Alexa – Does Your Alexa Rating Matter?

A web design client is concerned about his Alexa rating. It’s true – the rating on his site has consistently fallen this year, and now it has found new depths. So does it matter?

A lot is said about Alexa online; one popular view is that we should mostly ignore it. The reason given for ignoring Alexa is that it can only collect popularity data from those visitors with the Alexa Toolbar installed on their browsers.

When people visit your web site typically they won’t have the toolbar installed, and so many of your site’s visits won’t register with Alexa. However, if your web site is of interest to webmasters, those who write software for the web, or those whose business it is to market via the web, your site is more likely to have a decent Alexa rating because the Internet savvy are more likely to have the Alexa toolbar installed.

If your web site is geared towards a general audience, it is less likely that visitors will have the Alexa toolbar, or even know what it is. However, knowing that few of his visitors even use the Alexa toolbar does not not answer my client’s question, which was, “why has my Alexa Ranking fallen so dramatically?”

One answer could be that Alexa may have recently changed their algorithm – who knows, it’s possible, another is that less people with the toolbar are visiting the site. With spam, identity fraud, spyware, hijacking and other Internet crimes on the rise, and with growing numbers of non-technical people discovering the Internet every day, more reliance is being placed on anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-spyware software than ever.

I know people who refuse to use their computers at all if their anti-virus software has run out of subscription. Symantec count the Alexa toolbar as spyware, as do a number of other well-known protection packages. This results in large numbers of existing and new Alexa users removing the Alexa Toolbar for fear of it somehow spying on them. Indeed depending on your point of view when it comes to privacy, you too may categorise Alexa as spyware. I don’t, but you might. It is a question of definition.

Alexa’s own site lists a number of disclaimers about their statistics – view the bottom of this page for more information. Here you will learn that more Chinese people install the Alexa toolbar than any other group, and therefore sites that the Chinese tend to visit will have higher ratings that ones that they don’t visit. And the Chinese currently (June 2007) have 162,000,000 internet users according to the China Internet Network Information Center, second only to the US who have 211,000,000 internet users.

Based on this huge growth of the Chinese Internet market, most Alexa Ratings for English speaking sites will fall, if the owners do nothing artificial to falsify them, or if the sites are not hugely popular (thousands of unique visitors per day) anyway.

Further, (and no this will not count for much, but I mentioning it anyway) only IE, Firefox and Mozilla browsers are supported by the toolbar so any users of Opera or other less popular browsers will not be counted.

But mostly, if your site never mentions the word Alexa you won’t get traffic from Alexa users who tend to like to visit sites that talk about the ins and outs of Alexa. Usually webmasters and the like.

Normally none of this would matter. The problem is that whatever the Alexa rating means, whether it really matters or not, it is there and it is used by many advertisers to decide the advertising potential of a site.

For example, if someone approaches you and says they’ll add your site to their specialist online directory for a fee you – know the type – limited offerlast chance to gets loads of qualified traffic if you sign up before some deadline – you don’t really have a lot of choice other than to check their Alexa rating and their Page Rank. If their Alexa Rating is somewhere around 9,000,000 you’ll probably tell them to get lost! If such an advertiser hasn’t realised potential customers will check his Alexa Rating (rightly or wrongly), and he has not tried some means to get the rating into less than 10 digits, then you could say he is probably not worth his salt as an advertiser.

At the time of writing it is possible to boost your own Alexa rating simply by installing the Alexa toolbar on your browser, and setting your home page to be your web site. Then use your browser a lot. Ask a few friends to do the same and any embarrassing Alexa rating in the high millions will soon come down to 500,000 or so. It has nothing to do with your real popularity.

I think Alexa is a little like IQ. IQ tests are supposed to measure how intelligent you are. But in fact the only thing they measure is how good you are at doing IQ tests. If they really measured innate intelligence, it would be impossible to improve your IQ scores, but with practice you can easily do exactly that.

The Alexa Toolbar no doubt uses a complex algorithm that takes some other stuff into account. I don’t know what might be, but the general thrust of the stats it produces is based on how many page impressions are made by people with the Alexa Toolbar installed.

So what should you do as a web site owner? You know most of your visitors (unless you have a site for Internet technical users), won’t have the damn thing installed. You should install it yourself for sure. The biggest reason for this- apart from those already mentioned above – is that Google appears to use Alexa data for its ranking.

This is a useful article for more information and tips on the subject of increasing your Alexa rating.

Trackbacks

  1. […] assume that Alexa does measure real site popularity (practically, it doesn’t, but that is the topic of another discussion). So, based on this assumption, a site with an Alexa rating of 2,600,000 is less popular than a […]

  2. […] That’s not to say that buying this kind of traffic is not sometimes appropriate. It can be a good idea for a recently created site, which maybe lives on a brand new domain to get some sort of Alexa Rating assigned. For more on Alexa ratings and why they may be important to a site, read this post. […]