Thursday, April 30, 2009
If you take a look at the traffic to two of the major flower sites shown on the left you'll see that they get the majority of their traffic on two hallmark-made holidays, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.
Taking a closer look at the graph above, there are some interesting things to note about the two sites, Proflowers.com and 1800flowers.com. Proflowers, shown in red above, has been trailing behind 1800flowers for years, consistently pulling between 50% and 75% as much traffic. But as of February this is no longer true. This Valentine's Day Proflowers saw an almost 60% increase in Year over Year traffic, besting 1800flowers by 40%.
Here's the kicker: Proflower's increase in traffic didn't come from search.
Take a look at the (messy) graph to the right. It shows the percent of traffic to our flower sites that comes from search. You can see Proflowers (in red), which has historically relied heavily on search engine marketing, is now getting less of their traffic from search. 1800 flowers on the other hand has stepped up their Search Engine Marketing and is now getting more traffic than ever from search engines.
Search Engine Marketing is often seen as the key factor to driving more traffic. But as Proflowers proves, there are other ways to generate traffic. How did they do it? They have gone old-school with a large-scale radio campaign signing a number of endorsement deals with radio hosts. Who says radio is dead?
Quick reminder: don't forget your Mom -- Mother's Day is just around the corner.
Monday, April 27, 2009
While most of us can claim that we understand the meaning of the long tail, it is still often hard to comprehend how this applies to us. I refer specifically to Web site owners with low traffic who see their traffic rank jump around a lot. I was poking around the blogosphere today and ran into this blog entry, the Alexa Experiment. Over the years I have seen a few others like it. Her complaint is that her Alexa rank jumps around quite a bit... in his case from 3.5 million on day 1 of her experiment to 2.8 million on day 13. She uses this as evidence that the Alexa Rank can't be relied upon.
Forgetting about the relative merit of the Alexa Rankings for the moment, a perfect ranking system, one with perfect information about all sites, would tend to behave in the same way. Why? The long tail.
In any ordinal ranking system, like the Alexa Rank, sites out on the long tail will experience massive changes in rank regardless of their actual number of visits, visitors and pageviews. The reason for the fluctuation is because the farther you go out onto the tail the flatter it gets.
I'll use a non-Web example to explain this principle in action. Let's take every person in the United States of America and rank them based on income. That gives us 300 million people ranked from 1 to 300 million, with the person ranked at #1 earning somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and the person ranked #300 million earning nothing, with the rest of us somewhere in between. Like all long tail distributions there are vastly more people on the tail, earning little or no money, than there people at the head of the graph earning hundreds of millions.
If we examine the person ranked at #50 million, let's postulate that she earned $50,000 per year last year, and that she will earn $50,000 again next year. Question: Will she still be ranked at #50 million next year? No. In a shrinking economy her ranking is going to improve because millions of people earned less. Conversely, in a growing economy her position will fall as millions of other workers earning improve. Her rank jumps around wildly, even though her actual earnings have remained unchanged.
What if the economy stayed steady-state, and our $50,000 earner got a raise of exactly $1, and now earns $55,001 per year. What will that do to her rankings? Will her ranking move up by 1 to #49,999,999? No. The long tail distribution tells us that the farther we go out on the tail the more likely it is that there are others earning the exact same amount as her. In her case it could be hundreds or thousands of people. Earning just one dollar more per year can vault her position in the rankings much farther than you may expect.
The point is that the farther you go out on the tail, the less is required to move up an ordinal rank. In a system with a distribution like traffic on the Web this is especially true. If you are out on the tail and you improve your traffic a modest amount it could improve your rank by a million places or more.
That's the nature of the long tail. It is very flat and moving horizontally is not all that hard until you begin to approach the head. For the folks who are running an Alexa Experiment, I wish them the best of luck. But your time would be better spent finding ways to increase your visitors, visits and pageviews. Your Alexa Rank will follow.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Step 1: Start writing a blog
Step 2: Put some Google ads on it
Step 3: Sit back and start counting the money
This pitch isn't just limited to the spam that comes pouring into my in-box every day. It often comes from industry publications and reputable Marketing organizations.
