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Alexa ranking envy

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Friday December 29, 2006 )

Don’t ever get Alexa-envy over the rankings of colleague’s site whose topic is an entirely different field; especially if that field is technology, web development, ecommerce or marketing related. Also bear these issues in mind when referring to Alexa data when buying and selling sites.

Alexa isn’t broken, it’s just the way it works and always has done :).

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Alexa rankings are used by many webmasters and site owners to gauge the performance of their sites in comparison to others. Alexa data is also often used as a reference when buying and selling sites.

It’s certainly a handy service, but the ranking data shouldn’t be relied on too heavily, and here’s why.

Alexa was one of the first services to offer a toolbar. The Alexa toolbar was released in 1997 and has been downloaded over 10 million times since. How many people are actively using the toolbar at the present time, I’m not sure of.

In late 2000, Google introduced the Google Toolbar and many other companies have done the same since that time; stealing some of Alexa’s share. Alexa’s share has slimmed down even further now that many browsers have search toolbars embedded.

In 1997 and for the next couple of years after, the web was still somewhat a geeky place to be; so it was mostly webmasters, developers and others involved in the online industry that installed the toolbar. The toolbar tracks user activity and that’s how Alexa ranking data is generated.

As a result, it’s certainly biased towards sites focusing on technology, online business and web development resources; especially once you get past the top one hundred sites that heavily feature online behemoths such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. Some tech site communities in recent years have even had “drives” to get members to download and use the Alexa toolbar, simply to inflate rankings of their community.

It’s these sorts of issues that might help explain why your site ranks below someone else’s even if you get 10 times the traffic.

I’ve watched this phenomenon in action over the last couple of days of holiday season break. Most popular web development and ecommerce resources sites took a nose dive in Alexa rankings around the 24th – even the mega-sites; which is to be expected.

The same trend happened with Taming the Beast.net, but here’s the interesting thing – our traffic has gone up substantially in recent days compared to the rest of December. This is due to a section of the site getting a boost in search engine rankings – and that section has attracted non ecommerce and web development focused visitors. Alexa certainly hasn’t recognized this change :).

So, in a nutshell, Alexa is great to use as a baseline for montioring your site, identifying seasonal trends and perhaps to compare against others in your field; but consider it one tool in a suite of tools when trying to determine your reach in a market – not *the* tool.

Don’t ever get Alexa-envy over the rankings of colleague’s site whose topic is an entirely different field; especially if that field is technology, web development, ecommerce or marketing related. Also bear these issues in mind when referring to Alexa data when buying and selling sites.

Alexa isn’t broken, it’s just the way it works and always has done :).



 

 
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