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What do those Alexa rankings mean …

Have you ever showed off your Alexa rank? Or looked down at someone because their rank was not high enough from your point of view? Unless you really know what those numbers mean, you might want to think again, especially when you plan on acquiring a blog or a web page.

Recently, I have seen more and more bloggers arguing about their Alexa rank, and through that the value of their page. For those of you who don’t know what it is, just visit the site, enter your domain(s) in the search box, and see what you get.

In the case of Darren’s problogger.net, we get the following result per today:
Traffic Rank for problogger.net 63,821
Reach per million users: 35

Looking at Traffic Rank … the lower the number is, the better. You only get a nice graph if you are below 100 000. The reach per million users gives you an impression, why these numbers are flawed, especially when you look at the problogger Feedburner statistic shown at the lower left on this page. Nearly 500 subscribers from Feedburner, but Alexa only says 35?

How can that be?
People tend to forget, that these are estimated numbers. The basic data for their calculation is only a subset of all data available.

What do I mean by that? Let’s have a look at the information page on how different Alexa ranks are calculated. First of all:

Alexa computes traffic rankings by analyzing the Web usage of millions of Alexa Toolbar users.

Which means, visits are only counted, if the user has the toolbar installed. And even worse: The Alexa Toolbar works only with the Internet Explorer browser and only on Windows systems. So of a special part of the Internet users (using Windows, IE and the toolbar), their visited pages are taken to estimate a rank.

The last one is the most important: perhaps installed. The Alexa page only speaks of ‘millions’ of users, but does not go into more detail of how many. So it absolutely depends on your audience if you have a high Alexa ranking or not.

Just to give you a quick glance on some of my stats: I do have an overall non Internet Explorer usage of about 30-40% and at least 20% non Windows users. My main German blog has 5 times daily visitors than my main English blog, but the Alexa rank is much worse.

Here is my guess why: the more you get outside the English speaking world, the lower the installation rate is, because people tend to use only tools in a language they understand.

Okay, so this is absolutely useless?
No, I would not go that far, you just need to be aware of what limitations these rankings have. You can use it to your advantage, if you keep in mind:

  • The figures collected are only collected from a very specific subset of Internet users.
  • They are mainly based in the English speaking world.
  • The more the net grows, the more websites want to be in the top list – but this list does not grow!

If you use these ranks, remember how they are built, only compare similar projects and try to estimate, which influence the target audience has for this ranking.

Of course, a question at the end of the article: How many of you really use this toolbar and how many do you know about using it?

(I know of one, and that is me from time to time, when I switch browsers to test something on IE.)

  1. Why not just tell the truth… These stats are more or less useless. Even worse, they are not updated often enough to be reliable at all. I think that clicking the little sitemeter graph (if you are a member) at the bottom of your page, or jumping over to your real server stats (most hosting has it) is probably the best way to go. AWStats and all its fancy info is pretty close to perfect in my opinion, and the only thing I use Alexa for is to get thumbnails of sites that are either down or have recently redesigned (since they don’t update site images very often).

  2. Web site stats and Alexa rank are different things, and for example if you don’t take care of setting up your usual web reporting correctly (regarding the rss feed requests), they are useless too.

    But, if you take your Alexa ranking and the tools you might use around them, and don’t forget in which way they are flawed, you can work with them. Just like you can with feedburner statistics – you just need to know how to handle them. :)

  3. I guess you are right there. Alexa ranks things very differently, but I still think my points are valid in that it is just not effective enough to use as your sole identifier of how well your blog/site is doing.

    Maybe taking small bits of information for use of a comparison would be fine, but to depend on Alexa or to even suggest to use this as a comparison tool, might be a little flawed… I think it takes multiple tools to really build up a good idea of how a site is doing, and I don’t think Alexa is even one of the better tools to do that.

    It could be, but it isn’t. And I don’t know anyone that has that toolbar installed.

  4. Oh, I absolutly agree with you on that, I was not aware that it sounded as if I had another opinion! :)

    Now, I don’t think that Alexa is one of the better tools either, but it is taken by many people as being authorative – and they need to know what they built their opinion on. It is kind of cute, but that is about it.

