Find Out How Much Traffic a Website Gets: 5 Ways Compared

I'm an "SEO" with 6+ years experience; founder of The SEO Project; "link building" enthusiast; regular Ahrefs contributor; avid drinker of red wine; self-proclaimed steak expert; and all-round cool guy. I'm also shorter than you (probably).
    In this post, we’ll be looking at five methods/tools you can use to “guesstimate” traffic stats for (almost) any website.

    We’ve also conducted a small experiment to see which tool/method is the most reliable.

    But some of you may be wondering, “why would I want to know how much traffic a website gets, anyway?”

    If you reached this page via Google (i.e. you were specifically hunting down a method for doing this), I’d hazard a guess that most of you are doing it for “competitive research” purposes.

    Why? Because when you’re considering entering a particular niche (e.g. “bodybuilding” niche), knowing the answer to this question will help to tell you a few things, including:

    1. A rough indication as to how much traffic (and search volume) there is in that niche — this will help you to estimate how much traffic you could attract if you ranked for the same/similar keywords;
    2. A general sense of how much work will be needed to attract X amount of traffic — if a site has thousands of links and receives 10K UVs/month, you’ll probably have your work cut out to compete.

    However, “competitive research” isn’t the only reason you may want to know this stuff.

    3 more reasons you may want to know how much traffic a website gets

    Competitive research aside, there are a few other scenarios in which knowing this information may be useful, such as:

    1. You’re interested in advertising on said website (there’s no point paying for ads on a website with little/no traffic!);
    2. You’re interested in buying the website;
    3. You’re looking for guest post opportunities (again, no point in guest posting on a site with zero traffic as nobody will ever see your post)

    I’m sure there are also some pretty shady reasons you’d want to know this information but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that you want to acquire this info for legitimate purposes only!

    Let’s get started!

    5 ways to find out how much traffic a website gets (+ a few bonus tips)

    Here are five methods/tools you can use to estimate how much traffic a website gets (in no particular order):

    1. Alexa (click here to see study results);
    2. Similarweb (click here to see study results);
    3. Ahrefs/SEMRush/SpyFu (click here to see study results);
    4. Check their “advertising” page;
    5. Ask them!
    Sidenote.
    We’ve also included a few bonus tactics at the end (so keep reading!)

    1. Alexa

    Alexa — now an Amazon-owned company — remains one of the best-known ways to check (roughly) how much traffic a website gets.

    Sidenote.
    Alexa has a bunch of tools; it’s the Website Traffic Statistics you’ll need to do this.

    It’s a pretty simple tool; you enter a domain and it’ll show some a bunch of stats for said website, including “Estimated Unique Visitors” and “Estimated Page views”.

    It also shows you a bunch of other stats for the site, including:

    • Global rank (i.e. Alexa Ranking);
    • A breakdown of where the sites visitors come from (i.e. percentage of traffic by country) — this is useful if you’re looking to, say, advertise on websites with a certain geographical demographic);
    • Engagement metrics (e.g. bounce rate, time on site, average page views, etc.);
    • Percentage of traffic visiting the site from a search engine (plus some of the top keywords bringing traffic to the site)

    Alexa, then, not only shows you an estimate of traffic numbers, but also some insight into who those people are and where they come from. Pretty useful for advertising purposes (and even competitive research).

    But there are two main problems:

    1. Alexa doesn’t always show traffic estimates (in fact, we found that Alexa shows these stats for only 27% of sites in our experiment);
    2. You’ll need to be a paying member (advanced plan at the minimum, which starts at $149/month) to view most of the traffic stats, including the estimated traffic numbers.

    Here’s what non-paying members will see:

    If you don’t have $149/month spare to get access to Alexa’s, probably quite inaccurate data (more on that in a sec!), you might think one potential workaround would be to use Alexa Ranking instead.

    However, Alexa Ranking doesn’t tell you much and it isn’t very reliable; here’s why:

    A site’s [Alexa] ranking is based on a combined measure of Unique Visitors and Pageviews. [...] The site with the highest combination of unique visitors and pageviews is ranked #1.

    [...] sites with relatively low measured traffic will not be accurately ranked by Alexa. We do not receive enough data from our sources to make rankings beyond 100,000 statistically meaningful.
    Alexa Alexa.com

    But, what about Alex’s raw traffic statistics; should you trust those?

