Commentary

Alexa Con Of Marketing In China

Tech Market WatchBy Perry Wu
I was skiing in Jilin last week during the Lunar New Year holiday and during a break in the ski lodge I had a conversation with a snowboarder. When we both discovered each of us worked in China's Internet sector, his first question was, "What is ChinaTechNews.com's Alexa ranking?" Gee, I did not know.

At that point I wrote him off as a marketing dunce. Why do I consider this lad a marketing idiot? He puts his faith in the foibles of the Alexa.com web ranking system.

Though Alexa has been around since 1996, I have noticed a trend over only the last 24 months for many Chinese portals and marketers to use the Alexa rankings to disparage or enhance the public profile of different websites in China.

Yet Alexa has always been flawed and the use of these stats by marketers and public relations professionals disappoints me. Alexa does give a good indication of the top few hundred websites, but logarithms would always be pretty accurate for such high-volume websites.

But for those websites out of the top 1000, it is very easy to manipulate the Alexa rankings and therefore the rankings can not be trusted by any serious marketer.

Only last month, both Chinese weblog provider Bokee.com and Internet news provider Homeway were removed from the Alexa rankings after Alexa said that each had cheated and tried to boost their rankings by "illegal" means.

It is easy to change Alexa rankings, and there are services that reportedly provide software to complete these tasks. Alexa Booster claims to boost rankings, but its software seems like it only pings websites and does not really perform its stated duties. Jimmy's Value World also says its software can help boost rankings in Alexa. And Alexa Surf makes some bold promises about increasing Alexa rankings. Finally, SiteSell offers a concoction to build up a site's Alexa ranking.

If you do not want to spend money but you have a large company, just get all your colleagues to install the Alexa Toolbar on their machines and have them visit your website a few times each day. If you are not already in the top 10,000, you will see your ranking quickly get better each month.

But remember that a lower Alexa number means a supposed greater level of traffic, and the traffic drops off logarithmically. Minor changes can really make a site ride a rollercoaster.

Why am I telling you about how to boost your rankings when I even do not think the rankings are worth the pixels that make them? I want to show you how simple it is to change the rankings and therefore show you that they ain't worth jack.

Take ChinaTechNews.com as an example. This website has existed for 6 years and has over 20,000 confirmed weekly email newsletter subscribers. The site also gets good pageviews, but the site's Alexa ranking is still not as good as the hundreds of websites that are surely smaller and less-visited.

In fact, if you look at ChinaTechNews.com's Alexa stats, you will see that this site's reach per million users increased by 93% over the last three months and pageviews per user decreased by 10%. In addition, Alexa says that ChinaTechNews.com jumped by 34,974 over the last three months.

This Alexa ranking for ChinaTechNews.com is great. However, ChinaTechNews.com's own log files show that there has not been any sort of dramatic increase in users, pageviews, or email newsletter subscribers over the last three months. Alexa ranking is showing something false. Yes, Alexa's data is true as related to its own data. But it shows a false reality existing outside the "Alexa World".

Ignorance is the reason many people, especially in China, rely on Alexa's data. And it is a shame. While legitimate auditing companies can provide reliable information, blue chip marketers often rely on this snake oil data. I have seen press releases from Sohu.com and Sina.com quote their respective Alexa rankings. Hogwash!

Why is a high Alexa ranking so important? Ad dollars. But legit advertising agencies will of course not deal with Alexa's numbers. These agencies will deal with audited figures or the past performance of campaigns. If a website delivers great results, then the agencies will stick with the website, regardless of Alexa's fruity data.

So the next time you read a press release that boasts of a certain Alexa ranking, you can chuckle and know that it's just a page from the dunce marketing Alexa Con.

About the author:
Perry Wu is a writer and correspondent for ChinaTechNews.com and can be reached here at the site. Perry Wu does not hold any positions, long or short, on any of the Chinese or American company securities mentioned in this article.

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