Okay, first there was Google PageRank. Now we have Alexa Traffic Rank: another ranking metric to drive webmasters crazy. Alexa collects data on browsing behavior of users who have installed the Alexa toolbar, and transmits it to the Alexa website, where it is stored and analyzed, forming the basis for the company’s web traffic reporting.
Alexa Traffic Rank is an approximate measure of how popular a website is. It is a comparative measure that compares websites, and takes into account both the number of visitors and the number of pages viewed on each visit. More Alexa toolbar users who visit your website, higher your Alexa Traffic Rank.
Just as Google PageRank reflects how well your website is positioned in the search engine results pages (SERP), Alexa Traffic Rank reflects how well your website is visited. PageRank can be seen as the cause (cause of bringing traffic to your website), and Traffic Rank the effect (measuring how much traffic is brought to your website). Traffic Rank is both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative in terms of your relative ranking, and quantitative in terms of traffic metrics.
Sounds good – so it seems. Typically, it is webmasters who have the Alexa toolbar installed. So, the traffic demographic is skewed, and not representative of web surfers as a whole – unless your website, like this one, is webmaster orientated. In particular, your target web surfers, like potential customers in the case of commercial websites, are under represented. Therefore, your traffic metrics may be flawed. However, the metrics have relative value when comparing your website to others like your competitors, and for assessing traffic trends and fluctuations as a function of time.
That said, too many webmasters take Alexa Traffic Rank too seriously – just as they did and continue to do in regard to Google PageRank. So much so that many webmasters use third party services to “boost” their Traffic Rank. These services are the equivalent of “paid web surfing.” You surf other member websites while other members (who presumably have the Alexa toolbar installed) do the same – from time to time they visit your website. This traffic exchange drives up your Traffic Ranking. Seems good doesn’t it? Maybe not.
Yes, it works in the short term, but long term results are questionable. Nevertheless, as soon as you stop, your Traffic Rank drops – typically dropping back to pre-boost levels. And if Alexa catches on (hard not to), your site faces the possibility of being penalized – like Google did when websites used “back hat” methods to abuse PageRank (PR) in order to increase their website PR. The real winner is the Alexa boost website. A lot of work and effort for short term rewards with respect to a metric that is not on solid ground. Your time and energy would be better spent building a site that attracts surfers than artificially inflating your metrics for bragging rights, or to drive up the value of your website, or to sell advertising.
What to do? As I have been quoted in the past with regard to PageRank, “build it, and they will come.” If you build an interesting website that appeals to a segment of the population, and which is updated on a regular basis with fresh and original content, surfers will come, look around, and return. Link build and get the word out. If you have produced something interesting and informative, the word about your website will also spread word of mouth. Build it, and they will come. Do that, and you can expect your Traffic Rank (and other metrics like Google PageRank) to increase – increase organically and honestly, and in a sustainable manner. Then you will have something to brag about, and a site with real value (monetary and otherwise), and a quality site you can sell premium advertising space on.