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Is Alexa Relevant Again?

Posted by on Mar 21, 2009

Earlier this evening, while doing some research, I discovered that my primary business is listed at number one on Alexa for business training site against racism. I was feeling pretty good until one of my friends wrote and burst the bubble, saying I’m the only person she ever hears talking about Alexa anymore.

After kind of a snarky response on my part, I decided it was time to investigate Alexa again. Sure, in the world of SEO, Alexa ratings took a major hit years ago, and has been pretty much maligned ever since because they placed so much emphasis on people downloading the Alexa toolbar, which many people really didn’t want to do. Even Firefox came up with a plugin that supposedly could help your sites with it, but I know I wasn’t interested. I’ve talked about Alexa before, once when I was pretty much trashing Compete Rank, but at other times saying that even if people beat up on Alexa, it’s better to have some kind of ranking than nothing at all, and of course the better the ranking, especially without the toolbar, the better your site is performing.

First, a quick “what is Alexa” moment. Alexa is a system that ranks traffic, plain and simple. Traffic equates mainly to visits from others to your site, but it’s really about hits to anything that your site offers elsewhere. This means that if someone is searching for something and your site comes up, it might be counted as a hit, even if they didn’t make it to your page. Also, search engine bots are considered hits, even though a person didn’t actually come to your site. However, since bots only keep going to sites that have new content, it means if your site is ranked low on Alexa that you probably haven’t done anything new to get more traffic coming.

Anyway, it seems that even Alexa realized finally that waiting for people to download their toolbar to try to get accurate stats wasn’t getting it done, and they were falling way out of favor with people who they hoped they could do other business with at some point. So, they changed up how they were going to come up with their ratings by adding multiple other sources for tracking the traffic of all websites. They didn’t tell us who they’re tracking, but it seems that, for the most part, they’ve regained at least a little bit more respect than they had in the past. What resulted was interesting, in that many people with the Alexa toolbar suddenly noticed their rankings dropped, and along with those people were many people who were using the Entrecard program, which supposedly gave false ratings of traffic that Alexa somehow learned how to filter out. Some folks jumped nicely, while others dropped even further.

Two other things also happened. One, Alexa started ranking way more websites than they had been ranking before, so many websites whose sites used to show nothing were suddenly showing up with 8-digit rankings, which was unheard of in the past. Two, many overseas sites suddenly dropped dramatically because now they had to compete with the rest of the world on a more equal footing, and unfortunately there are still more sites in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

I decided to take a quick look at this site on Alexa, and I have to say that the traffic numbers pretty closely mirror what Google Analytics and my own ISP stats are telling me. I’m not sure how it’s done, but I’m believing it’s close to how Cool Blog Links and Winning The Web and other sites like them are tracking numbers of websites, only on a much larger scale.

Finally, I went looking for any new posts or articles on Alexa, to see if anyone was saying that Alexa wasn’t relevant anymore. Seems the last time anyone said something like what was last July, at least from what I could find, and anyone else who’s written on the topic has gone in a totally different direction than the constant derision Alexa has been getting for awhile.

Still, let’s have a little bit of common sense to all of this. As with all the other rating services, don’t go crazy in trying to make more out of the numbers than what they are. Right now this blog is sitting at 127,242, and that’s a fairly nice number. Unless you’re sitting in the top 50,000, it really means little, except you’re probably doing pretty well in optimizing your site. For me, I’m hoping that this new experiment with the robots.txt file works wonders over the next month or so; when does Google do their next little number anyway? No matter; it’s all fun and games overall, except for one thing,… I’m number one! 😀

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12 Comments »

Boyz II Men:

Wow, thanks for the info. I had only just recently posted somewhere that Alexa was BS since it depends on people downloading the toolbar, which placed unreasonable bias on sites that focused on tech savvy users or on web developers. Now your post here is making me put my shoe in my mouth.

While I think the numbers show some reasonable accuracy, I’ve still seen some disconnect between traffic and performance. I go to blogs that post monthly updates on their stats and compare their alexa ranking to my own versus their traffic and the numbers don’t match.

