What is Alexa? It’s a Website Traffic Spy Tool

One of the GREAT things about being involved in a “social networking site” such as Biznik is that people can communicate PRIVATELY with you.

I recently got a question privately there from someone who visited my blog and read my post Business Success Isn’t Determined by Your Alexa Rank. A well respected marketing expert, he wasn’t familiar with the Alexa tool and asked me to blog about it. Since I’m all about educating my clients and other readers, here we go.

What is Alexa?

Alexa is a product developed by Amazon (yes, the internet book selling giant and internet retailing pioneer). It’s a way to “spy” on the traffic of other competing websites.

increasing site trafficAlexa “ranks” websites in order based upon traffic from 1 to 24+Million. (I’ve seen TWO sites in the past 2 weeks that were in the 24 Million range.)

The last time I looked, Yahoo was #1, Google was #2 and YouTube was #4 according to Alexa.

If your Alexa ranking is above 1Million, you can congratulate yourself. You’re in the top 5% when it comes to rating traffic of the 24+ Million sites indexed by Alexa.

With that said, Alexa doesn’t get real interested in your website until your site breaks into the top 100,000. Once you break into the top 100,000, you can see your daily reach, rank and page views.

A Brief History on Alexa

The way Alexa used to collect the information it needed was via a plug in for MSIE (Microsoft Internet Explorer), Window’s internet browsing software. The plug in installed a toolbar in the user’s browser. While it offered a way for users to “spy” on the traffic of other websites, it also provided a way for Alexa to TRACK toolbar users movements on the web.

If you think about it, it makes sense that the only people who really CARE about what kind of traffic other websites are getting tend to be part of the techno-geek crowd. Very few sales training professionals CARE about the web traffic of any particular website. On the other hand, people who create websites are PASSIONATELY interested in the traffic ranking for a site. As a natural progression of events, in the early days the Alexa tool bar was used almost exclusively by web professionals or devoted web amateurs.

increasing site trafficAs the web has grown, so have the number of “non-tech” users. Many of these “non-tech” users didn’t have the Alexa toolbar installed in either MSIE or any other browser. As a result, the results of Alexa’s ranking became rather “skewed” statistically. Sites targeted towards technical users tended to do much better than websites that dealt with non-techy matters such as organic foods.

Meanwhile, new Web 2.0 businesses are popping up left and right. With the explosive growth of blogs has come advertising management services which will allow you to sign up and place ads on your blog via their network. Since ads are sold based on the number of impressions, many of these networks rely heavily upon the Alexa ranking of a website to determine traffic. (Log files can be altered, but Alexa is an unbiased third party.) Also, bloggers are popping up who aren’t blogging about the latest Tech Toy who are developing quite a following. These popular “non-tech” blogs were crying “foul” when it came to Alexa’s method of collecting data.

Recent Changes in Alexa

Back in April, Alexa responded, either to these cries or to the increased competition they were facing. (Compete.com comes quickly to mind.) Alexa changed the way it gathers data for its rankings to try to reflect what was happening in Web 2.0, where it’s not only geeks who roam the web for hours on end. ( Read more here Alexa’s New Ranking System Hurts Some and Helps Some.)

If you go to Alexa, you too can install this tool bar in your web browser. When you do, you’ll be contributing to Alexa’s data collection efforts. In other words, you can spy but you’ll also be spied upon.

blogs as money making marketing toolsThere’s actually a plugin for WordPress which will display your current Alexa ranking in your blog if you want the world to see. (Personally, I’m waiting to break into the top 100,000 to activate that one.)

If you don’t want to install the toolbar, you can always go to the Alexa.com site and type in the URL you want to check.

The most important thing to remember with Alexa is:

a) It’s an estimated traffic count

b) It’s a NUMBER and nothing more.

There are people whose blogs were ranked in the Alexa top 100K who have shut down their blogs and gone on to get real jobs because they weren’t making money from the traffic they had. On the other hand, I recently wrote about a business who is RAKING in the dough whose website is ranked in the 24 Million range.

For me, checking Alexa rankings could be called an addiction. I have a similar addiction to Diet Coke and coffee. (Caffeine FREE Diet Coke… I’m trying to be in “balance” because I drink a pot or two of coffee every morning. Screw moderation, I’m seeking “balance”.)

It’s only recently that I’ve come to recognize NEITHER my drinking habits or my Alexa checking behavior is productive. So before you install the Alexa tool bar in your browser, proceed with caution!


  1. Hi Kathy – I still don’t fully understand the changes at Alexa. My ranking suffered a little bit when they brought the changes in, but I was ill and hardly blogged that month anyway, so maybe that had something to do with it too.

    My ranking is improving now but I noticed that some sites with really good rankings plummeted. I have a feeling some of them were only getting traffic from one source.

    I use Alexa to see what other websites have blogged about to get a traffic spike. Trouble is, Alexa is always about four days behind, so it’s not a completely accurate way to research.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Make The Business Of Influence Work For You

  2. Cathh,

    Great use of Alexa! (To see what others are blogging about to get spikes!)

    Your rank is FABULOUS! Then again, so it your blog so it’s well deserved!

  3. Hi Kathy,

    Great post about Alexa. I was also under the 100,000 mark and then they shot me right back up to where I am now. Ever since then I have been tallying at around 125,000 give or take some.

    It might be also interesting to mention that Alexa is only indexing traffic from other people who have the toolbar installed, which makes the whole indexing thing a joke really. At least that is what I was told and come to understand.

    @ Cath: great idea to spy on your competition. Now that is something I never thought off. 🙂

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..What Truly Lights Your Fire?

  4. Monika,

    Your site deserves to be in the top 10,000 in my humble opinion! (grin)

    Alexa used to rely solely upon the tool bar for datea, but back in April Alexa changed their data gathering process to include sources OTHER than the tool bar. I suspect it’s because they are being challenged by Compete.com.

  5. I think that Alexa’s estimates are the best. They are the ones that most closely follow what my internal stats indicate at the . Thanks for this great post!

  6. James Wang says:

    Totally correct the website alexa rank means little when you relate it with actual site revenue. But it is useful for a quick lookup if you want to know if a site is establish or not.

    I use the statrr for my Website Statistics site, they show all kinds of info including the alexa rank. They also cross relate sites against IP Addresses, DNS Servers, Analytics Accounts, and Adsense Accounts.


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