local media insider

Five free online sources for data on competitors' traffic and audiences

Alisa Cromer
According to this snapshot we saved from 2011, Compete said that Editor&Publisher's free site has 18,000 unique visitors, far more than LocalMediaInsider's (then) six month old paid subscription site. But, according to Compete, LMI had grown 40% in just the last month, and EditorandPublisher's traffic declined 78% in one year. Hype? Of course! Use Compete.com to create your own competitive story.

Beyond in-house data that every online publisher generates on a monthly basis, there are four top free onlines sources to gain information on how a media site stacks up against others competing for the same audience and advertisers. Just plug the URL's into the search box and click. Get more information by registering, and in some cases paying, but there's a lot of free data here!

Keep in mind that there is still inconsistency around how the online audience is  reported by these free services. With that said, however, all traffic reports can be analyzed and critiqued based on the methodology and the source. And these various sources - since they are all so different - can be used to create the best picture for a target customer.

Here are four top free services:

1. Alexa http://www.alexa.com
Alexa provides primarily comparative  traffic statistics such as traffic rank (a combination of average daily visitors and average daily page views over a 3 month period), page views per user, and time on site,  between up to five other sites.  However,  Alexa will not show the specific number of page views. 

Alexa.com has been providing data since 1996 and is owned by Amazon. It's data is collected when the Alexa Toolbar is downloaded and installed by users  viewing site ranking data for competitor sites. To install, just go the site, select site tools and follow the prompts. In 2011 the servivces was expanded to include “data obtained from other, diverse traffic data sources.” Alexa claims to have millions of users worldwide who have downloaded their toolbar.

A neat little feature for internal use is the "Load time" and percentage of all sites that are faster or slower, and "high impact search queries" to help editors hone in on key words for headlines and metatags.

2. Compete.com http://www.compete.com

Compete.com  also allows visitors to  input a company's web url and compare it with up to four competitors. A graph format  shows the number of uniques for three, six and 12 months, and 2 years and the actual number of visits, unlike Alexa.  Access to pageviews, pages per visit, and other engagement metrics are available behind a registration and subscription wall. 

The best feature of this site is the visuals.  Create an instant, advertiser-worthy, colored graph for the selected year for your media site's traffic  against competitors that is printable and  usable  "as is." Eliminate other sites to change the scale and make small traffic gains look, visually, larger. Or for larger sites, add numerous smaller sites to visually show market dominance. The visual also includes the absolute growth or decline percentage (helpful if the "story" is growth).

Also useful for internal purposes is the number of referring sites;  if a competing site has more referring sites, a key factor in SEO, that will inform your traffic building strategy.  What's neat about Compete is that if a competitor has, say, 100 referring sites to your 10 referring sites, you can click on their number and find out exactly who all those sites are, basically deconstructing their SEO strategy. This tool can also be used for reselling SEO services to merchants who have their own competitive issues. 

Compete also tracks very small sites, so it's possible to obtain competitive data with niche sites that are competing against channels and vice versa. 

Finally, a downloadable  tracking code that can be added to your homepage. This allows Compete.com to build out audience demographics on the site, which are then accessible to other subscribers to their service.

Compete.com launched in 2000. Their data is collected through ISPs (Internet Service Providers), opt-in panels, application providers and users who download the Compete toolbar.

3. Quantcast http://www.quantcast.com
Quantcast traffic metrics  show page views free, and allow two comparisons. The platform uses data collected with cooperation of online publishers participating in Quantcast Measurement.

Quantcast can compare two sites and pull the following metrics: people, visits, pageviews, cookies, page-views per person, visits per person, plus access a full demographic profile of the audience. Quantcast claims to be the only web statistics company which is Media Ratings Council accredited, publishing metrics which are fully compliant with current IAB Standards. 

Joining the program as a website is a self-service process, just register for a free account, download the tracking code and add it to the web pages. 

Quantcast is a great  "instant hit" to find a site's traffic and Not being findable via Quantcast is usually interpreted as being too small to show up. So it's well worth it to join this site, though the numbers are sometimes  "off," compared to, say, Google Analytics or internal counts.

4. Google Ad Planner http://www.google.com/adplanner
Google Doubleclick Ad Planner is another free tool that is accessible to anyone with a Google account, and widely used by ad planners. The best reason to use this data is to know what they are seeing. 

The system allows media to create a profile  of the site as well as the sites of competitors. This is worth playing around with for the simple fact you can get a sense of what a digital agency goes through when researching an ad buy.

Google Doubleclick Ad Planner provides the following data: unique visitors (estimated cookies), unique visitors (users), reach, page views, total visits, visits per cookie, average time onsite. They also allow you to see a detailed demographic profile as well as a list of other sites users have visited.

The Ad Planner combines information from a variety of sources including anonymized, aggregated Google Toolbar data from users who have opted in to enhanced features, publisher opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in external consumer panel data, and other third-party market research. The data is aggregated over millions of users and powered by computer algorithms. In a nutshell, it’s the power of Google.

5. Civic Science, Inc. 

Here's a source of deeper audience research that actually pays publishers.CivicSscience place an engaging poll on news sites using a simple embed code. Editors have control of some of the questions, the rest of the questions are supplied by Civic Science to generate basic data such as age and gender, and sold to national brands (participating media partners get a revenue share). All that data rolls up and is co-owned by the media and Civic Science. So, for example, it's easy to answer very specific questions such as who prefers Ford to Chrysler, and doesn't listen to radio. This research can also be sold as a service to local merchants. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for example, has reportedly sold more than six figures using CivicScience polling dta. See a more complete review here. 


One thing you will notice when running these numbers against your internal Google Analytics is that they vary in unusual ways.  But on a reputable blog, we've also seen reports that show Google Ad Planner's numbers  being three times higher than Comscore's expensive reporting tool. So this can go either way.  In general, if you spend some time,  you will find information that can be manipulated to tell a good story. As long as it's sourced, even mixed and matched, is fair game. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

market research, audience, free, quantcast, alexa, google, compete