These metrics are all useful in their own right; however, there is nothing out there that states that Google uses these metrics in determining how and where a site will rank. These metrics are great starting points, but they are just that.
So why use these metrics? Simply put, they allow us to gain an understanding on whether or not a site is stronger than another. They can let us know if a site is facing serious penalty risks or if everything is legit. Basically, they can tell you what you need to know to understand where your site stands and why. At the end of the, however, how you perceive them and which metrics you hold higher than the others will ultimately tell you the story you want to hear.
You can read more about these metrics on a previous blog entry – It’s All in the Numbers
So what is Alexa and how does it pertain to my site?
Alexa is an analytical tool for web masters to gauge differing aspects of their sites. When talking about Alexa, the one term that pops up more often than not is Alexa Rank. Simply put, Alexa Rank is a number assigned to a site to depict how popular the site is over a 3-month period. This includes global rank and “local” rank (local meaning within your country).
Many marketers and web masters use Alexa Rank to determine the popularity of any given site. The lower you rank (lower is better), the more popular your site is. Or at least, the more popular your site should be.
Like all metrics, Alexa Rank can be manipulated. Having a great Alexa Rank can look enticing to possible advertisers looking to buy some real estate on your website. Or it can allow you to sell your site at a great profit despite faulty numbers.
Despite being able to manipulate your Alexa Rank, you should first understand how Alexa works and whether or not you should really even care.
Straight from Alexa –
“Alexa’s traffic estimates and ranks are based on the browsing behavior of people in our global data panel which is a sample of all internet users.”
This is a sample of internet users and the browsing habits of that sample. What that means is that Alexa believes a small percentage of people is indicative of the entire internet using populous. And to a point, that is true.
When it comes to general tasks and popular websites, almost any sample will provide solid data. This is why Google, Facebook, and YouTube sit atop as the number 1, 2, and 3 most visited sites respectively. It’s easy to understand that the majority of people consistently use those three sites. A few more sites within the top 25: Yahoo (5), Amazon (6), Wikipedia (7), Twitter (9), LinkedIn (14), eBay (17), Bing (22), and Instagram (25). It’s easy to see why these sites sit where they sit. (You can view the top 500 ranked sites here)
What does it mean for niche sites? Likely skewed numbers. For social sites, search engines, and popular shopping sites, it’s easy to see why they rank so high. Everyone knows who they are, and they are frequented often by many people. When it comes to your stamp collecting site, however, only a small number of people may ever visit your site. Your Alexa Rank will never grow despite the growth of your site.
Simply put, because Alexa uses a sample size of internet users, they may be missing out on ranking sites where they belong. You site may have 1,000 visitors every day but rank lower than a site that has 200 visitors every day. That could be because the few people in the sample size that frequent stamp collecting sites might only know about your competitors site. You may outperform another site, but Alexa may not think so.
For this reason, it’s safe to say that Alexa Rank should be taken with a grain of salt if you are operating a niche website. To accurately measure your on-site traffic, use Google Analytics or any number of softwares, plugins, or sites that can accurately measure site in real time.