Those who run watchdog news websites are scratching their heads and trying to make sense of the latest data released by a California company that measures website traffic.
According to data for July through September, almost every major website – from WND to the Drudge Report and Breitbart – saw its rankings drop on Alexa.com while pro-government sites mostly went up.
Alexa Internet Inc. is a subsidiary of Amazon.
Familiar names in alternative media like the Drudge Report, Breitbart, Infowars, the Blaze, Newsmax, WND, FoxNews.com, and the Daily Caller all saw their rankings plummet while sites such as NPR.org, the Daily Kos, Democracy Now!, Media Matters and ThinkProgress all rose in the rankings.
The lower the number on the graph the higher the ranking, with 1 being the best.
Alexa purports to measure the traffic of thousands of websites around the world and then assigns a ranking to each site. The lower the number the higher the ranking of the website.
The data can be important because it is used, along with that collected by a handful of similar companies like Comscore, Quantcast and Google Analytics, to determine placement of advertisements that websites rely on to pay the bills and keep running.
Tucker Carlson, founder of Washington, D.C.-based the Daily Caller, said the data being put out by Alexa doesn’t square with that being reported by his own analytics.
“We had 13,557,850 unique visitors in September,” Carlson told WND. “By comparison, we had 12,784,656 uniques in August, so Alexa would be wrong if they’re reading the data correctly.”
The following are Alexa rankings for FoxNews.com and PBS.org:
The staff at Austin, Texas-based Infowars was equally perplexed by the numbers.
“As a certified member of Alexa, we find these trends troubling because in their very own subscription data on their site, we have had significant growth for the period indicated,” said Infowars reporters in an emailed statement.
Infowars is also seeing increases in another indicator, its largest YouTube channel.
“Our analytics indicate 305,000 views on 8-1-14 trending upward to 456,000 views on 10/11/14. This is views per day and represents a 50 percent rise in views during that period,” the staff said via email.
More perplexing comparisons:
WND Editor and CEO Joseph Farah said WND’s traffic has also been up.
“What’s happening at Alexa.com is shocking and demands a public response from Amazon.com, which owns the company,” Farah said. “Over the 17 years WND has been around, we’ve seen this kind of thing before. It smacks, at first glance, like a deliberate effort to destroy and discredit alternative news sites – especially those that don’t grovel at the feet of government and seek to be the watchdogs the American press are supposed to be.”
WND was the first independent Internet news-gathering alternative in 1997.
“How does one explain the disparity between the recent gains on Alexa by statist, pro-government, pro-status quo, establishment sites and the precipitous drops on Alexa by the anti-establishment alternatives?” Farah said. “These rankings are not based on dropping traffic. No such drop is taking place. The Alexa rankings over the last week suggest the company has thrown out its role as a politically impartial Internet ranking service and thrown its lot in with search engines like Google and Bing, which admittedly give preferences through their algorithms to establishment Internet content sites like CNN and Huffington Post.”
Even websites such as PlannedParenthood.org appeared to see surging rankings while LifeNews.com took a tumble:
WND reached out to Alexa through email, phone and Facebook to ask if the company’s methodology has in any way changed, but did not get a response. Phone messages were left specifically with Alexa’s operations manager, Ron Shalhoup, who had not responded by the time of this report.
The company did publish a blog posting that explains a new method of calculating its rankings based on what it says is a wider panel of viewers.
“We’re excited to announce that after a lot of hard work, the size of Alexa’s global traffic panel will be significantly increasing,” writes Leigh Katcher in the blog. “Over the next month we’ll be incorporating lots of new data points, which will help improve the accuracy of our metrics. As a reminder, our data panel is a sample of global Internet traffic used to calculate Alexa ranks and estimate non-Certified metrics.”
The blog posting continued, “With better data, we’ll be able to offer deeper insights into your site, your competitors’ site and overall traffic strategy. One immediate result of the additional data is that you may see your traffic rank fluctuate, especially for sites ranked greater than 100,000.”
The producer of a major conservative website, who asked not to be identified, said he doesn’t give too much credence to any single monitoring site’s data.
“I don’t often go to Alexa,” he said. “Alexa is not a perfect snapshot. It’s based on a pool of people who have to agree to be tracked. Alexa has its own panel. And they don’t represent a very broad section of the country. They tend to skew things toward techies and people in the western part of the country.”
The source said some websites can “buy” a higher traffic rating from powerful social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.
“A lot of the sites you listed spend thousands a month to boost their posts, their traffic,” he said. “We don’t do that. It’s amazing to me how people can artificially inflate their traffic one month. Many have spent tremendously by paying Facebook and Twitter. A lot of it now is driven in the social media sphere. So my view is, I don’t want to voice any grievance against any of them – my traffic is my traffic and I’m responsible for it – but everybody is at the whim of the Facebook algorithm.”