A Short Primer on Alexa...
And How It Relates to Your SBI! Site
Alexa.com is an Amazon-owned tool that measures traffic popularity based on a sampling of about 10 million users.
We at SiteSell are firm believers in Alexa and use its ranking scores to support the value and effectiveness of SBI!. For example...
No other site-tracking system has more users. However, Alexa does have certain limitations that you have to watch out for.
What Is Alexa Totally Useless For?
Answer... measuring your own traffic. You have a far more reliable tool in your own traffic stats, which tell you with great precision how many visitors you're getting. So don't be depressed by a score of 1,000,000 if you have 50,000 visitors per day. (Obviously, this example is not likely to happen!)
What Is Alexa Great For?
Answer... Comparing how you're doing against your competitors. The odds are your visitors and the competition's visitors are similar in nature, so they likely use Alexa to a similar degree. That means not much bias when you stay within an industry -- but we'll get to bias in a second.
What About Overall Reliability?
The correlation of "visitor counts" vs. "Alexa ranking" (across thousands of sites) is good. We know because we run scripts comparing the two on thousands of SBI! sites.
If you plot those thousands of sites on an "Alexa vs. visitor-count" graph, there's a good correlation. It's a worthwhile tool, as long as you understand that individual site scatter can cause the occasional result that's "off" (e.g., one site may have less traffic than the other, but have a better Alexa ranking).
In other words, while correlation is good, it's not perfect. Statistical "scatter" (deviations from the true ranking) exists. It increases as the traffic decreases (i.e., as Alexa's ranking goes up (less traffic), scatter increases).
So don't worry if you have an Alexa ranking of 1,000,000, while a competitor in the same niche is at 950,000. The difference could just be scatter. Also, over time, you'll get a better idea of where you stand...
- If that difference persists for weeks and months, the repeated measurements suggest that you do have a bit less traffic, assuming you're in the same niche (which eliminates bias).
- If your Alexa rankings cross each other, sometimes with you ahead, other times with the other site ahead -- you're about equal.
- If your traffic is growing while its is decreasing, Alexa will "show" that, too (your ranking has to be low(better than 100,000) to see it in an Alexa graph -- for higher rankings, keep notes).
All in all, Alexa is excellent for comparing with sites within the same niche. You may be curious about two sites in a niche that's not yours. Or you may want an estimate of where you stand vs. others. Alexa is ideal for this.
Even High Alexa Counts Are Useful
A site with an Alexa ranking of 5,000,000 does not have much traffic, but it's more than a competitor for whom Alexa says "No data available" (meaning that there were no visits by the millions of folks using the toolbar during the prior 90 days).
To state that another way, once you're into the multi-millions, it doesn't take many visitors to jump from 10,000,000, say, to 5,000,000. Rankings can jump around with small random changes. On the other hand, it takes an enormous amount of additional traffic to go from 1,000,000 to 100,000 -- and it takes much more than that to go from 100,000 to 10,000!
So individual measurements become more unreliable as the Alexa numbers increase. What does that mean for you?
Don't take much joy in a comparison where your ranking is 5,000,000 and a competitor is at 10,000,000. You're both in the same ballpark (and it's not a great park).
Bottom line: Many solopreneur sites, especially run by Internet marketers, brag of a big game. Sitebuilder companies brag about building "stunning websites." Well, it's you who will be stunned when you discover how many of them get no traffic...
An Alexa ranking greater than 20,000,000 (or worse, "No data available") tells you that the site has no traffic. It doesn't matter that scatter is huge because it's large as a percentage of traffic, which is low. Let's put it another way...
We have never seen a site with an Alexa ranking of 20,000,000 have even a few hundred visitors per day. They have next to zero, with perhaps a rare blip to 30 per day.
Even High Alexa Counts Provide Useful Info
Scatter does not mean poor correlation. As mentioned, a plot of thousands of sites on an "Alexa vs. visitor-count" graph shows that there is a good correlation all the way up into the multi-millions. The traffic count gradually approaches zero as Alexa goes from 5,000,000 to 10,000,000 to 30,000,000.
Think big picture...
Don't get caught up in numbers being exact. Only access to a website enables you to use exact traffic-measuring tools. You can only do that with your own sites, obviously. Alexa is invaluable for estimates of all other sites!
Manipulation? It's Not Likely. Why Bother?
Don't get shaken up by "one-of" reports of how someone or other manipulated Alexa, etc. Who cares? It's rare and there's little point to it, aside from feeding someone's ego.
Seriously, why bother manipulating Alexa? It's your own actual visitor count that matters. And who are you fooling, anyway?
Only the cynical and dishonest would do that and claim that others do it. There's just no point, unless you're the type of person who used to put a fake cell phone antenna on your car to "look good." 😉
It likely is possible to "fool" Alexa to get to 500K or so, very rarely even to 150K -- that would be tough to do, though, without at least decent traffic. But, in any event, what's the point?
It's hard (and pointless) to skew the results of the kind of traffic generated by the top 100K -- not unless you're a sophisticated, nasty manipulator hitting Alexa with the toolbar from a large number of ISPs scattered around the globe, in an automated fashion, rotating ISPs, etc.
We have seen claims of this, but we have never seen a clearly documented proof of anyone doing that. Maybe it's possible, as many claim. The failure to document it reflects the pointlessness of it all. You won't encounter this event, so why take this seriously?
Let's examine the two types of error in a bit more detail...
