home » blog

Monthly Archives

The Problem with Your Alexa Rating

When you're trying to gauge the traffic to your site and its growth across a period, Alexa is one tool. This information--traffic rank, growth or loss of traffic, and sites linking in--is available to anyone with Internet access, so it's easy to rely on for a quick overview of a site's popularity.

An important thing to remember about Alexa, though, is that its reporting is based solely on data gathered from users who have installed the Alexa toolbar in their browsers. Alexa claims to have over 10 million installations of the toolbar (as of 2005) but doesn't provide information about how many are used and what the current installation rate is.

Anyone who uses AOL for browsing (and unfortunately, that segment does exist) cannot even install the toolbar. If you provide specialized information for a niche group, it's unlikely that your rank matters... as long as the desired users are finding your site through search engines. Or, if your site serves a segment of people who generally wouldn't use the Alexa toolbar, your site might not impress in the rankings department.

If you search around the web for more about Alexa, you'll find plenty of criticism about its scatter (variation of rank for sites who generally fall below the 100,000 benchmark) and other criteria of validity. Alexa claims, probably accurately, that the closer your rank lies toward the top of the list, the more accurate the results are.

What I've found is that monitoring and considering Alexa data (and making changes and updates to your site based on it) does help. Putting effort into dynamic content and better experiences for site users does shine through in Alexa, even if some of it seems mysterious. Several years ago, by obsessing over Alexa, I was able to raise my rank from 12 million to 600,000 within a couple of months; most recently, by putting effort into it again, I've moved from 11 million to 7 million in the past month or so.

Google Analytics is a much better way to monitor specific information, like where users enter your site, how long they stay, what keywords bring them there, what pages get the longest view times, and whether they complete "goals" you set (such as completing an opt-in form).