a Alexa.com continues to fail businesses with inaccurate usage numbers

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/02/16 · 4 comments 1 views

in b why benchmark analytics,b why benchmark successes,white papers research

Usage varies enormously across Europe.

– bloggers may want to boycott Alexa.com rankings, and

– Silicon Valley may not always get it right.

Things around the world are getting more complicated for sure. Hence, firms that focus on understanding and respecting differences across cultures and countries will do better.

In that context, we came across a great map showing social network penetration across the world. Information from the Alexa toolbar was used to draw this map.

2007-06-28 how Alexa's browser plug-in tracks social networksGet the original map including more explanations here:

Valleywag.com – data junkie the world map of social networks

Where do these data come from?

Here is how Alexa.com explains how it collects data visualized above:

Alexa could not exist without the participation of the Alexa Toolbar community. Each member of the community, in addition to getting a useful tool, is giving back. Simply by using the Firefox and IE toolbars each member contributes valuable information about the web, how it is used, what is important and what is not. This information is returned to the community as Related Links, Traffic Rankings and more.

The above makes it obvious, install toolbar and Alexa keeps track about which web sites you visit, time spent by leaving your browser tab bar open with that URL and so on. All needed to generate usage statistics a la Alexa.

Why are some important networks not included in the above map?

Therefore, why is such a site as Xing not being included in the above statistics?

It is surely larger than StudiVZ (Studiverzeichnis), at least in Germany.

ANSWER: Xing is a social network site for business folks. Moreover, as we all know, most corporate users do not have admin rights required to be able to install the Alexa toolbar on their PC at the office. The toolbar is, however, the way Alexa collects user data for its statistics. Hence, Alexa’s usage statistics exclude any corporate visitors without an Alexa toolbar checking their Xing account daily or more often.

Same goes for B Kontakte, a Russian network site. It is the forth largest site in the country, according to traffic data and has just about 700’000 registered users.

B Kontakte Russia – network

As well, people who do not speak English will not have the Alexa toolbar installed. I just wonder, how many users you think will have an Alexa toolbar installed in Mongolia. Here hi5 is the dominant social network (see map above) but how many users provided these statistics (= sample size)?

Do your customers and blog readers participate in these social networks?

Social networks serve different clientele with different needs. Xing.com, LinkedIn.com or Plaxo.com serve business people. Each has a slightly different focus, of course. In contrast, Facebook or StudiVZ (Studiverzeichnis) serve students. However, students are more likely to have the Alexa toolbar installed on their personal notebook than the corporate types on their employer’s machine.

It could be that your current and potential clients may participate in Xing.com in the hopes that it will help their work or just help them waste much time – see here for an analysis:

5 Netzwerkmarketing fuer KMUs – Soziale Netzwerke und Effektivitaet

Second, what are the chances that they use the Alexa bar? Third, how likely will they spend much time in those social networks?

CyTRAP Labs’ take on this issue

If you do not sell to retail customers and, most importantly, your product is not a branded household name (e.g., Mr Proper or Kit Kat chocolate, Dell computers) the question is – are social networks useful to you?

Do they help reach clients or at least potential customers if you are a chartered accountant or CPA?

Alexa data are not representative of the usage of social networks.

So do you have the Alexa browser plug-in? No? Then you viewing this page will have absolutely no impact on the Alexa ranking for this site. You simply do not count.

Bloggers Boycotting Alexa.com Rankings

Besides this limit, however, the map shows different folks around the world use different social networks. That in itself is important information. In addition, do not always head for Facebook and MySpace to tap the social networking market. Things are different in Europe, Asia or Africa as the map illustrates.

Tidbit – yes Virginia, you can plan but things may work out very differently :-)

Google set up Orkut.com to target the U.S. market but, interestingly, 55% of its audience is now Brazilian and probably another 10% comes from India.


Whenever you are shown usage statistics from the internet, ask yourself:

    How were these data collected and, in turn, how were they used to arrive at the conclusions presented to me?

Alexa is a perfect case in point on how data may not represent the true situation for you. If you have no Alexa toolbar installed, you are not part of their usage numbers. Having no right to install programs on their corporate PC, most business people are not likely to be part of their sample… However, it may be that your site is targeting those users in particular. If so, Alexa numbers tell you little if anything about usage of the web by corporate types.

Bottom line

Whenever you come across some data and/or statistics just ask:

    Can they be meaningful to my business?


If this post was helpful to you, please consider stumbling it or subscribing to feeds from CyTRAP Labs. Cheers.


Also of interest:

Why women buy black high heels – the girl’s guide

the mission of ComMetrics

1 sensible metrics – how to measure success of a blog – the basics


We will bring you another interesting tidbit about browser usage across Europe and what it means soon, so stay tuned.

  • http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/hi5.com Hi5 in Alexa

    While hi5 maintains its strong hold in Central America, it faces tough competition in Asia from many social networking sites. Hi5.com comes in first ten ranking in Alexa.com.

  • Sandra

    Makes sens about hi5, nonetheless, this does not improve the Alexa numbers either. They are too unreliable to be used for anything period.

  • Pingback: 4 Free Competitive Metrics Research Tools

  • http://www.webtrafficroi.com/site-optimisation-tips/ ZK@Web Marketing Blog

    What’s Google Trends really up to by collecting all the user data from the Google toolbar? Can it become more powerful than Comscore?

    Certainly! With a user base that big, advertisers and media planners will pay a higher premium for accurate data representation of user demographics, and website traffic to run both display campaigns and where they should spend their top dollars on.

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