Alexa : Worthless & Easy to Manipulate?

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Alexa : Worthless & Easy to Manipulate?

This week blogger John Chow revisited the 8 year old argument on the value of Alexa ranking. Alexa is an Amazon owned web search and traffic measurement company which gauges the popularity of a web site based upon the visits of Alexa Toolbar, A9 Toolbar and other web tool users.

The problem with Alexa is that a large number of its toolbar users are in the online marketing or web publisher business, giving sites which attract such audiences higher rankings.

Alexa also counts a subdomain as the same as its mother site domain. So, is domain.com is ranked a 10,000 on Alexa and domain.com launches a blog at blog.domain.com, that blog is also ranked a 10,000.

Alexa does however also have one problem working in its benefit, there’s not another high profile measurement tool available out there online that judges site usage and traffic popularity in such a easy chart and gauge system.

Here’s John Chow’s main argument on Alexa:

Alexa is a tool that many webmasters and advertisers used to gauge the size of a website. The Alexa ranking is based on a three month running average. The number shown is where a site ranks on the internet. For example, The TechZone has a ranking of 23,005. This mean the site is the 23,005th biggest on the Internet. Out of the billions of the sites on the net, being in the top 23,000 is pretty good, right? The only problem with the Alexa ranking is it is worthless.

The main problem with Alexa is its rankings are based on users who have installed the Alexa toolbar onto their browser. If you do not have the toolbar running, you do not affect the rankings of the sites you visit. The next big problem with Alexa is it is very easy to cheat the system. Just get a few friends to install the toolbar and have them surf your site everyday. It does not take many people to break into the top 100,000. You can even do it all by yourself by refreshing your site over and over again. Get a dozen friends to do it and you’re break into top 20,000 easily.

Beyond asking friends to download Alexa and visit a web site a couple of times per day there are also some businesses which manipulate Alexa rankings as a service.

I wrote up a story on Manipulating Alexa Rankings in March which did not get as much ‘air time’ as it would today, as Web 2.0 sites, PageStrength and Advertising Networks have recently been using Alexa to judge value and popularity. The following is information on How to Manipulate Alexa Rankings:

Most publishers share an unspoken agreement that although Alexa stats are inaccurate, that Alexa is not that far off and its traffic ranking system does give publishers an idea of how they compare with others; the lower the number the better. If a site is ranked less that 100,000 – it’s considered somewhat well traveled, less that 50,000 – popular, less than 10,000 – above the upper echelon of popular sites, and less than 1,000 – the cream of the crop.

I was talking with a friend about Alexa this week and how so many advertising companies, like AdBrite, use Alexa rankings as a way to measure a site’s worth. Alexa is also apparently quite easy to manipulate.

Here’s a step by step trick from Sitepoint Forums member KLB:

1) install the Alexa toolbar into your browser.

2) Create a special webpage that contains a JavaScript array of webpage addresses from your site. Then create a JavaScript function that loops through the array and opens each address into a separate browser window (make sure they all use the same window). Between cycles through the function, cause the function to “sleep” using the “timer()” function for a random interval of time between say 5 and 45 seconds. Make sure that when the function reaches the end of the array of addresses it loops back to the beginning.

3) Periodically set the script to action in your browser with the Alexa toolbar installed and let it churn away overnight. To save bandwidth you can always disable the loading of images. If you want it to be really effective, have a few friends run the same script from their browsers with the Alexa toolbar installed.

That is all there is to it. I did this about a half dozen times to one of my sites over a period of one month and it jumped up to the 80,000 mark in Alexa. I’m sure if I ran it more often it would have done even better.

Or, you can buy your way to a top Alexa ranking via AlexaBooster, which uses some sort of traffic exchange desktop software to boost site views by browsers equipped with Alexa. For $300 a month AlexaBooster claims to secure a 10,000 or above ranking for its customers, for $5,000 a month, a ranking of 100 or above.

AlexaBooster sales copy :

Are you looking for top rankings on alexa.com? If so then you have come to the right place! Alexabooster has been boosting thousands of sites for over 3 years!

Using the alexabooster software can boost your ranking anywhere from 100K or better! Alexabooster is a simple 3 step software that runs hidden in your sytem tray.

And then there is AlexaSurf which differentiates itself with the forementioned Booster tool by not using exchange software but connecting publishers with publishers – humans with humans – for site visiting exchanges to boost traffic popularity numbers:

We have created a tool that does not use any third party software to try and manipulate stats. Our system simply allows you to take part in a traffic exchange system for ONLY users who are using the alexa toolbar. This system will increase your rankings and give you the advantage online.

Our system is the only Free alexa tool that will allow you to boost your rankings without risk of having your site banned. Please feel free to signup and test out or system.

I highly doubt that many publishers are spending $5,000 a month to boost Alexa stats, as true site traffic stats would give more weight to selling ads or trading links than Alexa numbers. But after reading these posts and services, I can’t help but think twice when viewing Alexa stats and feel that they should be taken with a grain of salt more than anything.

When measuring the popularity of a site, along with Alexa rankings one should also review incoming links, web citations (are people talking about the site), request stat & analytics info, and even look a bit into blog rankings in Technorati or Feedster along with Google PageRank. A well rounded approach to judging a site’s worth will give you a much more open idea of value than one set of numbers.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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