Hacking your Alexa Ranking

In case if you are working in any web related business based in India, then you would be aware of Alexa. The site which maintains website rankings by traffic. These numbers are indicative, however some people rely on them so much so that they look at a definitive way of increasing the rankings only … instead of actually working on making an awesome site.

I am going to share a little secret with you.

These rankings can be easily hacked.

So, if you have a boss or a reporting manager who fusses over Alexa rankings, then here’s what you need to do –

  • Convince your team or co-workers (who are most likely bound to keep visiting your site on a regular basis) to install the Alexa browser plug-in. It’s a nifty tool for easily checking rankings of any site. Not only that, but also this is the plugin that Alexa uses to guesstimate traffic numbers on the site. Having more plugin users visit the site reduces your Alexa ranking.
  • To correctly estimate the figures, Alexa asks you to include a javascript on your site. Using this javascript, a small widget is displayed on your site … now although that might ruin the look of your initial design, the javascript will ensure that all your traffic is correctly accounted for by Alexa. Soon you should see a reduction in your Alexa rank.
  • Claim your site. Add as much detail as you can and also get some friends to give you good testimonials for the site.

Now I know what you will say … how does this really help your cause?

  • Well … over a period the person who monitors this false metric will see an improvement and hopefully ask about it. Then you can tell them about the hack. Reckoning will soon follow.
  • A competitor who is trying to assess your site’s traffic will be overwhelmed

Alexa rankings are an extremely rough and over rated method of traffic estimation. Let me repeat what I said earlier, this is a hack and should be treated as such … ideally you should be focusing on your product/service.

What is Branded Traffic?

Have you ever searched your own name on Google?

Don’t answer that, it’s a trick question! We all have!! In fact, if you have not yet (which I would be surprised to know), you must be doing that by now!

It’s always the little bit of curiosity, perhaps a bit of reflection that drives us to see what gets listed on our own name … on our brand name. We people are brands, and the reason we search our own names is to see what shows up in the search … do our profiles show up or does a different person stealing away your thunder!

Site owners also do this, in fact they have a nice name for traffic which originates from such searches. It’s called Branded Traffic.

Branded Traffic is not only limited to search, a portion of the branded traffic is also the direct traffic viz., the set of people who already know your site URL by-heart (love you folks :-D).

Importance of Branded Traffic

Shakespeare had written in his famed Romeo and Juliet,

What’s in a name?

Well, apparently a lot! Branded Traffic is important for us …

  • These are the set of users who KNOW your site … who are searching for you. Be nice to them, these are your friends
  • If you do work on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies, then you will notice that your brand keywords will have awesome Click through rates … eye popping ones. At EduPristine, the CTR of the “pristine” keyword is around 32%, that of “edupristine” is a whopping 70%!!
  • Google will always give you additional benefit for your branded keywords, so get ready to be ranked on top! In fact the sad state of the Indian SEO industry I see is that most of the sales people get clients using such statements like “

Sir, we will get you on the top of Google Rankings (Meh!!)

  • If you do have Conversions setup on your site, then you will notice that your brand keywords will perform better as compared to your non-brand keywords!! If this is not the case, then perhaps you should consider taking a serious look at your site’s navigation and information architecture
  • This traffic is yours for the taking! I cannot stress on how important tracking this metric is … in fact as your site becomes popular you should see an increase in this traffic. It’s the digital version of your brand value.

How do you measure Branded Traffic?

This one is easy-peasy!

In case if you have a Google Analytics (GA) account setup, go to Advanced Segments, and define one segment.

Branded Traffic

I have set this up in my GA, you can use this segment and customize the keyword field with your brand terms! Get the Custom Segment for your GA profile here. Please keep a note to edit this Advanced Segment after you import this in your account and change the brand keywords!!

Do set up this segment and watch the general metrics for your site. I am sure that for your branded traffic all the metrics would be outperforming the site average!

Doesn’t it feel good to be loved!

