Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Determining a website’s traffic is a tricky thing. To get completely accurate numbers, you need to contact the website owner and ask them for a traffic report. Since many website owners won’t volunteer such information, for a variety of reasons, some of which are valid, you’re left hoping someone has built a cool tool to save you.

Maybe you’re a public relations professional looking for high-trafficked sites for outreach. Perhaps you’re a media planner and buyer and want to get a hold on which blogs and other online media sites should be in your client’s plan. Whatever the reason, finding a tool to help you research a site’s traffic can be a Godsend.

As with most Internet research needs, there are a variety of companies that provide solutions, some good. Others not so. There are three free tools available to anyone: Compete.com, Alexa.com and Quantcast.com. Today we’ll look at Compete.com. Soon, we’ll cover the other two. The analysis of the paid solutions (ComScore, Nielsen, Hitwise) will come whenever they give me a free preview to try their tools. (Hint, hint, boys.)

Compete.
Image via Wikipedia

Compete.com is a panel-based measurement service. This means they take a sample of Internet use statistics (called click streams) from users that have opted in to volunteer that information. Their data sample is from over 2 million U.S. consumers. This includes click stream data from a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which anonymize the data of their users, who have agreed to terms which allow the ISP to sell the data to firms like Compete. The sample also includes Compete toolbar users: People who have gone through the trouble of downloading a toolbar plug-in from Compete specifically to volunteer their web surfing data for measurement. There is an inherent bias in this portion of their data because it will skew geek. Generalizing a bit, only computer nerds and webmasters are going to download this toolbar. Compete’s third data point is what they call a proprietary panel. (Because what’s a good sales pitch without working in the word “proprietary?”) This panel is a group of users actively engaged with Compete to provide data, respond to surveys, etc.

Once all the data of web surfing activity, sites, etc., is collected, it is normalized, or weighed and skewed to correct biases like the geek-heavy toolbar users. The goal of the normalization process, which by the way is conducted and overseen by people with Ph.d’s in this sort of number crunching, is to have each consumer measured represent the average American consumer. The normalized data is then used to project metrics that are an estimate of how the average U.S. consumer behaves online.

The key thing to know here is that even though Compete.com has data from over 2 million users (more than ComScore and Nielsen, to my knowledge, which use samples of 200,000-300,000) they are still projecting results, a process I believe is inherently flawed.

Still, Compete allows users to compare these projected traffic numbers of up to three websites for free. While the numbers are inconsistent and far from accurate (see below), the tool can be useful for site comparisons.

Paid Solution

Smartly, Compete doesn’t offer just a free tool and that’s it. For subscription rates ranging from $199 per month to $499 per month, plus custom pricing for enterprise offerings, you can access additional site analytics reports (like visits per person and daily reach, which do not appear in the free version) and a trio of added value pieces to make you think you’re getting something for your money.

The Search Analytics suite offers tools to find sites that get the most traffic from certain keywords, keywords that drive most search traffic to a given site and comparisons of search keywords for sites so you can judge yourself based on your competitors.

There’s a Referral Analytics toolset that allows you to see a ranking of what sites point to yours, what sites your website sends traffic to and a comparison tool to see referral and destination traffic for any two websites.

The final piece of the paid component is ranked lists of the top websites. You can get the top 200 websites with any paid plan. Stepping up a notch on the plan gradient gets you the top 1,000 and then the top 15,000.

Frankly, I don’t think there are enough tools for $200 per month. Sure, those there are worth something, but similar information can be found online and probably for free. There are also some keyword and search specific tools out there that are much more robust than what Compete offers. Still, the toolset is useful and Compete at least provides everyone with the traffic comparisons, giving something to the greater web community. That should count for something.

Aaron Prebluda, Compete’s director of market development and to whom I’m indebted for his kindness in answering questions, told me, “Our paid product provides competitive intelligence and behavioral data that is actionable.” To the letter, that’s true. But companies that use Compete’s paid solutions will have to be savvy enough to know what actions to take. Seeing a chart that shows you the top search keywords that drive traffic to your site is one thing. Knowing how to analyze that data and use it to improve search results for certain keywords is something very different. What that means is the paid solution is only going to be worth your while if you have an SEO specialist on staff or on retainer to do something with it. (If you need one, let me know. Kat and David are really good.)

