April 24, 2005
I Heart Alexa
Years ago I ran across Alexa, was really jazzed about their technology and then somehow managed to forget all about it. Recently, I needed to gather some comparative traffic data and happily rediscovered the joy that is the Alexa Toolbar and the public data stash fed by the Alexa Toolbar-using community.
Bottom-line: The toolbar is aimed at the general public but if you are in web development and internet marketing/research then you really owe it to yourself to check this out.
The folks at Alexa are also behind the Internet Archive project and so have some legitmate good internet karma; a 1999 Amazon aquisition kept the company alive and kicking.
In a nutshell, Alexa developed a technology, most recently available in toolbar form for Win IE users, that provides instant access to Web Search, Related Links,Site Stats, and Contact Info for all the sites you visit. If you've ever used IE or Netscape 4's Related links functionality, you've tapped Alexa's data. Actually, non-Win IE users can access the information, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Dig a little deeper into the toolbar and you may find community sourced reviews of your site, the number of sites that link in, past versions of the page via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, how long the site's been live, relative traffic ranking and speed, most popular pages in the site, 'People Who Visit This Page Also Visit' listings, the requisite pop-up blocking and more.
So what do you do with all this stuff?
At the beginning of this post I mentioned a need to collect comparative traffic data for one of our clients who wanted to see how their site stacked-up against other similar organization sites. Alexa made quick work of this because not only could I collect the stats we needed, but I could utilize Alexa's 'People Who Visit This Page Also Visit' listings to find likely candidates for my comparative targets.
When we engage with a new client, it's often useful to find out what site visitors like, dislike or want to see in the client's site, which may be quite different from what the client has in mind; I give you Alexa's community site reviews.
Surprisingly often, clients may lack entirely or have poor log analysis reporting; Alexa can give you insight into what pages are most viewed, what kinds of sites are similar in nature or link in to your client's site and their overall ranking among the toolbar-using community.
If the site you are researching has poor traffic, then Alexa may have little or no data to work with. If the site ranking is in the 100K+ range, then Alexa considers that data to be statistically unreliable. Since traffic data is gathered from toolbar users, if your site has a disproportionate percentage of non-IE users then traffic numbers may not align with your own reports.
Alexa does not publish current numbers on Toolbar users but claims 10m downloads and "several million" users. Obviously not all downloads are actual users, but even if we assume a 20% retention rate this is still a substantial pool of data for statistical purposes, assuming the caveats above are taken into account. Alexa's Technology page reports that data is gathered via site spidering, data collected from Toolbar users usage patterns and other, unspecified sources.
Don't have/use/want Win IE?
The Alexa Toolbar requires Win IE 5 or newer, but there are other ways to access Alexa's data if you are on a non-Win platform or choose to use a different browser. One way is to use Alexa's Snapshot, a once-click bookmarklet/favelet that sends your current page location to Alexa's servers and returns reports. Alexa also points to Firefox resources in the open-source community.
Sadly, Safari doesn't work with Alexa Snapshot, so I created the bookmarklet below to tap the data and display a report in a new window; simply drag the Alexa Traffic link to your Bookmarks bar, navigate to a site to test and click on the link to try it out.