Are websites buying their way up Alexa ranking?

February 19, 2016
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, search traffic

It is now clear that the battle to dominate the digital landscape in the country is heating up especially between news websites and blogs fighting for advertising spend. At the heart of this battle is the race to drive more website visitors to the various online media outlets in the country.

Ultimately, the competition has been good for the digital industry; consumers now have multiple diversified sources of content, the digital ad spend is growing, more jobs are created and the quality of output is improving by the day.

One of the tools advertisers use to verify the traffic of a site vis a vis other global and local websites is Alexa.com. Alexa provides web traffic data to over 30 million websites mainly through the Alexa toolbar which collects browsing data. For years, Alexa has been the to-go tool to see the position of a website, source of the traffic, demographics of visitors and how much time users spend on a site.

The information displayed reflects a certain period and the data has for a long time been dependable and reflects a website’s popularity, or lack thereof. Google.com, Facebook.com, YouTube.com and Twitter.com feature in the top 10 most visited sites in almost all countries.

But recently, doubts have emerged over the validity and credibility of Alexa data. This is after some local news websites have experienced dramatic overnight jump in traffic. This is confirmed by Alexa’s own web traffic metrics that show an almost 90 degree turn around of the graph within a matter of days. When you see such a drastic change on any graph, the obvious question would be ‘what happened here to cause the big jump?’

There can only be two explanations for this: either the content published during the turn-around time went viral, not just in Kenya but beyond the borders. It would mean the website had exclusive content that wasn’t picked up by other publishers.

The other explanation is that the sites are either manipulating the Alexa toolbar or there are non-organic methods of ramping up the numbers.

Take this local  news website below as an example. Within three days, it has moved from position 24,541 globally to 5,164. It is now ranked at position 6 in Kenya, ahead of google.co.ke and Twitter.com.

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The race for more eyeballs has driven some online platforms to take drastic measures to boost their numbers making them more attractive to advertisers. Churning out quality, timely and relevant content on the daily is not easy. We should know. A graph that is indicative of organic traffic shouldn’t have steep abrupt changes. Two of the popular news sites in Kenya have a more organic trend mostly driven by search engines.

capital

capital engaged

Nation

nation engaged

We could also look at other metrics that indicate the general performance of a website like the bounce rate. This measures the rate at which visitors come in and stay on or leave, which is an indication of how engaging the content is. A lower bounce rate means visitors are viewing other pages while a higher rate may mean visitors are not getting what they want to read or watch.

standard

standard engaged

citizen

citizen engage

It is hard to make money online compared to other traditional media like television, radio and print. It will be harder to even break even as the market becomes more fragmented and with more suave advertisers and consumers. Meanwhile, the winners of the digital traffic race will be platforms that produce differentiated, interesting content and who can find innovative ways to monetize their ideas.

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