One of the most popular metrics for deciding whether or not a website is getting real traffic is and is really popular is the Alexa ranking. The trouble is, that ranking isn’t the most accurate reflection of rankings available. In fact, it’s actually a very poor option to decide to whether or not a site is ranking well. Here’s why:
What is Alexa?
Let’s start with the obvious: what is Alexa? In essence, Alexa is an optional toolbar which people can install on their browsers to help them to decide which sites are the most popular ones on the Internet.
At the same time that it tells people which sites they may want to visit, it also allows people to have their surfing tracked and to leave reviews of sites they’ve visited. Every time someone visits your web site, it gets a hit in Alexa. Then, when enough people have visited your site, it gets to move up in the Alexa rankings.
As you may expect, the top sites on the Internet are also the top sites on Alexa. Google is ranked number 1, followed by Facebook, YouTube and Yahoo. Microsoft’ Live service rounds out the top five listings on the Alexa rankings.
There are actually a number of reasons why Alexa isn’t the most accurate measure of a website’s popularity, though the most obvious one is the fact that Alexa is based on an optional toolbar. That toolbar must be manually installed and the owner of the computer in question must be willing to have their information tracked.
In essence, this means that your high Alexa ranking means that you are high in the rankings only amongst people who happen to have installed Alexa and who have chosen to have their browsing history tracked by the toolbar.
Purchase Hits for Alexa Rankings
Besides the obvious issue that your rankings will be based only on those who actively participate with Alexa, there is also the issue that your competitors (or you) can easily purchase hits for Alexa for just a few dollars. I saw an ad on Fiverr offering to let people buy hits in packages of about 10,000 or so for Alexa to build rankings.
So Is Alexa Useless?
No – I wouldn’t say Alexa is useless. It’s just not a very accurate measure of your site’s popularity amongst the Internet elite of the world. It is helpful to put up a high Alexa ranking because of the herd mentality issue – people like to visit sites they think are popular. So when you have a high Alexa ranking, they think your site is worth something.
Alexa is also an important metric when working with advertisers since it does provide some information on rankings of your site so that they can decide whether or not to advertise with you and how much to pay. Not to mention that it’s worthwhile to have a decent Alexa ranking if you want to sell your website.
Alexa has its uses and its defenders. Just don’t assume that it’s the be all end all of deciding web popularity since it really does have some very serious shortcomings.