How To See How Much Traffic Any Website Gets (and spy on competitors)

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Trying to see how much traffic a competitors website gets?  Or maybe you just want to know how much a website you own is worth, based on the value of its current traffic levels… No matter what your web traffic analysis needs are, the tools I use and talk about in this article will help you uncover whatever website data you’re looking for. If you want to see how much traffic a competitors site gets, you may want to choose one of the more “spy oriented” tools listed below… compared to say, one of the traffic estimators that shows other websites that are more similar to yours (instead of specific keyword data).


My Top 3 Favorite Tools For Checking My own Website Traffic
(and seeing competitors data month over month)

1) SEMRush

2) Similar Web

3) Compete

Bonus: KWFinder


Measuring Website Traffic and Keeping Ahead of your Competitors

If you operate a website, chances are that you enjoy catering to a readership – be it an e-commerce website or a blog discussing Korean cinema. It is also probable that however niche the offerings of your website, there would be other websites around the world that command a share in your readership.

Given this scenario, it becomes imperative for website owners to have a clear idea about website traffic – both their own and that of their competitors. Obtaining accurate metrics not only enables you to gauge your performance vis-a-vis your rivals, but also allows you to improve your own website by identifying areas where development can be done. It is also necessary to know about website traffic in case you are planning to post an advertisement for your product or service on that website. A precise understanding of the website’s parameters allows you to formulate more effective promotional strategies.

An easy way to obtain these numbers is by simply checking the site for them. If you are an advertiser, you could even ask the website owners for these statistics. This approach, however, presents a number of problems.

  1. Even if websites exhibit these numbers, they might not be updated and hence the analysis that follows might be counterproductive.
  2. Websites could present inflated numbers to grab ad revenue.
  3. Their own sources of information might be inaccurate.
  4. If you are a rival website, you have a very slim chance of getting any useful, workable statistics from your competitors.

With these limitations prevailing, website owners are better off identifying and analyzing website performance data themselves.

The following sections will guide you through measuring website traffic – the metrics, the tools and how to decode the statistics that are obtained. You will also learn why absolute numbers can sometimes be misleading and how different kinds of websites need to gauge their performance through different criteria.

Tools to Measure Website Traffic

There are a number of tools online that allow you to calculate website traffic and other parameters using clickstream data. To put it very simply, clickstream data is the aggregate of the pages a website visitor visits, and the order in which it is done. Some of the tools mentioned below provide data for desktop traffic only, while a few others provide the information for desktop as well as mobile-generated clicks.

Google Analytics

One of the most widely used tools for website traffic analysis, Google Analytics is very versatile. The basic Google Analytics tool provides data from desktop site visits, mobile phones, tablets and other devices for websites, and the newly introduced Google Analytics for Mobile Apps is a software development kit (SDK) that enables website owners to gather data from Android and iOS apps.

Google Analytics allows users access to a plethora of useful data sets. It includes the basics- number of visitors, their geographies, referral traffic (visitors from other websites where a direct link to your site was provided), sales lead generation and duration of their stay on your website. In addition, it also provides some advanced features like customized segmentation of visitors.

Google Analytics, however, has some major limitations. The first one is its dependence on cookies which, if deleted or blocked by users of a website, can prevent the collection of data for that user. Another issue is Google Analytics’ use of samples. To avoid overloading of its servers, GA generates reports by making calculations for 500,000 randomly selected sessions. There is a risk of a high margin of error in these calculations, and together, both these constraints can lead to substantial inaccuracies in the data generated.

Alexa Internet

A subsidiary of Amazon.com, Alexa Internet is one of the oldest tools for web analytics. The collection of data for this tool takes place from a toolbar that users install in their browsers. Websites that install the Alexa script can also contribute data to its pool. The browsing data for these users is transmitted to the Alexa website for storage and analysis.

One of Alexa’s most popular metrics is the global and country-specific rankings that it provides for websites. Websites that add the Alexa script may also make their data available to Alexa for the calculation of ‘certified statistics’, which simply means that the tool has greater access to the website’s traffic information. It enables Alexa to generate more accurate reports for these websites.

The problem with Alexa is the way data is made accessible to it. As Alexa can only track browsing data for users who have the toolbar installed, it accounts for a very small fraction of users, and the information thus gathered can be inaccurate and misleading.

Piwik

A free, open source web analytics application, Piwik offers all the fundamental parameters that are tracked for site performance, and more. A relatively new entrant to the web analytics arena, Piwik provides the usual metrics like the number of visitors, geographies, direct and referral traffic, visitor activity, stay on the site and so on.

In addition, it provides some features that help website owners obtain more information about performance, such as campaign tracking, that is, tracking particular advertising campaigns on the website and privacy options, that enable IP addresses to be anonymized.

More sophisticated metrics – media analytics, funnels, heatmap and session recording for instance – can be availed using the premium version of Piwik.

SEMRush

One of the most popular and versatile tools for search engine optimisation (SEO) is SEMRush. The information SEMRush provides is found in keyword-based research. This tool gives you rankings for your website (and others) for a particular keyword, best keywords used by your competitors, position changes for your competitors and your own website in search results, among a plethora of other metrics. These are presented using infographics that make deciphering of these mountains of information much easier.

