The Alexa Ranking Myth

Written on April 8, 2008 – 2:27 pm | by bigoak |

alexa-logo.gifUpdate: 4/20/08, Of course as soon as I post on my blog about Alexa’s inaccurate ranking system they decide to update their system. Time will tell if it is an better.

SEO companies are at the front lines when it comes to educating customers and potential customers about what is important when looking at web statistics. I guess I’ve hit my breaking point, which is usually when I start blogging, about Alexa rankings. We have clients that ask why there Alexa ranking is so high (which is bad) and even though they are ranking in the top 5 for their most treasured keyword phrases. They have high traffic that is converting above their industry standards, but still they Alexa ranking rears its ugly head too often.

So I want to put this issue to pasture and definitively state that we do not care about Alexa ranking and do not monitor Alexa rankings, other to see estimated trends for pure entertainment value. They are of little importance an not worth the time to view them. Not only are the extremely inaccurate, but they can also give a false sense of security when they inflate your importance. You must remember that unless you have the Alexa toolbar on your site, your web visits won’t be counted in the Alexa stats. What does this mean for the numbers that Alexa shows you? Well, think about who would have the Alexa toolbar installed: mostly people involved with Internet marketing such as SEO people, webmasters, consultants and other people whose job it is to track statistics. These aren’t your normal site surfers and they skew the traffic numbers higher for Internet-related sites. If you have been reading this blog long enough you know I’m a big believer in actual case studies and real data to prove a point. To that end I have done some research to show the Alexa Ranking Myth and break its spell.

The first chart shows stats from Alexa for this site (BigOakInc.com, a Internet marketing site) and a smoothie recipe site (Smoothieweb.com, a non-Internet related site) and you can see that Alexa shows the Big Oak site with more than double the traffic of Smoothie Web. If you were to view or stats on Alexa it reports our site as being in the top 100,000 sites on the web, specifically we are ranked at 94,204. My, aren’t we so important! Now,don’t get me wrong, we have a nice number of visitors, but to think we are in the top 100,000 sites is a bit much. While SmoothieWeb.com, a highly trafficked site is only ranked at 310,192.

Alexa Graph

Now that we know what Alexa is reporting, let us look at actual site statistics as reported by Google Analytics. If you look at the graphs below you can see the dramatic difference from Alexa’s reported rankings in traffic over the same 3-month period. BigOakInc.com has 20,311 visitors which is a very respectable number for a B2B site. But when compared to SmoothieWeb.com’s 210,190 visitors you can easily see that Alexa rankings are highly skewed towards technical and Internet-related websites. SmoothieWeb.com had 10x the visitor traffic according to Google Analytics but less than half according to Alexa’s estimates.

bigoakinc-stats.gif

smoothieweb-stats.gif

The BigOakInc.com site obviously pulls traffic from our competitors, webmasters in charge of finding a honest SEO company and research types for our informative SEO blog. And these users are more likely to have the Alexa toolbar installed, if only to inflate their own Alexa ranking by visiting their own sites daily. And before you ask, no, I do not have the Alexa toolbar installed and neither does any of the staff at Big Oak.

To sum up, do not look at Alexa rankings with any more than an passing curiosity, for that is all it is. Instead look at your site’s analytics and try to see where you are getting traffic and what traffic is converting. Look at the keywords your site is ranking for and how the visitors from those terms are using your site. In short, look at all the data you can around your actual visitors and leave the estimated numbers based on a toolbar installation to those who need the ego stroking of a high Alexa ranking. And if anyone asks you about your Alexa ranking, please refer them to this post.

  1. 20 Responses to “The Alexa Ranking Myth”

  2. By Will on Apr 8, 2008 | Reply

    Far too many people rely on Alexa to decide if a site is worth advertising on or purchasing as well. If you compare these sites on Compete.com, the numbers are off, but at least they show that Smoothie Web is receiving more traffic than Big Oak.

  3. By joel cohen on Apr 9, 2008 | Reply

    I was using Alexa as a “competitive edge” to “impress” new business prospects by telling them that their competitors’ sites were trending more traffic than their own site. I guess I better change that!