    To answer that question, we need to know where Alexa gets their data from and how reliable said data is likely to be.

    Here’s what they say:

    Alexa’s traffic estimates and ranks are based on the browsing behavior of people in our global data panel which is a sample of all internet users using one of over 25,000 different browser extensions.

    [...] We also gather much of our traffic data from direct sources, including sites that have chosen to install the Alexa script and certify their metrics.
    Alexa Alexa.com

    That’s a pretty vague description, but we believe that “...people in our global data panel” probably refers mainly to Alexa Toolbar users (don’t quote us on that, though!)

    Alexa states that their toolbar is used by “millions of people”. This may sound like a lot but, even if we assume 50 million (note: this website estimates it’s closer to 15-20 million), it’s still a tiny percentage of internet users.

    Also, I’ve personally never seen a non-internet-marketer with the Alexa toolbar installed, so chances are that many of these “millions of people” are in fact internet marketers (although Alexa states this is a myth).

    In conclusion, Alexa probably isn’t the most reliable way to decipher website traffic (see our experiment below for more insight!)

    2. Similarweb

    Similarweb appears to rely on a much more trustworthy set of data to derive their estimated traffic stats (although this may simply be down to the fact that they’re more transparent about their data sources than Alexa are!)

    Here’s what they say:

    Our data comes from 4 main sources:

    1. A panel of monitored devices, currently the largest in the industry;
    2. Local internet service providers (ISPs) located in many different countries;
    3. Our web crawlers that scan every public website to create a highly accurate map of the digital world;
    4. Hundreds of thousands of direct measurement sources from websites and apps that are connected to us directly.
    Similarweb Similarweb.com

    And here are a few traffic stats that Similarweb “guesstimates”:

    • Total visits for the past month — it also tells you if traffic is up/down compared to the previous month's stats;
    • Average visit duration;
    • Pages per visit;
    • Bounce rate

    It also shows you a graph with the previous 6-months estimated traffic stats.

    Sidenote.
    Paying members can also view stats as far back as 2 years; this is useful for seeing how a site has grown (or not) over time. There’s also the option to select a custom range, so you can get some pretty granular estimates if need be.

    But that’s not all the data; scroll down the page and you’ll a bunch of other useful stats including:

    • Traffic by countries (desktop only);
    • Traffic sources (e.g. direct, referrals, search, etc.);
    • Top referring sites (really useful if you’re link-building or looking for guest post opportunities that will actually bring referral traffic!);
    • Top 5 organic keywords

    Similarweb shows a “Global Rank” for the site (similar to Alexa Ranking), which shows the website's popularity relative to all other sites.

    This is similar to Alexa Ranking and thus, doesn’t really tell you much.

    3. Ahrefs/SEMRush/Spyfu

    Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Spyfu are useful if you’re looking to see traffic estimates for organic traffic (i.e. search engine traffic) only.

    Each of these tools have a ton of data and allow you to do some pretty granular competitive research. However, for the purpose of estimating site traffic, they each give you an overview of roughly the same estimated data points, which are:

    • Monthly organic traffic (inc. breakdown by country);
    • Organic keywords (inc. breakdown by country);
    • Paid keywords / traffic

    One thing you’ll notice straight away is that the estimated traffic in the screenshot (101K) is significantly lower than the traffic estimates from both Alexa and Similarweb; this is because we’re solely looking at organic traffic here, not website traffic as a whole.

    It’s also worth noting that although these three tools are similar, reported estimated traffic stats can vary somewhat between each of them.

    Here’s the estimated traffic for the website ahrefs.com, as reported by each of the three tools (US-only):

    • Ahrefs: 22,000/month
    • SEMRush: 22,900/month
    • SpyFu: 87,300/month
    NOTE
    Ahrefs is the only tool of the three that will show you "Global" search traffic (for all countries combined).

    SEMrush can only show you search traffic for each country individually and SpyFu is only limited to US/UK.

    That's why on the above screenshot you see Ahrefs reporting (Global) Organic traffic of 101k/month and then 22,000/month "US-only" traffic.

