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Alexa Rankings, blog traffic, and how you can work them

June 30, 2009

When I first starting blogging, I wasn’t all that worried about blog traffic. This isn’t to say that I didn’t care if I had 10 readers or 100 (or even just 1), but that I wanted to write first and worry about traffic and rankings never.

Over time, I think I caught a bug. I started caring about the numbers in cyberspace. I like to think I still have some sanity, though — after all, I haven’t sold my soul to SEO efficiency. But I began to look forward to seeing smaller numbers for my site’s alexa rank.

Perhaps it was because I read so many others’ articles discussing the same topic. (To be honest, Zelophehad’s Daughters has consistently seemed to avoid the alexa trap, which will be important.)

I guess the rational question to ask (even if it was after I jumped on the bandwagon) was: “What the heck is Alexa ranking?”

The Alexa Logo

The Alexa Logo

Alexa Rankings are a service provided Alexa Internet, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.com (you may remember Amazon as the Amazin’ company that revolutionized and took the online retail industry by storm…unless you’ve been under a rock for the past decade and a half), and quite simply…they aim to collect web traffic statistics. Alexa, at least theoretically, tells you who’s viewing what sites for how long, what sites did they come from and what sites are they going to?

At least theoretically.

Old tech, but awesome for TV viewership statistics

Old tech, but awesome for TV viewership statistics

The problem with Alexa…and a rather large problem at that…is that it can only collect stats from people who are using some kind of alexa toolbar. You can conceive of it as being similar to Nielsen Media Research’s Nielsen Ratings for TV (and if you haven’t heard of those…then I’m afraid you’ve been under a rock for several decades). Nielsen famously sends viewer diaries and (as technology has permitted) set meters to keep track of similarly interesting information for interested parties — who’s viewing what shows for how long, what channels did they come from and what channels are they going to?

The difference is that Nielsen, a company doubtlessly versed in statistical methods, attempts to control for various demographics, ages, races, socioeconomic classes. Its ratings, therefore, should at least theoretically be statistically representative or valid.

Alexa isn’t quite there yet. The Alexa Toolbar (or various other tools) aren’t necessarily pushed out to anyone — they are simply free for download to anyone who chances upon them. So, what ends up happening is that the people with Alexa Toolbars are those who do not mind their every footstep online being transmitted to a faceless suit (because Alexa does track this), and who already are interested in such statistics, and are therefore willing to look into these technologies. Because the Alexa toolbar gives easy access to ranks for sites as well as collecting stats which affect the rankings, SEO and traffic hounds are more likely to have these things.

What does this mean? This means, unfortunately, that Alexa ranks about blog or website traffic aren’t necessarily so realistic or accurate. They can be skewed in several ways — namely, certain viewers (like tech-y alexa-toolbar-toting surfers) count more than others (the average joe who doesn’t even know about the toolbar or who is worried about privacy.) And people who talk about alexa rankings know this.

But, if for some reason you still care about these rankings, I guess you should know the ways to improve them (remember: smaller number is better).

  1. Get the Alexa Toolbar for Internet Explorer, Alexa Sparky for Firefox, or searchStatus for Firefox. Magically, within weeks the alexa rankings of sites you touch will magically improve. Even without this Machiavellian intent, these kinds of extensions (especially searchStatus), also tell you about Google PageRank, Compete Rank, mozrank, as well as highlight keyword density, nofollow links, metatags, and whois. It’s great for any site developer.
  2. Empower your readers by encouraging them to download the toolbar or related extension. Give them a viewership journal.
  3. Become very friendly with people who are statistically more likely to have the toolbar. Apparently, that would be SEO and rankings obsessed site developers, and oddly enough, Chinese surfers. These kinds of people apparently congregate around cool techy social networking sites like stumbleupon, del.icio.us, and most certainly digg. If you could imagine Kevin Rose touching it, it’s golden.

These are three simple steps, which, if you note, don’t actually involve just getting more traffic, but involved getting a certain kind of traffic (or converting your blind followers into savvy seers). For regular and comprehensive traffic analysis and statistical comparison on the internet, I’m just as much at a loss as you.

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One Comment
  1. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Digg FTW!!!

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