    Joel Cohen

  4. By Shell Harris on Apr 9, 2008 | Reply

    Joel, I think it would be better to use Compete (http://www.compete.com) for those type of stats, which seem more accurate to me. This way when you do win the work there won’t be any major suprises and you won’t have to backtrack and explain why Alexa really isn’t that good. Plus, they may read the post. ;-)

  5. By Wayne Liew on Apr 9, 2008 | Reply

    I started blogging with full trust in Alexa but soon realized that it can just provide an imaginary comparison between blogs within the same niche and sometimes, this is not even the case.

    Anyway, I guess the best measure to evaluate a site is to get hold of the actual traffic stats from their analytic tools.

  6. By Will on Apr 14, 2008 | Reply

    @Wayne, yes, you can’t go wrong getting a hold of a site’s real analytics. But I wouldn’t automatically trust screen shots of them either.

  7. By Marius on Apr 15, 2008 | Reply

    I agree Alexa ranks are useless if you compare websites in different industries and niches, like you guys did above. But if you compare 2 websites within the same industry, with the same type of visitors it is not that useless in my opinion.
    That would be an interesting case study, right?
    Cheers,

  8. By Shell Harris on Apr 15, 2008 | Reply

    Great point, Marius. I agree it can be relative for comparisons to similar industries. Let me know when you conduct the case study. ;-)

  9. By Peter on May 5, 2008 | Reply

    Alexa’s greatest value is in bolstering one’s bargaining position with a client/contractor if and when the data is favorable to the person considering using it. It’s far from accurate, but can still be a useful tool for negotiations.

  10. By Shell Harris on May 7, 2008 | Reply

    Well said, Peter. In essence Alexa is more smoke and mirrors, but if Alexa can be used to support the claim that SEO efforts are needed, then I think it can be used for such purposes.

    Alexa uses our site information so why shouldn’t we use theirs? But then someone may read this post and see it really isn’t accurate. ;-)

  11. By Hanen on May 26, 2008 | Reply

    Alot of people put alot of wight in alexa rankings especially those companies over seas. I don’t put much into alexa. I don;t have time to worry about what my rank is there. I really dont care. I have more important things to worry about like building solid backlinks.

  12. By alexa new ranking system on Jun 14, 2008 | Reply

    There is some controversy over how representative Alexa’s user base is of typical Internet behavior. If http://www.alexa.com/data/details/main?url=www.fortunehotels.in Alexa’s user base is a fair statistical sample of the internet user population, Alexa’s ranking should be quite accurate.

  13. By teknikleri on Aug 15, 2008 | Reply

    I was using Alexa as a “competitive edge” to “impress” new business prospects by telling them that their competitors’ sites were trending more traffic than their own site. I guess I better change that!

  14. By Heeren on Aug 18, 2008 | Reply

    excellent article. i dont give much imp to alexa as well as PR .i just look for se rankings & traffic it brings

  15. By Rob Wheeler on Aug 26, 2008 | Reply

    I don’t think the issue is whether you or I give credence to it. The issue is whether the “buyer” or “visitor” gives credence.

    Example: All things being the same, would you rather buy a TV from a site ranked 10,000,000 or 10,000?

    For me, I wouldn’t think twice, case closed. If Alexa markets that right, which they are attempting to do, they win. If they don’t, they lose.

    I am not sure I would bet against them right now.

    Let’s let time and their marketing efforts expose or promote them duly.

    Rob.
    Young Millionaire Group

  16. By Jason on Oct 30, 2008 | Reply

    This opened my eyes.. I’ve been running the alexa toolbar to help me with my keyword completions when typing in a keyword during a google search. Well I think it’s the Alexa Toolbar.. I have like 10 installed.

    I’ve also found this is common with PageRank. You could be a PR0 and get way more traffic than a PR4 if you’re targeting the right keywords.

  17. By Adil on Dec 25, 2008 | Reply

    My site’s alexa traffic rankings show 50% of traffic from India when its actually 5%. Alexa is highly inaccurate. I guess its just pure hype.

    Adil
    Dubai

  18. By Melih on Feb 11, 2009 | Reply

    See also http://www.webinfostats.com for unique visitor stats.

  19. By Uche - Affiliate Programs on Feb 12, 2009 | Reply

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say Alexa ranking is no good, what sense would there be in that. Although I would say it’s not totally accurate, the reality is, if you want accurate measurements of the traffic your receiving then you should check your domain stats within your web host.

  20. By Mike on Jun 3, 2009 | Reply

    It certainly makes for interesting viewing when trying to compare competitors but as stated only counts visitors with the alexa toolbar installed.

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