But is it true? Is this a gold rush? eMarketer estimates that online ad spending will grow, even in this down economy, to an impressive $24.5 billion this year. That is a lot of dough, and surely some of it will go to the bloggers. But how much? Let's do some math.
Just to thumbnail sketch the landscape, there are well over 50 million unique sites and blogs out there that have some sort of measurable traffic... quadruple that number if you count the sites and blogs that have never seen a visitor. But for the sake of argument let's call it an even 50 million. What would happen if I could magically split the pot of $25 billion evenly among all sites? We would get $500 each.
It won't even pay your Comcast Internet bill.
But traffic on the Web is not divided evenly, and neither are the dollars. The top sites get more than their share. Take a look at the chart on the right for a peek at how traffic is divided up on the web. The Top 100K sites, which represent just a tiny fraction of all the sites on the web (less than .2%) get almost 75% of the traffic. And top sites have sales people who can make sales calls, take ad buyers out to lunch and put together fancy PowerPoint slides. Never underestimate the power of a good PowerPoint slide.
Those top sites are going to take the lion's share of that $25 billion.
Let's take a look at this from another angle. I read an estimate in eMarketer today that the average price for online advertising is currently $2.50 for a thousand impressions (called CPM in the industry parlance.) But that includes the premium prices that the Top Sites charge. What kind of prices do the smaller sites get for their advertising? Pubmatic can tell you in their Quarterly Ad Price Index. Pubmatic manages the advertising for thousands of sites, large and small, so they have some pretty good data. The answer is $.61.
That means that you will get paid 61 cents for every thousand page views on your blog. You can put 4 ads on your blog, bringing your take home to $2.50 per thousand, but beware because you may lose your readers if you overdo it. How many thousands of page views does your blog have per month?
Let's take one of the much touted success stories, The Daily Coyote. The Daily Coyote is a fine blog and the author, Shreve Stockton, takes beautiful photos and has a real passion for her topic. I checked a number of different sources for The Daily Coyote's estimated traffic, and came up with 90,000 page views per month. Assuming the page view count is right, how much does The Daily Coyote bring in?: (90,000 page views per month) * ($2.50 per thousand views) = $225.00 per month. For additional context her blog has an Alexa Rank of 157,000, which is impressive by most standards, and a nearly impossible goal for all but the most successful bloggers.
Speaking of successful bloggers, let's take a look at Om Malik's blog. Estimates say he gets about a million views per month. So, assuming he makes typical CPMs (I would bet he does a bit better...), how much money does this highly successful blog with an Alexa Rank of 13,000 bring in? $2500 per month.
So, what is a poor blogger to do? Do it for the love, not the advertising dollars. Or use your blog to promote something that actually does make money, like a plumbing business, or a bike rental shop. If you do it because you think there is some sort of gold rush going on with advertising dollars on blogs you should think again.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The secret to understanding the demographics is this: for any given category, a site's demographics score is the ratio of that category's representation in the site's audience, to that category's representation in the total population of folks who use the internet. That's a mouthful, and I learn best from simple examples, so let's explore the meaning of that statement with a goofy scenario. Let's pretend that the internet is used by just two types of people: the Greens and the Reds. And let's say that the entire population of people who use the internet consists of just six Greens and eight Reds, like in the picture at left.
Now let's imagine a hypothetical site on our tiny internet: ilovegreen.com, and let's suppose that the audience for this site consists of the three Greens and two Reds shown in the picture at right. What would Alexa say about the popularity of ilovegreen.com among the demographic of Green users? Well Greens visit the site at a rate of 3-to-2, while they are represented on the web in general at a rate of just 6-to-8. If you like math, you can divide these rates to see that Greens visit ilovegreen.com at a proportionally higher rate than they surf the web in general; in this simple example, Greens are over-represented in ilovegreen.com's audience by exactly a factor of two. In other words, ilovegreen.com is popular among Greens. (Don't worry: if you don't like math, you'll see below that we publish our demographics data as a handy graphic which captures all the raw numbers in an intuitive way.)
