Are Alexa Rankings Worth Your Time?

Alexa.com is the most widely known website-traffic tracking site on the Internet. It’s claim is to rank websites according to their traffic,  the lower your Alexa rankings number the better your web traffic is supposedly. For example, if your site is ranked #8,001, that is supposed to mean that out of 100,000,000 websites, yours places 8,001st in regards to getting web traffic.  Just like a foot race, the closer to #1, the better.

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But what value is Alexa to you if it’s inaccurate? Does Alexa have ANY value for us who a bit more knowledgeable deep into SEO? I’ll give you all the answers to these questions in detail. Or atleast I’ll try my best(I don’t wanna get too cocky  ;-)  )

But first some background info, Alexa is owned by Amazon.com, and this Microsoft-powered web tool measures traffic-popularity based on a sampling of about 10 million Internet users* (sort of like a Nielsen Ratings system for the web). That is more users than any other website-traffic tracking system currently on the web, but Alexa’s limitations are clear to anyone that pays attention.

Their system has been much maligned and sometimes disregarded by SEO industry insiders who have studied statistics and can clearly see the constant sampling errors that are prevalent with Alexa.com evaluations.

*Alexa only collects data from Internet Explorer users

ALEXA.COM IS COMPLETELY USELESS AT MEASURING YOUR WEB TRAFFIC

Many people get confused as to the true purpose of Alexa, it is primarily a COMPARISON tool, it does an OK job of comparing how your websites are measuring up against your web competitors sites.

But if you want to measure your own actual web traffic? You can forget about it!

Don’t rely on Alexa. If you want hard numbers(and you should), you have far more reliable web tools at your disposal. I personally rely on Google Webmaster tools and analytics, these tell me how many visitors I’m getting and a ton of other helpful traffic stats with great precision.

So if your relying on Alexa stats and for instance, your website has 5,000 visitors a day and still ends up with an Alexa traffic ranking of 1,000,000+, don’t worry about it. That’s just a cue for you to go get real traffic-measuring tools and keep on moving forward towards the money. I truly hope you’d NEVER let bad Alexa numbers discourage you! One major reason is because of the…

 

OVERALL RELIABILITY OF ALEXA INTERNET TRAFFIC COMPARISONS

Unless your website is ranked within the first 100,000 websites, you will be subject to alot of “scatter”. I’ve seen this alot, totally weird results for no apparent reason. For instance, I have found sites with a good Alexa ranking but with only a low number of visitors (and vice-versa).

Often this is due to a sample web user having the Alexa toolbar and a dynamic ISP (in other words, their ISP address changes whenever they login to the Internet) which easily fools Alexa into counting far more “visitors” than a website is truly getting and especially if cookies are frequently deleted.

That is one of my major beefs, it’s too easy to trick the system.

Some website marketing insiders even manipulate their web traffic ranking to appear better than it truly is. Why? To rip-off unsuspecting advertisers. They usually succeed for a month or so, until the advertisers realize that they aren’t drawing the traffic they were expecting. I’m not trying to be a goody-goody, but that’s just not cool.

OTHER MAJOR REASONS I DON’T TRUST OR CARE ABOUT ALEXA NUMBERS…

* Bias – Among SEO industry insiders it is well-known. Two obvious examples existed for years…

i) Korea — It’s difficult to figure out why(my guess is that the Korean browser may have Alexa installed automatically), but Korean websites CONSISTENTLY ranked waaay too high compared to their true traffic numbers.

ii) Web marketing sites — It’s pretty obvious why this happens. A higher percentage of visitors to web marketing website have Alexa installed, just like Linkshare or PayPal users. Why? Because they are more likely to be aware of Alexa.com,to have interest in this type of data, and to install the toolbar.

Recently, Alexa has worked to correct some of the rank bias. So many “Internet marketing” websites have seen and will see a decreasing web traffic ranking. So even while many sites are getting increased website traffic to their sites, rankings will go down. Increase website traffic and stats go down? Ummmm yeah. This shows just how unstable these rankings are even though I agree with the stat changes.

There is a great deal of “scatter” with Alexa(some extreme examples seen are a site with an Alexa ranking of 180,000 but only 20 visitors a day, and a website ranking 500,000 with a juicy 5,000 visitors a day).

The scatter makes incoming intel less reliable above ranking of 100,000 and nearly a complete waste above an Alexa ranking of 1,000,000.

