Alexa is a statistical data website that ranks other websites based on the amount of visitor traffic they receive.
Alexa is without doubt, the most widely used and recognized traffic scoring system used today and websites proudly display their Alexa ranking like badges of honor. The higher you rank, the lower your score – a ranking of 1 being the highest accolade.
The fastest way to get on Alexa’s radar is to manually submit your site to Alexa itself. Failing this, a site will eventually cross paths with Alexa, as it employs its own crawler, or Alexa bot.
Some people cynically claim that manually submitting a site and installing their advertising/rank displaying widgets and banners has a beneficial effect on that site’s Alexa rank! Naturally, there has never been an official declaration by Alexa themselves, but there is certainly a large array of information available online that would suggest there may be some truth to this matter.
One Hit Wonder
The Achilles Heel of Alexa seems to be that it relies solely on the number of hits a website receives for its statistical rankings. That is their only criteria.
Compare this to Google whom closely guard their PageRank algorithms and allegedly deploy over 100 different systems for scoring a website’s PageRank.
This lone method of hit counting leaves the Alexa ranking system wide open for some clever manipulation.
As with any system that is not only popular, but also highly regarded as a measure of success, there will be those looking to manipulate the results any way they can.
Unsurprisingly, Alexa’s simple, traffic counting system has suffered badly from an insurgence of clever programmers and devious webmasters whom have manipulated the rankings and left the Alexa ranking system suffering a potential authority crisis.
Death by Proxy
Alexa rankings can be manipulated manually, but that is a slow and laborious process. Simple plug-ins for the Firefox browser can add fictitious automated traffic hits to a website but would probably not make any great dent in a ranking. This requires a method of inducing thousands, or tens of thousands of fake hits per day.
The simple solution used by most is to employ a specifically designed Alexa booster. These free programs can be either web-based or standalone software programs, but all use the same basic format.
In a nutshell, these malevolent programs use thousands of proxies (*a proxy is any IP address that is unsecured, having an open port that allows anyone access – invited or not). The URL of the lucky website to receive the false hits is added, as well as how many hits-per-hour or maximum hits allowed. Some of the more complex programs can have functions for altering keywords, referrers and user-agents but in essence they all do the same – load up a lot of proxies and fire fake hits at the website address that you specified.
If you were to run this type of program for a week and set it for 5000 hits per day you would undoubtedly see a decrease in a site’s Alexa ranking. But it is cheating!
Why Fix the Alexa Rankings?
As previously mentioned, some people see the Alexa ranking as a sign of status and popularity. If a site displays a good rank, one could easily assume that site is popular and therefore a good place to visit.
Another reason could be to add monetary value to a site. A good ranking can influence the financial worth of a site. Anyone looking to flip a site (buy a cheap site, perform some DIY improvements and sell it on for a fast profit), may decide to falsify the ranking using these methods as a ploy to rapidly inflate the site’s overall value.
Others, or course, simply do it for pedantic enjoyment!
Surely It Cannot Be That Easy?
Sadly, yes it is. Everyone will have come across some horrible-looking, advert-infested site that has a PageRank of 0, but a very healthy Alexa ranking.
It is unlikely that the rank is genuine – if the site was employing other underhand tactics, say spamming blogs and forums for backlinks, these backlinks alone would probably raise the PageRank to at least 1.
The chances are this ugly site has used proxy-manipulation to falsify the Alexa rank. It is very simple to do but not without drawbacks.
Some Statistics Do Not Lie
Alexa keeps a record of any increase in a site’s ranking. These are displayed as a percentage increase or decrease, accordingly. If someone were to misuse a rank booster the statistics could look very suspicious – like a +1800% increase in one day!
Any sensible person, looking to purchase a site, should always fully research the Alexa statistics, as well as asking for actual traffic data from the site server. With these new Machiavellian methods being used, anyone accepting a claim of Alexa rank without further investigation has only themselves to blame.
Is Alexa Dead?
There is certainly a recent drop in trust placed in the Alexa rank. Many no longer view it as the true authority on traffic that it once was.
A booster in the hands of a sensible person, used wisely (regulated hits spread over a longer period) could make a rank increase appear realistic – especially to Alexa.
Due to the simplicity of fooling Alexa, and the availability of the software to do it, people are beginning to doubt Alexa’s purpose and reliability. That being said, the Alexa ranking is still hugely popular and millions still regard it as the yardstick for judging site popularity.
You will have to decide for yourself which side of the Alexa fence you reside on.