Remember, the fact that this hypothetical site scores high with Greens doesn't tell you about the absolute number of Greens who visit the site. What it does tell you is that Greens are represented in the site's audience to a much greater extent than they are represented out there on the web in general. In that sense, this site is preferred by Greens.
Now that we've gotten the hard part out of the way, let's have some fun. First, let's check out some sites for which we might already have pretty good guesses as to their demographics. In the charts below, a red bar pointing to the left means a category is proportionally under-represented in a site's audience; a green bar pointing to the right means a category is over-represented. So how about ufc.com, the homepage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship?
No surprises here: ufc.com is overwhelmingly preferred by young men. That is to say, men between the ages of 25 to 34 are strongly over-represented in the audience of ufc.com, compared to how they are represented on the internet at large. For the most part, these young men have college educations (or at least they're working on it), they tend not to have kids, and when they're surfing the web for news about, say, Yoshihiro Akiyama (one of the biggest mixed martial arts stars in Asia) they're doing it from home.
Now how about a site on the opposite end of the spectrum? Here are the demographics for nordstrom.com:
I know my sister spends a lot of time there, and apparently she's not alone. The audience for nordstrom.com contains college-educated, 25 to 34 year old women to a much greater extent than does the general internet population. And they tend to do their shopping from work! I'm sure it's on their lunch breaks...
A couple of more no-brainers, while we're at it. What do you suppose is the age distribution for folks who frequent the official website the U.S. Social Security Administration?
You guessed it: the users of ssa.gov skew toward web-surfers in their golden years. And what about folks at the other end of life's journey? Well, you might guess that their parents do some browsing over at landofnod.com, a retail site specializing in kids' furniture. So what do our data have to say about landofnod.com's audience?
Sure enough, they've got kids.
But enough confirming what we might already have guessed. Alexa's all about web discovery, right? Let's do some discovering. One thing folks certainly use the internet for is to find... each other. Three of the big players in the internet dating game are match.com (Alexa rank 359), chemistry.com (Alexa rank 6,517), and plentyoffish.com (Alexa rank 410).
Now imagine you're searching for that special someone, and you want to stand out among all the riff-raff. Check out the gender distribution of match.com:
Men and women are represented at match.com in almost equal proportion to their representation on the internet at large. For a high traffic site, that means there are plenty of men and plenty of women -- so if you're a man trying to stand out among men, or a women trying to stand out among women, you're out of luck. But never fear! Alexa's here to help you, ahem, improve the odds.
Compare the gender distribution of chemistry.com:
to that of plentyoffish.com:
Compared to the general internet population, women are over-represented at chemistry.com, while men are over-represented at plentyoffish.com. So if you're looking for boys, go where the boys are. And if you're looking for girls, go where the girls are!
Perhaps this wasn't what you had in mind when we said that Alexa's data gives you a competitive edge, but then again, who's complaining?
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The Alexa toolbar for Internet Explorer gives you quick and easy access to considerable amount of metadata about the website you are currently visiting. If you click on the down arrow next to the "info" button you will get a synopsis of of site's contact information, traffic rank, and other sites stats. If you click on the info button itself, you will see the site information page at alexa.com for the website. This is nice if you find a new site that looks interesting, and you want to quickly see how popular it is and how long it has been around (especially if you are thinking about giving them your credit card number). Next to the info button is the site's rank, along with an icon indicating the recent trend (a green up arrow indicates that the site is getting more popular while a red down arrow indicates fewer visitors recently). Next on the toolbar is a list of related links, with are other websites popular among the users of the site you are currently visiting. Lastly, if you type something into the search box you will see results from the Alexa Site Finder which I blogged about previously. All of this together makes the Alexa toolbar a fantastic way to find new websites about the things you are interested in.
There is also an Alexa Toolbar for Firefox nicknamed "Sparky." The nickname comes from the traffic data "sparkline" that the toolbar places in the Firefox status bar. There is no vertical scale given for the sparklines, they exist mainly to give you a quick visual of how the site's Alexa traffic rank has changed over the past few months. Next to the sparkline is the current Alexa traffic rank, along with a bar to give a visual of the site's popularity. You also have access to Alexa's list of related sites, although these available through the "Related Links" drop down menu at the top of the browser.
