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Alexa Sucks and Here's Why

Why Is My Alexa Rank So Low?

As a member of the Web Design & Search Engine Optimization industry, Alexa is one of my least favorite topics of discussion with clients. I pride myself on being a man who has the answers. I'm more than comfortable answering questions like:

How can I get more traffic to my web site?
What can I do to improve my conversion rate?
Can you explain the different online advertising companies to me and tell me which one would be best for my business?

But one of the few questions I just can't answer is, why is my Alexa rank so low?

The best answer I can come up with is, because Alexa Sucks.

Alexa Sucks, The Case Study

I was recently hired by a Japanese toy store to run a social media campaign. Their store gets a good amount of traffic (3,500+ unique visitors per day) and their Alexa rank is terrible (1,042,039 at the time of this article). They were very concerned about their Alexa rank, apparently some of their potential investors wanted to justify the investment based on their rank alone.

I explained to them that at best Alexa provides a biased, incomplete, seemingly arbitrary review of most web sites, and that it's ridiculous that any professional would give any credibility to a web site's rank.

The conversation went over well and they decided to give up on the idea of improving their rank. That is, until we launched a small forum for their customers and with only 200 or less hits a day, the forum's Alexa rank skyrocketed to 500,000.

Let's Review:

**The Store, which gets 3,000+ unique hits per day**

**The recently launched forum, which gets less than 200 unique hits per day**

Granted, by necessity, Alexa is an imperfect service. However I think that it is inexcusably flawed and biased. Here is where Alexa is flawed beyond repair:

  1. Alexa gathers its data from people using the Alexa Toolbar. Who uses the Alexa toolbar? Web Developers, Administrators, Geeks like myself. This means that a website like mine with very little traffic can rank in the low 400,000's while an extremely popular toy store like Gundam Store and More ranks over 1,000,000.
  2. Although the majority of bloggers are based out of the United States, many (perhaps unreliable) statistics project that over 60% of Alexa Toolbar users are based in China. Is your web site catering to people in China? Mine sure isn't.
  3. No one uses the stupid toolbar. It doesn't come pre-installed on any major browser, and the majority of the internet-surfing public doesn't go out of their way to download addons. Especially one's they can't use for anything.

Why Does It Matter That Alexa Sucks?

Here's the thing. As a company, Alexa is actually fairly innocent and doesn't deserve much of the contempt I have. The real problem comes from third party applications using a web site's Alexa rank as a reliable means to grade the web site. Companies like BuySellAds, WebsiteGrader, and (rumored) Google use the Alexa's ranking system in their own algorithms to determine popularity.

So, the real problem is that other, important companies take Alexa's ranking system as a reliable means to learn about a web site when it clearly is not.

Your Thoughts

I'd love to hear your thoughts if any of you have had experiences with Alexa's ranking system whether they've been good or bad. I'd like to update this post with a few more case studies and try to figure out if I've just had bad experiences or if there really is a problem that needs to be addressed.

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