Alexa tells me how important I am: not very


TV has the Nielsen ratings. Radio has Arbitron. But how is Internet viewership measured? The closest thing we have is Alexa, which ranks websites in order of popularity. The catch: It only monitors the activity of people who have the Alexa toolbar installed in their browser.

To their credit, Alexa readily admits that this skews the findings somewhat. They have millions of users, but obviously there are millions more who aren’t being counted. Then again, there’s no reason to assume that Alexa users’ web-surfing habits are terribly different from everyone else’s. (For a while, the Alexa toolbar wasn’t available for Macs. During that time, I would assume Mac-related websites were woefully under-counted in Alexa’s rankings. Alexa still can’t be used with Mac’s Safari browser.) Alexa says its top rankings are pretty accurate; it’s only after about #100,000 that they think the sample size is too small to be completely reliable.

I became interested in all this a few months ago when I installed the Alexa toolbar in my Firefox browser. It includes a nifty extension that displays, down in the corner of the browser window, the Alexa ranking of every site you visit. I love that, because I love ranking things. It’s fun to discover that sites you assumed were hugely popular are less-trafficked than you thought, and vice versa. It’s also nice for me personally to notice sites ranked lower than my own.

My site,, is currently at #167,273. Whether that’s high or not depends on how you look at it, I guess. Considering there are more than 80,000,000 websites on the Internet, 167,273 is pretty good. On the other hand, that also means there are 167,272 sites more popular than mine. Coming in 167,273rd in a contest is not very impressive.

If you don’t already have Alexa installed, why not install it? You don’t provide them with any personal information; no one is monitoring which sites YOU, Eric D. Snider (if that is your name), are visiting. All Alexa tracks is that someone from a particular IP address went to a particular site. Plus, if every single visitor has the Alexa toolbar installed, it will artificially boost my ranking, which is directly tied to my self-esteem.

By the way, Alexa says the top 10 most visited sites on the Internet are:

1. Yahoo
2. Google
3. MSN
4. YouTube
5. Windows Live (Hotmail)
6. MySpace
7. Facebook
8. Orkut (Google’s Facebook rip-off, which I have never heard of)
9. Wikipedia
10. (yet another MySpace clone, and one I’ve never heard of)