Alexa has announced a major update to its 10 year old web ranking system. Previously, Alexa's rankings were based solely on data collected from the downloadable Alexa Toolbar, but now the company is aggregating data from multiple sources. That's good news, but it may be too little, too late for a company whose rankings have faded in relevance in recent years.Amazon-owned
Alexa launched its web site rankings in 1998 based on data from its toolbar software. In the late 90s and early part of this decade, Alexa was more or less the only place people could turn for public ranking data on the web at large, and so their rankings -- though often times inaccurate -- were widely quoted. At the time, unless you wanted to pay for data from firms like Nielsen, comScore, or HitWise, it was Alexa or nothing. Alexa rank became a metric that people actually paid attention to and took seriously.
But in recent years, that has changed. Alexa now faces competition from Compete, which launched a similar public service in 2006 (our coverage), and from Quantcast, which was founded in 2005. Both of those companies gather data from numerous outside sources and their rankings are generally seen as more accurate than Alexa's.
"In recent months we've heard from our Alexa users that understanding Internet usage beyond Alexa Toolbar users was increasingly of interest," wrote Alexa in the announcement of their rankings overhaul. Recent months? The inaccuracy of the toolbar-based rankings has been discussed for years, which is why we think this might be too little, too late for Alexa.
Beyond the problem of public perception, Alexa also still displays their data in non-standard ways. The hard-to-understand pageviews per million, reach per million, and rank are not easily compared to other data sources, which makes Alexa's information less useful than it could be, even if it is presumably now more accurate.
Historical data on Alexa is currently only available for the past 9 months while the company recalculates old data with its new ranking algorithm.