    Each of these tools derive their data from a single source; their own index; this contains information about the keywords a site ranks for, their search volume, and their position(s) in Google.

    They then reverse-engineer this data in order to calculate their traffic stats.

    Because each tool makes use of their own keyword/search volume database and their own algorithm for calculating traffic, you'll almost always see some variance in estimated traffic stats across the three different tools.

    4. Check their “advertise with us” page

    Most bloggers receive so many “I’m interested in advertising on your site; how much traffic does it get?” emails that it generally makes sense to simply put this information on a publicly accessible advertising page.

    For example, check out the GeekWire.com’s advertising page.

    It states their monthly unique visitors, pageviews, and some other useful information (e.g. social stats). It’s not just the big sites that do this, either; I’ve seen a lot of individual bloggers doing this, too.

    But, this tactic isn’t foolproof; there are a few potential problems, including:

    • Not all bloggers publish these numbers on their advertising page (see the next tip for a solution to this!);
    • These numbers aren’t always up-to-date; sometimes bloggers add these numbers when they initially launch their website but never update them; this results in figures that are often months/years out-of-date.

    When using this tactic, it’s best to look for blogs that publicly state when these numbers were last updated. Here’s an example from TravelFashionGirl.com:

    It clearly states that the figures were updated in March 2017 (i.e. very recently), so these figures can likely be trusted.

    If the website hasn’t updated their traffic stats recently—or simply fails to give a “last updated” date—it’s unlikely that they’ll be accurate, so don’t trust them!

    5. Ask them!

    By far the most accurate (and obvious) method for obtaining a website's traffic statistics is simply asking the webmaster/blogger.

    But, because most bloggers/webmasters aren’t going to give out their traffic stats to anyone who emails them; you need to have a genuine reason for asking (e.g. you’re interested in advertising with them).

    Here’s an example email that I’ve used in the past when trying to find out traffic statistics:

    Sidenote.
    We don’t advise sending emails like this unless you’re genuinely looking for advertising opportunities; don’t waste people's time!

    Most bloggers will be happy to share up-to-date traffic numbers with genuine advertisers; many will even screenshot Google Analytics data as proof.

    While this method is typically the most reliable way to decipher traffic stats, it’s not 100% foolproof. Here’s why:

    • Some bloggers/webmasters will fabricate traffic stats (in order to get the advertisers money);
    • Not everyone has Google Analytics installed; many will rely on less than accurate analytics platforms (e.g. WordPress plugins) for their data;
    • Google Analytics can be easily mis-installed and thus, data isn’t always accurate. If reported traffic sounds too high, try checking their website for duplicate GA code (or ask them what their bounce rate is—a super-low bounce rate is often a good indicator of duplicate GA code)

    We recommend looking to traffic estimation tools (as mentioned above) to confirm numbers quoted by webmasters/bloggers. If they’re in the same ballpark, they’re most likely accurate.

    A few bonus tips for estimating traffic

    Estimated traffic stats will usually give you a good starting point, but you can tell a lot about the popularity of a website by manually checking a few things, such as:

    • # of comments on their posts (on average);
    • # of YouTube video views;
    • # of social shares;
    • Engagement levels on their fan pages (i.e. Facebook page, Twitter, etc.)

    If you take a look at the Ahrefs blog, for example, you’ll see that virtually every blog post has a good number of comments.

    Because most readers won’t bother to leave a comment (no matter how great the content happens to be), a blog that receives a consistently high number of comments on their posts will likely be getting a significant amount of traffic.

    They also clearly have very active and engaged users.

    Sidenote.
    I’d recommend checking out the quality of comments when using this tactic; sometimes high comment counts are due to a site being spammed.

    “Social shares” can be another indication of high traffic. For example, most of the posts on the Ahrefs’ blog receive a ton of social shares.

    Same goes for our social profiles (we have 14K+ followers on Twitter, 46K+ on Facebook, etc.)

    And finally, there’s YouTube.

    Looking at our YouTube channel, you’ll see that all of our videos have a decent number of views (most are in the thousands). Again, this confirms that we have a decent amount of traffic.

    If a website didn’t have decent traffic—and an engaged audience—these numbers would be a lot lower.

    Which tool gives the most accurate numbers? [Experiment]

    Still confused about which tool you should be using to obtain traffic estimates?

