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How Accurate Are Alexa Rankings?

Last week, I discussed how Google PageRank is essentially a useless figure. Another popular metric used for comparing website and expired domain traffic, Alexa ranking, is also of dubious value.

Alexa rank is easy to understand. It is a simple number that pits your website against the rest of the web. The lower the value, the more traffic a domain receives, in theory. Google has an Alexa rank of 1. Facebook is number 4, while Amazon.co.uk lags a bit behind at 237. Most websites have a rank of over 100,000.

In domain auctions, sellers often quote Alexa rankings. While they can be a good indicator when comparing high-traffic websites, for most sites, the numbers are useless.

Why? The ranking is very easy to manipulate. Whereas gaining a decent PageRank involves obtaining numerous backlinks, Alexa rank is tracked using the Alexa Toolbar, a free download on the company’s website. The more toolbar users who visit your site, the better its ranking will be.

This is why Alexa is such a questionable metric. A webmaster can easily increase his ranking by installing the toolbar and visiting his high several times a day. Worse, there are free tools and paid services that use a computer script to send hundreds or thousands of Alexa visits to a domain, creating an artificially low ranking.

One also needs to consider the type of people who use the toolbar. More webmasters use the free download compared to any other demographic. This guarantees that webmaster-related sites will always have the highest rankings, even if they don’t have the most traffic.

In addition, it is unavailable on several web browsers and operating systems, including Apple Safari. This means that Mac-related websites will by default end up with lower rankings because a good chunk of their visitors can’t even install the toolbar!

Don’t believe me? Go to Alexa.com and look up Alexa’s ranking. You’ll find a simple “no data.” If the company let its rank be known, it would surely be #1 because so many toolbar users go to the site on a daily basis.

Because Alexa ranking is so easy to manipulate, you should always approach it with a grain of salt. Never make a domain or website purchase based on so flaky a number.

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