The Unfortunate Discovery

All that said, I decided to test Compete’s data against sites for which I have access to Google Analytics. Honestly, it appears Compete.com isn’t accurate at all. Here’s a comparison of Compete’s numbers and those of several sites whose Google Analytics reports I can access. (I’ve removed the names of the sites as I don’t own them and am not sure if the owners want their actual traffic numbers public.)

Compete Traffic Comparison Chart

As you can see from this small sampling, there’s a big difference in actual and what Compete’s data and normalization produces. For the record, I did notice on one seasonal website a mirror of the peaks and valleys of the web traffic, but the metrics were way off.

What this tells us is that Compete’s statistical patterns might mirror reality, but the numbers are based on fuzzy math and unreliable. Folks from Compete may balk at that statement, saying I only looked at three websites. But isn’t taking a sampling of data and projecting it on the entire population kinda what they’re guilty of, too?

I would recommend Compete as a tool to compare the traffic of websites. And if you’re interested in a fairly economical keyword and search engine research tools, at least in comparison to a lot of solutions out there, it’s worth considering even if the price tag seems a bit disproportionate to the value you receive. Still, the primary focus of this series of reviews is to determine website traffic. Frankly, Compete.com’s vast inconsistencies with the web analytics I trust to be true makes me hesitant to do much more with the tool.

What’s your experience with Compete? Is there more to their paid solution I’ve missed? If you haven’t tried it, do so now and come back to report your thoughts on the tool. And what do you think about the comparison to Google Analytics numbers? Run sites you know the actual traffic for and compare your numbers to Compete’s. Let us know how far they are off. The comments are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • LaurenCandito

    Thanks for the article Jason – I have used Compete before and I was not very impressed with the results. I appreciate knowing someone else shares my opinion.

    Lauren

  • LaurenCandito

    Thanks for the article Jason – I have used Compete before and I was not very impressed with the results. I appreciate knowing someone else shares my opinion.

    Lauren

  • http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/fortunehotels.in Knowing alexa

    Alexa is one of the most known names in the web circuit. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/fortunehotels.in Alexa's numerous features aimed at the benefit of the users have contributed immensely to its rapid expansion and ever growing popularity.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well then have someone from Alexa return an email or a Tweet so I can do a better analysis of their tool. As such, it appears to be a geek-centric browser download driven extrapolation of skewed numbers. Just my take. But thanks for chiming in.

      • Kdjhf

        Dont feed the alexa troll

  • http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/fortunehotels.in Knowing alexa

    Alexa is one of the most known names in the web circuit. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/fortunehotels.in Alexa's numerous features aimed at the benefit of the users have contributed immensely to its rapid expansion and ever growing popularity.

  • http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/fortunehotels.in Knowing alexa

    Alexa is one of the most known names in the web circuit. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/fortunehotels.in Alexa's numerous features aimed at the benefit of the users have contributed immensely to its rapid expansion and ever growing popularity.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hubspot is a good place to start. Love what they do and know they do good work.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hubspot is a good place to start. Love what they do and know they do good work.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Well then have someone from Alexa return an email or a Tweet so I can do a better analysis of their tool. As such, it appears to be a geek-centric browser download driven extrapolation of skewed numbers. Just my take. But thanks for chiming in.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Well then have someone from Alexa return an email or a Tweet so I can do a better analysis of their tool. As such, it appears to be a geek-centric browser download driven extrapolation of skewed numbers. Just my take. But thanks for chiming in.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    You're welcome Lauren. They have their uses and I wouldn't totally walk away from using them, but they have their flaws as well.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    You're welcome Lauren. They have their uses and I wouldn't totally walk away from using them, but they have their flaws as well.

