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How little it takes to influence Alexa

A few days ago I wrote a blurb about Alexa. That was actually part of a little experiment I was running, but I didn't want to mention it then because I didn't want you to know what I was up to. I will spill the beans now, though.

I have always suspected that Alexa statistics are based on a very small sampling of traffic - I don't think very many people use the Alexa toolbar, so I don't think they really have much data to go by, especially for smaller and less important sites (like right here). Yes, I believe that Alexa can tell you whether Microsoft gets more traffic than Apple, but when you get down to my size, I don't think they really have a clue at all.

I first mentioned Alexa back in August of 2003. I didn't use it at that time, because it was then IE only, but my Alexa rank improved markedly after I made that post. Well, I thought, maybe that's just coincidental.. but I always wondered.

A few days before making this latest post, I downloaded their new Firefox toolbar. I deliberately held off from mentioning that, because I wanted to see if my use affected my stats (I visit my own pages often, checking for problems, etc.). I figured if their user base was really small, I might see a slight bump just from my own visits to my site.

Well, I didn't, so the user base isn't THAT small. But right after I posted that little blurb, I did see a jump, and it was big: a large increase in Alexa popularity. Oh, sure, thousands of readers downloaded the Alexa toolbar, right? Well, no: only 100 or so people had visited that page, and even if we assume that every single RSS reader also downloaded that toolbar, that would still only be about 1,000 people - and I really, really doubt it was that many.

So, Alexa gave me a bump of about 40,000 from something that simply had to be less than 1,000 new users and in all likelihood was less than 100.

Alexa does tell us something that may give another clue as to the number of visitors it is counting. They have a little chart that breaks down visitors by country. Here it is for today:

United States38.8%
India8.2%
United Kingdom7.7%
Canada3.4%
Germany2.8%


Google Analytics tells me that we get around 6,000 visits from Germany every month and roughly 90,000 from the U.S., and the other figures line up reasonably closely too, so we can at least say that they have enough users to generate reasonably accurate statistics, but there is still that big jump to account for, isn't there?


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