For instance,
Monthly Traffic:
imwithjoe.com: 3,037 visits
caroline-middlebrook.com: 24,454 visits
rnbhaven.com (my site!): 61,746 visits

Alexa:
imwithjoe.com: 148,276
caroline-middlebrook.com: 126,654
rnbhaven.com: 164,832

So despite having a minimum of 3X their traffic, my site still lags behind on alexa. I know this is a small amount of anecdotal evidence to make my argument but it still shows some discrepancy.

I’m curious to figure out what would differ between the three sites to cause the different sites to receive better alexa ranks.

March 21st, 2009 | 3:06 PM
Mitch:

Well now, I’m not really sure what it is, Matt. Actually, you put in my Alexa rank for Caroline, as her site is at 117,756. 🙂 However, your site is still a static site, and for it to compete against a blog in any fashion you’d have to be doing updates at least 3 times a week, because blogs have commenters and the like. So, there’s more consistency of new activity with a blog. I can look at my newest blog as compared to my business website, and the Alexa ranking for each of them is pretty much equal, and the blog’s only been up since December.

I figure that’s why the big time news sites, such as CNN, Yahoo and MSNBC, all rank very lightly, because the content is always changing.

March 21st, 2009 | 5:36 PM
Boyz II Men:

Two questions Mitch.

First, do you know what other sources they’re factoring? I’m curious how else they’ve come up with to figure out how much traffic people have.

Second, what do you mean when you say my site will receive less because it’s static? Despite being static, my site’s traffic levels are still much higher than those of the other sites mentioned. How would the changing front page affect alexa’s measure? And is that good if that influences it? As a measure of traffic, it’s failing if it does that.

March 21st, 2009 | 10:16 PM
Mitch:

I did try to research it, but Alexa’s not giving it up. The official word from Alexa is they were “moving away from releasing data based solely on users of the downloadable toolbar, to ranking sites based on info from multiple sources.”

March 21st, 2009 | 10:54 PM
Boris@ Niche SEO:

I have never paid much attention to Alexa. The only ranking that I care much about are the Google rankings. I just checked and we are 76,765. Which is meaningless for me.

However, where Alexa is useful is its site linking information. I use this all the time to find out where the competition is getting their links from. That is extremely valuable information.

On another note. I am here to do a short review of your blog for inclusion in Day 82 of our 109 Day link building explosion Series.

Thanks,
Boris

Boris@ Niche SEO´s last blog post..The 109 Day Link Building Explosion Day 81

March 22nd, 2009 | 9:50 PM
Mitch:

Wow, thanks Boris; I check in from time to time on your link building experiment, so I’m glad to be a participant in some fashion.

As for Alexa, it’s always at the bottom of my Firefox browser, so I can’t help noticing it whenever I’m on my sites, or the sites of others. As I said, it’s just another tool for people to see if their sites are at least active in some fashion, and having a good number is never a bad thing.

March 23rd, 2009 | 1:29 AM

Hi Mitch, I’ve always used Alexa as a means of seeing how well used a site is. I reckon it’s a lot better than PR any day. I have a question about Cool Blog Links. have you ever checked analytics to see how much traffic it is sending you? I noticed that it has sent me a fair bit of traffic and was just wondering how others were fairing.

Sire´s last blog post..Thesis Theme Is Just Not Flexible Enough

March 23rd, 2009 | 1:20 AM
Mitch:

Not much I’m afraid, Sire. I’ve got a post coming about my traffic, though, so stay tuned.

March 23rd, 2009 | 1:30 AM

Cool. I’m surprised more people haven’t made use of it as I’ve found it’s a good way of seeing how your tracking against other members. I think perhaps I should do an update on it.

Sire´s last blog post..Thesis Theme Is Just Not Flexible Enough

March 23rd, 2009 | 1:38 AM
Mitch:

True, about a year or so, but they must have done it kind of quietly since I didn’t hear about it at the time. Then again, I wasn’t following as many blogs then as I am now.

March 23rd, 2009 | 6:54 PM
Patrick:

I use to use Google PR to gauge my sites, however, I know think Alexa is a way better gauge. Google needs to revamp Google PR or just scrap it!

March 28th, 2009 | 10:03 PM
Mitch:

True, Patrick. It has its place, but I think that, at this point, Alexa is more relevant to those who might want to try to make money than PR does.

March 28th, 2009 | 10:33 PM