Strictly For Webmasters

So far I’ve mainly written about t-shirts from a consumer point of view, but I’ve secretly wanted to create a subsection of this blog that deals with issues faced by webmasters, t-shirt designers, and anyone involved in selling or publishing t-shirts online, in particular because that’s something I am involved in myself. I run several other t-shirt related sites, actively work on advertising campaigns, and have created several t-shirt designs (with more on the way). Given that a significant part of my visitors are actively involved in running t-shirt related sites I feel like I have a ready made audience who could benefit from the topic, and vice versa. So expect to see more posts about things like search engine optimisation, website promotion, search marketing (ppc), and other issues pertaining to running a website and attracting visitors.

My first topic for webmasters has to do with Alexa.com and and the issue of measuring a site’s populary relative to other websites. (If you already know all about Alexa you might want to skip the rest of this post). Before I explain to you what I find so useful about Alexa’s website rankings, let me ask you a question:

Have you ever looked at another website and wondered how much traffic it gets?

It might be a competitor’s website, an industry leader like Busted Tees or Threadless, or maybe a blog who’s readership (or lack thereof) you are wondering about. The reality is, that, short of asking, there is no real way of knowing how much traffic another website gets, and here’s where Alexa comes in. Alexa is a tool that ranks websites sites in order of traffic. So, for example, Yahoo.com is number #1, Google.com is #2, YouTube.com is #3, and Facebook is #6 as you can see for yourself at Alexa’s main page. The rankings are straightforward – while we don’t know exactly how many visitors or pageviews these sites get, we can see that Yahoo gets the most visitors, Google is just behind, and YouTube follows in third place. A quick search for my site reveals that thetshirtblog.com is ranked… #533,515 as of this minute.

Personally I use the Alexa toolbar for Internet Explorer and the Alexa plugin for Firefox to instantly see the Alexa ranking of any website I visit, just like in this screenshot:

Alexa Toolbar Screenshot

So at this point you are probably wondering, how does Alexa gets it’s rankings? Furthermore, are those rankings accurate and are there any caveats? Well, hold those questions until the end of the article, because it’s time for some tees! Did you really think you were going to read through a full post from The T-Shirt Blog without seeing a single t-shirt? Don’t you realize, t-shirts are the glue that holds the universe together, and permeate everything we see and do! Ok, maybe not, but these customized Alexa tees showcase your site’s ever changing Alexa ranking with the help of Zazzle’s API:

Air Guitar T-Shirt

And now for the nitty-gritty on Alexa’s rankings.

Alexa basically offers a toolbar as it’s main product, a toolbar consisting of a standard search fuction, some basic info about the website you are on, and of course the website’s Alexa ranking. Ever since Alexa got bought out by Amazon it’s also featured a link to Amazon as an advertisement. The toolbar is Alexa’s main consumer end-product, and is also it’s main tool for collecting the user data it needs to compile the rankings. Alexa looks at how popular each site is in comparison with other sites visited by it’s toolbar users, and thus the Alexa rankings are born.

This kind of method of data collection has it’s shortcomings. After all, the size of internet users sampled is very limited and confined to those users who have chosen to install the toolbar. As a result, the rankings aren’t completely accurate, and you should treat them as an approximation. Furthermore, any site that’s more likely to be visited by toolbar users could have a higher ranking due to the bias. A very clear example of this is would be someone like myself, who has the toolbar installed and visits his/or her website to make updates on a regular basis. Finally, knowing that a website is ranked 50,000th, rather than 500,000th still doesn’t tell you how many visitors it receives in real terms. Despite the pitfalls above, I believe that Alexa can be very helpful tool in navigating the web from a site owner’s point of view.

(While a very small minority considers the Alexa toolbar to be a form of spyware, the consensus is that it’s safe to use, and personally I have noticed no side-effects in running it on my system. As a webmaster I’ve found it an invaluable tool, but if you wish to avoid the toolbar, the Firefox plugin works great, and you can always check specific rankings at Alexa.com.)

Already using Alexa toolbar/plugins? Tell us what you think about the rankings… .

8 thoughts on “Strictly For Webmasters

  1. I don’t like it for the very reasons you’ve mentioned, but most especially because of the skewed and relatively small sample used to generate the rankings. It can only possibly work well with the very most frequently visited websites, and even then it’s suspect.

  2. Fair enough, Joe. One wonders though, how the algorhythm and the toolbar distribution might have changed since a few years ago. I mean toolbars are kinda old news now, aren’t they? One changes I’ve noticed as I was writing this post, is that when you go to a ****.blogspot.com blog you actually get the ranking of the subdomain instead of the domain rank.

  3. Yeah, toolbars are old news… so how does that affect the results? For one thing, I find it hard to believe that Yahoo is actually more popular then Google… unless the people who use the toolbar are somehow more likely to visit Yahoo than Google for some reason (to check the news or their email or something? I really don’t know.) What kind of internet user do you think is more likely to install the Alexa toolbar?

  4. Yahoo does generate more visitors that Google due to its many subdivisions (mail, groups, online games, fantasy sports, etc). People repeatedly come back to Yahoo for things they rely on, whereas google the most repeat visitors are, for the most part, coming back to either search or view mail.

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