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May 24, 2007

Alexa and Its Competitors

Alexa is a popular traffic meter well known to every webmaster and countless websurfers as well. It has been around for about 10 years and its position on the Internet is now indisputable.
It comes in two flavors, so to speak: a toolbar that you install in your browser (at this point only Internet Explorer is fully supported, but the users of Firefox can use an Alexa plug-in) and a website. On the Alexa website, at alexa.com, you can check the rankings of any website you can think of as long as you know its URL. You can also do this by visiting the website itself provided your browser is equipped with the Alexa toolbar.
It is through this toolbar that Alexa gathers information about the traffic on the WWW. Having the toolbar installed not only gives you the opportunity to see the Alexa rankings of the sites you visit, but also the opportunity to contribute to the Alexa’s collective traffic knowledge. The more people use this toolbar in their browsers, the more precise our knowledge of the WWW traffic is.
The fact Alexa relies on this kind of volunteer effort to collect the traffic information constitutes its major limitation. As you can easily imagine, there are countless web surfers out there who do not use the toolbar and would probably never consider doing so. They represent the overwhelming majority of web users. Because of that, it’s only conceivable that there are websites which receive a steady and decent amount of traffic but whose Alexa rankings do not necessarily reflect this for their visitors’ browsers are not equipped with the Alexa toolbar.
Obviously, the heavier the traffic to a given website, the greater the chances that some of its visitors use the Alexa toolbar and thus the more reliable the Alexa rankings of this site are. Generally, the Alexa Traffic Rank, the main Alexa traffic metric, of over 1 million is regarded as unreliable and even the rankings between 10,000 and 100,000 can be granted only a moderate amount of trust. The lower the Alexa Traffic Rank of a given website, the heavier the traffic to it.
A few months back, the Alexa Traffic Rank of my site was well over 1 million and deteriorating rapidly (at some point reaching over 6 million) and yet the traffic to my site was showing a growing trend. It became obvious to me that among the visitors to my site, the fans of Alexa toolbar are few and far between. To improve my rankings, I joined some popular Internet marketing forum whose members, I believed, were likely to have Alexa’s toolbar in their browsers. Within only a few weeks, the rankings improved dramatically and now my site has been boasting the Traffic Rank of less than 100,000, as measured by its 3 month average, for several weeks.
Alexa has two competitors: compete.com and quantcast.com. The latter is largely unknown and does not cover too many sites yet, although you can have your site quantified by embedding a small javascript tag into your site’s pages. Until some greater coverage is reached, the popularity of and thus future of this site and its Internet traffic measuring service remains rather speculative.
Meanwhile, compete.com has already reached the status that guarantees this site a formidable position in its competition with Alexa. The traffic information this service gathers comes mostly from ISPs, but only in the US, making it more limited than Alexa, but still quite precise, comparatively speaking. Compete.com also has its own toolbar that everyone can plug into their browser (only Internet Explorer and Firefox are fully supported at this point), but since its use has thus far been rather limited, one cannot rely too much on the data collected this way.
I discovered compete.com several months ago, about the time my Alexa rankings were reaching disastrous proportions. To my surprise, the picture painted by the compete.com data was very much in touch with the data from the server that hosts my site. Both data samples were showing a growing traffic, which was hard to reconcile with the deteriorating rank Alexa was assigning to my site.
It is not difficult to understand why Alexa’s rankings for my site were so poor. Alexa’s toolbar is mostly used by webmasters, bloggers, SEO practitioners and Internet marketers who, even if taken altogether, represent a small fraction of the web community. The majority of web users do not use the toolbar and it was this majority that frequented my site at that time. It should also not come as a surprise that my site’s Alexa rankings have dramatically improved once I started posting on some popular Internet marketing forum.
Since, as I mentioned, the use of Alexa’s toolbar is heavily biased towards certain demographics, the service provided by compete.com where this type of bias can be avoided is of great value and its recognition is likely to grow in the years to come.
Author:  Waldemar Puszkarz, Ph.D., is a web veteran with 15 years of web surfing under his belt. By training, he is a theoretical physicist, but his interests include also trading financial markets, sports betting, poker, and researching online business opportunities. He is the owner and webmaster of Eminimethods.com (http://www.eminimethods.com) which provides free trading education and reviews of honest online business opportunities. More articles about topics like that and a variety of others can be found in the Eclectic section of Mr. Puszkarz’s site at http://www.eminimethods.com/Eclectic.html

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