I’ve seen a large amount of people relying on certain analytics services that just don’t really show them a realistic view of who is on their sites. There are several situations in which these are reliable and where they aren’t. Today, we will discuss what metrics you’ve been told to rely on and when you should or shouldn’t rely on them. This kind of dilemma hits people hard especially when they’re led to think they don’t have as many visitors on their site as they really do.
Let’s have a look at a couple of analytics services and discuss when it’s appropriate to rely on them (if it ever is) and why it would be inappropriate to completely base your opinion of your current situation on those numbers:
Alexa gives you a sufficiently nice comparison of how you’re doing compared to other sites. Often times, it shows you your traffic rank amongst other sites on the web and in your country. This can be a great way to compare yourself to the competition by searching for your site on it and then looking up a competitor’s site. It’s hard to hide from the eyes of Alexa, since it relies on data gathered from clients with its toolbars installed.
When You Should Rely On It: As mentioned previously, you should rely on Alexa when comparing your site to another one. Other than that, you shouldn’t really rely on it.
Why You Shouldn’t Rely On It: The list of sites linking to yours is an inaccurate way to track how many sites actually link to yours. Google Webmaster Tools does a much better job of this, and gives you much more insight. Also try Open Site Explorer for this.
Besides that, your traffic rank is also updated with a slight delay if you’re below a certain rank. The traffic estimations come from people using the toolbar, so it’s not generally an accurate depiction of who you’re reaching. Just take these things into consideration when using the service.
Google Analytics is an awesome tool that gives you a very deep insight on visitor trends and behavior. The service will show you how many people are clicking the “Back” button on their browsers, who’s searching for your site, and what keywords they’re using (if you integrate it with Google Webmaster Tools). The software works via a script that you place on your site’s header on each page. The data coming from it is immensely useful and can help you get a very broad picture of what’s right and wrong on your site.
When You Should Rely On It: You should rely on this service to get a general idea of what kind of behavior your visitors exhibit. It helps you see how much engagement your site provokes in them. However, there is one huge issue with this service, which brings us to…
Looking At Likes, Tweets, Etc.
The biggest mistake people do when measuring the popularity of another site’s article is to look at how many people liked and shared a page on that site. You might see an article with 20 likes, but that might have been 20 visitors who came from the fan page to enter a contest. There’s no time when you should rely on this. On the contrary, you have every reason to avoid using this as a metric of a competitor’s performance. Some people have written articles with only 3-4 likes but scored thousands of sales through it. It’s all about whether the content is useful or just something meant to go viral on social media. You can use this to see how your competitors are planning their content strategies, but that’s pretty much it.
Some Final Thoughts
As you can see, while you must avoid relying on each of these analysis methods totally, there are some reasons why they’re still useful. If you really want a reliable view into your traffic, try getting modules or services that analyze your website locally by counting and looking at the HTTP requests it receives. This paints a much more accurate picture of who’s visiting your site. Unfortunately, there’s no way to accurately determine how much traffic your competitors are getting, but you can always focus on building yours up to be the best it can be!