Alexa: Amazon’s Most Flawed Idea

What does a high Alexa rating mean to a web master? It shouldn’t mean that much as it’s not accurate. Alexa is a website that tracks a website’s traffic history, and gives a ranking based upon the number of visitors. However the fact that it requires a tool bar to work flaws it in many ways.

Alexa works by counting on users to download a tool bar for Internet Explorer. It tracks what sites you go to, and compiles the data. For each time you visit a website using Alexa tool bar it multiples that by ten, because it is assumed that for every one Alexa tool bar user there are nine non users. This is also known as an estimate. On the tool bar it will list the rank of a website, and what other sites a user of that site tends to go to. The tool bar offers nothing else for the user except a search bar, which has terrible search results. It’s also an eye sore for Internet Explorer 7.

Alexa has no support for FireFox, Opera or Safari at all. They refuse to make a tool bar for any other browser. But wait all is not lost – they offer solutions.

Build Your Own Alexa Toolbar. Because Firefox is an open source browser, an enterprising developer might make use of that functionality and our Web Information Services Feed to create such a Toolbar.

Yes, build your own. They want to compile user traffic data from people all around the world, and their advice is to build your own tool bar. Their other solution is to ask FireFox developers to build one into FireFox.

Ask FireFox to include Alexa. In 1998, Alexa built a feature for both Netscape and Mozilla browsers called What’s Related. Unfortunately that feature is not included in the FireFox browser. Write a note ( to the folks at Mozilla/Firefox to let them know you want Alexa AND FireFox.

Apparently the folks at Alexa have never heard of any other browser besides Internet Explorer and FireFox. This seems quite unprofessional coming from a company owned by

What’s the problem with this you ask? Well the results are skewed – totally inaccurate. For instance if you look up the ranking for they are ranked #2. Now on a default installation of Windows XP, which is what the majority of people use; MSN is the homepage for Internet Explorer. All those IE users going to the MSN homepage gives MSN an unfair advantage. Take a site like Slashdot or Digg, with their user base being an incredible ~76% FireFox users. IE users on those sites are few and far between, and the Alexa tool bar and IE users are even more uncommon. Another website being hit as hard with these inaccurate statistics is MacRumors. Their site only has 13% IE users total, while FireFox and Safari are used about the same.

Aside from being flawed to begin with, there will always be people trying to exploit or game the system.AlexaSurf is a website designed to do just that. Essentially you visit other people’s websites with Alexa’s tool bar, and they do the same for you. Given enough time it could potentially increase your Alexa rating significantly.

With a growing amount of people using flawed and easily manipulated data in legitimate statistics there will always be someone to believe its accuracy. EBay auctions are using Alexa as proof they are selling a high traffic domain, scripts are being made to calculate website value based on Alexa ratings, and reputable news websites are using Alexa data to write articles about the biggest website in the world!

In short, the Alexa ranking system is naturally flawed. The data should never be treated as accurate, as it’s easily manipulated, and not supported for most browsers in the world. It’s an estimate, and nothing more.