Alexa is Becoming Completely Worthless

Daniel Scocco

Alexa is becoming a joke lately. Some people claim that over the previous two years it was already losing reliability, but lately it went completely nuts. Whatever they did on the last algorithm update, it messed up their rankings badly.

I know that many people already ignore Alexa, but most advertisers still consider it when evaluate ad buys on websites, so I think we need to raise the awareness about it, and encourage them to use other available tools to gauge traffic.

The problem emerges when you make comparisons of different websites, and when you bring into the picture other traffic tracking services like Compete.com or Google Trends. I have 5 interesting cases to illustrate this.

Case 1: Daily Blog Tips vs. Daily Writing Tips

This was a natural example since I own both sites and have access to the real traffic figures. Daily Writing Tips (as of today) has an Alexa rank of 91059. Daily Blog Tips has a rank of 112363. The Alexa graph of the reach of both sites tell a similar story:

So if one was to trust Alexa, he would conclude that Daily Writing Tips is getting a lot more traffic than Daily Blog tips right? Wrong!

In fact it is exactly the opposite, Daily Blog Tips generates around 15,000 daily page views, while Daily Writing Tips only 8,000. The proportion of unique visitors is similar.

Now the interesting thing is that both Compete.com and Google Trends show a very similar traffic trend for those two sites, and one that is much closer to the real numbers.

The time frame of the graphs is different, but it should not matter. The Alexa graph is displaying the trend for the past 6 months, while Compete and Google are displaying it for the past 1 year.

Case 2: PhotoshopStar vs. VentureBeat

PhotoshopStar is a photoshop blog created by a friend of mine. It has around 2,500 RSS subscribers and gets some decent traffic. As of today it has an Alexa rank of 30,422. VentureBeat, on the other hand, is one of the most popular technology and web 2.0 blogs on the web, with tens of thousands of RSS subscribers. It is Alexa rank is 31,397. Hmmm. This would mean that PhotoshopStar gets more traffic than VentureBear? Check out the Alexa graph:

Now what would you think if I tell you that PhotoshopStar gets around 300,000 monthly page views (source is my friend), while VentureBeat gets over 1,000,000 (source is Federated Media)? Alexa must be kidding right? Not only that, but again both Compete.com…

and Google Trends managed to display a more realistic situation.

Case 3: JohnChow vs. Techmeme

JohnChow.com is a popular “make money online” blog. According to John himself his blog generates around 300,000 monthly page views, and its current Alexa rank is 58,000. You probably also know Techmeme, a tech news aggregator. Its Alexa rank is 73,938. Again, one would expect that Johnchow.com is receiving a lot more traffic than Techmeme if he was to follow what Alexa says right?

Well this is probably far from the truth. Techmeme must be getting at least twice as much traffic as JohnChow.com. Both compete…

and Google Trends in fact are showing a very similar pattern, where Techmeme has by far more traffic than JohnChow.com.

Case 4: BloggingTips vs. Copyblogger

BloggingTips is a meta blogging site, with around 2,500 RSS subscribers, and its current Alexa rank is 103,872. Copyblogger, on the other hand, is the authority copywriting blog on the web, and counts more than 40,000 RSS subscribers. Oddly enough, Alexa ranks Copyblogger right aside with BloggingTips, with a rank of 102,259.

Over the last month Copyblogger shows a spike on Alexa, but still you can see that was going hand in hand with BloggingTips for a while. Do they really receive a similar traffic? I highly doubt so, and the Compete.com traffic report confirms that.

Google Trends shows a trend to both websites that is very similar to Compete.com (that is, the BloggingTips traffic is so small in comparison to Copyblogger that it is not showing in the graph).

Case 5: PSDTuts vs. DZone

Someone could think that the crazy Alexa rankings covered above were due to websites coming from different niches. Well let’s take two on the same niche then: web design.

PSDTuts is one of the most popular blogs with photoshop tutorials. It is current Alexa rank is an impressive 11,957. DZone.com, on the other hand, is a popular social bookmarking site for web designers and developers. One would expect that the latter would have a higher traffic right? Not for Alexa… which is giving a rank of 23,233 to DZone.

Compete.com is telling a whole different story though…

And so is Google Trends. Yet another time both of those traffic tracking services are agreeing with each other, and completely disagreeing with Alexa.

Conclusion

As you can see, on all those 5 cases Alexa was reporting very strange traffic trends. Sometimes it reported the opposite of the real situation. I am pretty sure it would be easy to find 10 or 100 more similar cases.

Compete.com and Google Trends, on the other hand, are behaving very similarly, and judging by the numbers that I know, they appear to be far closer to the real situation.

In my opinion the only factor that makes people still consider Alexa is its ranking system. People like rankings. They like to compare A with B and C. Compete.com and Google Trends still need to develop such a continual ranking system (right now you can only do on-spot comparisons).