The two bugbears of any data sampling process (such as Alexa) are statistical error and bias. The key is to understand each and know how to account for it while using it. So let's look at each...
1) Statistical Error
Alexa has the lowest statistical error, since it has the largest sample base generating data for it (10,000,000). SimilarWeb is now close behind or even with them, based on their Alexa and SimilarWeb rankings.
Alexa's level of reliability has increased from a ranking of 100,000 when the Web was small to 1,000,000+. Results are more statistically valid now, as our own studies, including tracking of websites, has shown.
But that's not important. Here's the key point...
Special Note: Do not focus on getting a better Alexa score for your site. An Alexa score is merely a good comparison tool. Focus on increasing visitor count in your traffic stats and good things will follow.
The really good use of Alexa is to track your performance vs. your competitors. There's no point in having a high Alexa score just to have a high Alexa score -- it won't bring you an ounce more business.
Bias? Certainly. Two obvious examples (we first discussed both of these in 2006, when bias was a definite issue)...
i) Korea -- We don't know why (our guess is that the Korean browser may have Alexa installed), but there is a reason beyond the one given on the Alexa site for so many Korean sites to score so highly.
ii) Internet marketing and the tech-savvy -- absolutely (prior to 2008). A higher percentage of our visitors, just like BeFree or PayPal users or bCentral, would likely have Alexa installed. They are more likely to know about, and to be interested in this kind of data.
How big a problem was it? Alexa used to provide access to the Top 500 sites for free (that's now limited to the Top 50). What did a review of the Top 500 reveal?
Surprise! They were not all Internet marketing sites. Other people use Alexa, too. And Internet marketers visit other sites, too.
That did not prove that there was no bias. But at least we could say that it was not as big a problem as many claimed. Also, if an Internet marketer compares Alexa rankings with another in the niche, the comparison would be valid (bias is cancelled out when you stay in the same niche).
Since 2008, Alexa has reduced this bias. They don't just use one toolbar anymore. They diversify traffic through 25,000 toolbars, browser extensions, plugins, etc. They have also worked algorithmically to decrease this fault.
In any event, regardless of statistics and bias...
Alexa remains a great way for you to track how you're doing within your industry/niche. Alexa is useful for day-to-day single-site peeks. But it jumps from "good" to "excellent" when using it to compare sites within the same niche.
Why Does SiteSell Use It So Much? Two Reasons
1) It establishes our credibility. SBI! really does build websites that grow into profitable businesses. Many forms of proof of success use Alexa as an objective measure. No one else does this, but they would if they could.
Alexa is an objective way to demonstrate that growth, comparing ourselves to others in our competitive space. While any single site can be "off" (on the up side or down), the "scatter" averages out to an accurate correlation with traffic.
2) Using Alexa also establishes the wide variety of niches that SBI! members convert into profitable businesses...
These folks score well because they have the visitor count to back it up. It's just not possible to fake a page of successes like that.
Competitors try to cast doubt on it, suggesting that we "build up" sites to fake high counts. It would be impossible to do that for 500 sites on results.sitesell.com. If we did, SBIers would ask why there's such a discrepancy between Alexa and their actual traffic.
"Faking it" is not something that would stay a secret. In fact, we do the reverse...
A site does not qualify just because it has a Top 1,000,000 Alexa ranking. It also has to have enough traffic. For example, a site with Alexa of 900,000 gets cut if it only has 20,000 visitors per month.
There are hundreds more. We choose sites to make certain points. You'll see...
- both "plain" sites and "gorgeous" ones
- an amazing variety of niches
- a wide range of writing styles, but they all connect.
The bottom line is that the Results page really does indicate how fantastically well SBI! members do. And we're able to create this page because using Alexa...
- is automated
- is public and therefore requires no permission
- is objective -- anyone could simply lie about traffic stats.
It's a convincing way to demonstrate that SBI! is real. After a visitor clicks on a few Alexa buttons on that page, they can see for themselves that the buttons are accurate.
They rarely click again, although they could click on all 500 and find the current ranking (on Alexa) to be very close to that displayed on the Results page (we run the script every few days).
So... the Alexa scores really do indicate how fantastically well SBI! members do.
What Are the Takeaway Lessons?
- Track your internal traffic stats through Google Analytics or log file analysis software.
- Use Alexa to give you that "big picture" perspective as to how you're doing within your industry/niche. Compare and track with other sites in your niche.
Enter the domain name of a competitor at Alexa. Get into the habit of checking every site that you discover in your niche. Soon you'll have a frame of reference (i.e., what's "high - medium - low" traffic).
You can also use it to verify claims of "make money" marketers who sell products that supposedly make you rich (sometimes even doing so "quick!" 💰). Verify their success stories. You'll be surprised. They will...
- provide no verifiable proof of success, or
- only provide a few sites as proof, likely with Alexa ranks well over 1,000,000, or
- have an army of affiliates trying to convince you that Alexa is worthless...
Alexa is a valuable tool. It's not meant to be perfect -- but it's perfect for what it does. And more recently, since SimilarWeb.com and SEMrush.com entered this market, offering valuable data for free, you can gain greater certainty and accuracy, extending the uses of these tools.
Alexa is a powerful tool that delivers valuable results. Now that you know how to interpret it, you can get a world of useful info from Alexa.
Get into the habit of using it daily, supplementing with SimilarWeb and SEMrush as necessary. The more familiar you become with it, the more useful information you will extract.