    Don’t worry, we’ve got your back!

    We performed a small case study to decipher the reliability of each of the tools/tactics mentioned thus far.

    Here’s what we did:

    1. We gathered a handful of websites (37, to be exact) that published their traffic stats on their “advertise” page—we chose only websites that had updated their traffic stats recently (past 3 months);
    2. We compared these reported traffic stats with those reported by the aforementioned tools (i.e. Alexa, Similarweb, Ahrefs, SEMRush, and SpyFu)

    Here are the basic results:

    1. Alexa: Generally unreliable; typically underestimates unique visitors by around 38% (when it actually works!);
    2. Similarweb: Reliable; typically overestimates uniques by around 58% (on average);
    3. Ahrefs: Reliable; shows organic traffic stats and will almost always underestimate figures;
    4. SEMRush: Reliable; almost on par with Ahrefs;
    5. SpyFu: Reliable; similar results to Ahrefs/SEMRush

    Let’s take a look at the results for each in more detail.

    Alexa [Results]

    Alexa was by far the most unreliable of all the tools on the list.

    While it did give Alexa Ranking for all of the sites we checked (which is pretty much worthless, as we noted above), it only showed estimated traffic stats (i.e. unique visitors + page views) for 27% of sites we checked.

    Sidenote.
    I also had to sign up for a free trial of their $149/month “advanced” plan to get access to this minuscule amount of data.

    Here are a few other stats:

    • On average, Alexa underestimated unique visitors by 38% (note: sample size was very small for this data point, as Alexa only returned data for a handful of sites) and overestimated pageviews by 28%;
    • 80% of the time, Alexa underestimated unique visitors (20% were overestimated), and underestimated pageviews 62% of the time, (38% were overestimated)

    And here's how numbers from Alexa correlated with actual traffic numbers:

    Similarweb [Results]

    Similarweb was much more reliable than Alexa; it returned estimates for all of the websites we checked.

    However, a few of the sites (16%) that had low traffic showed the default “< 5000” option — we discounted these sites when calculating the stats below.

    I also accessed this data with a free account.

    Here are a few other stats:

    • On average, Similarweb overestimated unique visitors by 58%, and overestimated pageviews by 53%;
    • 35% of the time, Similarweb underestimated unique visitors (65% were overestimated), and underestimated pageviews 38% of the time, (62% were overestimated).

    And here's how numbers from SimilarWeb correlated with actual traffic numbers:

    Ahrefs/SEMRush/SpyFu [Results]

    Ahrefs, SEMRush, and SpyFu each gave similar results; this is likely due to the fact that they all report solely organic traffic and use similar methods to gauge traffic.

    All three of these tools gave traffic estimates for 100% of the sites we checked.

    Here are a few other stats:

    • SEMRush underestimated traffic stats for 97% of sites, SpyFu for 95%, and Ahrefs for 100% of them. Note: Underestimation is to be expected here, as we’re only checking organic traffic rather than the sites’ traffic as a whole;
    • On average, Ahrefs underestimated unique visitors by 79%, SpyFu by 80%, and SEMRush by 84%.

    Here's how numbers from these three tools correlated with actual traffic numbers:

    RAW DATA
    If you're interested to get our raw data and play with it on your own, here's a link to download the .xlsx file.

    Conclusion

    In short, while it is certainly possible to obtain website traffic stats from a variety of tools, the reliability just isn't there.

    Your best bet will always be to ask directly; this is the only way you'll get 100% accurate stats.

    If you use any of the other methods mentioned in this post, keep in mind that this will be a very rough estimate only. Some tools overestimate (e.g. Similarweb) but most drastically underestimate (e.g. Ahrefs, SEMRush, SpyFu, etc.)

    If you know of any other (reliable) ways to estimate/find website traffic stats, let us know. We'll happily add them to the post (if they work!)

    I'm an "SEO" with 6+ years experience; founder of The SEO Project; "link building" enthusiast; regular Ahrefs contributor; avid drinker of red wine; self-proclaimed steak expert; and all-round cool guy. I'm also shorter than you (probably).

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    • Hi Joshua Hardwick, Thank you for sharing this helpful information.

