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!

What’s up with Amazon? Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better…

Great comment on my last post about Alexa from PhilB of Phishbait where he reports:

“The rumor here in Austin is that Alexa is on the market. So perhaps this is just getting fresh lipstick on the pig.”

It made me chuckle… the thought of the “mighty” Amazon being depicted as a pig sporting lipstick.

My love for Amazon is evidenced by my previous post An Important Lesson from Amazon on How NOT to Treat Your Customers, so you can see why such a comment would make me smile.

So know that:

a) rumor has it that Amazon is trying to sell Alexa

b) Amazon is resorting to bullying tactics to try to prop up another Amazon property, BookSurge.

It’s Monday and I’m not spending too much time focusing my thoughts on the two points above. Instead, I’m working to clear my inbox of the pile up from the weekend.

Later on in the day, I checked my email and found an interesting email from Amazon. I get these emails because I’m a customer. In the email, they tell me that I’m getting this email because as a customer who has purchased baby related items in the past….


I am CERTAIN that I have NEVER purchased baby related items from Amazon. I can be REALLy certain because it’s been more than a decade since I’ve purchased baby related items PERIOD!!! Back in 1994, which was the last time I was in the “baby supply” market, Amazon was just a recently registered domain name and was barely a glimmer Jeff Bezo’s eye!!!

With the exception of the occasional baby shower I’ve attended over the past 13 years, I’ve moved WELL beyond the “baby related items” phase of my life. When invited to said showers, I usually show up in person, thereby negating any benefit from shopping online.

In other words, I usually make such a purchase whilst on my way TO said shower. I rarely plan in advance for such purchases and FREQUENTLY purchase the gift, the card and the gift bag at a store which is directly in my path to said shower. More times than I want to admit have I been in the situation of LUNGING at said gift recipient as she removes my gift from the bag as I remember that I forgot to take the price tag off of the gift as I stuffed it into the gift bag in the car.

Today’s email informs me that Amazon thinks I need to pre-order the Bugaboo Stroller, a stroller that retails for $899!!!

Unless one of my oldest daughter announces that she is expecting to give birth to an NBA or NFL star player’s offspring, I most definitely WILL NOT be in the market for a $900 stroller any time in the near future. (If my 20 year old daughter who is completing her sophomore year in college with the hopes of entering Pharmacy school next year announces she is expecting a baby from anyone LESS than an NBA or NFL star, then I’ll be expecting to spend my money on support and not wasting it on a super deluxe fleece lined stroller!)

So what’s up with Amazon?

First Amazon put on the bully hat and try to strong arm POD publishers into using Booksurge… then they begin putting lipstick on a pig in an effort to make Alexa a “better” traffic tool … and as such, one that’s more “marketable”. Now, they issue a customer alert that is so off target that I seriously have to consider hitting the “Mark as Spam and Report”.

What’s wild is my observations are in DIRECT conflict with “official” reports on Amazon. From the AWs Blog

In a new Business Week cover story, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos discusses his approach to innovation, thinking for the long term, our focus on the needs of customers, and our company culture.

Um… Jeff…. this is your FORMER customer speaking….. I’m sensing that you not only don’t know who I am, you don’t even know I’ve left the building. That’s the problem when you become the 900 lb gorilla as Amazon has grown to be in the online retailing world.

Alexa’s New Ranking System Hurts Some and Helps Some

Alexa is a “traffic spying tool” used almost exclusively by web savvy tech professionals to see how much traffic a particular site is receiving.  Until recently, Alexa gathered their data exclusively from an optional toolbar which at first could only be installed in Microsoft’s Browser, Internet Explorer.

So, when a web savvy tech professional would visit a web site, the firs thing they would do is look in their Alexa toolbar to see how the web site was doing.  The problem with this is that the toolbar would only measure traffic to the site with toolbar installed.     So, if your audience wasn’t tech savvy and didn’t have the toolbar installed, your Alexa ranking suffered… sometimes greatly.

