Web Development Class: Traffic Analysis Using Alexa

By Curtis Dicken

Intro to Traffic Analysis for Web Developers

Web developers often use website analysis as an important tool for search engine optimization (SEO), as well as a method of finding out which content is generating interest on their sites. This tutorial will show you how to use Alexa.com to gain a broader picture of your website to see how it stacks up against similar sites.

Build Your WebSite's Data Set

The first question you need to answer is the most obvious. "Who is my competition?" Even if you have a simple blog, you still have "competitors" vying for the same keyword traffic that you are. If you have been managing a website for any length of time you probably have a good idea of who your primary competition is, or at least you may think you know.

Once you know who your competitors are you can then begin to put together a meaningful set of comparative data to analyze. You can make comparisons to your competitors based on search keywords, visitor demographics and traffic.

There are three basic steps to putting together an accurate picture of how your website is doing in the grand scheme of things:

  1. Put together a short list of keywords and/or keyword phrases that you think your website should be competitive in.
  2. Use the Find Sites About search box at the top of the Alexa.com website to get a list of the top websites for each of your keywords. Log the top four websites and their respective ranks for each keyword.
  3. Find your website in the list and write down the four websites and their respective ranks immediately above your site in the rankings, assuming your site in not in the top five. Don’t forget to log your rank as well.
By the time you are finished with the steps above you will have everything you need to begin the comparison process. I would suggest you set up a spreadsheet to handle your analysis data.

Make the Comparisons to Competitive Websites

There are a few things to keep in mind when using Alexa.com. First, your comparisons are going to be in the form of the percentage of total internet page views, not actual page view numbers. Second, you cannot compare page to page, but rather website to website. The information that you glean here will be more of an overview nature.

Next, you will want to take a look at the data that you have compiled so far and narrow down which websites are generally among the top four from your keyword searches and which four sites are generally just ahead of you in ranking. You could compare each keyword set you compiled but keep in mind that it can be quite time consuming, especially if your keyword list was extensive.

Making your comparisons is pretty easy. First you want to load up your website’s statistics as your base element. You do this by simply entering your domain name in the Get Info text box and click the Get Info button. This should bring up a graph and some basic page view stats about your website. Next use the Compare to Text boxes below the graph to take a look at your website compared to the other websites that you have in your data set.

Analyzing the Results

The page view graph will give you a nice and easy visualization of how your site compares. Now you can finally begin the interesting part of figuring out what other sites are doing better than you. There are several graphs that can be selected, however not all are really useful for your analysis. Be sure to take a look at Page Views ( the default graph), Page Views/User (the higher the number the more time each user is spending on the site), Bounce (users that view a single page then leave, the lower the better), Time on Site, and Search percentage (how many users arrive via search engines).

Every developer’s goal should be to get visitors to their website and keep them there. You may find that some of your competitor's websites are really good at one aspect but not as good at other aspects. For example, one competitor make be an expert at getting traffic to their site from search engines but do a terrible job at keeping the visitors interest once they arrive. Making these kinds of comparisons will tell you exactly where to look for hints on how to improve specific areas of your site and improve your rank.

In addition to Traffic Stats, which is the default tab, there are a few other tabs above the graph that could prove interesting for you. Take a look at the Search Analytics tab and get a feel for what your search engine traffic looks like, including your best keywords. The Audience tab is also interesting for some demographic statistics but take these with a grain of salt. It’s hard to tell how accurate these types of demographic statistics really are.

Lastly, you will notice that the Search Analytics and Audience tabs will only give you data on the site that you did Get Info on. If you want to see statistics on comparitive sites then you will have to do Get Info on each of those sites separately. There is no side-by-side comparison of this data.

SEO Rankings: Something old...Something New

If you have just started a new website you should realize it takes some time to get any kind of ranking. Don’t expect to launch your website today and see stats for it tomorrow. Longevity can also be an important factor when making your comparisons. For example, if your website is not getting the search engine traffic that you think it should be then take a look at how long some of your competitor sites have been operating. If you notice that a competitor has only been around for a short time compared to your site and their search engine traffic is significantly higher, then it’s a good bet they are doing something better than you in that department. If the circumstances are reversed and your site has been around for a short time compared to the competitor site then you may be able to attribute at least part of their superior performance to the fact that they have been getting cataloged by search engines longer.

Web Browser Tool Time

If you like the service that Alexa.com provides they also have some tools that you may find helpful. The first is a toolbar that is available for the most popular browsers. The toolbar allows you do get specific ranking and traffic data from your browser toolbar. They also have a few widgets and services that you can integrate into your websites.

Conclusion: Improving Your Websites

The services that Alexa.com provides can be an incredibly useful tool for improving your websites. Take your time building your data sets and results. Go over the results and get a friend to review your conclusions. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes will see relationships that you may have missed. Take the best of what your competitor's sites are doing and make it work for you. Happy analyzing!

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