Among certain circles online, Alexa is one of the most important possible metrics. Among many others, it’s a curiosity at best. What’s the problem with Alexa, and why should you take what it says with a hefty grain of salt?
How Alexa Works
Alexa, owned by Amazon, is a third party analytics company that tracks a lot of information about a website, selling access to that information as a business model. The main draw of Alexa is detailed access to competitor information, as long as those competitors are within the top few thousand websites online. Alexa’s ranking is primarily focused on the top 100,000 websites in the world, as ranked by Alexa itself. While this sounds like a lot, remember there are over 30,000,000 websites monitored by Alexa, and millions more besides.
Alexa’s information comes from one source and one source only: the Alexa toolbar. Users who browse the web with that toolbar installed are feeding data about the sites they browse to Amazon and Alexa. Other users who do not have the toolbar installed do not affect Alexa ranking at all. In effect, Alexa is trying to draw conclusions and detailed analytics out of what is effectively a sample, rather than the full data, about individual websites.
Nevertheless, Alexa has a not insignificant number of people using the toolbar and feeding them information. Statistically, the sample size is reasonable, and the data Alexa provides is not entirely off base, though it is somewhat inaccurate, particularly for smaller sites.
The Problem with Alexa Rank
Alexa’s biggest problem is that source of information, the toolbar. The Alexa Toolbar only works for Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Users of any other web browser, such as Opera, Android, Safari, Blackberry or Lynx are all left out. They can’t use the toolbar, and thus they can’t feed Alexa data.
Wait, Android? That’s right. Alexa has no toolbar functionality for Android’s version of Chrome, or Apple’s browser, or any other mobile browser. This means, for one thing, that 30% of all traffic – the mobile traffic share in 2014 – is ignored. It also means that significant groups of users, those who use alternative browsers for one reason or another, are also ignored.
Additionally, toolbar adoption is very geocentric. Some countries lack data because there just aren’t enough users in the country in question to provide any actionable data.
Numerous studies have been performed on many popular sites, including Moz, comparing the veracity of Alexa information and the accuracy of Google Analytics, along side other free analytics services such as DoubleClick, Compete and Quantcast.
Improving Alexa Rank
As inaccurate and skewed as Alexa is, unfortunately a large number of marketers still find it useful for some reason. That means many webmasters still want to figure out how to improve their Alexa rank and associated metrics. To support that end, here are some tips for improving your Alexa rank.
- Get better marketers or convince your current marketers to stop relying on skewed data that has little basis in objective reality.
Okay, so that’s not really a useful tip. If you really must continue, try these:
- Increase your traffic. Alexa is almost purely a game of numbers. More users means more users generally with the toolbar installed. More users with the toolbar installed means more recorded traffic for your site on Alexa, which works in your favor for your Alexa ranking. A lot of this will be SEO and content marketing, which have their own sites, let alone articles.
- Install the Alexa toolbar on your browsers. As a personal user and blog owner, you’re visiting your site daily, and that will reflect positively on your ranking. Of course, it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket. If you have employees, get them to use the toolbar as well. The larger your company, the more benefit you can pull in from this method.
- Create a custom Alexa toolbar and encourage users to run it. Alexa allows you to create a customized, branded version of the Alexa toolbar. You can actually gain some value from this independent of your Alexa rank, so it might not be a bad idea. Of course, an app or a custom toolbar of your own might be even better. Note that the Alexa custom bar only works with Firefox and IE, not Chrome.
- Install the Alexa widget on your site, to show visible feedback to your users. Most general users have no idea what Alexa is or why it’s important. If you tell them to install the toolbar to help your rank climb, they won’t care. A visual element telling them why they should, however, can help convert more users to your cause.
- Claim and verify your site on Alexa. In essence, this works the same way as claiming your page for Google Analytics; you need to put a file or snippet of code on your side and tell Alexa to go verify it. This doesn’t give you much of a boost on Alexa itself, but it does give you access to more of their information.
- Build as many useful backlinks as possible. Backlinks are a powerful search ranking factor, which can help your site grow in general. General growth is beneficial overall, but it also means you can pull in more users who have the toolbar installed already.
- Network with other Alexa-focused sites. If you can share their audience, you’ll have a ready source of Alexa-enabled users. After all, you’re letting your partner handle pushing the toolbar on their users, while you benefit.
- Maintain a strong social media presence. Just like building a powerful backlink profile, building a social media presence exposes your site to a higher flow of traffic. More traffic leads to more Alexa users, which leads to a higher Alexa rank.
- Learn and use Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit. These social media sites in particular tend to have strong presences on Alexa. You can make use of these audiences by posting your content there. If possible, you can also cater to eastern – as in, East Asia – audiences, as they tend to love the toolbar.
- Buy Alexa rank boosters. Really, Alexa rank doesn’t mean much. Just buy your way to the top hundred thousand, get what you need out of it and leave it behind.