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  • ladybird1005

    I’ve found another site valuation tool and it seems to provide competitive analysis for free. I'm talking about
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  • garygranneman

    Compete.com reported that schoolofmusic.com had only 179 visits in September 09. We monitor visits, and our software determines IP addresses, city, state, country, OS, date and time of visit, and more. This is not some fantasy. We counted over 3,000 unique visits. Since we are localized the difference in the numbers is significant in our relationships with others. Quantcast, which monitors our site, showed 2300 visits in the last 30 days. All I get from compete.com is an explanation of their, obviously flawed methodology. We had more hits reported on Google Maps alone than Compete shows. Is there really a point in using them for anything? I am thinking that a class action lawsuit might be appropriate if anyone important actually believes their numbers.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for this Gary. The problem with Compete and Alexa (and
      Quantcast for those who don't embed their code) is they predict what
      they think a website's traffic might be based on extrapolating data
      from a variety of sources. This is the key problem I've always had
      with predictive audience equations. They're guesses … even educated
      ones … but inherently flawed. I doubt you could sue … I'm sure
      there's something in the fine print that says they aren't responsible
      for bad numbers … but you certainly raise a great point about how
      reliable they are.

      Thanks for sharing your numbers and perspective.

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  • http://twitter.com/benberkowitz Benjamin Berkowitz

    Compete has been about 5-10% shy on SeeClickFix.com but very very close to our analytics numbers.
    Compete counts our widget hits which alexa definitely does not.

    I'll check out quantcast and let you know.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Ben. Good to get some real examples!

  • eledger

    Our firm spends a tremendous amount of time engaging online with prospective clients. As one of the leading legal consumer websites we have an obligation to constantly keep our ear to the ground with respect to changing technologies and client demands. In pursuit of quality analytics we opted to open an account http://www.compete.com. Almost immediately we found all data related to our website was inaccurate. Let me be clear here, ALL http://WWW.COMPETE.COM SELLS IS DATA and thus if the data is inaccurate then they are selling junk. To pour salt in the wounds of a dissatisfied client….the site has endless links to “upgrade” the use for few hundred dollars. This is a classic bait & switch.

    I brought this to the attention of management who was rude & defensive. The agent who responded had more of a desire exercise his ego than to address the issues and have the problem resolved. No refund was offered despite my attempt to cancel within approximately one hour of opening the the account.

    WE WOULD NOT RECOMMEND http://WWW.COMPETE.COM TO ANYONE. We intend to spread the word about poorly run companies like http://www.compete.com and praise those companies which provide excellent service such as http://www.getclicky.com. For more information regarding our opinion about http://www.compete.com please contact me at 800-300-0001.

    If you feel you have been cheated by this company please contact me. Our firm pursues litigation against companies we believe provide false and misleading statements about their products or services.

  • http://www.bozemanrealestatereport.com/ Brett

    Google Anayltics has my key site increasing a bit through the last 12 months. Compete has it decling dramatically in the last three months.

  • http://www.bozemanrealestatereport.com/ Brett

    Google Anayltics has my key site increasing a bit through the last 12 months. Compete has it decling dramatically in the last three months.

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  • Bob

    http://www.Alexa.com and http://www.Compete.com are both way off on stats compared with real stats from google analytics. How they can get people to sign up and pay for their inaccurate service is beyond me.

  • http://twitter.com/Jjones444 John Jones

    Some sites come with an option to see the site's traffic on them. I know blogspot and some other sites have an option on the home page to see how many visitors have visited each page of the blog. I'm not sure how to find these tools for other sites though, if they're not already included. http://www.jeppsondental.com/

  • Endingsummit

    Take compete.com with a grain of salt. Compete.com is generally far from accurate and consistently inconsistent when compared to their own competition.

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  • karen

    One of my site which is popular, compete.com is showing only 3.97% of unique visitors compared to Google Analytics for the month of June 2011. Since the time I am following compete.com, it always showed tremendous difference in the stats.

    They are most unreliable. Sad thing is those people why rely on compete.com get false impressions about the websites they check and that affects the website reputation. Someone must report about them for giving wrong information to the public.

  • Jj_technologies

    Sorry but compete.com is complete(.com) waste of time. One of my sites has over 16k unique visitors per month, whereas compete shows <1.5k. With all due respect this tool isn't worth 2 pence. it's not a small discrepancy – it's a complete disinformation and gibberish. it's beyond me how someone is making money on such a useless tool. 

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