Periodically, someone posts on the Etsy forums about Alexa or any number of website traffic ranking sites that exist. There seems to be a lot of concern and confusion about what these ranking sites are really about, so I wanted to try and clear some of that up. I spent the weekend researching the issue after yet another one of those posts appeared.
What Is Alexa?
Alexa and other ranking sites like them (EtsyRank springs to mind) collect limited data about website usage. Alexa measures how one site compares to other websites all over the webiverse. So it’s basically a website popularity contest. It says: Site A is growing faster than Site B, so Site A wins.
Now owned by Amazon, Alexa states on its site that rank is determined using the most recent three months of data (so it’s a rolling statistic) from the following:
- The estimated daily Unique Visitors to a site, regardless of time spent.
- The estimated number of Pageviews to a site. (Note: The number of pages on a site will play a role.)
Etsy, ranked today at 206 globally (down 31 points) and 59 in the US, is still one of the top sites on the web worldwide.
What Does Alexa Measure? Not Traffic
The term “rank” seems confusing for Etsy users since they call rank “traffic” and panic when it declines. Rank is not traffic. Let me say that again, louder: RANK IS NOT TRAFFIC.
Etsy Rank confuses the issue further by bastardizing an old advertiser’s term, “reach”, to describe this popularity concept. In advertising, reach refers to the number of potential viewers for an ad (think newspaper circulation). But Etsy Rank misuses the term to refer to the percentage of internet users who use Etsy. As the internet continues to grow, Etsy’s “reach” will inevitably decline (see below under “Website Format”).
Rank means popularity, calculated somewhat mathematically, based solely on the two metrics above. For Etsy, these metrics are estimated, not calculated, therefore not fully accurate. So it’s a little like theatre kid Emily being less popular than cheerleader Monica in a high school that measures popularity only by beauty and athleticism. Everyone assumes the theatre kid is kind of a loser and the cheerleader has her shit together, but the dork has a big, supportive family and a huge circle of friends outside school while the cheerleader has an abusive parent and a hidden drug addiction. Still, only one can be homecoming queen.
I’m happy to report one of my close high school friends was homecoming queen. And she was neither a theatre geek nor a cheerleader then, but is now a triathlete.
Who Uses Alexa?
Online advertisers, mainly. To negotiate rates and placement. And some Search Engine Optimizers and webmasters since your rank can impact your placement. This is why Etsy needn’t be certified. Because outside advertisers don’t use Etsy, the data isn’t useful in negotiation. Bloggers and webmasters who believe popularity is a good measurement of growth may also be interested in its data for obvious reasons. But it feels more like an ego boost than a sound business metric.
If you’re not advertising on the site in question to your site, other metrics are far more valid.
How Reliable is Alexa?
Certified Alexa users get the most reliable data. Alexa collects website analytics directly from certified analytics. Etsy is not certified, making all Etsy data uncertain.
For uncertified sites Alexa collects data using a browser extensions installed (perhaps unknowingly) by users. It’s not difficult to set up an automated “data cheat” if someone wants to boost his rank. In February 2017, Alexa admitted cheaters from China grossly skewed data for many ranks (Etsy was not among them), proving cheating is possible. And maybe easy.
Bottom line? It’s hard to know. The data may be somewhat accurate from what I know of statistics (I got an A in college, for what that’s worth). If the sample size is large enough with few enough biases, the data should be reasonably reliable. Alexa may have compiled enough for their data to have some merit. However, because there is probably bias, cheating, and other interfering factors, the data can easily be called into question.
Why Is Etsy’s Rank Declining?
If you look at Etsy’s rank over recent months, it looks like Etsy’s site is tanking since its Alexa ranking declined. And yet, Etsy reports significant growth. What gives?
Below is a chart showing Etsy growth compared to Alexa rank. I used Etsy revenue data and compared it (as well as possible) to Alexa rank estimated from chart above. It’s crude, but it can give you an idea of why sellers are concerned.
Theories abound. And the truth is, nobody knows the truth. But here are a few that may be contributing.
1. Website Format
Any already-popular site that is generating more content quickly is going to be ranked highest based on Alexa’s criteria. So search engines, social media sites, news sites, and any user-generated content sites (where Etsy would fall in this example) will probably be ranked highest most of the time. This is because more pages on a popular site = more Pageviews.
Though Etsy/s content is user-generated, it’s a much smaller company than the others around it. Etsy generates new products daily, but users pay to post content – which alone is enough to impact rank. This isn’t bad news for sellers. As long as Etsy grows, sellers can go along for the ride – especially if new shoppers outpace new sellers. In 2012, there were 13 buyers for every seller – today there are 16. So regardless of Etsy’s format
2. Alexa Modifications and Improvements
Sometime in 2016, Alexa announced that they were expanding their data to include a greater number of sites. This was bound to impact every sites rank. And it’s unclear how often this kind of thing happens unannounced and undocumented.
3. “Long Tail” Phenomenon
Alexa explains this concept right on its site. Essentially, it means that sites near you in rank (Etsy comes in around x right now) are simply getting more significant traffic increases than you even though your metrics are growing. Etsy doesn’t fall into the long tail of sites ranked below 100,000, but the concept is still relevant. Click the image below to see a larger version.
For instance, here are just a few (Moz Top 500) that are climbing. I didn’t use Alexa because I didn’t want them to give them an email address through which to harass me.
– About.com +4
– USA Today +10
– Livejournal (a blogging site) +7
– Telegraph.co.uk +12
For Etsy, this means whoever is near Etsy in rank generated more pageviews and unique visitors than Etsy over the last three months. You’ll see that almost all the surrounding sites use outside advertisers: News, social media, blogs, etc. It makes sense that sites using free-to-post user-generated content grow faster. Also, news sites combine comments, endless news (including archives), and advertising to jack up their rating simply by having more pages on offer.
Long and short, it may not matter that Etsy’s Alexa rank is in decline. Other metrics are more important to Etsy users anyhow.
Alexa’s Value to Etsy Sellers
Upcoming Selling Venues
Etsy’s forum users often report other selling venues as they emerge. Most of them are poorly designed and have no real hope of competing with Etsy long term. However, should one of those venues creep into Alexa’s top 5,000 and grow quickly, it might be a venue to consider for selling our goods. Such numbers would suggest aggressive growth.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, with the emergence of Etsy Studio, Etsy begins allowing some outside advertising at some point. Should we choose to advertise on Etsy as an outsider, it may help to consider their rank and demographic profile to see how well it matches our own.
For any seller who wants someone or something to blame someone else for their business failures, it’s a fine tool to help you do it. As long as you don’t look too critically at its function or how it compiles data.
Why I’m Not Concerned
- Etsy is in the top 1,000 on Alexa Rank, the top 100 on Moz. For the type of site it is, any ranking that high is impressive to me. That means out of millions of shopping sites out there, Etsy’s at the top of the food chain.
- I don’t advertise off-Etsy products on-Etsy. If I were, I’d look more critically at Etsy’s rank to determine a) the Etsy demographic and b) how it compares to other places to spend my advertising dollars. But I’m not, since nobody can advertising off-Etsy products on-Etsy, so I don’t care.
- Etsy’s SEO is on fleek. They are at top of searches for handmade things (though not for just “handmade”, where Amazon sits proudly today) and because people searching for handmade this or that is limited (check google trends, small market), they’re usually going to see Etsy first.
- Etsy continues to grow (see above).
- I focus on what I can do to change my shop’s fate, not what Etsy can do.
I hope this article helps you understand the concept of site rankings a little better. Please let me know your questions and comments below.