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Alexa RIP

(May 04, 2006) Once upon a time, Alexa was a fantastic tool for understanding traffic patterns around the Internet. I have routinely argued for its use in these pages. Alexa, in its heyday, provided valuable competitive intelligence. We said "never leave home without it." (Here's background if you are unfamiliar with Alexa)

Essentially, Alexa depends on data from users of its toolbar to formulate its view of the relative traffic across the internet. The wikipedia article on Alexa note "some concerns" over the accuracy of Alexa information:

The Alexa Toolbar, an application produced by Alexa Internet, is a Browser Helper Object for Internet Explorer on Microsoft Windows that is used by Alexa to measure website statistics. It includes a popup blocker, a search engine entry box, a link to Amazon.com, a link to Alexa, information about the current Alexa ranking of the website that the user is visiting, and links relevant to the site the user is browsing. By early 2005 there had been over 10 million downloads of the toolbar, according to Alexa. But Alexa doesn't provide info on how many of them are actually used. According to one estimate made in Mar 2003 [1] Alexa had a sample size of 180,000. (Wikipedia)

Besides problems with accountability and sample size, Alexa has a rapidly declining user base. I have been trying to install the Alexa toolbar on a new laptop. Very, very consistently, the Antiviral and anti-spyware identifies it as an infectious piece of adware. On our virus software, Alexa gets the following "review"

This adware may arrive on a system as a file downloaded by unsuspecting users while visiting Web sites. It may also be dropped by other grayware.  Upon execution, it creates the folder Alexa Toolbar in the Program Files folder, then drops files detected by Trend Micro as ADW_ALEXA.AP and ADW_ALEXA.AL. Routines of these detected adware are then exhibited on the system. It registers itself as a Browser Helper Object (BHO) and adds additional search functionalities on the Internet browser of the infected system. It downloads and displays advertisements over time. It also redirects the search queries of the infected system.

As a result, Alexa's active user base is in dramatic decline. If the user base is as small as suggested (180,000), minor changes in the installed base can have a significant impact on the quality of the data for a specific site. If a website is getting .2% of internet traffic in Alexa's user base, that would be 360 users. It doesn't take too many installation difficulties to alter that level of traffic.

It's a shame. Alexa has offered the average Internet user and small business person the opportunity to assess the utility of a given website without expensive help. Although the competitive information contained within Alexa is still quite useful for Recruiters, the traffic information is now bollixed up to the point of uselessness.

I am looking into alternatives for broad based traffic comparisons and would love any suggestions you might have.


John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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