    And let’s not even get into “do we want many visitors or the right visitors”. ;)

  5. Again, I guess it was one of those posts where I thought someone on Problogger was saying something counter intuative to what I believed to be true, only to find out that you and I are on the same page.

    Looking back over your post, I see now that it is more of a post on helping those that believe Alexa is “the” tool for performance metrics understand that it is not all some people hold it to be. Too much cola…I have to lay off it a bit.

    Great stuff! : )

  6. Of course, if I want to sell something and they suit my needs, I could use them to argue a better price! “Look at this great Alexa ranking, you know, Alexa from Amazon!”

    *hrmpf* I am too restrained by my upraising to take advantage on such things ;)

    But of course, this applies to all statistics you really know what is behind them.

  7. Alexa is useless as a true measurement of traffic but it is a handy tool to measure a blogs position in a general consumer market because I’ve always guessed that people who use Alexa tend to be less tech savy then say the average blogger or geek (do you know anyone in your immediate circle for example that uses the Alexa Toolbar?), its also not a bad way of getting a feel for where a blog sits in general, for example a site that claims to do 1/2 million page views a month is likely to feature prominently in Alexa, if its not its likely not to be doing the reported figures (a truth checker if you like). Its also not to bad for doing rough comparisons with other blogs.

    Having said all of this if I lived and died by my Alexa stats I’d have died from a nervous breakdown: 1 day I can be ranked 40,000 the next can be 150,000 and there is little rhyme nor reason, but I do use it daily as part of my stats round up, mainly just to see what that particular market place is doing.

  8. […] es Ranking basiert auf den Statistiken der Amazontochter Alexa und auch der Problogger �bt Kritik an diesen Statistiken. Es werden laut ihm […]

  9. I’m a completely confused (and slow) newbie, but,

    Only half my visitors use MSIE
    Most (I’m new at this) surf in for the requisite 30 seconds at BlogExplosion.
    I am happy to get 4 comments a day.

    Why does Alexa say I reach 15,000 in a million, amd why does it say my blogger.com rank (and the rank of the other three blogger blogs I tested, is 33? Why are we ALL at 33?

    Bonkers. Hands up, I have a quiet little blog that Alexa says is screaming up the charts, so someone’s doing something wrong…..

  10. Reimer: Sie. Nicht er. *g*

    Duncan: Yes, as part of that and on english not so technical sites, agreed. :) But on the more technical sites, you can use Technorati and co. And I assume, the more top you are, the more ups and down you have.

    Cheryl: Perhaps because 33 is such a pretty number? :) 33 is compared to what? In which period? (Do you have a url for that perhaps?)

  11. […] e Trusted

    June 21, 2005 |
    No Comments

    A recent article over at ProBlogger touches on the topic of Alexa […]

  12. Nicole:

    Thanks. It seems to give identical traffic and rating stats for all blogs at blogger.com – I actually think it lumps us together as one – the figures appear to relate to blogger.com itself, as a conglomeration of all the blogs, or in it’s own right.

    It just means that unless I switch blog hosts, Alexa ratings will be completely useless to/for me.
    If you want to check that out, just go to Alexa.com and enter the URL of any ‘Blogger’ blog you want.

  13. It seems to me that there are few publicly reliable statistics on the Internet. Alexa is useful as a relative guide to position – but that is about it. Looking at it every day or taking the figure as gospel is dangerous. But it is a measuring tool of sorts.
    So is Google positioning. It is very broad, pretty loose. But it is a guide to where you site stands. True, there is often appears to be no connection between the two and it is undoubtedly English-language biased.
    What I would like to know is whether there is anything better. I have not found anything.


  14. Yahoo – 1
    MSN – 2
    Google – 3

    Those are rankings, plain and simple. All three sites are ranked using the same flawed criteria. The playing field is level. Therefore, if you were Google, would you complain about the inequaties in the system because Yahoo is number One.

    That being said, a script that caters to web developers and SEO specialists should have an incredibly higher percentage of toolbar users than a site that sells arts and crafts.

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