Understanding the __utmz Google Analytics Cookie

Google Analytics does tracking by using the urchin tracking cookies. In case if you do not know what are HTTP Cookies, then you need to start reading some of these articles that I am linking to!! They can give the crunch to your digital marketing initiatives.

Do bear with me through this post, I will get a bit technical. In case if you do understand a bit of PHP, you will enjoy this post. For now, just keep this information with you, it will come to your aid sometime later when you would be talking to your developers!

Some Cookie Basics first

So if you have any kind of server side script running on your server, then you can create your own cookies! You should know that on a PHP server environment, the entire set of cookies is available in the $_COOKIE reserved variable.

Isn’t this awesome? What this means is that with one line of PHP code, you can refer to all the cookies which are now on your site for each of your visitors.

If you take look under the hood, then you will see that there are many cookies used by Google Analytics.

kidakaka utmz cookie

Each of these cookies have a certain purpose. The way GA utilizes these cookies is well documented, and you can find the developer note here.

So why the __utmz Cookie?

The __utmz cookie contains the traffic source information in Urchin tracker format. It contains information about how and when an individual visitor hits your site for the FIRST time. That means whenever the visitor comes back to your site, this value remains unchanged.

Imagine a scenario wherein a visitor first sees a post of yours on Facebook, or on Google … or other traffic sources. The visitor comes to the site, checks out a few pages and goes away (… such a shame!!). After a few days, the same visitor comes back to the site via an ad. This time the visitor leaves his information on one of your contact forms (I do hope you are using these!).

How would you know that the user is a repeat visitor? The form will only contain data which is about the visitor’s current visit.

So, whom would you attribute this event to? Your advertisement (the later) or your social media sharing (the former)? Do you believe in first impressions or do you believe in the recency effect?

Without having information about the user’s previous visit to your site, you will always choose the later. Thus misattributing your visitor acquisition to the wrong medium! And that’s why the __utmz cookie is so important! In effect it represents a unique visitor for your website.

I treat the __utmz cookie as equal to a real person!!

Associated with it is a story, this story which rolls out in a set of visits. Google Analytics can tell you if you are willing to sift through the data that is available to you.

What can we do with this Cookie?

How do we bite into this Cookie? Well, there are more than one method of cutting this cookie!!

  • If you have conversions on your site (Downloads, Sales, Contact Forms, etc), then you can always use the value in this cookie to track the origin of the visitor. This will give you a definite number on which traffic source (and which marketing campaign) is more effective for you when it comes down to conversions.
  • Each __utmz has a unique value set, this unique value can be converted into a Custom Variable and you can then track a unique visitor across your site using this Custom Variable (the free version of Google Analytics allows 5 Custom Variables, so use them sparingly).
  • For the more technically sound platforms, you can use this and the other GA cookies to track the visitor ACROSS multiple visits. However, there are other tools which are far more easier to setup to do this viz., Mixpanel.
  • If you are betting a lot on acquisition of traffic via Search engines, then the __utmz cookie can be mined for keyword data … yes, the data which people are searching for and are coming to your site. However, as of 2013, GA only provides the keyword data of users who have not signed in into their Google Accounts (around 30% of the data is not available).

Hmmm … crunchy delight!! And nutritious as well!!

I would love to hear from you how else can we use this and the other Cookies. In the meantime, do start integrating your Cookies with your CRM for more visitor intelligence!

Life as a Lane

Fast lane

I have taken naturally to car philosophy. As I sat behind the wheel one fine evening, this thought came into my mind. That life could be interpreted as a long driving lane with a series of traffic signals, twists and turns, short cuts, the entire works.

  • Some people rest at traffic signals, while others seem impatient to move on
  • Some people jump signals while morality in the form of a khaaki policeman blows a shrill whistle
  • Some people just want to get ahead
  • … those that do, do not know what to do when they are ahead, so they keep on cruising
  • Some people do not want to take risks, so they go with the flow
  • Yes, there are beggars!

I think I can go on and on with this analogy … what do you think?