If you have a website, you need to know how large your traffic from different sources is.
But that's not enough.
You also need to find out how much traffic your competitors get.
How do you do that?
Enter free traffic checkers.
Your own traffic vs others' traffic
Let's make an important distinction first. You don't need any special tool to check your own site's traffic. You have Google Analytics for that, and it's amazing. Google will tell you how many visitors you get from different sources: search engines, social media, referrals, AdWords, and so on.
You can filter the traffic by location and demographics, see where your visitors where before coming to your site, and much else:
So if you aren't using Google Analytics and Google Search Console yet, you should start doing so ASAP.
The traffic checkers I'll be talking about in this post have a different function. They are supposed to show you how where other sites get their traffic from.
Why would you need that?
Well, for several reasons:
- See how your site compares to the competition;
- Learn where your rivals get their traffic from;
- Find the best sites to publish backlinks to your page, etc.
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu states, “Know your enemy”.
This is exactly what traffic checking tools can help you with. By analysing your competitors' traffic, you can position your site better and gain an advantage. But before you get too excited, there's a serious caveat you need to know about.
Online traffic checkers use lots of sources to collect data. These include browser extensions, ISPs, web crawlers, monitored devices and whatnot. Some of them can be quite shady – especially the extensions.
But in any case, checkers only analyze a very small sample of website visits. Think of it as of a political poll: you ask 1000 people and draw conclusions on the opinions of the whole population.
As a result, traffic checkers can give you wildly inaccurate estimates. According to Ahrefs, some tools overestimate the number of visitors for over 90% of websites – and by as much as 300%.
Finally, checkers work well only for popular websites. For smaller pages, they will often refuse to provide any data at all. For example, on the SimilarWeb checker you'll get a message like this:
Now that you're aware of the drawbacks, let's look at the 5 best free tools for checking your competitors' traffic.
If the site is included in their database, SimilarWeb will show you which country is its main source of traffic. You'll also see how it ranks in its specific category.
Next, you'll see the number of visitors and how many pages every user views on average. To get total pageviews, you need to multiply these two numbers. (It's a bit weird that SimilarWeb doesn't provide this metric by default).
Scroll down and you'll find a wealth of useful info. The top 5 countries where traffic comes from, key referral sites, traffic from social media by platform… Particularly useful is the traffic source chart:
The best thing is that it's all free. The paid version is supposed to help you benchmark your site against others and get a peek at your competitors' marketing strategies.
You need to register to use SEMrush traffic analytics, but it only takes a moment. A bigger problem is that it only works for large sites. The only part of the analysis you can access for free is the overview. It provides mostly the same data as SimilarWeb, including the number of visitors, visit duration, and the average number of pages viewed per visit:
You can also view traffic by source, the top 5 countries, and the proportion of desktop/mobile traffic for each subdomain:
However, whenever you click on Full Report or on any of the advanced tabs, you are offered to buy a premium package. They cost at least $200 per month – not a great option if you are just starting out.
This checker is supposed to be more accurate than SimilarWeb or SEMrush. There's one issue, though. You need to add your own site to the database and install a small tracker. This means that Quantcast only analyzes those sites that have joined its system. If you have a small site competing with other small sites, chances are you won't find them on Quantcast.
The basic data is the same as with other checkers:
Where Quantcast excels is at demographics. You can generate a portrait of an average visitor: their gender, age, income level, ethnicity, and so on.
Quantcast even shows you visitors' interests, occupation, shopping preferences, and political opinions.
Alexa used to be an extremely popular traffic checker. Unfortunately, a lot of its free features have been removed, so now it lags behind SimilarWeb and others. Still, it can provide you with much useful data. There are the traffic sources and referral sites, for instance. But if you want to see a breakdown by social platform, you'll need to purchase a subscription.
And interesting feature is Audience Overlap – you can see a list of sites visited by the same users:
Alexa also provides you with the keywords that help users find the site, audience geography, and more. The cherry on the cake is Alexa rank – an estimate of the site's popularity. It's based on the number of visitors and pageviews in the past 90 days.
Overall, though, too many of Alexa's features are locked – and you'll have to pay $149 a month to access them.
This tool gives you something that others don't – an estimate of how much a site earns from ads. You can view daily, monthly, and yearly numbers.
However, SiteWorthTraffic seems to fetch the rest of its data from Alexa:
Though it provides much less data, SiteWorthTraffic is completely free. It doesn't try to sell you expensive subscriptions – and there's no registration, either.
Whichever tool you choose, don't forget that none of them is 100% correct. They aren't even 90% correct. In fact, all traffic checkers base their calculations on very incomplete data. Try to put in your own site's URL – and then compare what the checker tells you with what you see in your Google Analytics. You'll be surprised by the difference.
Still, checkers are valuable because they show you the general trends – and give you a direction for further research.
Say you find out that a competitor’s site gets many more visitors. In this case, you can ask yourself: is it because their content is more engaging? Do they select their keywords better? Or perhaps they chose a faster web hosting with better uptime and thus rank better on Google?
At the end of the day, competitor analysis is not about perfect accuracy. It's about what you need to do to help your site perform better.
Natalya Dyatko is a freelance writer and content marketing/SEO specialist. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter for more SEO tips, tutorials, and analysis.