Should they come up with such a ranking system, though, I am not sure how many people would still look at the Alexa numbers.

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85 Responses to “Alexa is Becoming Completely Worthless”

  • mark

    Traffic is not the only factor in Alexa. If you have a website that has 1 billion unique visitors daily, it does not mean that your website will be top 1.

    This blog’s Alexa is 4700 now. I think you have 10-30K visitors daily. But i know a lot of websites that have 200-300k visitors and have only 5000-7000 Alexa.

  • Steve

    Alexa.com was worthless to begin with!

    Alexa.com should put a disclaimer on its website warning people that their data is “For Amusement / Entertainment Use Only” as Alexa rankings CAN be easily manipulated.

  • David

    Nice graphs made. Thanks for sharing them here. Really a valuable article worth to be read.
    Keep posting more like the same.

  • Fruit

    Hi, everybody.

    Can anybody of you, professionals, tell me exactly how Alexa calculates the TOTAL number of Internet users?

    Any kind of official info? or some trustworthy description of their algorithm?

    Do they rely only on their Toolbar? Or count any other stat sources?

    Thanks a lot in advance!

  • getrising.com

    As mentioned on their site i.e.
    “Alexa’s traffic rankings are based on the usage patterns of Alexa Toolbar users and data collected from other, diverse sources over a rolling 3 month period.
    A site’s ranking is based on a combined measure of reach and pageviews.
    Reach is determined by the number of unique Alexa users who visit a site on a given day.
    Pageviews are the total number of Alexa user URL requests for a site.
    However, multiple requests for the same URL on the same day by the same user are counted as a single pageview”.

    I don’t think there is any rocket science. If someone wants to boost his alexa rank, he must increase his technology oriented visitors base like webmasters, technology geeks etc. Because these are the people who certainly have the alexa toolbar installed….

  • Ange Gothi

    Alexa do see many factors

    I guess !!!

    Even my Google Analytic’s & Alexa Traffic don’t match anymore

  • Source Blogger

    For something perceived to be so worthless, there sure is a lot of heated discussion about Alexa Rank.

    Do we need a refresher course on how Alexa Rank data is calculated?

    Are you losing money when your site’s Alexa Rank declines for a week or two?

    Let’s return our focus back to content and not obsess over stats and analytics.

    Source Blogger

  • estherrosieuk

    My 7 day Alexa ranking has just gone from 325,000 to over 5 million and my traffic is steadily the same.

    I work on this website for a client who DOES take notice of alexa.

    Not good when it comes to a weekly report.

    Any ideas.

  • medyum

    Whilst Bloggingtips has a score of 103 thousand just now, it’s 1 week average is about 600,000. Compare this with CopyBlogger’s 1 week average of 137,183.Likewise, DailyBlogTips has a score of 112 thousand just now however your 1 week average is 265 thousan

  • Mark

    Yes i agree the site stats on alexa are very wrong and delays for week or so at a time which effects your ranks/reach. so yes the site is now bogus and getting worse as it goes along.

  • ipod repair

    Alexa is by far the worst traffic website out there..

  • Minesh Modi

    One should not worry more about alexa ranking. It calculates trafic from the pc’s having alexa tool bar. So it don’t give correct traffic information.

  • Dan Palka

    I forgot to mention that the entire time, my Quantcast rank has been relatively stable.

  • Dan Palka

    Alexa has just gone berzerk on me the past few weeks. My most popular website (Info-Mac) dropped from in the 400,000s to the 10 millions, then went back into the 600,000s within a matter of two weeks.

    My other, much smaller website with way less traffic (System 7 Today) is somehow in the 200,000s, is supposedly getting 99.9% of traffic from South Korea, and is the 3,399th most popular website in that country.

    I’m now completely done with Alexa.

  • dede

    I dont know how exactly alexa work,.! but my site even reached 150.000, know back to 163000. I almost update with new post everyday!

    I have no idea lol…

  • Gfans

    I thinks so, cause get alexa rank high is not so hard any more.Many people cheat about it.

  • pmbedan

    Dunno why, my alexa rank make me little confuse, coz they rate unpredictable – i mean, to day my rank at 4.977.425 and tomorrow the point at 12.545.235 but 3 days later the rank at 4.977.425.

  • pmbpedan

    Thanks for your informations

  • barbaros

    Alexa results are not reliable and bias,it is very easy to manipulate the system,example if the website modarators download the alexa toolbar on their pc and used every time on their website it will effect the results regardless even they got only few visitor a day

  • Stefan Wurz

    Well researched post Daniel, I think this will give for thought for the Alexa people

  • getbusinesshere

    aha finally i’ve got answer while i have stay in here.thank you sir for the explain.

