.

Related Sites & Interests

doubleclick adplanner sites also visited interests

DoubleClick will show you Sites Also Visited and Audience Interests. The Affinity score shows the relationship between audiences of two sites or between a site and a keyword. The interests area fits my website almost spot on, while the sites visited are mostly ones that I have linked to previously.

DoubleClick also shows keywords for domains that have a large amount of traffic. They seem to be very specific to searches that people are performing on Google to find the site, like these for WordPress.

doubleclick keywords

Google Trends

google trends social networks

Google Trends allows you to compare traffic for multiple websites, assuming those websites have a high volume of traffic, like social media sites. For smaller sites, you won’t get a graph of Daily Unique Visitors, but you might still get the supplementary information beneath it.

google trends

Regions seems to match Google Analytics, Also Visited sites includes sites that a domain has linked to often, and Also Searched For shows related keywords for the domain. The more traffic a domain receives, the more information you will see in these areas.

Using These Tools for Competitor Research

Are these sites 100% accurate? No, they’re not. But they all offer some good data that you can use for competitor research. You can easily use them to do the following:

  • Compare traffic – although the numbers might not be accurate, you can still see whether Site A is getting more traffic than Site B on average.
  • Learn more about their keywords – most of the above mentioned networks share some basic keyword data. You can use this to find out what the competitors are targeting and get some keyword ideas for your own website.
  • See related sites – find additional competitors by looking at related sites and add those to your research.

Do you use free analytics tools to measure the statistics of other websites for your business? What other tools do you use and how do they rate in terms of accuracy?

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, professional blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing for personal, professional, and business bloggers. You can follow her on , Twitter, and Facebook.

  1. This is a very interesting subject for a post, and I’m glad you did such a detailed analysis. With my blog, I use Google Analytics and Quantcast (which I wish you’d mentioned; I’d be interested to see how they stack up!), but I also always crunch my own raw logs. (I use Weblog Expert, but there are many other programs out there, such as Webalyzer).

    I always, without exception, see higher unique visitor numbers when I crunch my own logs, and that’s after factoring out my own usage of the site for things like posting, previewing, and so on. I also screen out robots and other stuff, so I’m positive my numbers are accurate. (Raw log analysis programs also offer data on referrers, keywords, and that sort of thing.)

    To me, the moral of the story is this: when it comes to site analytics, use multiple methods of data analysis!

  2. Alexa is and always has been a joke. This is the same system that claimed YouTube outgrew Google in 2008. Their data is even worse for smaller sites. If you’re really serious about competitor traffic, go with a proper service such as Hitwise or Comcast.

  3. Been hearing rumors that Alexa.com is not that reliable when it comes to analyzing traffic data of a website. Finding the right website analysis is important because it will serve as a gauge of our progress.

  4. I check Alexa and Compete every now and then. Generally they do seem a bit off when compared to Google Analytics. Still they are interesting to look at every now and then. Alexa has a number of stats to check out. Even if they aren’t perfect, and you can check out your competitors or other sites just for the fun of it.

  5. Thanks for the insightful overview. Would be interesting to know if paid solution like Nielsen Netview actually justify companies spending money to get their numbers by being more accuarate than those free resources.

  6. I have worked exclusively with B2B web sites for a number of years, and in my experience, the data from both Alexa and Compete are nearly useless, and are often very misleading for this type of site. This is due to their methodologies, which in both cases rely on sampling via tool bars that are installed on users browsers. In the B2B realm, most web sites are niche-oriented and have small but very high value audiences. Additionally, most businesses and other institutions don’t allow the installation of software by their users. We therefore end up with non-representative samples of what were small audiences to begin with, so the data is therefore frequently wildly off the mark. Most B2C sites don’t have these issues to deal with, so I expect the data would be better for that type of site. As far as external services go, Hitwise has the most reliable methodology that I am aware of, in that they work deals with major ISP’s and sample data directly from their servers, and not from users computers.

    I have done side-by-side comparisons of some of the major tools that use the page-tagging methodology including Google Analytics, Adobe (formerly Omniture) SiteCatalyst, and Nielsen’s site measurement product. Their data all line-up very well, usually differing by less than 1%. My experience with web log analyzers has been different than what Elizabeth expressed above. We used Webtrends for a number of years to do web log analysis, and found it to be subject to many kinds of errors, and most frequently overstated traffic. You need to have a high level of capability and experience to get good data out of a web log analysis tool. If you want reliable data, one or more of page-tagging tools is the way to go, in my opinion.

    • I agree with you David. Alexa is a joke. And now they want to charge for obtaining decent statistics. It seems all of a sudden my site isn’t even being tracked correctly. I went from a global ranking of 235,000 to 888,000 in a matter of a couple months. Now how the heck does that happen? I guess I need to install a toolbar from alexa. That, or pay a monthly fee to get my site “scanned”, as they call it.

      Thanks everyone for sharing.

  7. I am not sure, which data should I rely on, my paid Adwords’s report shows more clicks then alexa or google itself.

    Google analytic report show double visits and clicks than Alexa. Google is giving me progressive report and Alexa is giving bad one. I had more visits (unique, page views, time on site all positive), but in Alexa things are going down….does anyone knows which is the best one to reply…???? Interesting thing is “Google shows more than 200 links and Alexa just about 25″….

  8. Great detail, Kristi. I’m a huge Alexa fan, although I recognize that their statistics may differ from Google’s and others. My Alexa ranking has been jumping around like crazy, lately, though. Makes me wonder . . .

  9. I have always had this gut feeling about Alexa. I have always felt it showed wrong numbers for most of the metrics. Google Trends part was new for me though

    thanks,
    Rebecca

  10. I have lot of links but it is not reflected in alexa. Any idea why?

  11. Google should be way ahead in terms of all others when it comes to analysis especially.

  12. It is always interesting getting varying results from different tools and comparing to actual data for my sites as monitored by Google Webmaster Tools.

  13. It actually so good, i am also getting good result by comparing on these sites. good article keep it more

  14. Its actually good article by customer can get in depth data of articles analtysics

  15. Very interesting take, definitely opens up a lot more questions than answers but it’s always best to know what you’re getting into

  16. Hi guys, does anybody knows whether alexa takes into account sub-domains? or just checking the top domain? many thanks!

  17. I have been browsing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It is pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a
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  18. An interesting article about Youtube, I found it on Google while doing research partner.Your guide is great.

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  21. I’m mostly relying on google analytic, but find it a pity that it doesn’t show more demographics like age, gender… which Alexa does.
    Is there another tool I could use to get these?
    Thanks!

  22. Thanks for sharing different analytics platform to track a website. Like the others, I’m overly dependent as well on Google Analytics. It is straightforward with a real time feature. I use Alexa however from time to time as it is fairly accurate in gauging other metrics. I will also play with Compete and Google Trends as they sound interesting here. ;)

  23. Genuinely no matter if someone doesn’t understand after that its up to other people that they will help, so here it happens.

  24. Alexa ranks do not mean anything, they state that our site superheromail.com is getting less traffic now when it is not true. We are actually getting 1000 to 5000 vistor increase every month yet alexa shows that we are getting a decrease in vistors. Relying on alxea stats will not tell you anything and they are useless since they do not know what you actual traffic stats are. One way to prove this is that we have a site that only gets 100 visits a month while we have another site that is getting 50K visits a month the site with 100 visits is ranked in the top 300k but the site with 50k visits is ranked 10 million how does that make sense at all.

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