Web Metrics – BusinessWeek Misses the Point

Another great bit from Mediapost.com

BusinessWeek’s article “Web Numbers – What’s Real?” provokes an interesting discussion.  Again we’re asking what is a true measure of web readership.  They make several good points, particularly about things like AJAX, which wreck the model for traditional analytics.  But they really head down the drain when they get into talking about analytics apps, then make the following statement:

Web outfits seem to agree that Alexa is flawed, but they continue to rely on it because the data are so addictive. Since Alexa’s numbers are free and available online, they can easily be plugged into a PowerPoint presentation or onto a blog, providing a quick-and-dirty way to get a competitive snapshot. Blogs cite Alexa as gospel, and its graphs are part of nearly every startup’s pitch to investors. “It’s a giant pain,” says George Zachary of Charles River Ventures. “If someone came up with something better, I’d fund them.”

This is, to my mind, complete rubbish.  Alexa, while a great tool, is a problematic source of metrics.  This is because the analytics are gathered via a browser toolbar which is loaded on very few computers.  As such, the results are easily swayed by a handful of power users hitting site repeatedly with the toolbar.  Do you have the toolbar installed? Have you seen anyone with the toolbar installed? No, probably not.  I’ve played the game before…and I’ve seen huge swings in traffic rates, which tells me the fallacy of the ratings.  It would be akin to trying to judge highway traffic by how many red buick lesabres pass you in a given time period.

Yes, we need better analytics – but toolbar style applications like Alexa are certainly not the answer.

Disclosure: I have used Alexa in the past, but not in the past 8 months.  I have no financial or employment stake in Alexa, Businessweek or Mediapost.

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