07 May 2010

Alexa, Quantcast, ComScore, Compete, etc… Are they accurate?

8 Comments internet marketing training

We get this question all the time, so I’m going to answer it here and then point people back to this post.

Alexa is the most well-known of the traffic measurement services, but also the least accurate. Let me explain why. Alexa rankings are based on the behavior of the folks who have downloaded the toolbar. No wonder that tech-heavy and venture capitalist sites have fantastic Alexa ratings– the tech people are disproportionately represented as Alexa users. The Alexa on this blog fluctuates between 50,000 and 250,000, which is better than the 30 million plus sites being tracked. Though my blog gets only a few hundred folks a day, it has an Alexa rank better than many sites that get 10,000 uniques a day, such as some of our clients.

What you need to know about Alexa is this:

  • If the Alexa rank of a site you’re looking at is not under 100,000, then the odds are the traffic is low.  And if your traffic is low, then the activity of just a few users can make your number bounce from 2 million to 20 million– it’s just noise.  Remember, Alexa estimates your popularity by extrapolating the behavior of a few users up to the entire web. But the Alexa userbase (those who use the toolbar) is highly skewed.  
  • You can game the Alexa toolbar by having your friends visit your site or employing a bot service– seems silly to go to that effort just to better your rank.  I suppose geeks can have their boob jobs, too.
  • You CAN compare Alexa figures between sites in the same category– so one daddy blogger versus another daddy blogger is fine, since they’re likely to have the same mix of Alexa users.  But a tech blogger versus a kids’ site?  Nope.

Compete and Quantcast are usually far more accurate.  Quantcast allows you to be “quantified” by placing a tracking pixel, so it’s the most accurate.  Yet I don’t see benefit in sharing your stats with the world– but then again, I don’t understand why some people share some of their most personal details in public forums.  When we do analysis, we use multiple third party traffic sources– and typically, Compete and Quantcast go together, while Alexa deviates.  Some thoughts about these two services:

  • Compete is great if you want to compare multiple sites at the same time– hence, the name “compete”.  I haven’t personally paid the cash to use the Pro service, but can’t imagine that any paid service is really worthwhile, given how many free tools are available.
  • Quantcast is great for individual site demographics and to tell you what other sites are in the same category.  I’d ignore the education and income measures– no way they can accurately determine that.  A neat trick is to take the related sites spit out by Quantcast (your competitors, I’m assuming) and then paste those domains into a spyfu.com or other keyword research tool to get their keywords.

ComScore is for big companies that have a lot of money to spend on reporting, although the unwritten rule is that if you pay ComScore for their reporting, you might somehow rank better in their various reports.  ComScore doesn’t matter to you unless you’re VC funded or a big company that is depending upon who ComScore says is top in a particular category for your valuation or ad rates.  There is a minor conflict of interest here, but not much more so than the fact that automobile review magazines accept ads from car dealerships, or that Yelp takes ads from restaurants that have reviews in their directory.

But the most important tool to use in grading your site is your own analytics– and you should be using Google Analytics here unless you are an enterprise client that can afford a custom clickstream tool to do click level attribution, or are perhaps doing some crazy form of lead generation.

The question is what your goal is with these 3rd party traffic tools. And there are different tools for different jobs depending on whether your aim is keyword research on competitors, exploring new demographics for a product you want to launch, researching the other players to demonstrate where you’ve kicked ass over the last year (to get a raise), or perhaps it’s just a nice stat to consistently track each month over time.

So what tools do you prefer to use for assessing popularity on the web?  My favorite is still Alexa because it’s easy to use and commonly understood.

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written by
Dennis Yu is the Chief Technology Officer of Portage. He is an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook marketing, having been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, National Public Radio, TechCrunch, Fox News, and CBS Evening News. He is also an author at InsideFacebook and AllFacebook. Dennis has held leadership positions at Yahoo! and American Airlines. He studied Finance and Economics from Southern Methodist University and London School of Economics. Besides being a Facebook data and ad geek, you can find him eating chicken wings or playing Ultimate Frisbee in a city near you. You can contact him at dennis@portage.co, his blog, or on Facebook.
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8 Responses to “Alexa, Quantcast, ComScore, Compete, etc… Are they accurate?”

  1. Reply Thos003 says:

    Knowing what my numbers and comparing my numbers with theirs… No. They are totally inaccurate. But I am only comparing a few websites with their data.

    I would assume that their count is biased to the webmaster crowd as they are the one’s who most likely download these tool bars.

    • Reply Dennis Yu says:

      Thomas– Alexa is completely biases towards webmasters and VCs. My blog has been in the 30,000 range of Alexa with only a few hundred folks a day– while major retail clients that have 20,000 visits a day have a ranking of 50,000. Clearly not accurate between different categories, but an okay comparison in the same category of sites that have at least a thousand uniques a day.

  2. Reply Dave Duffy says:

    Very valuable info for me. I was wondering why Alexa gave my site’s stats (when compared to certain competitors’ sites stats) so upsidedown a result when compared to the stats I was getting from Quantcast, Compate, and Statsaholic. Thanks very much.

    • Reply Dennis Yu says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the kudos! By the way, I like Backwoods Home– you have a ton of great content there. I also notice you have a Facebook page, but aren’t maximizing it via some simple tips, so you don’t have as many fans as you should have. Happy to help– just drop me a line and I’ll show you.

  3. Reply Emily says:

    Very valuable info for me. I was wondering why Alexa gave my site’s stats (when compared to certain competitors’ sites stats) so upsidedown a result when compared to the stats I was getting from Quantcast, Compate, and Statsaholic. Thanks very much.

  4. Reply Kristin says:

    I run my own analytics now, but when I was just starting out I relied on Quantcast and found it helpful. I’ve seen other sites boast their Alexa rank to potential advertisers, and while I didn’t think much of it (i.e. care either way, lol) seeing how Alexa ranks sites makes it seem even more meaningless.

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