So, this is all great stuff if you want to know how popular a site is or are constantly looking for new sites to visit, but what if that's not you? Well, there's yet another reason to install the Alexa toolbar. It's no secret that Alexa ranks websites, and one of the ways we know which sites are popular and which are not is by looking and highly anonymized toolbar usage. Yep, that's right, when you surf the web with your Alexa toolbar you are casting votes for which sites you like. It's just like being a Nielsen Family, although instead of TV ratings you are helping rank websites. You are also contributing to the related links you see in your toolbar and on alexa.com, and helping other users of the site you are visiting find things they may be interested in as well. It's simple, too. The more times you visit a site and the more pages you view while there, the more important you are saying the site is. Pretty cool, huh? There's no need to be a super influential blogger, have a million followers on twitter, or spend hours digging things to be heard. All you need to do is surf the web and Alexa does the rest.
So what about spyware? As an engineer here at Alexa, I occasionally get asked if Alexa is spyware or not. Does the Alexa toolbar collect your votes about which websites are the best on the Internet? Yes, but only if you "opt in" and install it. And we try to be very up front about the fact that you are sending us anonymous information to help us measure the popularity of websites. The Alexa toolbar contains no advertising, and does not profile or target you in any way. So when I surf with an Alexa toolbar installed, I get information about sites I'm on as well as suggestions for other sites to visit, and I'm voting for the sites I visit the most, that's it. It's pretty sweet if you ask me.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
- Demographics - provides a demographic breakdown for virtually any site, including gender, age, education and more
- Clickstream - shows the sites visitors were on before and after any site
- Search Traffic - shows how much traffic a site gets from search engines
We have heard from media planners and ad-buyers that demographic data can be useful when planning a campaign to make sure your ad campaign hits your target audience. It can also be useful when looking at your competitors to help you decide if you have an opportunity to grow your audience by expanding into a new demographic. Looking at the demographic data to the left, you'll notice that Oprah.com skews toward Females, Ages 45-54, with a college education, browsing from home . That sounds about right. You can get this type of information for just about any site on the Web, even sites where the demographics might not be so obvious, like yelp.com for example.
Next up, let's take a look at the clickstream for careerbuilder.com:
The Clickstream feature contains two separate sections, Upstream Sites, which shows where visitors were before coming to careerbuilder.com, and Downstream Sites, which shows where visitors went after leaving CareerBuilder. The list of upstream sites can be a great way to identify affiliate relationships or significant advertising placements. You can see here that CareerBuilder has an unusually large percent of traffic coming from MSN. With a little digging you'll find that this is due to a partnership between MSN and CareerBuilder.
Downstream sites shows where visitors went after leaving CareerBuilder. This type of information can be very valuable to product managers identify why people are leaving their site. In CareerBuilder's case, you'll see that people are going to cbsalary.com, presumably to look at salaries in their region, and going to Facebook. In this case, CareerBuilder may want to build in a salary lookup feature and some social networking features if they want to keep these people from leaving.
Last but not least, we have a new feature called Search Traffic, which shows how much traffic a site historically gets from search engines. Let's take a look at how Yelp.com compares with Yellowpages.com.
Search Traffic, is in essence, a measure of how well a site is optimized for search engines. Case in point, you can see here on the graph to the left that Yelp.com (in blue) is well optimized and gets approximately 50% of their traffic from search engines. Comparing Yelp to Yellow Pages.com (in red) you will see that Yellowpages.com has an opportunity to grow their visits significantly if they can improve their search traffic to match Yelp.
I hope that you find these new features helpful as you continue to grow your web businesses. If you have a success story that you would like us to share, or if you have discovered a novel use for one of our features, let me know. We continuing to build out Alexa in response to the comments and feedback that we receive, so don't be shy. The best way to get in touch with us is commenting in the blog, or shooting us a quick e-mail via this link.
