Ultimate Motorcycling, formerly of Robb Report fame, issued a fun article today (and accompanying press release) about how they’ve become the most popular American-based website for motorcycling out of all the print magazines, surpassing CycleWorld, Motorcyclist, and *gasp* even Asphalt & Rubber (actually we don’t dabble in print, so we guess we’re excluded from this club). This of course is complete, utter, and absolute bullshit, now allow me to tell you why. Ultimate Motorcycling is backing up its claim by citing Alexa.com, one of the most unreliable and easily massaged traffic reporting sites on the internet.
Now while all metric sites should be taken with a fair dose of salt, since they typically indirectly measure a website’s traffic, Alexa is by far the worst of the group. Bought by Amazon in 1999, and then quickly forgotten about by the Seattle company, Alexa has done little since the 20th century to change with the ever evolving internet. While the site was fun back in the days when AOL was still the default landing page for most internet users, Alexa has long since jumped the shark in regards to its credibility in the industry.
There is a nice Wikipedia article that explains basics of Alexa, and TechCrunch gives a good example on how inaccurate Alexa reports really are (YouTube bigger than Google? Really!?), but the boiled down version is that Alexa collects the majority of its data through its own Internet Explorer toolbar and Firefox/Opera add-ons, and given how few people actually use these toolbars the sample sizes are woefully small and statistically insignificant. Further proof of this is the fact that Bulgaria is shown at Ultimte Motorcycling‘s top ranking country…yes, Bulgaria (we apologize to all 600 of our Bulgarian readers for this slight, but come on!).
The worst part about Alexa’s rankings, is how easy they are to game. Remember, these stats are coming from a toolbar that only a handful or readers are actually using, so to inflate them all you need to do is have a few more people visit your site using the toolbar. Having litterally two or three more people visiting Ultimate Motorcycling‘s website with the Alexa toolbar installed can drastically skew the data results the company uses, and for instance say…making someone’s writing staff install Alexa on their work computers could just as easily raise the traffic figures (not that we’re suggesting such an unethical thing has actually occured).
If you want a more accurate idea of how website traffic compares for your favorite motorcycle blogs, we’d recommend Compete.com since they generally have more palatable numbers. Though it often under-report figures, Compete seems to at least get the trends roughly correct (all these sites become more accurate as sites generate more traffic, again exemplifying the issue of small sample sizes), and is good for a general snapshot of how multiple sites compare to each other.
According to Compete, Ultimate Motorcycling has finally caught up to Cycle World, so kudos to them on that account! However Cycle World, despite being the largest motorcycle magazine in the United States, is one of the worst performing web properties in the motorcycle industry. Barely capable of keeping up with Sport Rider, a publication that enjoys maybe 1/5 of Cycle World‘s circulation, the real online heavyweight from the print guys is Motorcyclist, which often enjoys two to three times as many visitors as Cycle World, Sport Rider, and even the #1 ranked Ultimate Motorcycling.
Another good free source is Quantcast, which is very similar to Compete.com, but will also allow sites to directly measure their traffic (Google Analytics is another example of direct measurement results). The downside with Quantcast is it will rank sites that are directly measured against sites that are indirectly measured. We’ve found Quantcast under-reports us by about 100% even using their measurement code, and up-to 1000% when indirectly measured (eeks!). But again the usuable data is really more about the trends and comparisions than raw numbers, when A&R doubled and then double again, Quantcast’s figures showed a similar increase. There does seem to be a fair amount of white noise in Quantcast and Compete’s figures, so again not optimal, but certainly better than Alexa which shows 50% fluctuations on even Ultimate Motorcycling‘s figures.
comScore is the gold standard in this field, but you have pay-to-play, and it is very expensive. Unless you are a major ad agency, you won’t be able to justify an account with comScore, so we’ll omit that comparison for now (if some one has a comScore account though, please post up the numbers!).
At the end of the day, the tale of the tape is in directly measured results from the same source, and the default winner in that category is Google Analytics. Harder to manipulate than server-side scripts and Urchin, Google is becoming the final word on traffic. So Ultimate Motorcycling, why don’t you release these figures, and we’ll see whose is bigger?