You’ve heard people talking about the importance of their Alexa ranking.
Some use it to justify the cost of ad sales or to help sell their websites.
Others use it as a benchmark for which websites they want to get featured on.
Now, here’s the big question:
Is your Alexa ranking worth worrying about? Or is it a complete waste of time?
In this post, you’ll learn how Alexa collects ranking data, a quick case study that shows how accurate (or inaccurate) it is and an alternative.
Let’s dive in!
The truth about the Alexa ranking
On the surface, Alexa’s traffic statistics tool is a global ranking system that records traffic data and then displays it in an organized list.
Audience demographics and other statistics are pulled in, along with bounce rate, page views per visitor and time on site. As well as a few other data points.
That all sounds great, but where does the data come from?
Alexa have a toolbar/browser extension that shows Alexa Traffic Rank, related links and a few other pieces of data.
The data that is used to work out a sites ranking comes directly from the use of this toolbar.
The problem here is that only a fraction of people who use the web have this toolbar installed on their computer.
And it’s generally those that are more technically savvy.
This skews the results of Alexa’s Traffic Rank, meaning that high traffic sites with a less tech-savvy audience.
Now, I must point out that Alexa does have more accurate data for certain sites. They call it ‘certified site metrics.’ Sites can only get certified when they add a snippet of code, and sign up for a paid plan.
Considering how many websites there are on the web, most will not be certified.
The fact that some sites have accurate data, and others have wildly inaccurate data just makes it near impossible to make decisions using Alexa Traffic Rank as a metric.
One thing to clarify before we move on
I know a lot of people think of Alexa purely as a traffic ranking tool, but that’s not the case.
They offer a fully-fledged SEO & competitive research toolset. So please don’t take this post like I’m knocking their paid tool as well, because I’m not.
A brief case study that highlights the problem
There have been a few short case studies published around the web that highlight just how inaccurate their data is.
Here is one that stands out:
Syed Balkhi runs some very popular websites – including WPBeginner and List25.
In 2014 he compared the Alexa Traffic Rank of 3 of his most popular sites. Then Syed cross-referenced that data with more accurate data from his Google Analytics account.
He compared 3 of his most popular sites:
- WPBeginner.com (AR – 1,317)
- List25.com (AR – 13,333)
- OptinMonster (AR – 13,175)
Now, according to Syed’s analytics – List25 gets 6000% more traffic than OptinMonster, but they’re both ranked very closely.
List25 gets more traffic than WPBeginner, but its ranking is far lower because most List25 visitors don’t have the toolbar installed.
That’s a big difference. And yes, the figures listed above are from a while ago now. But the first two sites are still at a similar ranking.
Want to improve your Alexa Traffic Rank? Read this first
I see a lot of bloggers and website owners asking how to move their site up Alexa’s list.
But this is the wrong question.
Your site’s ranking – in Alexa’s tool and others – is determined by the number of traffic you get.
It stands to reason that if you focus on driving more traffic to your site, that your ranking will improve. However, as we’ve already discussed – these numbers will never be accurate.
Now, the harsh truth is that these metrics are meaningless.
They’re nothing more than a distraction. And an ego boost.
I’ve seen friends put so much time and attention into improving their ranking that they’ve stopped focusing on what matters – their business.
Please don’t fall into the same trap. Stay focused on growing your business.
Vanity metrics won’t help your bank account.
An alternative Alexa Traffic Rank
If you want to understand the traffic on your website – Forget Alexa! You need a fully fledged analytics platform such as Google Analytics or Clicky.
But what if you need data on someone else’s website?
One of the most popular alternatives right now is SimilarWeb.com.
SimilarWeb has its own ranking solution.
I looked up the stats for 4 of the websites I own, and their estimations to total visits seem to be between 4-6 times higher than the actual figures.
From the data given on my websites, I get the impression that SimilarWeb is more accurate at estimating traffic figures than Alexa.
How this compares to other websites – I can’t say for sure.
So how does SimilarWeb collect data?
According to their website, they use a combination of data:
- A panel of monitored devices
- Local internet service providers (ISPs)
- Their own web crawlers
- Direct measurement of a vast number of websites/apps that are connected to them directly
Using a combination of data sources seems like a great idea, and it makes sense why their data seems more accurate than that of Alexa’s traffic stats tool.
But would I use this data to inform any serious decisions? Nope.
After all, it’s still just an estimate.
Alexa’s traffic stats tool is inaccurate due to how data is collected.
Sites in tech-savvy niches rank higher than sites in less tech-savvy niches (despite receiving more traffic).
Now, let me be completely clear.
The problem here isn’t Alexa – they have never claimed their data was accurate.
Any website that has estimated data will be labeled with “This site’s metrics are estimated” when you run a search.
Here’s the problem:
Alexa’s Traffic Rank and SimilarWeb don’t provide completely accurate metrics. So you should never use them to inform any big decisions.
Sure, you could use the data to help with minor decisions but that’s as far as I’d go with it.
Want a better way to compare websites? Look closely at engagement metrics instead.
Or, if you’re trying to get data to inform the purchase decision of a website – request access to their analytics.
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