If you own or maintain a blog, you are most likely familiar with Alexa.com, Amazon’s self proclaimed “Web Information” subsidiary. Although it does a number of things, Alexa is best known for ranking websites in terms of traffic level, starting with the world’s most heavily trafficked website (Alexa Rank #1) to the least visited (Alexa Rank somewhere in the millions).
Where does Alexa get their website traffic data?
Alexa offers free toolbars and extensions for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. These browser add-ons collect and transmit back to Alexa several aspects of your browsing history, primarily the web pages you visit and the time spent on each page (and site). This data is then used to calculate the Alexa ranking for every site in relation to every other site on the Internet (well, at least every site that Alexa has discovered through the toolbars and extensions installed on browsers around the world).
Is the Alexa Ranking displayed for a given website accurate?
In a nutshell, the answer is not very much. Why? Because Alexa only gathers the information used to calculate their rankings from users who have downloaded and installed either the Alexa Toolbar or one of the extensions. This means of course that all the web surfing done by the millions of users who haven’t installed the Alexa Toolbar isn’t counted at all in the the company’s website traffic rankings.
As it turns out, most Alexa Toolbar users tend to be either webmasters or bloggers, which means that websites and blogs that attract webmasters and bloggers will naturally have better Alexa rankings than other types of sites, even sites that actually have far more traffic.
If my blog’s Alexa ranking isn’t accurate, shouldn’t I simply ignore it?
Well, that depends. Do you sell advertising on your blog, or do you plan to at some point? If so, then you certainly need to make sure your blogs’s Alexa ranking is as low as possible (the lower the number the better). For better or for worse, most advertisers consider a site’s Alexa ranking when deciding whether or not to purchase ads on that site and how much cash to offer in exchange for any ads placed. Of course it also helps to ensure that your content is interesting enough to attract both users and advertisers (hint, hint..).
Is there anything I can do to improve my site’s Alexa ranking in order to impress potential advertisers?
This is one of the hottest topics in many webmaster forums, and there are lots of theories and plenty of misinformation out there about it. But two things are not in dispute:
1 – Anything that you can do to increase your traffic level will automatically improve your blog’s Alexa ranking.
2 – Installing the Alexa Toolbar on your browser and setting your own website as your home page will often improve it dramatically.
Besides advertising, are there any other reasons why I should concern myself with my Alexa ranking?
There sure are! While Alexa rankings are famously inaccurate for the reason explained above, they do offer some important insights into the performance of your own blog. As your blog grows and attracts more visitors, you’ll be able to see its Alexa ranking drop with time. This downward movement in the rankings will give you a pretty good indication about how quickly your traffic is increasing. And if the ranking starts going back up again, that’s a signal that your traffic is dropping for some reason and an investigation into why is probably in order.
Also, while Alexa rankings are quite inaccurate when considered in the context of the Internet as a whole, they tend to be fairly reliable as a means of comparing your blog to others in the same niche (i.e. when comparing your political blog to other political blogs).
Final Question: Should I install the Alexa Toolbar on my browser?
Due to the fact that it collects your browsing history and transmits it back to Alexa.com, the Alexa Toolbar is considered by many to be spyware. I don’t happen to agree with that assessment since by definition a spy is someone (or something) that collects information on you without your knowledge. If you consciously make the decision to install the toolbar with the understanding that it will collect data and send it back to Alexa (and Alexa does explain that on their website), then it cannot be considered spyware in my humble opinion.
I said the above to say this: If you do not sell advertising on a blog that you own, if you have no intention of doing so in the future, or if you don’t own a website or blog at all, then it would be pointless to install the Alexa Toolbar or Extension on your computer. But if you do, I believe you should definitely install it.
If you type the word “Alexa” into your favorite search engine, you’ll find plenty of opinions both pro and con about the Alexa Toolbar. Personally, I happen to find it quite useful. Others obviously do not. The great thing is you get to make that choice for yourself.
Do you have a strong opinion one way or the other about the Alexa Toobar? If so, tell us about it in the comments section.
About the author: Rick Rouse is the owner of RLROUSE Directory and a number of other popular websites and blogs.