Why Alexa Rank is Irrelevant – How Alexa Works

There’s lot of hype about Alexa Rank, especially among bloggers. A simple Google search will give you 100+ tips on how one can increase Alexa rank. Even I wrote a guide to 20 Quick ways to increase Alexa Rank, long back.

But does it really matter? Yes, for people who have a mindset of rating a site based upon Alexa rank. No, for the rest of the web.

Image Credit: Alexa sucks

I was amazed by the popularity, and even some quick tips helped raising the rank. But what is the secret? How does it calculate? I wanted to dig-out the Reality out of curiosity.

One of the similar recent Curiosity lead me to Discover What Architecture powers YouTube, the Video site that handles billions of views everyday.

I had been monitoring and analyzing the pattern of how Alexa ranking works over a period of 1 year. It involved data capture and analysis and lot of maths. I was surprised to know, it wasn’t relevant enough. It’s implementation lacks consideration of certain facts that can make it’s Ranking wise deal.

Ranking Algorithm Isn’t Perfect

The ranking algorithm isn’t perfect. Firstly, all analytics data is based on last 3 months Only. This is something really bad. Suppose site X received a million hits-a-day 95 days back and unfortunately today they get half million, site gets no credit of achievements in the past. Same holds good for other ranking parameters.

The rank is calculated based upon certain Parameters. And some of them are wrong ways of doing it. Let’s cover them one by one:

Traffic Rank and Pageviews: Pageviews looks at “how much traffic a site had been receiving over last 3 months”. The value is compared against the web trends and ranked. Looks fair – More traffic on a site, better it is.

However, TrafficRanking, which is supposed to be driven by Pageviews, isn’t exactly so.  e.g. When two sites have same Pageviews, TrafficRanking can be totally different. This difference can, Max., be of the order of 30x times (explained later).

This is so because TrafficRank is nothing but the Alexa Rank. PageViews is NOT the only factor that influences it. Okay, it’s fair, we need to have more parameters.

Whatever the parameters may be, PageViews should take highest precedence, but it`s not the case here . The rank is weighted/divided inappropriately among the other parameters, as discussed further.

Reach: Specifies how much on the breadth, is a particular site popular (worldwide).

Pageviews/User: This has to do with returning users. Does a site’s user return again? Simply stating, does a site make permanent user experience? If yes, site is ranked better.

Bounce %: Bouncing is defined by users exiting a site. If users go out from a site more frequently, via hyperlinks or whatever, the site is awarded with a lower Rank!

Time on Site: This is self explanatory. If average of time users spent on a site is high, it’s ranked higher. Ahem.. Think of this Gmail, users keep it open all day and Google get’s opened on need basis. It means that Gmail will be ranked higher than Google.

Search %: How much of site’s traffic comes from Search engines.

Sites linking In: This is the Most Influencing factor. How many backlinks a particular site/blog has, impacts the rank heavily. I agree, even Google does the same. But wait a minute, it’s updated every 3 months. Hey Alexa, are you kidding me?

If I get better traffic and pageviews, better search%, better time on site, by 2x factor, Alexa will still rank the other site better which has better backlinks that too updated 3 months back. Ahh Snap! I am more than impressed.

Now look at it all together:

Site Score = ( A x Views + B x Reach + C x PerUser + D x Bounce + E x Time + F x Search + G x Links ) / Some constant

Here G has very high value of the order of 3. A = 2, B=1.5, C = 2, D =  1.6, E = 1.9, F = 2, G= 3.

You can clearly makeout these values aren’t perfect for ranking a Site.

Values like A = 3, B=2, C = 3, D = 0, E=1.9, F = 3.5, G = 3 makes more sense for me. (d=0 means it shouldn’t depend on bounce rate as we are considering Loyality with PerUser already)

How I calculated this Formula:

I won`t explain everything, since it’s complex, here is a brief on it:

All values were calculated by studying alexa’s behavior over a period of 1 year. During this period, data was collected in 4 sectors (each of 3 months), making the formula more accurate.

An automated PHP script captured all the parameters by parsing HTML/AJAX objects on daily basis for Taranfx’s Alexa Stats to conclude to the approx. mathematical formula. The actual formula came out to be much more complex but the above one gives 90 – 95% accuracy, not bad at the cost of ease.

If you are good at mathematics, you can do this too and share your formula.

I`ll be happy discuss any comments coz this is interesting. 🙂 Or if you wish to see some analytics or Research on any (Tech) topic, feel free to suggest in comments below.

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  • Rahul

    Awesome!
    I guess all your Research is inspired by the Organization you work for.
    as always, good going dude.

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    • Wow…. Such interesting.. Thanks for the great information.. And also for this completely Infertility Cure Book!. Well thanks, its a great help… It is my first time here in this site… That is why it calls my attention to visit it again for more source of new information.. Great article..

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  • I had a similar impression. I never bothered about it. And sometimes Even Google PageRank doesn't matter in one of the cases when PageRank is ZERO — For a popular blog.

    Quick question: How can it be Zero?

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  • well a lot of people are just gaming the system.. anyhow still I believe its a metric thats been widely recognized by everyone

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  • I totally agree, that Alexa is irrelevant, but most advertisers consider it for placing advertisements on websites. Also, one funny situation, My PageRank is 2 and Alexa shows that I have only 7 inbound links…LOLzz..

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  • i too think alexa is not the best parameter to compare the blogs but that's the only method we have

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  • I will accept with partially but not completely..

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  • Sure, after all it's free will 🙂
    But with certain tools, Alexa Rank can be brought down drastically within few days. However, Google Page Rank is much more effective here.
    At the end of the day, it drills down to the PageViews and sometimes PR3 can get more traffic than PR4, after all it's the content that acts as a magnet. 🙂

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  • I will accept with partially but not completely..

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    • Sure, after all it's free will 🙂
      But with certain tools, Alexa Rank can be brought down drastically within few days. However, Google Page Rank is much more effective here.
      At the end of the day, it drills down to the PageViews and sometimes PR3 can get more traffic than PR4, after all it's the content that acts as a magnet. 🙂

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      • Your explanation is very impressive. Indeed most people are very concerned ranking of alexa. Actually I did not agree with you, I can not explain here why. But honestly I'm salute to you for doing a research about alexa rank. You have good articles here, and thanks for sharing it 🙂

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  • I never thought much of Alexa ranking. I think I did the right thing. Thanks for the useful and informative post.

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  • after all alexa is another site on the web,..n has lots of back-links i guess.

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  • Whatever people have to say about Alexa, it is still one of the factors how your blog is judged 😉

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  • Steve

    Alexa.com should put a disclaimer on its website warning people that their data is “For Amusement / Entertainment Use Only” as Alexa rankings CAN be easily manipulated.

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  • Alexa toolbar is good to get all data of a site.

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  • Lic

    Even, I am of the opinion that the algorithm of Alexa is not precise. I pray for google to release rankings.

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  • Alexa traffic rank is calculated based on the alexa toolbar. There are millions of users using the alexa toolbar all over the world. Every websites alexa ranking is based on the analysis of the website by the alexa toolbar for a period of three months. The maximum number of alexa toolbar users your website receive, you website rank high in alexa. It is the combination of both the visitors and the page views by all the alexa toolbar users who visit your site. Rank is provided based on the measure of visitors and page views by users who have installed alexa toolbar in their browser. So if your website has millions of visitors and none of them have installed alexa toolbar the your alexa ranking will be too low compared to those sites you make 1000 visitors who have installed this toolbar.

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  • Guest

    I wonder how Alexa gets so sensitive website data???

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  • you are right
    Alexa is not accurate at all
    my personal experience confirms what you just said

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