Audit Like a Pro: How to analyse a publisher's traffic

Scott Purcell
By Scott Purcell | 23 February 2024
Scott Purcell.

Whether you're an agency or brand considering advertising with a publication or a PR firm looking for coverage stats to share with a client, being able to audit a site's genuine traffic is becoming a vital skill in today's world.

As someone who's navigated the complexities of this field for over a decade, I've developed a keen eye for assessing the legitimacy and potential of different websites and publishers. Like Neo sees code in The Matrix, I often look at websites regarding their SEO and credibility. This edition is dedicated to sharing these insights, offering a guide for both agencies and brands to audit a publisher's traffic effectively.

Traffic Analysis: Tools of the Trade

Traffic volume and sources are critical indicators of a website's health and advertising potential. You can use many free tools online to test this, and below, we'll guide you through the steps on how to use them. Also, it's a good idea to test multiple tools to crosscheck and see if your assumptions are correct but always be careful about the limitations of free versions as these are often estimates only.

1. SimilarWeb

  • Step 1: Go to enter the website URL in the search bar.
  • Step 2:Analyze the "Traffic & Engagement Analysis" section, which estimates monthly visits.
  • Step 3: Explore other sections like "Audience Interests" and "Search Traffic Distribution" for deeper insights into top traffic sources (countries, referrers).

Notes: Certain sites will verify their traffic through Google Analytics with SimilarWeb, and if not, it will state that it is "Showing Similarweb estimated data." Traffic estimates are exactly that, estimates, so testing traffic from multiple sources is important.

2. SEMrush

Step 1: Create a free https://SEMrush.comaccount (limited features).

Step 2: Enter the website URL in the Domain Overview tool. (Ensure you select the correct country you want to analyse search traffic for)

Step 3: Analyze the "Traffic Analytics" section.

Notes: The free plan restricts data access and historical comparisons. Keyword data is limited, and backlink information is unavailable.

3. Ahrefs

Step 1: Create a free https://Ahrefs.comaccount (limited features).

Step 2: Enter the website URL in the site explorer tool.

Step 3: Analyze the "Organic Search" section, which provides estimates for Organic traffic /  Domain Rating (similar to Domain Authority).

Notes: The free plan only shows a few keywords and limited backlink data. Domain Rating is different from Domain Authority and offers a basic scoring system.

4. Moz Domain Authority Checker

Domain Authority (DA) and backlinks are metrics used to estimate a website's authority and search engine ranking potential. Higher DA and more quality backlinks generally indicate better SEO performance.

Moz Domain Authority Checker ( provides an essential DA score and highlights a few backlinks. It is helpful for a quick overview but often needs more depth. While backlinks and DA are essential, the quality of website content, user experience, and technical SEO should be equally assessed.

Healthy websites exhibit a well-distributed traffic mix across search, referrals, direct visits, and more. Please don't worry about obsessing over a single metric and compare these across all peer sets and competitors.

In Australia's digital marketing and advertising landscape, IPSOS Iris stands as a pivotal benchmark for digital traffic measurement, endorsed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). This endorsement signifies that IPSOS Iris adheres to the highest standards of accuracy, reliability, and comprehensiveness in tracking and analyzing digital audience data, but it also comes with a cost for agencies.

Off-Site Verification: Social and Beyond

Actionable Tips for Agencies and Brands:

  1. Social Media Verification: Start by checking if the publisher's social media profiles are verified. This not only lends credibility but also indicates a significant presence.
  2. Social Audience Size and Engagement: Assess the size and engagement levels of the publisher's social media audiences. High engagement rates suggest a loyal and active community, but assessing these against its peer group is essential. Strong social engagement doesn't necessarily translate to website traffic, as social platforms incentivise users to stay on-platform through their own native browsers. Further, search traffic tends to be much more valuable and "intentional" versus casual browsers from social.
  3. Don't Forget YouTube: YouTube is a critical platform for digital publishers, with video content becoming an increasingly significant aspect of digital strategy. Assessing a publisher's YouTube channel can provide valuable insights into their reach and content quality. Look for:> Subscriber Count: Many subscribers can indicate a solid and engaged audience base.> Publishing Frequency: Regular posting suggests an active channel with fresh content, keeping viewers engaged and attracting new subscribers.> Video Engagement: Likes, comments, and shares on video content reflect audience engagement and content relevance. High engagement levels often correlate with quality content and a strong community.YouTube's role in a publisher's digital strategy must be balanced, offering a dynamic and engaging way to reach audiences. Agencies should consider a publisher's YouTube presence as an integral part of the overall digital footprint.
  4. Wikipedia Presence: A Wikipedia page is a strong indicator of legitimacy and recognition in the industry. It's a good sign if a publisher has one.
  5. Search Exclusion Technique: Use the search query " review" to find external opinions and reviews about the publisher. This can reveal insights into the publisher’s reputation and any potential red flags. Platforms like Trustpilot or Google Reviews can offer insights into the publisher's reputation among its audience.