So this morning, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger announced the change in the way Alexa computes  its rankings. You can read the Alexa Press Release here.

Amit Bhawani did some research to find out how the change has affected some of the big blogs on the internet and found many blogs rankings dropped dramatically.  According to ShaMoneyMaker, the impact will be felt most by those who do paid reviews.

For those of us who write for a non-technical audience, we have seen a drop (which is good) in our Alexa rankings.   For those whose focus is on the technical web audience, there is no joy in this anouncement.

I have to wonder what the REAL reason is behind the switch at Alexa.  Could it be that Compete.com is putting pressure on Alexa?  Then again, Alexa is an Amazon creation… and things have been pretty messed up over at Amazon.

Maybe this is evidence that things aren’t going well inside the hallowed halls at Amazon….

An Important Lesson from Amazon on How NOT to Treat Your Customers.

GRR!!!!! I hate it when people get so FOCUSED upon the bottom line that they lose sight of the long term consequences of their actions!!!!

Angela Hoy is the publisher of the Writer’s Weekly which she uses to promote her POD publishing business, Booklocker.com. On Friday, Angela launched a firestorm when she reported that Amazon is putting the squeeze on POD publishers.

So here’s the deal… Amazon executives are doing their best “Tony Soprano” impression by threatening to remove the “buy” buttons from POD (print on demand) titles listed on the site that ARE NOT printed by Amazon’s own Book Surge POD. “Do this and nobody gets hurt,” is the implication. The problem is, someone is going to get hurt and my guess is it will be Amazon.

Amazon was the first hog to the internet book selling trough. In the early days, when you signed up as an Amazon affiliate, you could choose to be paid in “books” instead of dollars. I know that is how I still choose to be paid for my Amazon affiliate commissions. The thing is, authors are readers by nature. Angela confesses to spending over $1500 last year on Amazon.  That may be a bit above “average” but maybe not.  I just realized the figure I gave my CPA was only for the books I bought, not the ones I “bought” using my affiliate earnings!

So, authors are big book buyers… and Amazon was a pioneer in the whole internet affiliate marketing model. By removing the “buy” button for POD works on the site, Amazon is not only going to lose their author /customers.  These authors may not be buying copies of their own book from the retail giant, but I’m sure they are buying other author’s works through the site.  However, in addition to peeving off their biggest spending customers…. Amazon is  also going to lose a portion of their affiliate sales network as well.  My guess would be that those affiliates are probably part of the productive 20% of the old 80/20 rule which applies to affiliates and their sales in SPADES.

My mother used to refer to such actions as “cutting off your nose to spite your face”.

There’s a HUGE firestorm brewing over Angela’s revelation. So far over 60 blogs have weighed in to comment and I’m sure that Monday morning… more will join the cause. The very NATURE of Web 2.0 is for this type of story to go “viral”. (I hope Booklocker’s web hosting company is ready for this onslaught!)

POD authors who link to Amazon to sell their books will be changing those links and they probably won’t wait until the buy button is removed. Once they go to the time and effort to “switch” the links promoting their book from Amazon to Barnes and Noble… THEY WILL NOT take the time to switch them back to Amazon if Amazon backs down from this stand.

Now, Slashdot has picked up the story… suddenly this fight will extend BEYOND authors and into regular book readers who will be outraged at the “Big Bully” tactics being employed by Amazon. Nobody likes a bully… and until now, Amazon didn’t look like a bully.

Amazon loses all around. They lose the sales… they lose the links… they lose the relationship with thousands of authors… A.K.A. their customers!!!!

It’s obvious that the long term consequences of this action have yet to dawn on the executives at Amazon. Perhaps they thought no one would speak up. Looks like Amazon needs a lesson in Web 2.0.  You know the old saying… “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”?  I think this may be just such a case.

Here is a list of other bloggers (from Angela’s article page) taking up the fight. If you want to add your post to the “cause”… the post a comment to this post. If you’ve got your own blog, copy this list and post it on your blog as well. The more links to these posts… the more “traction” this cause will get.