Another cool feature by SEMRush is its Advertising Research feature. It allows you to access the marketing budgets, best performing ad copies, best keywords, Google Adwords trends and more valuable sets of information for your competitors. This data can become a gold mine for digital marketers as it provides them with a clearer perspective on marketing strategies used by rival websites, and assists them in formulating and modifying their own.

SEMRush is thus a powerful tool that digital marketing specialists can use to optimize their sites to analyze market trends, implement new promotional plans and improve content offerings and hence, visitor experience.

Similarweb

Arguably the best application for SEO analysts, Similarweb offers a detailed insight into website traffic analytics. It operates on the same principle as Alexa, but with a more reliable network of data sources which leads to more accurate data points and lesser room for error.

The data for Similarweb is sourced from millions of users around the world who use a specific portfolio of apps, software and extensions, partnerships with internet service providers (ISPs), websites and apps equipped with a specialized learning algorithm, and an entire colony of web crawlers across a number of websites and apps.

Along with the usual metrics such as total visits, pages per visit, duration and bounce rate (percentage of visitors entering the site and leaving, “bouncing” to other sites rather than visiting more pages on the same one), Similarweb allows you to view estimated traffic stats for the last six months. This time period is extendable to two years for premium users. In addition to this, it also offers information about country-specific traffic, direct, referral and search traffic, best keywords and top referring sites. The last feature is especially helpful if you intend to improve traffic to your site by increasing referral traffic by guest posts for instance.

Oddly enough, Similarweb does not provide a common parameter – page views. While it can be calculated manually by multiplying total visits by pages per visit, it is still a rather annoying oversight.

Alternate Means to Gauge Website Traffic

As you see, there are a number of sophisticated tools that allow you to gain a detailed insight into your competitors’ performance. If you are looking for quicker, more back-of-the-envelope calculations, however, there are other ways to estimate the traffic that a website is receiving.

  1. A fair idea of the popularity of blogs and other websites that have comments enabled for their content can be obtained by looking at the blog comments. The number of comments can be compared across websites to guess the engagement that their content has been able to generate. It is also important to check the chronology of the comments, as some blogs might have performed well, say, five years ago but may not have seen much activity since.
  2. A similar estimate can be obtained by looking at Youtube or Vimeo views for websites with multimedia content. While it does not necessarily imply that one video with higher views represents good traffic for the site overall, it does indicate the health of the website for the period when the video was posted, vis-a-vis other competing websites.

When Traffic Matters – and When It Doesn’t

All the above elaborated means to estimate website traffic give digital marketers, advertisers and website owners a comprehensive idea of their performance. If all the sites being compared and ranked are offering similar content – say blogs about trending virtual reality equipment – then analytics about the traffic generated on each of these would offer something significant to each blog writer.

If you are an e-commerce website owner, however, statistics about sales conversion rates would mean more to you than page views. Similarly, you would want more detailed information about the users’ clickstreams – which items they added or removed from their shopping cart or wish list, whether they clicked on other recommended products in the same category, or whether they bounced without browsing through more options. Users could browse through multiple pages – adding to the page views, without converting any of these to sales. Focussing on relevant data points could greatly assist developers and SEO specialists to consistently update and improve upon their website and elicit productive outcomes from the painstaking analysis.

If you are a seller who intends to place your advertisement on a website, high page views and other such parameters could be misleading and not to mention, injurious to your balance sheet. Websites often use CPC (cost-per-click) to bill product sellers for posting an ad. Advertisers are required to bid for the amount they are willing to pay for each click, and websites with the greatest number of unique visitors claim the highest bid.

The transaction is usually carried out with a third party intermediary such as Google Adwords. Assume that you have an advertising budget of $100 a week for a website. If the CPC is $1, that means that after a hundred unique clicks on your ad posted on that website, your ad will go out of rotation for the rest of the week. As Google Adwords has the algorithm for matching higher bids with better performing websites, you would not be able to optimize sales generation from your advertisements in spite of advertising on a site with high web traffic.

Summing Up

There are a number of options which website users, owners, developers and digital marketing analysts can employ to estimate web traffic for their own website and also gauge the performance of competing websites. They range from something as simple as asking website owners for their traffic statistics (a straightforward approach if you want to post an advertisement on the site) to using sophisticated tools such as SEMRush and Similarweb to obtain the nitty-gritty of your rivals’ best-performing keywords and ad budget.

However, all of these tools have different sources and algorithms for gathering and analyzing data, and therefore information for the same website obtained from different analytics tools could be different. Secondly, mechanically using one simplistic metric such as page views to make strategically important marketing decisions could translate to significant losses for a company.

It follows therefore, that you should be wary of using a single parameter, or even a single tool for evaluating the health of websites. The analysis should be preceded by a clear understanding of what the research is intended for and what objectives are meant to be accomplished using the obtained data. The tools used for research should be reliable, the data triangulated and verified, so that the heaps of data for website traffic yields crystal-clear understanding to those seeking insight.

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