Anyone who takes their SEO seriously has probably heard of a little company called Alexa. I was first introduced to Alexa while studying Internet Marketing in grad school and used it as a tool for scouting website statistics for case studies. I haven’t really paid much attention to Alexa since graduating but I often come across questions as to what its capability is, and how it’s useful. Since I didn’t have all the answers I decided I’d kick the wheels around for a bit and report back with my findings.
So Alexa claims to be “The Web Information Company” but what exactly does that mean and how is it helpful to you? Well the answer to that is simple. Alexa tracks web data across the Internet by analyzing statistics they receive through their toolbar users. They have millions of these users out there and they are all essentially the Alexa guinea pigs. The statistics Alexa pulls can be useful for a number of reasons but mainly it’s all about analyzing traffic. I decided it would be good to become a guinea pig myself, so I went ahead and downloaded the toolbar. You can check it out in the image below:
The photo also illustrates the demographic information that Alexa asks its users upon installation of the toolbar. I went ahead and filled my info in but this isn’t necessary to use the toolbar. The next step is to choose the options you want the toolbar to provide you. Again, I selected all. Their toolbar is actually fairly useful even if you aren’t into Internet marketing but here’s a rundown of the inclusions on the tool (from left to right):
o The Alexa button is the furthest to the left and is simply a “home” button to take you to www.alexa.com.
o Next to that you have a web search bar, which is powered by Google. Maybe it’s just me but rarely use these built in search bars. With that said, it’s still a handy tool to include. The search bar also includes a drop down that allows you to search popular sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, and (of course) Alexa.
o The next bar, which looks like a bar graph, allows you to see the traffic stats from Alexa on any given site. This is a simple and useful tool that can be used for competitive research. From a consumer standpoint, it might also help to gain a degree of trust in a website due to it having a high rank with lots of traffic (or scare you away because of the opposite).
o The next button shows a websites Alexa Rank and also is a link to the Alexa Site Info for that particular website. I’ll get into this page in more detail below.
o The button that looks like a link in a chain shows a series of related links to the page you are on. I’ve found mixed results with this button. The results page says “if you like (insert website here) you may also like:” and then provides a list of links. On the few sites I tested, I really wasn’t interested in what Alexa showed me.
o The following button looks like a clock with an arrow jumping out of it. This is to allow you to see what a site looked like in a previous life. One thing I did notice is that I usually had to input the website on the landing page to get the results I was looking for; it didn’t work automatically. With that said, I spent a good amount of time going through some of my clients pages to see what they looked like before I worked with them. This could also be another competitive research tool, which allows you to see the progress of your main competitors.
o Next in line is a button that looks like a flame. Alexa describes it as showing their “hot pages,” or the pages users are looking at right now. I found that it pulls page recommendations based on my recent history. I recognized some of the links from pages I had recently visited and even some recommendations that were merely links on pages I visited (from the Yahoo! homepage for example).
o After that is the “hot topics” button, which looks like a magnifying glass on fire. This one simply shows the hottest trends on the web at that moment.
o The final button is a review metric. Alexa allows it’s users to rate any website and this 5 star bar shows you how well a page is reviewed. If you click on the button, you can actually go through and read the individual reviews on the site. This could again be used for competitive research and also as a consumer tool.
I usually don’t like using toolbars because they clutter up my browser but I’ll admit that after using it, I couldn’t see a reason to get rid of it. It allows me to make quick competitive references and there are some cool tools for the consumer in me as well.
Now to revisit the Site Info page, here is a screencap of what it looks like:
You can see from the image there is a whole host of info on this page. This, again, can be extremely useful for gathering data on competitors. In comparing their stats to say, Google Analytics, the numbers aren’t always going to match up perfectly but they’ll certainly be close enough to get an idea as to some key demographics and visitor stats for any webpage. Remember, when you install the toolbar, it asks you for your specific demographic information so it attributes that to any website you visit. It’s not the most reliable method of gathering data but over the course of millions of users, I think it provides a pretty good snapshot.
This Site Info page provides a plethora of info that can be useful to your website and to building your SEO strategy. For example, the search analytics tool will show you the percent of search traffic that is generated from top keywords. This could be particularly useful for flushing out your most useful non-branded terms. In addition to search metrics and demographics that I’ve already mentioned, the page also has clickstream data, link info, and general traffic statistics.
For a free tool that once helped me with a few college assignments, I can’t believe how resourceful it actually is in real world applications. As I mentioned before, I’m going to keep the toolbar in my browser and I suggest you take a look at adding it.
Robert is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.