Improving Alexa Rank Is Embarrassingly Easy

I’m interested in many more things about the internet than I think are actually important. Two examples: (1) I like to learn about how social media services are used, though I am a very light user of them. (My Twitter and Facebook presence are dominated by my automatic blog feeds, so I’m “there” without ever really being “there.”)  (2) I think Google AdWords is an ingenious idea, so I permit them on my site so I can see how they work even though they don’t actually generate much revenue. (What it does generate above costs goes to charity.)

And then there’s the world of domain ranking, of which Google’s PageRank is perhaps the best known and widely used since it informs every Google search. The Alexa rank was unknown to me until I noticed that some lists of blogs and sites are based on it. (There are many other types of ranks: Compete, mozRank, Technorati, and no doubt others).

With each type of rank there are websites and blogs that offer advice on how to improve your site’s score. In general I’m skeptical such techniques work, or was. Then, for fun, I tried some very simple approaches suggested on Dosh Dosh to boost this site’s Alexa rank, and they worked. Here’s what I did:

  1. On all four computers I use, I installed the SearchStatus Firefox plug-in, an Alexa toolbar for Firefox (*).
  2. I asked my family and a few friends to do the same, though I am only aware that two other individuals did so.
  3. I placed an Alexa rank meter widget on my site (scroll down and see it at the bottom of the middle column).
  4. I wrote this post.

That’s it. And in four month’s time this site’s Alexa rank improved by an order of magnitude. (Because it includes the same link as the Alexa rank meter widget, this post may have helped too, but I published it after the rank improvement just described had already occurred. For the same reason, item 4 can’t explain the rank improvement to date either.)

I roughly know why these techniques work. Alexa uses data sent by their toolbars and from users who click on the meter widget to estimate the proportion of all toolbar users and meter widget clickers that go to one’s site. So, by increasing toolbar users who visit this site (mostly just me and a few family members and friends) and thanks to the (likely very few) individuals clicking on the meter on my site, I am influencing Alexa’s statistics.

The fourth item in the list above also improves Alexa rank to the extent it draws other Alexa toolbar users to one’s site. The theory is that many Alexa toolbar users are hunting for ways to improve their own site’s statistics so they will visit sites with a post that screams: “How to Improve Your Alexa Rank” or “Alexa Rank Boosting.” Now, that’s not why I wrote this post, but I know that there may be Alexa-rank improving consequences, which will be fun to watch. (Like I said, sometimes I find even the useless somewhat interesting.)

What I find most interesting and surprising about all this is that the basis for Alexa ranking is so stupid. Clearly until today (with item 4) I have not changed traffic patterns to my site one bit via these techniques. Yet my site’s ranking dramatically improved. This is gaming, pure and simple, and shows what a joke the Alexa rank is. I’m not sure why anybody believes it is of value. It is a bit like fiat currency. It is of value because people think it is. That it is so easily manipulated is, frankly, embarrassing. Knowing this I mentally devalue Alexa ranks. I think they’re worthless except for the value others place on them.

Still, it seems to matter for some purposes so there is no harm in obtaining a better rank. And, clearly, it is not so hard to do just that.

(*) I’ve read that some Alexa toolbars send more than just the standard URL visitation and browser data to Alexa. Some blogs say that some toolbars send Alexa the data one types into online forms. That’s a bit frightening. But it seems the Firefox SearchStatus toolbar doesn’t do that.

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