Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Lesson #1a - Calibrating Alexa

[This is a follow-up to Lesson #1 - Using Alexa]

The question was asked, "If you know that a web site has a rank of 1,000 on Alexa, what does that mean in terms of real traffic? How many visitors a month is that?"

The way you figure that out is by calibrating alexa. Many sites will publish or announce their "unique monthly visitors", and by finding several announcements like that you can determine, roughly, what the Alexa rank means.

The easiest way to do this is to go to Google news and type in a search phrase like, "unique monthly visitors" or "monthly unique visitors" (with or without quotes) and see what you get. When I try it tonight, here is one of the stories that pops up: March traffic up 17 percent

The article states that in March 2005, got 15 million unique visitors in March and 551 million page views (36 pages per visitor, which is excellent - typical is more like 10 for a "typical" content site). Now you look at Alexa and see that's rank is hovering between 100 and 120 in March 2005. So what that tells you is that sites with ranks around 100 will have roughly 15 million visitors a month.

Here is another article and it says that has 9.6 million unique visitors in March of 2005. The rank on Alexa is floating between 200 and 300. So sites with ranks around 250 have about 10 million visitors.

Here is another article that says that has more than 1 million unique visitors per month. It's rank on Alexa fluctuates between 5,000 and 10,000, so a web site with a rank of 7,500 or so gets about 1 million visitors.

If you do this enough, you build up a profile and you can roughly say that:
  • Rank 1 is 120 million people or so per month
  • Rank 100 is 15 million people or so per month
  • Rank 250 is 10 million people or so per month
  • Rank 1,000 is 5 million people or so per month
  • Rank 10,000 is 1 million people or so per month
  • Rank 50,000 is 200,000 people or so per month
And so on.

Your question at this point might be, "How many visitors do I need to start making any money with a Web site?" Here are some ranges:
  • Even at a very low level of something like 25 visitors a day (less than a thousand unique monthly visitors), you may have enough traffic to recover your hosting costs -- maybe $25/month.
  • If you work up to something in the range of 10,000 visitors per month, then you can imagine making a few hundred dollars a month fairly easily.
  • To make "more than a thousand dollars per month" with a web site, you are shooting for a staring point of 50,000 or so unique monthly visitors reading 10 pages or so per visitor. At that level, you will find your site bouncing consistently into and out of the top 100,000 web sites on Alexa.
  • At the 100,000 to 200,000 visitors per month level, you can start to imagine supporting a person full time with a Web site.
The obvious next question is, "OK, so how do I get 100,000 visitors per month to visit my web site?" We will spend a great deal of time talking about this topic at WebKEW in the coming weeks and months.


At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, I wouldn't put too much creedence in Alexa and it's flawed methodology. It only measures metrics from MSIE + Windows so that omits at least a third of web users, given the total aggregate of Firefox, Mac & Linux users.


At 12:41 PM, Blogger sean said...

Wait, why wouldn't you put too much credence into Alexa if it only measures IE - just because of Firefox/Opera/Mozilla? I fail to see how the absence of those numbers might change the landscape - it's all statistics, my friend: a random survey of 1,000 people is enough for the media to determine the thoughts of 280,000,000+ Americans; why isn't a random survey of hundreds upon thousands of Alexa users - so what if they only use IE - NOT good enough for your metrics?

Heck, Alexa is amazing if it analyzes such an enormous sample; I'm sure the std. dev. and variations are next to zero - I'd have to see the math behind it to be sure, but again - 1,000 of 280,000,000 is enough for a deviation of about 4%. 1,000,000 of 280,000,000 is almost perfect.

Stop fooling yourself. Thanks!

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous charles jolley said...

Alexa's stats are not a random sample, though. Their numbers come from a self-selected group of Alexa toolbar users on MSIE/Windows which most certainly under-represents some segments of the general Internet population (some of whom are probably the among the heaviest users of the Internet.)

I still think this is a great way to learn about about what sites are popular and how they change over time, but these rankings should not be applied to the internet population as a whole because that is not what they measure.

By the way, standard deviation only tells you how spread out or how concentrated your data points are. The number you see at the bottom of polls is a margin of error which is based on stdev but its not the same thing.

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Peter Cooper said...

Alexa significantly over-represents webmasters and Internet business folk. All the people I know who use Alexa are either Internet marketeers or CEOs who like seeing how popular their site(s) are.

This is confirmed by an Internet marketing site I have statistics for which has a very high Alexa ranking, but disproportionately less traffic than it should have to get there.. clearly this is because all the visitors are Internet marketers and are more likely to be running Alexa.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous random_passby said...

Why worry about absolute "random"? No survey can be really absolute "random".

Without a phone you can't even attend most surveys. How many people without a phone in US? (more than you think).

BTW, wondering where this 1/3 non-MSIE/Windows number from, a survey or something?

At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Alexa isn't accurate at all, it's small sample doesn't take into account demographics and psycographics, meaning a college student, my grandma and a priest all have different surfing habbits.

Let alone 50%+ of technical administrators all use Linux and a Mac is the computer of choice for graphic designers.

Not to mention, who uses the Alexa tool bar anyways? What market share do they own? I imagine Yahoo and Google toolbars have more traffic anyways.

It's interesting to see how sites are ranked between each others, but using the actual numbers for business decisions are far fetched.

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At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said... is a subsidiary of It is a website which provides information on traffic levels for websites. The Alexa rank is measured according to the amount of users who’ve visited a website with the Alexa toolbar installed. Alexa toolbar is an application developed by Alexa Internet. Its primary use is to measure website statistics. This toolbar collects as well as gives some valuable information. Once you install it, the Alexa toolbar monitors all your surfing and collects information about what domains you visit. They use this data to rank web sites. The traffic rank they assign to websites is based on 3 months of aggregated historical traffic data from millions of other users and is a combined measure of page views and users. Webmasters, advertisers and ad networks use your blog’s Alexa rank as a gauge to determine the worth of a link on your website. If you depend on link or site selling as a form of monetization you’ll definitely want to increase your Alexa rank, because it’ll increase your bargaining power when it comes to ad pricing.

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