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A practical guide to your website Alexa ranking. What it is, what are its pitfalls, why it's important and what you can do to increase your Alexa ranking. Written as a result of questions fielded by a web client, concerned that their ranking was substantially lower than those of his competitors.
What are Alexa Rakings & Should I Care?
Alexa is to website owners as Klout is to Twitter or Nielsen ratings are to television. It's a way to see how your website traffic compares to your competitors (or any other website in the world for that matter).
Founded in 1996 by two entrepreneurs, the name Alexa gives props to the Library of Alexandria, drawing a parallel between the largest repository of knowledge in the ancient world and the Internet - today's largest body of knowledge (pornography notwithstanding).
In addition to offering a toolbar that gave Internet users suggestions on where to go next, Alexa also offers statistical information for each website one visits. Originally, Alexa archived the websites it crawled and this database served as the basis for the creation of the "Internet Archive", which can now be accessed through the Wayback Machine.
For anyone owning or managing a website, Alexa rankings can offer valuable insight. If you advertise on your website, know that advertisers use Alexa rankings to determine rate-of-pay and other factors - your Alexa ranking becomes very important. For most website owners, Alexa rankings are another one of those "devil-in-the-details" things. You should know about it, how it works (and about its inherent flaws) and the small changes and improvements you can make to your website to increase its Alexa ranking. This article will cover all of this, in a practical way.
What is an Alexa Ranking & How are Alexa Rankings Computed?
As a company, Alexa is best known for providing website owners an "Alexa Ranking". The Alexa Ranking system tracks over 30,000,000 websites across the globe. These traffic estimates and other metrics are based on a diverse sample of millions of Internet users that provide reporting information via different types of toolbars and add-ons for Chrome, Firefox and MSIE.
Alexa rankings are based on website traffic data provided by these users over a rolling 3-month period. Alexa rankings are updated daily and a website's ranking is based on combining "Reach" and "PageViews". Reach is the number of unique Alexa users who visit a website on a given day. Pageviews are the total number of Alexa user URL request for a particular website. (Note that multiple requests for the same URL by the same user on the same day is counted as a single pageview). The website with the highest combined daily reach and pageview score is ranked number one and so on down the list.
Alexa rankings are only for TLDs (e.g., site.com). They don't provide separate rankings for subpages within a domain (e.g., site.com/page.html) or sub-domains (e.g., subdom.site.com), unless Alexa can automatically identify those sub-domains as a separate home page or blog (e.g., my-site.blogger.com).
Shortcomings of Alexa Rankings
There are limits to the Alexa rankings that are important to understand:
First, only users who have the Alexa toolbar or add-on installed are providing input to the rankings (i.e., probably not you or your friends). Thus, the data tend to be skewed toward webmaster and tech-savvy users (i.e., technical websites rank higher).
Secondly, websites with relatively low traffic will not be as accurately ranked as websites with higher traffic. (Alexa claims that rankings beyond 100,000 are not statistically meaningful and that such sites will be subject to large ranking swings, due to the scarcity of data for that site). Alexa calls this the "Long Tail Phenomenon". In a nutshell, the lower your Alexa ranking, the more it is affected by small statistical changes, both in terms of your logged website traffic and websites with similar Alexa rankings. (i.e., you'll likely see wild swings in your ranking).
Is a Good Alexa Ranking Important?
If you make advertising money from your website, it is critically important that your Alexa ranking be high, since advertisers almost always refer to Alexa rankings to determine which websites to spend advertising money, the type of advert they will run and rate of pay. If you don't make advertising money from your website, your Alexa ranking can still be a useful tool for bench marking your site against your competitors and by providing consumers and marketers metrics to evaluate your site for purchases, partnerships and other business opportunities.
Bottom line: Alexa rankings are a measure of your internet success compared to your competition and provide a tool to optimize and monitor your web presence, which likely represents an ever-growing portion of your bottom line.
Improving Your Alexa Ranking
I would never recommend that a client work at "gaming their Alexa ranking". For starters, it's just not worth the effort, as your Alexa ranking isn't the most important area in which to spend your energy. However, you do want to increase the amount of traffic to your website, so improving your Alexa ranking is part and parcel with these goals and thus, a good way to measure your website success (just as floating to the top of Google searches for your business keywords is a measure of your website success).
Here are a number of steps I would recommend to website owners to drive more traffic to your website, which will - in turn - increase your Alexa ranking. They are listing in priority order, so should be tackled and considered that way. Number one is FAR more important than numbers lower on the list.
- Content is King - Write unique, compelling & relevant content on your website (become the authority in your field, which will drive visitors to your website, get people sharing and linking back to your information and engaging content).
- Consistently Update your Site - Add new (unique, compelling, relevant, engaging and informative) articles on a regular basis.
- Blast on All Channels - Utilize social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) to spread your message. This will, in turn, drive more visitors to your site (make sure to include links to your webpages whilst "blasting").
- Engage - Social media works best if you engage in 2-way discussion with others (customers, friends and other websites). Leave comments on articles you read and reference (make sure to leave your website link). Do this on blogs, websites, social media sites, forums and any other places you visit. Don't just use social media as a megaphone, become "engaged in active discussion" with people about your ideas and passion.
- Claim your Website - Alexa allows you to "claim your site", which provides you an opportunity to fill in details about your website, so when competitors, customers, fellow businesses and advertisers look at your Alexa ranking, they see that you're serious about improving your web business and have taken time to fill in relevant information about your business.
- Install an Alexa toolbar - Because Alexa rankings are made by collecting data from Alexa ranking toolbar users, help yourself by becoming a toolbar user. (Don't like the idea of 'yet another toolbar taking up valuable browser real-estate'? Opt for an add-on instead. Alexa add-ons are available for Chrome, Firefox and MSIE (they show up as icons, generally, and run in the background).
- Get Good Reviews - Ask your customers or friends to review your website on your Alexa.com listing. This won't positively affect your Alexa ranking numerically, but it will show engagement by users on Alexa, which tends only to happen for well-established websites who have a lot of traffic or for businesses that are serious about improving their web presence.
- DO NOT - When people call or email claiming to be "SEO or Internet marketing experts", do NOT give them any money in return for a "backlinking campaign". If you've been working on items on this list (especially 1-4), such a campaign will likely only HURT your web authority. While it is true that you want other websites to link back to your site, you want quality sites that have similar (or ideally) higher "authority" than your site. Too often these campaigns employ shady ro spam-riddled websites with little-to-no authority, which serves only to leech YOUR authority to help bolster other websites.
As a business owner, your website is important and there are many ways to measure the success of your website. Certainly the most important is how much revenue it generates for you. However, before your site generates revenue (or results in whatever goals you have set), it must be seen by as many as possible (i.e., you want it to generate traffic). We've seen that Alexa rankings provides a means of analyzing that traffic and comparing the success of your site in relation to your competitors. We've also seen some of the pitfalls associated with Alexa rankings and know that it's not the end-all, be-all in terms of statistical analysis.
We've also seen some fundamental ways of increasing traffic (consistently new, quality, unique and useful content & social media engagement), as well as some simple ways of helping to increase traffic (installing an Alexa add-on to your browser and claiming your website on Alexa).
Essentially, this is all you need to know about Alexa. Implement these steps and monitor your Alexa ranking for a while, then look at it every 6 months or so. Improvements in your ranking will demonstrate that you are doing the right things to help increase your traffic and gain authority in your businesses web presence.