Tuesday, April 19, 2005

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.)

  4. Every week, come back to Alexa and look at the "Movers and Shakers" list. Then go research why a site is moving up.
Here is an example of a mover and shaker this week: pontiac.com. Looking at the Alexa traffic graph, you can see that the site has gone from an average rank of around 10,000-20,000 up to a spike around rank 1,000. That is a tremendous move.

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.]


At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you download the Alexa toolbar, it makes it easy to check the rank of a site. Every site you visit, the toolbar shows the rank. It is easier than going to alexa.com

At 6:27 AM, Blogger John Peterson said...

Very educational! Who would have guessed www.jwz.org ranking an order of magnitude ahead of www.marshallbrain.com?

At 1:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh, I'd say the toolbar results are highly dubious, considering that it's mechanism of data collection requires MSIE + Windows. Firefox users, Linux users and Mac users are all discounted — and that accounts to at least a third of internet traffic now (total Firefox + Linux + Mac).

Also, the hardcore web user is much more likely to use Firefox (or a Mac machine).

So a site like slashdot in reality, should rank much higher, given the obvious testing bias.


At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naum has a point. My site, GoRobotics.net is about robots and is therefore visited by a large geek audience. It's important to keep in mind who's using the toolbar. But, it does give a general idea of metrics.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Ravi Hans said...

Can you please tell me by people logging to your site how the money is generated I mean that you said if e.g. 1000 visitors are hitting your site in a month then you may earn $25. Who pays this amount and how it comes to the one's account?

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Farees said...

Hi there folks,
Among SEO professionals, though not completely discounted, Alexa is not a trusted tool. Mainly becuase it relies on people who have downloaded the Alexa toolbar installed in browsers. So a very large chunk of traffic to a site is discounted (did you have the Alexa toolbar installed before you read this post- probably not). Plus more and more people are moving towards FireFox specially among the tech savvy folks.

If you have a decent amount of marketing research funds available I stronly suggest HitWise. They report on over half a million websites accross 160+ industries.

- Farees

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Norm D said...

Anyone know how to find out your hit count on blogger.com

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Ed said...

But you can now download Alexa toolbars for firefox that do the job perfectly. I am running firefox on linux and have the alexa toolbar. More details at http://pages.alexa.com/exec/faqsidos/help/index.html?index=127 - I went for the SearchStatus one and can recommend it.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alexa is really good for 2 things. One is a very general look at where sites stand. I would guess that their numbers have about a 15% margin of error. That's too high to base any business decisions that depend on that information, but they're good enough to give you a snapshot of the web.

Secondly, it's great for comparing sites which are in the same category.

What it shouldn't be used for is comparing two sites from totally different categories. Alexa's data skews one way, so the ranks of certain site categories are inflated.

At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great information sir i will try to use it :)!!!

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found a very nice article about Alexa's toolbar, "Alexa traffic rank: what it is and why you should care (or not)"

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Jeff Bednarz said...

My web filtering on a ZoneAlarm Z100G router considers the Alexa toolbar download criminal content and my Avast ativirus labeled it as adware. So, I do not recommend it's installation.

At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Daniel Byrne said...

I use firefox and the toolbar works fine. What give with the comments?

At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Daniel Byrne said...

The information on Alexa is very valuable Go to Hitwise and compare there top 10 with Alexa's. They are very close. The difference? Alexa is free. It doesn't cost an arm and a leg to get valuable data. Statistical models have always been based upon small sample sets, so discounting the fact that the sample set is small, doesn't fly. The main problem as I see it is the sample set. The users are probably pulled from a a demographic that has one thing in common, business owners. Granted their interests will vary over a wide range, but still they are probably trying to make money on the web to install such a toolbar.

Still the data looks credible, and its free. So I'm not complaining anymore less they decide to start charging me.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Phil Morin said...

"Anyone know how to find out your hit count on blogger.com"

Yes just sign up for Google Analytics.You will get all kinds of info about your blog.

Hope this helps ,
Phil Morin

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At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Clement said...

Thanks for your valuable lessons.

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At 10:01 AM, Anonymous branko said...

Looked at Alexa website for "movers and shakers". I can't find that category on the website?
Where is it located?

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