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Several years ago I figured out how to start a blog. It was a “hobby blog” that I was using to share my historical knowledge of a certain place I spent a lot of time at as a kid. It appealed to a certain audience and was mildly popular in small circles.
I still blog on it today, and according to the Alexa Rank checker ( a Chrome extension), it’s the 4,464,447th most popular website in the world.
Wow, for a teeny blog I guess that’s not bad (?). Well, maybe or maybe not.
I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see where my site started in popularity, and what its “worldwide learning curve” looked like. I’d love to know how fast the world caught on to my site.
(Disclosure: this page contains affiliate links, which means if you buy from those links there is no extra cost to you, but I do get a small commission)
Welcome Alexa Rank
What is Alexa Rank? By way of definition, from the Alexa Blog we see that:
There is some misunderstanding about Alexa Rank, though. So much so that Alexa published an article to address that.
The Alex blog’s “Top 6 Myths about the Alexa Traffic Rank” tells us that the “ranking system was first introduced in 1998 and, like many things that have been around for a while, several myths have built up around it.”
So I dug into it and read that of the 6 myths, all are False except #5:
- Alexa only measures traffic from people who have installed the Alexa toolbar – FALSE
- Alexa only measures Internet marketers and site owners – FALSE
- Claiming my site affects its rank – FALSE
- Installing an Alexa widget will improve your rank – FALSE
- If my site’s traffic goes up on a particular day, my rank will automatically get better – NOT NECESSARILY.. “The global Alexa Rank is updated daily, but it is based on visitors to your website over the trailing 3 months. So, a day’s worth of traffic is about 1/90th of all the traffic used to rank your site.”
- If I pay Alexa I can get a better rank, can I buy Alexa Traffic Rank? – FALSE
With those myths addressed, let’s find out a little bit more about the mysterious Alexa Rank. Don’t worry, I have a point to this primer.
This FAQ article gives a bit more insight into all things Alexa:
- Alexa’s data panel is the sample of global internet traffic that is used to calculate Alexa Ranks
- Traffic estimates and ranks are based on the browsing behavior of people in their global data panel by default
- Ranks are updated daily
- Alexa Traffic Ranks are only provided for top-level domains (e.g., domain.com)
So now we know what it is, what it isn’t, and how the data is sourced. It would be a natural expectation that over time, our sites would show a better rank. Generally that’s true, however it is possible to have traffic growth yet see your Alexa Rank drop. Don’t despair when this happens. It’s a natural turn of events. Why is that?
Alexa’s clever analogy is to a footrace. You can run a race today and finish in a certain position. However, if you run it again the next day and have a faster time, you could still finish in the same place or worse than you did the day before. Why? Because other runners still ran faster than you. You had a faster race time but your ‘ranking’ got worse because others were even faster that day.
So the micro look, the day-to-day obsession, is not the view we’re interested in here. Think of a stock chart. Day-to-day ups and down but the longer period tells the direction of the trend.
My Alexa Rank Chart
So when I recently started two business sites, I decided to track Alexa Rank numbers using Alexa Rank’s Chrome extension. The results are interesting and helped me form conclusions about what they mean.
First some relevant information:
- Each site is in a completely different niche
- The sites were started months apart, and by visiting them you wouldn’t discern a relationship to the same author.
- I only relied on natural growth over time, adding content, and whatever small social media audience I could grow.
The long term view: I wasn’t interested as much at this point in the Google Analytics type of data. That’s a micro look. What I was interested in was the macro “30,000 foot level” view; the growth momentum my sites had. This is what I call the “Worldwide Learning Curve”
I plotted the “popularity” of my sites on a regular basis, and the data unveiled my place in the world and reflected the time-based climb up the ladder of popularity (recall that Alexa Rank uses the term “popularity” as a descriptor)
The resulting data plot depicts how long it’s taking my websites to gain traction. It also provides a way to monitor how my efforts are paying off. Remember, this data is being collected on a regular basis as the site is live. Seeing the slow gain in popularity is encouraging. It’s natural to have few visitors in the beginning and that feels awful. However, when you see that your site is actually rising slowly on the world stage, it keeps you plugging away.
About the “rising slowly” thing…
It is indeed a slow rise, but interestingly enough I found that the change didn’t follow a straight line. Rather, it was an asymptotic curve (approaching a value closely… always approaching, never reaching). It approaching the site’s level of “equilibrium”.
The growth in the beginning was relatively fast and as time passed, the growth leveled off. When you see that level-off you know that you are entering a steady state. Your content, your social media marketing, everything you are doing is keeping you somewhat in equilibrium. Panic? That’s the best you’ll ever do? NO – what it took to get you there will (in a macro sense) keep you there WITH THE CAVEAT THAT IT’S A FOOTRACE. If others out-run your effort, you’ll start to see a slide. It’s at this equilibrium point that you need to up your game to continue rising in worldwide popularity. The same goes if you are only using the United States traffic values.
In fact, depending on your topic you could see different or even opposite trends in the worldwide versus US numbers.
Up Your Game – How to Decrease Alexa Rank Position (aka How to Improve Your Alexa Ranking)
Since the rank reflects what you know, how you’re applying it, how your audience understands and buys into your content, what buzz it creates, there are things you can do to advance.
Learn more, apply more.
- Take people’s courses
- Go to Events
- Join solid Facebook Groups
- Subscribe to my email list and receive the regular booster shots of knowledge that I provide, sourced from the smart and actionable tips I curate.
