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Alexa Toolbar: What it Is and Why it’s Unreliable?

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Last updated on October 21st, 2021 at 01:52 am

What is Alexa?

Αlexa
Αlexa

Alexa is a global ranking system that compiles a list of the most popular websites utilizing web traffic data. This is the Alexa Rank.

To collect the data it uses a toolbar, the Alexa toolbar.

But lately, Amazon, the company that developed Alexa, claims that they use more tools and sources to achieve this.

Alexa, thus, is a global ranking system. The lower the Alexa rank number, the more popular the website is.

Alexa is supposed to show how each site ranks on the web compared to the rest of the websites. Depending on how many visitors it receives in conjunction with the pages of the site that each visitor sees and the time spent on the site.

It is a compare tool rather than a web traffic tool.

The ratio of Alexa ranking is not the number of visits, but a combination of different quality traffic characteristics. It doesn’t show the traffic for any website but is particularly useful to compare two or more sites.

The Alexa number shows the standing for each site compared with the rest. A smaller number means a higher position, with number one being at the top. While new and unknown sites with little to no traffic rank at several million or are not ranked.

An Alexa rank of 10.000, for instance, means that the site is 10,000th in the world and so has many more visitors than a site that ranks at 1,000,000.

Alexa data and rankings are updated daily.

Needless to say that Google stands at number 1 and Facebook at number 2, and this still going on unchanged for years.

Some more estimations about possible traffic. If a site has an Alexa number inside a few million that means it gets no more than 10-15 visitors per day. If it is around one million then its traffic is estimated to be around 100 visits per day. While if it is less than 500,000 it receives around 1,000 daily visits.

Numbers below 100,000 can be a sign, although not accurate, of high traffic of several thousand users per day.

If you care about such important details of the websites you visit, then you have to install the Alexa toolbar extension into your browser. it is recommended to use either chrome or firefox.

Alexa toolbar installation is easy. You can download it from their website (Alexa toolbar download) and follow the instructions.

The toolbar claims that offer more features as well. Such as protection from pop-up windows, extra info about the site, page history, page’s earlier versions, and other features.

It is not spyware as some people think. It collects data from many sources so it can provide some data about traffic statistics. It doesn’t collect or use personal data.

All this would be nice and useful if it were true

But the truth is that the numbers provided by this system are unreliable, away from reality.

Except for the very large websites, where statistics are more accurate, the rest of the system is almost a failure.

We have seen this over and over again during the last few years. By comparing the real stats of websites and cross-referencing data from other webmasters too.

We found websites with few visitors at the top 500,000 or 100,000. and on the contrary, websites with thousands of visits to rank very low under the million spot.

There are hundreds of such examples that prove what we are saying.

Even after so many years, it is the nature of this system that makes it unable to approach the depiction of internet reality. This makes it completely useless, and thus unfair.

Many advertisers still use it to choose between websites for their advertising campaigns. Unfortunately, that’s a huge mistake.

Every serious SEO should know this weakness and not take Alexa into consideration.

So, to the question: what should I do to improve the ranking of my website at Alexa? The answer is simple, do nothing, and if you want to avoid being misled forget about Alexa.

But why Alexa is unreliable?

So the question arises: How come that a web-based ranking system that has been in place since 1998 and developed by a large company like Amazon is so unreliable?

Alexa claims that now they use more than 25.000 different toolbars to collect data! Wow…what a number! But they never mentioned which toolbars, not even one of them, and anyway our 5 years of observations showed that only data from their toolbar are affecting their rankings, so, clearly, they lie!

So, regardless of what they claim, this system seems to be based only on the statistics collected by their own toolbar.

And it is well known that very few internet users use this toolbox. For the sake of accuracy, a very small percentage who are mostly advertisers or webmasters use it. While the others avoid it and the overwhelming majority seems to never even heard of it altogether.

It’s obvious that, if a website due to its niche has visits from technicians and SEO experts, it will very likely have a very good place in the rankings. It can be in the top 100.000 even if it does not receive more than 40 -50 visits a day.

On the other side, a tourist site visited by thousands who do not have the toolbar can rank very low in the millions.

But the Alexa system is also useless because it can be easily manipulated or altered.

At a very low cost, one can decrease this number by paying for fake visits with the toolbar enabled. At least this happened a couple of years ago! And still works.

Also, one or two people using the toolbar and visiting the same site several times daily can affect the results.

We did it on another website a few years ago and we managed to get a very low traffic website at 100,000th spot!!!

No serious webmaster will ever participate in such stupid practices. Thus jeopardizing its prestige and good positions in google results that bring quality traffic.

So Alexa’s system is perforated and manipulated easily. Therefore it’s completely unreliable, the best thing to do is to IGNORE IT!

Update 2020, Alexa is closer to reality but only for the Top 50,000 Websites

This article was written in 2015, and it is likely that after 5 years some of the above may be improved.

Meanwhile, some attempts to improve their algorithm have been made. Also, some data seems to be collected from other sources too and are not based solely on the toolbar. As a result, the statistics are now based on broader observations and are a little closer to reality.

Especially for websites that are in the top 50,000, the statistics are now slightly closer to accuracy.

So Alexa as a comparison tool is almost useful but only for the top sites and can only be a relatively weak indication of a website’s value. But still easily manipulative as it was in the past.

The conclusion is that Alexa ranking today is a tool that deserves only a quick look and nothing more.

Update 2021

2021 is probably the year that the Alexa traffic rank system died.

Towards the middle of the year, the system stopped counting traffic from most countries, so you may have a website with tons of traffic from countries like the UK, Germany, and most European countries but this website simply does not exist for Alexa.

When the mouse hovers over the Alexa extension in these and the vast majority of countries it shows Alexa traffic rank: #NaN and the extension sends no data anywhere.

The only way to count traffic is to use one of Alexa’s paid plans, that is, money is thrown in the trash.

The only countries that seem to continue to provide data so far through Alexa extension are the US, Canada, India, Japan, and a few others, which is completely peculiar.

Some could claim that this is happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we do not think that is the case!

Seems that Amazon has now focused exclusively on paid subscription packages for certified results, and on websites that are in the top 10,000.

For the rest of the web, there is no traffic at all, and all you see now if you check are websites sinking in the millions in a matter of days and generally results like coming out from the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, remember the 1975 movie? Υes, that’s exactly how Alexa rankings are now.

Conclusion

Alexa traffic rank is over, and the best thing that advertisers can do is to ignore it and uninstall this browser garbage.

There are much more reliable ways to compare websites anyway, no one is and will never be perfect, but sites like SimilarWeb for instance show a relatively much more accurate picture of the internet.

One Response

  1. Jamy
    | Reply

    Hi and thanks for the info many people were looking for.
    And I was wondering what this Alexa traffic rank: #NaN meant.
    Today there was also another change: The section “Sites Linking In” shows 0 on every site, google included. So, you are probably right, Alexa seems to be abandoned altogether.

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