Lesson #1 - Using Alexa
This blog is going to include "formal lessons", like this one about Alexa, combined with news-of-the-day links that demonstrate different people/companies trying out different ideas. There will also be links to other sites that offer valuable information about the Web.
In Lesson #1, let's talk about Alexa. Alexa is a great way to understand what people care about on the web. From our perspective, Alexa is extremely valuable because it ranks web sites and gives an estimate of their traffic.
In other words, you can use Alexa to learn which sites are popular on the Web.
So, for example, let's say that you like the XYZ web site and you would like to create something similar to it. How do you know, ahead of time, if the XYZ site is popular or not? You use Alexa.
For example, let's say that you are a fan of Slashdot.org. How do you find out how popular Slashdot is? You go to Alexa, type in "Slashdot.org", look at the "traffic rankings" for Slashdot, and you end up at a page like this. You see a nice little graph showing Slashdot's rank, which today looks to be averaging about 1,500 (there are actual numeric indicators down below the graph). What this rank graph tells you is that, out of all the web sites in the world, Slashdot is about the 1,500th most popular.
Alexa gives you two other pieces of traffic information about Slashdot: Reach per million users and Page views per user. This page describes what they mean.
If you poke around, you will find that Alexa offers some other useful pieces of information about Slashdot. For example, on this page you can find other sites that Slashdot visitors also visit (and then you can go look up the Alexa stats on those), as well as an entry point to a list of thousands of sites that link to Slashdot.
How does Alexa create these statistics? Alexa has a browser toolbar that people use, and every time a toolbar user visits a site, the toolbar sends the URL back to Alexa. Alexa aggregates all of the data to create its traffic estimates. It turns out that Alexa's rankings tend to be extremely accurate, especially for the top 10,000 sites.
If you want to learn more about the Web, I would recommend that you do four things with Alexa:
- Every time you visit a site that catches your eye (either because you like it or dislike it), go to Alexa and see what its rank is.
- Look at Alexa's categorized lists of sites and find categories that relate to the kind of site that you want to create. In other words, if you want to create a site like Slashdot, used the categorized lists to find sites similar to Slashdot. Then look at those as well to get other ideas.
- Look at every one of the sites listed in Alexa's "Top 500 Sites" list. You will be amazed at some of these sites -- you may have visited them before and never realized how popular they are. There will be others that you have never heard of and you will think, "how did I miss this?" (in other words, you will learn about large, well-hidden subcultures in America.)
- Every week, come back to Alexa and look at the "Movers and Shakers" list. Then go research why a site is moving up.
So you go to Google news, type in "Pontiac.com web site" as the search string and you find this page which says, "The Pontiac Solstice, a two-door roadster soon to be assembled in Newport, was splashed across more than 12 million television screens Thursday night as the key product on this week's episode of 'The Apprentice.'" It also says, "Visits to the Web site www. pontiac.com increased 900 percent between 9 p.m. Thursday, when the show started, and 1 p.m. Friday. More than 200,000 individuals visited the site." That doesn't do us much good because most of us do not have the ability to run multi-million dollar ad campaigns, but it still teaches you something. Looking at the Movers and Shakers regularly can teach you a lot.
[Question for you to think about - why does a web site like Pontiac.com from a major company like GM have a typical traffic rank around 10,000 or so? Especially when you consider that Slashdot.org has a rank of 1,500. I mean, everyone has heard of Pontiac, and relatively few people in the general public have heard of Slashdot. And why is the Hummer.com site ranked even lower than Pontiac when Hummer seems to have a lot more buzz? What causes two sites to have such different rank? These and many other secrets will be revealed to you by reading WebKEW in the coming weeks and months.]