The more you learn, the more educated you become and the more you can apply. You, your site, your visitors – they all benefit.
The results – Here it is. The growth shown on my Alexa Rank Chart over roughly 4 months of tracking. In this data I can see how my brand new sites grew over time — what their “Worldwide Learning Curve” looks like according to Alexa Rank.
One site took off faster than the other. I don’t know why but I don’t care. The foot race was on and the site sprung ahead pretty fast. The site I launched earlier had a slower pace. Don’t care.
I don’t care (NOW). Early in the data collection I was on a course for the stars. Getting there faster was a good thing. Getting there slower was less of a good thing but didn’t matter much because there was growth. I was just happy that I didn’t see my sites reach equilibrium early at a very high popularity number.
Why did you say “high popularity”? Actually I didn’t. I said high popularity number. The Alexa Rank is a ranking number. If the worldwide ranking is 4,000,000 then you are the 4 millionth most popular website in the world. Compared to the 1,000,000th, that’s lower popularity, but a higher number. Since it’s a rank against other sites, a high popularity number means a lower popularity. Get it now? That’s why the graph goes lower as time passes (even though the sites are gaining popularity).
Each week, I added more content, did more work on social media, cleaned up posts, re-wrote posts, optimized keywords, added graphics. Cleaned house. Visitors grew and Alexa Rank showed improvement along the way.
Alexa Rank also provided some very interesting insight regarding the relationship between number of visitors and change in rank. In their article “A Guide to Improving Your Alexa Rank” you can see that the shape of the curve produces some interesting results.
If we can influence a very small change in the number of visitors to our sites (down on the “long tail” where we probably are in the early stages), this will produce large change in rank.
Conversely, on the head of the graph, you need a large change in the number of visitors to improve your Alexa Rank
You can see that the more popular your site becomes according to Alexa Rank, the more visitors you need to attract in order to effect a positive change in Alexa Rank Click To Tweet
So – “How do I improve my site’s rank?”
- Produce engaging, original content, updated frequently
- Get more related sites to link to your website (known as inbound links)
- Find keywords that are driving traffic to your competitors and optimize your site for them
- Understand your competitors’ marketing strategy and learn what works
- Follow SEO best practices on your website
The “Knee of the Curve”
Does Alexa Rank matter? The “Worldwide Learning Curve”, a plot of Alexa Rank over time, is interesting. I believe when your Alexa Rank begins to level off, past the “knee of the curve”, you probably have some decisions to make. At that point are you making money? Have you done all you can with SEO? How’s your email list? Are visitors commenting, are they engaging with your content? Whatever you did so far got your to where you are. Are you happy there? If not, you have a clear indication that further improvement in rank means amping things up.
I believe Alexa Rank does matter. Its track over time helps you find the point where growth is slowing and begins to reveal the level of equilibrium for a site, given the type of effort being put into it.
Are my sites in equilibrium?
I see that my sites are currently reaching equilibrium for the effort I’m putting in now. I’ve broken through the 1,000,000 mark. Compared to Google it sucks. Compared to my hobby blog it’s amazing. Compared to where I started, it’s so encouraging.
This level becomes a reference point for me. As I continue to plot and monitor the data, I will know if I’m climbing to the top or slipping down the ladder.
I’ll also know whether or not, “at equilibrium”, my efforts are on track. Am I where I want to be, and what improvements can I make?
I know I’ll never be #1 or even #10,000. However, I will know if I’m gaining ground or falling back. I’ll also have valuable baseline data for any future websites I launch.
- Alexa Rank is useful and has been around a long time
- Plotting Alexa Rank over time (preferably from the first day you publish anything on your site) gives you a sense for its Worldwide Learning Curve
- When you see the “knee of the curve” (where it starts to turn), you are likely starting toward “equilibrium”. This is where the momentum (for the type of effort you’re putting into it and its resultant value to the world) starts to fade. That doesn’t mean your site fails, it just means your Alexa Rank gains will be less and less if you don’t take action.
- For my two sites, the turn toward equilibrium started after about a month, but took much longer to go from there to actually approaching equilibrium.
Here’s how you can do this yourself
- Start a blog or website of any sort (hosting, domain name, etc.)
- If yours has been around awhile, just start from where you are
- Install the Alexa Traffic Rank Chrome extension in your browser
- Navigate to your site
- Click the extension button on the upper right of your browser. You’ll get a drop-down panel with data.
- Decide if you want the World data or the US data (or track both for even more geekability)
- Set up a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Sheets, OpenOffice, Numbers, etc)
- Make a Date Column and a Rank Column
- Gather the data and plot a graph
- Learn from it
—-> Do you agree with the value of Alexa Rank as I’ve presented it? I’d love to read your comments! Add them below, and please share.
Other useful bits about Alexa Rank data
The Alexa blog says that in order to get a more accurate Alexa Rank you “can certify your site’s metrics on Alexa. Sites with certified metrics have their metrics directly measured by Alexa instead of being estimated based on information from the data panel” This is a paid Pro Plan feature.
(NOTE: The Alexa Rank data I’ve gathered for my chart in this article is NOT certified data, but that doesn’t change the usefulness of macro trends I’m looking at)
TRIVIA: Alexa is owned by Amazon… Alexa is also the name of Amazon’s cloud-based voice service.