    • Olga Andrienko

      Hey, Joshua. Interesting article and great explanation on why analysing a global traffic to your website is crucial for different aspects of your business planning.

      Thanks for featuring SEMrush, although I believe it’s been a while since you last checked our toolkit. Apart from search data we now have Traffic Analytics report, which provides traffic data from different channels for you and your competitors on both global and county level. I’ve attached the screenshot to show what the report looks like. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/caf93dbc95c50b1de6c055f5b645bcc0088743cb8cdb14627559adc476e9422a.png

      Also, thank you so much for sharing the raw file. We have a few comments about the methodology that I’ll send to you via private message. Maybe you’ll feel that it’s necessary to put any changes to the initial research.

    • Olga Andrienko

      Hey, Joshua. Interesting article and great explanation on why analysing a global traffic to your website is crucial for different aspects of your business planning.

      Thanks for featuring SEMrush, although I believe it’s been a while since you last checked our toolkit. Apart from search data we now have Traffic Analytics report, which provides traffic data from different channels for you and your competitors on both global and county level. I’ve attached the screenshot to show what the report looks like.
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/caf93dbc95c50b1de6c055f5b645bcc0088743cb8cdb14627559adc476e9422a.png

      Our estimates are based on clickstream data that comes from multiple proprietary and 3-rd party data sources. According to the provider, the data is accumulated from the user behaviour of over 100 million real internet users and over a hundred different apps and browser extensions are used to collect it.

      Also, thank you so much for sharing the raw file. We have a few comments about the methodology that I’ll send to you via private message. Maybe you’ll feel that it’s necessary to put some changes to the initial research.

      • Joshua Hardwick

        Thanks for the response, Olga!

        I did spot the Traffic Analytics reports when I was conducting the study, but we wanted to focus on organic traffic as we were comparing it to Ahrefs + SpyFu. 

        I’d love to hear your comments about the methodology; feel free to email me directly (josh.c.hardwick@gmail.com)

        • Olga Andrienko

          Joshua, you have he following phrase: “SEMrush can only show you search traffic for each country individually and SpyFu is only limited to US/UK.”. And this is not exactly correct because we have Traffic Analytics report which contains organic search traffic as well (total + divided by regions).
          Moreover, could you explain why you’ve compared SEMrush data for US, Spyfu data for US and Ahrefs data for all countries. This looks confusing to me and makes research a lot less reliable because the samples are different.

          • Hi again, Olga! 🙂

            Yeah, like I said above, we totally overlooked your “Traffic Analytics” report. I think Joshua should be getting in touch with you about this.

            We’ll be happy to extend the study comparing Global organic traffic estimations separately and US traffic estimations separately 😉

            • Olga Andrienko

              Thanks for the reply, Tim. Should I send our comments on the research to both you and Joshua then? The data you picked can be tweaked so easily to put any of the tools in favourable position, we’d be happy to help you guys fix it to make it more trustworthy

            • Joshua Hardwick

              Feel free to send it to us both. I did email you directly but not sure if I’ve got the email address correct? You SEMRush lot are pretty difficult to find contact details for!

      • Hey Olga! I guess I should take the responsibility of overlooking your “Traffic Analysis” report 🙂

        We’ll fix that shortly!

        I guess it will make sense to split the post to comparing “clickstream based” traffic estimations VS “rankings based” traffic estimations.

        And in “clickstream based” we’ll compare SEMrush numbers with SimilarWeb and see who of you two is more accurate 😉

    • Thanks for sharing that info about Alexa. And it’s good to see where they actually pull their data from. I have a bad habit of taking their word for it that the information is accurate.

    • Thanks for sharing such a awesome post its really help me to learn the new thing in ahref blog.This blog and tool really help me to learn the scrap the keywords of my competitor.

      Thank you

    • Thanks for the post, SEMrush has been my preferred tool for traffic analysis but you have to work with the knowledge that it’s likely not totally accurate.

    • Clare Hoang

      Very nice study. Small suggestion is that your sample size (37) is not clear whether it is for small, medium or big site. So we might need to look into small, medium, big site separately, which might affect the correlation. 

      Also, expanding the studies into different industry niches would be cool too. 

      Cheers

    • Thanks for sharing that info about Alexa.