The Misunderstood and Overhyped Alexa Stats

The purpose of search engine optimization is to promote web sites in order for them to reach more targeted visitors and improve business goals. Whether it is sales, return on investment (ROI), subscriptions or inquiry numbers, these goals are measured in different ways.


Although it does not directly measure goals, Alexa tool from Alexa Internet (an Amazon company) is one of the often used — and misused — tool available. Basically, Alexa provides statistics of web traffic and traffic ranking of web sites. It also displays the web site traffic rankings according to specific countries.

The problem happens to be the data source of information Alexa displays. Data is collected only on browsers that install Alexa Toolbar, an application by Alexa Internet which is not bundled with most, if not all, browser installations.

Some of the purported reports it show is the percentage reach:

Percent of global Internet users who visit this site

This is the ratio between the number of site visitors and reported global (read: machines that have Alexa Toolbar working properly).

It also shows the site’s traffic rank using a combination of reach and pageviews. Thirdly, it displays the number of pages viewed by Alexa Toolbar users on a daily basis. But who are those that qualify as Alexa Toolbar users?

1. Those who use Internet Explorer 6 or later.


2. Those who use the Windows platform.

Noting the AND means both 1) and 2) must be affirmative so that we already exclude users of Firefox, Linux and other exclusions of the above items.

Question: why does it have to be important to include other browsers if Internet Explorer 6+ constitute a majority of users in browser wars?

Answer: Behavior of users using other browsers could affect the accuracy of data. For example, Firefox and Opera support tabbed browsing. With tabbed browsing users can open multiple sites while actually looking at one of them at a time.

It’s interesting to know that Text-Link-Ads and ReviewMe lean towards the web site Alexa ranking in evaluating its performance. But I think it’s difficult to provide ultra accurate data without consulting the stat masters at comScore and Hitwise. And they come at a steep price too.

A suggestion to use Compete appears as a valid point with its healthy source of clickstream data.

It may take some time before a healthy part of the population switches from Alexa to Compete. Part of the reason why is that Alexa is more popular (being associated with Amazon) and easy to use (users simply enter the URL and voila, rankings show up). Compete, despite its informative interface, needs more “tell a friend” viral campaign. It’s what’s going on even if Alexa Toolbar is bunched along with other spyware applications.