I have been looking into the Alexa.com, an Amazon.com company, lately. Alexa is a tool that reports on traffic to a site. To effectively get results from Alexa, a visitor has to download the toolbar, to be considered a hit. If the toolbar is not installed the visitor is not counted.
From the Alexa site on how computes traffic rank:
The traffic rank is based on three months of aggregated historical traffic data from millions of Alexa Toolbar users and is a combined measure of page views and users (reach). As a first step, Alexa computes the reach and number of page views for all sites on the Web on a daily basis. The main Alexa traffic rank is based on the geometric mean of these two quantities averaged over time (so that the rank of a site reflects both the number of users who visit that site as well as the number of pages on the site viewed by those users).
In the quote above, emphasis is mine. So my understanding, if a visitor does not have the appropriate toolbar installed, they will not be counted as a visitor.
David Airey has a post How I improved my Alexa rank, where he discusses the steps he took to raise his Alexa ranking. One of the biggest steps he took was installing the toolbar or search status extension. The problem as I outlined before in Blog Grade is Not Just One Thing is as follows:
Consider the following scenario. Two Blogs – blog one has 250 unique visitors a day, blog two has 1,000 unique visitors a day. Now of the 250 visitors from blog one, let’s say that 200 have the Alexa toolbar installed. Of the 1,000 visitors for blog two, only 150 visitors have the Alexa toolbar installed. My understanding of my scenario is that blog one will actually have a higher Alexa rating than blog two.
Maki at Dosh Dosh, writes tips for improving Alexa rank. In his post he discusses the problem he sees with Alexa is it is heavily skewed towards websites that have a large webmaster / tech audience. This group will be more familiar with these types of tools, and more willing to install them.
ALEXA’S TOOLBAR SERVICE COLLECTS AND STORES INFORMATION ABOUT THE WEB PAGES YOU VIEW, THE DATA YOU ENTER IN ONLINE FORMS AND SEARCH FIELDS, AND, WITH VERSIONS 5.0 AND HIGHER, THE PRODUCTS YOU PURCHASE ONLINE WHILE USING THE TOOLBAR SERVICE. ALTHOUGH ALEXA DOES NOT ATTEMPT TO ANALYZE WEB USAGE DATA TO DETERMINE THE IDENTITY OF ANY ALEXA USER, SOME INFORMATION COLLECTED BY THE TOOLBAR SERVICE IS PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE. ALEXA AGGREGATES AND ANALYZES THE INFORMATION IT COLLECTS TO IMPROVE ITS SERVICE AND TO PREPARE REPORTS ABOUT AGGREGATE WEB USAGE AND SHOPPING HABITS.
IN ADDITION, WHEN YOU PERFORM SEARCHES USING THE SEARCH FUNCTION AVAILABLE ON ALEXA’S TOOLBAR SERVICE SOFTWARE VERSION 6.5 AND HIGHER OR ON THE ALEXA WEBSITE, YOU OFTEN WILL BE TAKEN TO A WEBSITE DETAIL PAGE AT AMAZON.COM. IF YOU HAVE AN ACCOUNT ON AMAZON.COM AND AN AMAZON.COM COOKIE ENABLED, YOUR SEARCH RESULTS WILL BE TRANSMITTED TO AND LOGGED BY AMAZON.COM AND MAY BE CORRELATED BY AMAZON.COM WITH ANY PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION YOU MAY HAVE PREVIOUSLY PROVIDED TO AMAZON.COM.
I have wondered how these companies, with unknown business models, provide services and generate revenue. One method could be by collecting and storing all your personal information while you are browsing. Having this information is a powerful tool for marketers. As you complete online forms that content is stored. Correlate your name, age and address with your buying habits, and you find a company that is building value on the backend that could be extremely helpful to marketers.
I now know that I will no longer use Firefox as my primary browser. I don’t want my information on my browsing habits and forms I complete to be available to Alexa. I don’t mind using the tool, but I will use under specific circumstances. I use Google Reader in Firefox, and will read blogs using Firefox, but I will keep my main browser as Internet Explorer.
All this information just leads me to the question, is Alexa a valuable tool to help identify traffic information, or just a technical stalker gaining too much information about your browsing habits. The question is in your court.