Friday, April 10, 2009
- 5.6 million views in the first four days of coverage
- 60% YOY growth
What CBS neglects to mention is that they are the perennial second in online sports, and that their brief success was followed by a quick return to the status quo.
If you look at the Fox Sports trend line in red you'll see that they enjoy peaks on a regular basis that meet or exceed the brief spike in CBS Sports traffic, and the traffic to foxsports.com is consistently more than double cbssports.com.
What were those two spikes in Fox Sports traffic (in red) on Feb 1 and March 1. Soccer. Who knew?
Kudos to CBS. Those traffic figures are very impressive. Keep it up and you may catch Fox.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
One of messages we heard loud and clear about last week's release was that people love, LOVE, all of the nitty gritty stats about websites and want more of it. Beware what you wish for...
Today we are releasing another datapoint: Search Terms
The Search Terms feature allows you to see the search terms that have been driving traffic to a site over the last month. To break it down for those of you who aren't in the biz, it works like this. People type search terms into search engines. Then people click on sites listed in the results. With a little sifting and sorting, we take that information and rearrange it, so you can see what search terms result in traffic to individual sites.
This feature is particularly useful if you are planning to buy search terms, or if you are trying to optimize your site for search engines. Now, you can see a list of terms for virtually any site, in sorted order, that are driving traffic. Rather than hunting, pecking and guessing, trying, failing, trying again... you can see what terms actually work for your competitors.
To see this new data, just go to an Alexa Site Info page for any site, for example, wired.com (Site Info), and click on the "Keywords" tab.
Let's take a couple of examples. First up, Crutchfield.com (Site Info), a popular online electronics retailer. What are their terms?
The first for almost all sites is, not surprisingly, the site name, often followed by the domain, in this crutchfield.com.
As you can see from this list, Crutchfield is getting a lot of traffic from a set of very target search terms and phrases. If you were bestbuy.com, for example, this list would be of particular interest to you. You can see that the three leading non-brand name search terms were all car-related terms and were driving a significant amount of traffic to Crutchfield. By looking at the Search Term data for Crutchfield and for other competing sites bestbuy.com could decide which terms were driving the most traffic and which ones presented the greatest opportunity.
Let's take one more example. Let's say you have a blog about government waste and you are trying to decide what search terms to buy and how to best optimize your site. Where do you begin? Start by looking at leaders in the field. In this case, Citizens Against Government Waste, cagw.org (Site Info):
This list, as most, will contain the name of the site in the number one position and the domain, in this case CAGW, as well. No surprise there. After you get that out of the way you can see where CAGW's bread and butter is: pork products. Pork Barrel Spending, Pork Barrel, Pork Spending, Pig Book. If you have a site about government waste you would be well advised to take note of these terms.
Alexa's newest feature, Search Terms, is not just for the big and highly sophisticated brand name sites. No matter who you are, if you have any online presence at all, from the large retailer, to the small blog, you need to start thinking about how to get more traffic to your site. This feature is your key. It is where you should begin and you start planning the content on your site and your keyword buying strategy.
I hope that you find the new data useful and I encourage you to let us know your thoughts. I would also like to hear some success stories. Were you able to increase your traffic? Make more money? Retire at the age of 25? Let us know! You can leave a comment in this blog, get a hold of us on Twitter, or send us an e-mail.
We will continue to focus our efforts on building the features and services that are most useful to you.
P.S. Lots more is in store. As I mentioned last week, the whole reason for the Alexa redesign was to allow us to build and release new features quickly, and that is just what we intend to do. So stay tuned and expect more to come...
Friday, April 03, 2009
Not since Y2K have so many news outlets invested so much effort to scare the public for little or no reason at all. Even 60 minutes got involved with a scary story hyping the perceived threat.
Take a look at this Google Trends graph for the word "conficker" you'll see that the media really started pushing the story in late March... it indicates the number of news stories mentioning the word "conficker". Clearly, the media started pushing this story hard, despite the obvious evidence indicating that conficker was going to be a dud.
As fun as it would be to theorize why the media go crazy like this, scare the populace, and push stories that benefit no one except for the media, in form of increased ratings, and in this case, the anti-virus companies in the form of increased sales, I will resist. Instead I will just show you a few graphs and let you decide.
