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How useful is Alexa for search rankings?

We are often asked about the usefulness of Alexa as a tool in building search engine rankings.

Alexa is not - and should never be considered - an important ranking for websites that are not looking to sell advertising space. In fact, many internet sources doubt Alexa's relevance for websites that do wish to attract potential advertisers. Alexa defines its traffic rank as "a measure of how a website is doing relative to all other sites on the web over the last three months." 

Owned by the Amazon group, the Alexa company ranks websites based on the amount of traffic they receive. The top ranking a website could achieve would be 1, as held by sites such as yahoo.com and Google. Smaller websites with limited traffic can therefore get a ranking of certainly over 1 million. 

Starting with forums, the general consensus is clearly that Alexa is only beneficial for those considering "direct advertising." Many of the writers on Warrior Forum agree that other than for niche marketing targets, Alexa is "inaccurate" and "means nothing." Scepticism on the usefulness of the Alexa ranking is rife across web pages and discussions all over the internet - simply Google "how important is an Alexa ranking?" and prepare to be inundated with web users and industry leaders criticising the use of Alexa rankings. 

However, reviewers such as Jon Kuperman, CEO of insight design lab and a software engineer at Barracuda Networks, say that Alexa "provides a biased, incomplete, seemingly arbitrary review of most websites." This is because a website's Alexa ranking is affected by the traffic generated amongst those web users that have downloaded the Alexa ranking tool. 

This presents a unique problem. Alexa rankings, being affected solely by web users that have downloaded the ranking tool, are subject to the search requests of Alexa users. Eric Enge, the CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, explains that "Alexa data is derived from users who use the Alexa toolbar. At the end of the day, the audience is just not large enough." Kuperman adds "who uses the Alexa toolbar? Web developers, administrators [and] geeks." With this in mind, it is clear that the Alexa ranking would give very little insight into the traffic of websites that did not attract Alexa toolbar users. 

For example, Kuperman uses website gundamstoreandmore.com - a shop that specialises in Japanese toys - in a case study discussing Alexa's unreliability. As a toy shop and not a tech or software website, Kuperman suggests that the website's low Alexa ranking (1,193,933 at the time of writing this article) is because the website's content does not appeal to Alexa's users. This is despite the fact that gundamstoreandmore.com receives around 3,500+ unique visits every day. 

Based on these arguments - and the masses of internet posts lamenting the use of the Alexa rankings - the Alexa ranking is certainly not an important measure for any website, let alone those that don't seek investment through advertising channels. As it is hardly a respected measurement of website success for those that are dealing with advertising, even to niche audiences, it should not be held in esteem for sites that are not even considering selling advert space.    

 

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