Sunday, 11 December 2011

Assessing Online Advertising Opportunities - Using to Uncover the Truth

I must get at least one or two unsolicited online advertising requests a week. All from sites who claim to be leaders in their niche with thousands of unique visitors a day, guaranteed to generate very high returns on investment all for a fee of $X per month or per year. Sound familiar?

There are lots of travel sites out there. Some are better known than others and are no-brainers (think Tripadvisor,, major OTAs like Expedia, Orbitz etc) but how do you know who will actually produce.

There's no crystal ball that will tell you which online marketing activities will produce bookings, but there are a variety of tools that I use to determine the potential of a website to generate referral traffic and hence bookings. Chief among them is

Alexa, a subsidiary of, calls itself the "Web Information Company" and produces a wealth of information about tens of millions of sites on the world wide web. The most important one for my purposes is the Alexa Global Traffic Rank. Lest I misquote or botch up the explanation of this rank, here is's definition: 

Alexa Traffic Rank
An estimate of's popularity.

The rank is calculated using a combination of average daily visitors to and pageviews on over the past 3 months. The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews is ranked #1. 

All things being equal, the higher a website's traffic rank, the higher the potential traffic it can refer to your site. Of course, the site has to be relevant to your market and your placement on the site is and important factor as well.

Let's look at the ranking of a few popular travel-related sites to determine if the Alexa ranking makes sense intuitively: - 288th in the world - 413th - 1228th - 835th - 9,774th

Makes sense, right? Expedia is the market leader among OTAs in the North American market (although is actually a bit larger according to, perhaps displaying its dominance in Europe) and is a large but much smaller player.'s ranking is nothing to sneeze at, but it is clearly much smaller than either of these two. But if you work with all of these OTAs already then you already know that. So when I get a request from yet another travel site who claims to be a market leader and shows me a ranking of 583,380th in the world (true story, I just got this today), you can understand that I would politely decline their offer of an low introductory rate of $750/year! I will probably not see enough web traffic to even break even! 

But as I have always said, with any statistical tool, you have to understand where it gets its information from and what its limitations are. Some professional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) consultants don't consider to be worth the effort because it gets most of its information from a few million persons who have the Alexa toolbar on their browser. Not a bad sample in my opinion and it is international in scope (unlike which focuses almost exclusively on US traffic) but some claim that those who download the Alexa toolbar are "techies" and not a typical sample. There are also some who claim that some companies can manipulate their Alexa ranking by downloading the toolbar onto their own browser and visit their own site several times a day to boost up their ranking!

Be that as it may, if you have two proposals in front of me for online advertising, one from a site with a ranking of say 1200th and the other with a ranking of 200,000th in the world and the cost is pretty close, which one would you spend your limited marketing budget on?

I also like to use to research top sites in a particular niche. Want to find out who are the top adventure travel sites in the world? Use's Top Sites tool to help narrow your search.

But be careful not to discount "small" sites, especially in niche markets. The size of a website is not the only indication of the site's ability to generate high quality, relevant traffic that converts into sales. It is also not necessarily an indication of the relative size of the company behind the site. One of our top five clients is a niche tour operator with a Global Alexa Traffic Rank of 1,015,094! There were over a million sites with more traffic than this tour operator's site and maybe thousands of travel sites and tour operators ahead of them but yet still they are and have been one of our top 5 sources of business for over a decade!  

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