  • Jamaipanese

    I read somwhere that social site traffic from digg and even stumbleupon is now being discounted by alexa. I am guessing you get a lot of social traffic here?

  • Outtanames999

    Well, I don’t disagree that viewing Alexa stats can be MISLEADING, but I’m not sure I agree that they are not ACCURATE.

    First of all, I believe you are completing misinterpreting the Alexa REACH stats. Their REACH stat is a percent of all Internet users that the site is being viewed by. So theoretically, if Alexa was a truly accurate and unbiased, representative random sample of all Internet users worldwide, then if you take the percent that they say your site ranks and multiply times the total number of Internet users worldwide you would get a number which equals your site traffic.

    So there are what, 190 million Internet users? 300 million? Who knows? It’s a moving target and no one knows the exact answer. The point is, whatever the number is, it’s huge and your monthly uniques are going to represent a very teeny tiny percentage of total users. So, allowing for some error, it is entirely possible that all of the comparisons you disagree with on Alexa are in fact accurate. Remember you are looking at a comparison of relative PERCENTS ot total Internet users, not the actual user counts that Compete shows. It is very difficult to move the needle when you are measuring a what your traffic represents as a percent of all users. All but the top 100 sites will look very small on this measure.

    And there is no possible way you can compare a percentage ranking from Alexa with estimated visitor counts from Compete without doing some further math like I have described.

    The second relevant point I would like to make here is no two web analytics reporting systems EVER agree. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. So forget about getting agreement. You never will. The reason is because you do not know all the relevant details about which traffic was counted and which wasn’t. Particularly session length is the one variable which can totally throw off comparisons for unique visitors. I say 30 minutes, you say 20 minutes, somebody else says 15 minutes, another 60 minutes, and 90% of analytics package users leave the setting at whatever the default setting is for their package and the setting varies from analytics program to analytics program.

    Another obvious but not so obvious factor is whether the stats throw out visits from robots or include them. And the list goes on and on.

    There will never be a defacto standard that ever totally agrees with your web logs. We might get some agreement strictly for convenience sake that this analytics or that analytics is the current benchmark for comparing sites, but there will never be an unambiguous absolute truth here. You will always be making decisions under conditions of uncertainty. It’s just an estimate.

    Today you are railing against Alexa. In the future, you will very likely not be happy with Compete, or Google, or Hitbox or you-name-it.

  • Joao Moraes

    I’ve noticed almost every site shows less traffic at Alexa and I guess the only reason is that there is not so many user with Alexa toolbar.
    In fact, the toolbar did not exit for Firefox and we know that this browser has grown. And about the future, will Alexa provide a tool bar for Google Chrome? No… that’s not the question. Are the users willing to install an Alexa toolbar? I don’t think so. The trends show less Alexa toolbar users.

  • ohiit

    It is not a matter of whether Alexa, Complete, or whatever page ranking site tells you. From what I see, they are still working on that and there is no surefire way that they are accurate. Because everyone have different observation and page ranking architecture.

    Their methodologies are also different. Not every pageranking site is the same. Everyone have different experience they have been through and learn the years of experience. Same theory like page rank site. They are still in the works and they aim for improvement not perfection. As the saying goes “No one is perfect” same thing, same theory applies to the mathematical problem solving that involves page rank. That is why their methodologies is not an easy task to develop.

    Only the owner of the website who works on the ranking architectures, methodologies, optimization and allocation knows how it works but it is not yet perfected in anyway. It might take years for it to come into fruition. So bear with them.

    Since there is no scientific track record to prove that claim up so you can’t be so quick to judge them. It is a learning process so we also continue to evolve. Same goes with the website. Till then take care.

  • AZ Blogging

    Wow,
    You have made your point so clear that a blind can see. But as you rightly said, advertisers are still taking it into consideration, so, we can’t forget that name ALEXA…

  • eBrandz

    The figures are pretty poor estimates of actual popularity and traffic rank. Alexa numbers should not be taken as a way of judging the true popularity of a site.

  • miachael

    I honestly dont know what to think about this alexa. I’ve been pulling my hair out trying everything I know to get my websites rank up. I look at some comp. site and they are ranked the top 5 in google and under 100,000 here! The market I’m in isn’t even very big.

    if theres anyone who could help me see something i’m missing please write!

    our site is
    http://www.ipodrefresh.com

  • daynger

    Interesting things you’ve got here… I just found another same thing on

  • Mike

    Just spoke to an Alexa rep at Ad:Tech in Chicago last week. He acknowledged some of the slow downs in their data reporting.

    More interestingly, he hinted at Alexa evolving to become a different kind of company in the coming weeks. He asked a lot of questions about analytics and reporting needs.

    Just thought I would share!

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