Are Alexa Research's Ratings Accurate?

Hong Kong-based Angel Ventures last month took out advertisements announcing the results of a local Web site ranking survey done by U.S.-based Alexa Internet Corp., a subsidiary of Amazon.com.

According to the results carried in the ads, financial content site Quamnet.com was the top Hong Kong-based Web site among local users in June. In July, auction site Go2hk.com was ranked No. 1. By comparison, in the recently released survey by Iamasia (Internet Audience Measurement Asia), Quamnet.com does not rank among the top 20 sites.

Angel Ventures and Go2hk.com are both partly owned by Quamnet founder and CEO Chin Man.

According to Matthew Wards, vice-president of Alexa, the company conducted the survey by recruiting participants on a voluntary basis. They downloaded the Alexa Toolbar, to enable Alexa to track their usage, he said.

"Since the vast majority of our users download our toolbar from links contained within the Microsoft and Netscape toolbars, this accounts for our large quantity of international usage, even though we have no international marketing. Since the use of the browsers is representative, our users are representative," he said.

This seems to suggest that Web sites could attempt to tamper with the results by asking staff and others to download the toolbar and visit its sites. What does Alexa do to prevent this?

Ward said Alexa currently takes no steps to prevent companies from inflating their numbers. "With more than 500,000 monthly users worldwide, we believe one would have to do a significant number of pageturns to change the relative rank of any of the top sites," said Ward.

Alexa has over 5,000 users monthly in Hong Kong, Ward added.

Quamnet's Chin did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on whether employees at Quamnet.com and Go2hk.com were using the Alexa Toolbar to generate pageviews for the survey.

Despite the assurances from Alexa, industry observers are skeptical about the results presented by the company. Ralph Szeto, account director at media planning agency Mindshare, said he would prefer the panel-based methodology adopted by Interactive Audience Measurement Asia and ACNielsen Corp. The recruting process for users run by Alexa is now self-selected and may not be representative of true Internet demographics, Szeto said.

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