Let's take a look at some categories of websites in the run up to April 1st. First up...
Anti-Virus Software Providers:
It looks like panic and frenzy, frothed up by the media over inflated claims of a horribly destructive Internet worm are good for business. Bully for the anti-virus companies. This panic is a cash cow. A golden goose. But it is not all profit. These companies spent a lot of money in the last several months buying keywords on the search engines like "worm", "virus" and "conficker", and pushing out research reports about the grave danger. Hey, you gotta spend money to make money.
The Technology Press:
It is not clear that the Technology press benefited from the scare. Viewed on a shorter timescale, these sites all appeared to have a bit of a jump as April 1 approached. But taking a step back and looking at them over a longer period the apparent jump in traffic is well within normal bounds. As for the bump in the CNET graph, I'm not sure of the cause, but since it happened in early March I'll assume it wasn't conficker related.
I am not seeing any indication that the mainstream press increased their traffic in the run up to April 1. The traffic graphs all indicate that these sites were experiencing traffic well within normal bounds. If you were hoping to blame the press for pushing this story to increase ratings you will have to conclude that either a) you were wrong, or b) the press didn't do a very good job. Evil geniuses? Maybe you are half right.
Of the three categories, anti-virus companies, technology Press and mainstream press, who was the big winner? The anti-virus companies. So go out and buy some stock. They just got a nice little boost to the bottom line...
Or, you had better hold that thought. You already missed the boat. Both Symantec and McAfee are both up 20% this month. Another lesson learned.
Today's lessons: A) News travels quickly, and B) Panic can be good for business.
Hello, I'm Wayne, and I'm an engineer here at Alexa. I know I’m biased, but I’m having a lot of fun with Alexa’s new site finder and I thought I would share. The site finder is different type of search engine, one that is designed to find websites about things instead of web pages that contain things. Here, let me explain. When I am looking for something online, I usually go to my favorite search engine, type in a few words, and hit search. What I get is a list of pages that contain those words ranked by some sort of measure of relevance and importance, which often is exactly what I want. Examples of this include searching for help with a coding problem, looking for song lyrics, and finding documentation. Sometimes, however, I’m more interested in finding an entire website devoted to a topic. There is a big difference between sites that have pages that contain the word “woodworking” and sites about woodworking, and with the standard keyword searches we’re used to it can be difficult to find the latter (a website about a topic) in the sea of the former (pages that mention the topic).
My father is retired and carpentry is his hobby. He’s also not that tech savvy, and “woodworking” is a real world example of a search that baffled him in the past. If you type “woodworking” into Google you get a plethora of results, from books to videos to blogs to magazines to local interest to search suggestions to websites. Most of the results are excellent, of course, but there is a lot there, and the fact that “woodworking” and “wood working” are bold everywhere adds to the overload. Ultimately what my father wanted, though, was a list of web pages about his hobby, and nothing more.
In comes the Alexa Site Finder. I can enter “woodworking” into the Find sites about box, press go, and I have a list of websites about woodworking. It’s a pretty good list, too, similar to what I found with Google but a lot more focused. Alexa also returns the traffic rank for the site, which is an estimate of the sites popularity. The lower the rank, the more people visit and use the site (Google is rank 1), which may or may not make it more interesting to me. For woodworking I’m not too worried about rank, and the majority of Internet users are not woodworkers. But it’s certainly a good indicator of what’s a site that people find useful versus a site that was abandoned a long time ago.
For woodworking traffic rank wasn’t that important, but there are other times when it is invaluable. I do a lot of volunteer work for a local animal rescue, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve visibility. I recently turned to the site finder for help, and discovered a handful of high traffic sites that list non-profits. Now I know which organizations we need to be listed with to get the greatest exposure, which will help us help more animals.
The Site Finder also allows me to filter my results by language, user country, category, adult content, and traffic. For example, I can filter my search results to include sites with predominantly US users and without adult content, and then include only sites with a rank <100,000>100,00 to search for undiscovered gems. Cool stuff!