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I know there is a site out there that provides data and stats on websites' relative popularity, unique hits etc, but I can't remember what it's called. This isn't for my own site, I want to look up more general stats.. thanks

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Many competitive research tools (e.g. compete.com) show estimates for site traffic, but their reliability is questionable. There's no definitive way to determine a website's traffic without access to logs and detailed analytics. I think sites that sell advertising through AdSense have their traffic statistics tracked by Google, and some competitive research tools may be going on these figures, which are probably the most accurate available to those who aren't the actual site owners, but I'm not sure how they'd get their hands on this data.

Sites like compete.com use some kind of market survey through their "panel" of 2 million users. They then use some magical proprietary math formulas to guesstimate the actual traffic that a site receives. These will at least show traffic trends for low-traffic sites (unlike Alexa), but you have to wonder about their accuracy. Plus, they might be collecting data through spyware as John Conde pointed out, and that's always bad news.

The best (most accurate/reliable) way to determine most sites' popularity is probably through search statistics, since these statistics are openly available through Google Trends. These aren't available for low traffic sites, but the threshold is lower than for Alexa, and the figures are unlikely to be skewed.

Competitive research tools like SEMRush and MajesticSEO claim to offer more detailed search data obtained from Google, but I don't know how they're acquiring the data. For example, they show traffic trends from Google for low-traffic sites that Google Trends won't display data for. And they also display backlink stats beyond what a link: search will show. So it's a bit baffling.

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You are probably thinking of Alexa.com. Its stats are based on users that have the Alexa Toolbar installed so read into that what you will. They claim that the top 100,000 sites are very accurate.

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Alexa is as good as you're gonna do. Just remember that their stats only reflect the sites visited by people using their toolbar/spyware and that many people manipulate their system. I can get any site into the top 100,000. I've got a 100% success rate at that. :) – John Conde Oct 25 '10 at 13:32
@John_Conde - Please [continue to?] use your powers for good :) – danlefree Oct 25 '10 at 15:00
@danlefree - lol, don't worry. It's far from being a habit. I've only done it a few times to prove a point. Alexa ratings have less value to me then used diapers. ;) – John Conde Oct 25 '10 at 15:56
@John Conde: Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. – DisgruntledGoat Oct 25 '10 at 18:15
@DisgruntledGoat: If I had one I'd be more then happy to subscribe you! But my little rants are saved for sites like this so you're not really missing anything. :) – John Conde Oct 25 '10 at 18:38

www.dnscoop.com can help

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That's just a third-party tool for checking PageRank and Alexa Rank basically. It's nice to be able to look up both those stats in one place, but both of those metrics have their limitations. PR is only useful for getting a vague picture of a site's popularity (in terms of backlinks) and Alex ranking isn't available for most sites. – Lèse majesté Oct 25 '10 at 14:32

All of those sites try to use some super secret formulas using data from undisclosed sources to estimate statistics for web sites, they might as well just make wild guesses for all we know - and I can tell you that when for my (relatively low traffic) web site they tend to be at least an order of magnitude wrong.

Here are two recent tweets about this from our host:

http://twitter.com/#!/spolsky/status/27859348304 (Dear compete.com, I'm PRETTY SURE that Stack Overflow's traffic didn't go down 80% in one month.)

http://twitter.com/#!/spolsky/status/27859566842 (Quantcast has the real data. Compete.com is worse than a joke).

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I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for but quantcast seems as far as you can go. It seems much better than Alexa at least and I use them to survey what google/fb users are hitting at times (156 m visits a month! that's a lot). All the suggestions here are great.

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