There are two questions that seem to come up quite often in both our help system and out in the Blogosphere. Why does the rank of my website jump around? And why is my website’s rank getting worse when my site analytics clearly indicate that I am getting more traffic? There are two main reasons why ranks change in ways that on the surface seem counterintuitive. First, the Alexa Traffic Rank of a given website isn’t determined solely by the traffic to that site, but takes into account the traffic to all sites and ranks sites relative to each other. Since your site is ranked relative to other sites, changes in traffic to other sites affect your site’s rank. The second is something called The Long Tail.
By now most of us have heard about the The Long Tail. Originally coined by Chris Anderson in a 2004 Wired article, it refers to a frequency distribution where a few things are very probable and most things are not. The long tail describes all those low probability events. In the graph of a power law, the long tail is the tail-like distribution that moves off to the right (the yellow region in the graph). On the web there is a small number of very popular sites, and a very large number of sites with low traffic. In our case, any site with an Alexa Traffic Rank greater than 100,000 can be considered to be part of The Long Tail. This is a nice theoretical concept, sure, but does it really answer why a website’s rank jumps around? Yes. Even if Alexa had perfect information about all sites on the web, Alexa Traffic Ranks would still jump around. The reason is because the farther you go out onto the tail, the flatter it gets and the bigger effects small changes have. And since sites are ranked relative to each other, any small change in traffic to any site can result in big changes in the rank of given site.
Here is 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 a modest amount of money, than there people at the head of the graph earning hundreds of millions.
Let’s assume that the person ranked #50 million earned exactly $50,000 per year last year, and that she will earn exactly $50,000 again next year. Question: Will she still be ranked at #50 million next year? No. If the economy continues to recover, then people who made less because of the recession will suddenly make more and her rank will drop as their salaries increase. Conversely, if the recession continues then her rank will increase as millions of others start earning less. 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 larger effect small changes can have. In her case, earning just one dollar more per year could vault her position in the rankings by thousands. This seemingly small change might alter things much more you might expect. The same applies to websites. Your site analytics is telling you that you are getting more visitors and pageviews, but the problem is the sites ranked near you are seeing bigger increases so your Alexa Traffic Rank actually gets worse. Or maybe your site analytics is telling you that you are getting no significant increase in traffic, but those those small gains might be enough to give you a startling improvement in your Alexa Traffic Rank. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but this is how any ranking system must work.
In summary, your Alexa Traffic Rank is not just about your site’s data, but also your site’s data relative to every other site out there. And the farther you go out on the tail, the less change is required from any site to cause your site to move up or down in rank. 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.
The nice thing is the higher up the long tail you move, the lower your Alexa Traffic Rank, the less subject your site’s rank is to these fluctuations. Find ways to increase your visitors, visits and pageviews, your Alexa Traffic Rank will follow.
Source: Alexa click here
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