Content Quality: The Core of a Website

Actionable Steps for Thorough Assessment:

  1. Evaluate the Content Directly: Read through various articles or posts to gauge the content's quality, accuracy, and relevance. High-quality content is usually well-researched and well-written and provides value to its readers.
  2. Check for Author Expertise: Look for author bios and credentials related to the content produced. Expert authors add credibility and authority to the content.
  3. Plagiarism Check: Use tools like Copyscape to ensure the content is original. Plagiarism is a red flag for content quality.
  4. Update Frequency: A site that frequently updates its content is more likely to provide value and retain user interest.

Understanding the Business Model

How to Uncover and Assess:

  1. Direct Inquiry: Directly ask the publisher about their business model. This can provide clear insights into how they generate revenue and sustain their operations.
  2. Site Analysis: Look for indicators on the site, such as advertisements, affiliate links, sponsored content, or subscription models. Understanding these can give you an idea of the site’s financial health, priorities, and opportunities for your brand to advertise.
  3. Industry Benchmarking: Compare the publisher's business model with industry standards. A deviation from common practices might require further investigation.

The Fallacy of Website Valuation Calculators

How to Approach Valuation More Accurately:

  1. Scepticism Towards Calculators: Understand that calculators provide a rough estimate at best. They often need to pay more attention to nuanced factors like brand value, audience loyalty, and market position.
  2. Comprehensive Analysis:Consider conducting a thorough analysis involving traffic trends, revenue streams, content quality, and market position for a more accurate valuation. A good tip is to use tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to look for branded searches of the website's actual name versus its peers.
  3. Expert Consultation: Engage with financial analysts or industry experts who can provide a more nuanced and accurate valuation based on comprehensive data analysis.

Website Speed and Niche Analysis

Evaluating Performance and Market Position:

  1. Speed Testing: Use PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, and Pingdom Tools to evaluate the publisher’s website speed. Fast loading times are crucial for user experience and SEO.
  2. Niche Trend Analysis: Utilize Google Trends to understand the stability or growth potential of the publisher's niche. Evergreen niches often offer more stability and long-term potential.
  3. Competitive Analysis: Analyze the competition within the niche to understand the publisher's position and authority in the market.

Competitive Landscape: Navigating the Evolving Digital Publishing Space

Strategic Insights for Agencies and Brands:

  1. Comprehensive Market Analysis: Begin by analyzing the competitive landscape of the digital publishing industry. This involves understanding the key players, market share, and strategic positions. SEMrush and Ahrefs can provide competitive intelligence, including traffic sources, keyword rankings, and content performance.
  2. Monitor Industry Innovations: Agencies seeking high-quality publishers should prioritize those showcasing a portfolio of high-impact advertising, examples of collaborations with esteemed display publishers, a history of hosting in-person events, and demonstrated capabilities in in-house photography or videography production. These elements indicate a publisher's commitment to quality and innovation, reflecting their ability to deliver engaging and visually compelling content that can elevate advertising campaigns and resonate with audiences. Such publishers not only follow industry trends but set them, offering unique and impactful advertising opportunities for brands aiming to stand out in a crowded digital landscape.
  3. Assess a publisher's existing advertisers and disclosures: Assessing a publisher's existing advertisers and their disclosure practices is crucial for brands looking to understand the publisher's credibility and the company they keep. A thorough review of the advertisers can reveal the publisher's target market and the level of trust placed in them by other brands. Additionally, transparent disclosure practices, such as clear labelling of sponsored content, reflect a commitment to ethical advertising and respect for audience intelligence. This level of transparency complies with advertising standards and fosters a trust-based relationship with readers, enhancing the overall impact and effectiveness of advertising campaigns conducted through the publisher.

On-Site/On-Page Factors: Harnessing the Power of E-E-A-T

E-E-A-T, which stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, with an added emphasis on Experience, is a framework used by Google to assess the quality of content on the internet. For agencies and brands, understanding and applying E-E-A-T principles is crucial for creating and aligning content that customers view as credible and valuable.

Actionable Steps for Assessing Publisher Legitimacy:

  1. Examine On-Page Elements: Start with a thorough review of the publisher's website, focusing on the footer for disclosures about the team, ownership structure, and purpose. Such transparency is a good indicator of legitimacy.
  2. Verify Awards and Recognitions: Look for industry awards, certifications, or notable press coverage mentioned on the site. Independently verify these accolades to confirm their authenticity.
  3. E-E-A-T Evaluation: Utilize Google's E-E-A-T framework as a lens through which to assess the publisher's content. This includes checking for:> Experience: Evidence of real-world experience or application of knowledge.> Expertise: Author bios that showcase qualifications and credentials. > Authoritativeness: Links from reputable sources and mentions in other authoritative news or publications. > Trustworthiness: Secure website (HTTPS), clear privacy policies, and user-friendly navigation.

By leveraging these strategies, agencies, brands, PRs, and advertisers can confidently navigate the selection of publishing partners, ensuring alignment with high-quality and reputable platforms. Focusing on competitive analysis, on-site evaluation through E-E-A-T principles, and a commitment to ethical advertising practices are foundational to establishing a solid and credible digital presence.

Scott Purcell is the Co-Founder of Man of Many

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