Market research · SEO/SEM

How do you use Alexa to spy on competitors?

Nishant Dogra UI/UX Designer at Blog Sparks Network, Inc

September 21st, 2016

I have been tasked with using Alexa and doing some research on the traffic that our competing sites receive.
Do you have any experience doing this and what is the best way to interpret the data that is displayed as the result of a query?


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Jim Hodson Digital Marketing Strategist & SEO Evangelist

September 21st, 2016

Without having access to a site's web analytics, all you're going to get from any tool at best is a ballpark estimate. 

Most traffic estimation tools pay Internet Services Providers like Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, Charter, etc. to watch the traffic from their customers going through their routers to the Internet.  They can see which site, say AT&T's customers are visiting.  So they end up with only a small sample of total Internet traffic (some fraction of 1% typically), and they use it to extrapolate out to 100%.  Unfortunately, for sites with small to medium size traffic volume, this means the numbers will almost always be way underestimated because the sample size is too small.  For sites with large amounts of traffic the numbers can be at least in the ball park.  Most of the tools that use this method are VERY expensive. 

Others like SEMRush will pull rankings for millions of keywords each month, see who is ranking for each of those high volume keywords and in what positions, and then based on the estimated search volume for each of the keywords (likely from Google Adwords API but not available much longer) they can estimate which portion of the volume for each keyword goes to which site.  Again, an estimate and it's as only as good as the number of keywords they pull rankings for and the frequency at which they are checked.

James Young I excel at replacing messy Excel sheets with smart web apps

September 21st, 2016

I'd suggest you use either spyfu.com or semrush.com to do this task. All you need to do is enter the URL of your competitor in their search box and it will return all the organic keywords that they rank for and also the keywords that they are targeting via Google Adwords. You will be able to see the monthly search volumes for those keywords and what position they rank at. For example, if their position for "keyword XYZ" is 18, with a search volume of 120, that means that they are showing on the google search results on the bottom of page 2 whenever someone enters "keyword XYZ" into the Google search box. The volume is the approximate # of searches entered into the Google search box per month. In the example above, it means that around 120 searches per month, or 4 per day. Hope this helps.

Josh Kirschner Founder & CEO at Techlicious

September 21st, 2016

I have quite a bit of experience using various tools for traffic benchmarking. Piling on the "Alexa is worthless" bandwagon for estimating competitor traffic. Best tool is Quantcast, assuming the competitor is Quantified, which many larger sites are, as that will give you "real" not estimated values. Similarweb.com is also very good. Tends to overestimate traffic, but does so relatively consistently so useful for ballparking. Similarweb offers more details on traffic sources than Quantcast, though need to pay to get full reporting. And, of course, ComScore for media sites, if you can find someone to give you access. Though I've found that it significantly underestimates our traffic, it's what many ad agencies use, if that's relevant to your reason for analyzing.

Jim Hodson Digital Marketing Strategist & SEO Evangelist

September 21st, 2016

Alexa is worthless.  Their numbers for various web sites are not even close. Agree with James Young that software like Search Metrics, Spyfu, and SEMRush are much better for this type of work.

Natascha Thomson CEO MarketingXLerator, Social Media Consultant, UCSC Ext. Adjunct Instructor, Author, Yoga Teacher, @Yerdle #Y4Y

October 4th, 2016

Jim, really appreciate your expert insight here!