ALEXA IS NOT TRYING TO FOOL YOU…

Don’t mistake my frank assessments of what I see wrong with their numbers as an accusation of wrongdoing. Alexa is very clear in disclaimers and such that stats on websites with traffic rankings higher than 100,000 are more likely to be off a bit. And since Alexa.com has by far the largest sample base generating data for it by means of millions of toolbar users, it can be said that the statistical error is understandable.

Studies have shown that the “Alexa ranking to actual website traffic” correlation improves the better your Alexa rankings are. In other words, the rankings correlate very accurately at 100,000 and under, you get “good” correlation between the 100,000-300,000 mark, and “so-so” correlation to about the 500,000 mark.

SO WHAT INFO CAN YOU USE FROM THEM?

Not much, but some Alexa apologist argue that you can atleast generalize the info to get a good idea of your site’s traffic. For instance, they say you can generalize that anyone with a ranking above 1,000,000 is not getting much traffic, but even that is false. A website that I built and have since sold(www.wear-mens-suits-with-swagger.com) got a respectable average of 1,500 visitors a day but my site would bounce back and forth on both sides of the 1 Million mark. So was I getting traffic or not?

That “non-traffic” brought in 1k a month and the site sold for much more than that, so what did the Alexa ranking mean to me? Nada… Beyond 1,000,000 your ranking can bounce around substantially with just a change of a few visitors to your website.

You CAN use it for obvious number-related info though. A site with an extremely good ranking(below 100,000) is obviously one of the most visited websites online and getting MAJOR web traffic, on the other hand, a website that is ranked poorly(over 2 million) is NOT getting multi-thousands of visitors per day. You CAN take that to the bank. So Alexa does have some big picture value.

As far as your own personal traffic numbers go, I think, no I know that you will be better served using a real traffic-tracking tool and counting your monthly income to evaluate the value of your websites. In this regard, money talks and shaky statistics walk.

The best use of Alexa is to track your performance vs. your direct competitors in the SAME niche since their websites will have the same type of audience as you the numbers will be effectively skewed in the same manner for all. If all are weighed on the same uneven scale, you may be able to see who is winning the race in regard to targeted traffic. But just remember, there’s no point in boasting a high Alexa score for the sake of boasting a high Alexa score because it doesn’t bring any more business to you.

So don’t concern yourself with getting a lower Alexa score, focus on how to increase web traffic. An Alexa traffic score is simply a big picture comparison tool. Focus on actual visitor count in your traffic stats and good things will follow, like income!

SO WHAT’S YOUR TAKE-HOME LESSON?

Track your own internal traffic stats in more effective ways like Google webmaster tools. If you feel a need to use Alexa ratings, then only use it to…

* Give you a “big picture” perspective as to how you’re website is doing against those in your niche or industry.
* Track your progress over time vs. niche-competitors for targeted website traffic.
* Get a “big picture” non-specific scope of website traffic numbers. For instance, if someone is saying they get 15,000 visitors per day, but the rank 5,000,000 at Alexa, it’s clear that they’re lying, the most popular websites will have MUCH higher ranking.

Don’t expect it to….

* Show how to increase web traffic. In order to learn how to increase website traffic you need a different set of info.
* Increase traffic to your websites because of a good Alexa Internet rating. Even the most visited sites get no boost from Alexa.

ADVANCED TOOLS FOR SITE COMPARISON INFO

If you are a stat freak like me, you might want to try what I have on my laptop. For years I have used the SEOBook tool bar, it is a BEAST!!! It combines info from many different respected sources, it has info displayed from Majestic SEO, Blekko, Compete.com, SEMRush.com and others, it also has a cool competitive analysis tool, an SEO Xray Tool that shows meta info and it even has a Page Rank checker so that you know any webpages PR just by visiting that page!

In addition to all of that, it shows info collected by Yahoo concerning a website’s backlinks and more. One thing I’ve learned to do is study statistics “holistically”, I’ve learned to “see across” all of these grouped info sources instead of sticking to just one as gospel. When you learn how to use the varied data from the sites at your disposal, you see that there’s a lot of great information to be had.

Other sites that I use but aren’t on my toolbar are Quantcast and Google Site Trends. I think of the whole package of stat sites combined to be like Alexa.com on steroids.

Once you get the hang of them, you’ll see that using a combination of these web tools gives you a pretty good idea. None of them are perfect, but together… a little human judgment pretty much tells you what’s happening.

If you’d like to download the free SEOBook toolbar that I use, you can download it from here, it’s pretty self-explanatory. All the best to you!

 

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