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Artificial Intelligence is an area of computer science that focuses the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. See our independently curated list of ETFs to play this theme here.

Blockchain technology allows for a recorded incorruptible decentralized digital ledger of all kinds of transactions to be distributed on a network. See our independently curated list of ETFs to play this theme here.

See the master list of all thematic investing ETF themes here.

ESG Investing is the consideration of environmental, social and governance factors alongside financial factors in the investment decisionmaking process. See our independently curated list of ETFs to play this theme here.

Marijuana is often referred to as weed, MJ, herb, cannabis and other slang terms. Its the green or gray dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. See our independently curated list of ETFs to play this theme here.

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The impressive pace of expansion in theETFindustry has been well documented; continuous product development has resulted in the launch of hundreds of products each year, and there are now more than 1,600 names in theETFlineup.

But while the depth of theETFspace has increased, the industry remains quite top-heavy; a relatively small number of products account for the lions share of total assets.

Most of thelargest ETFsare also among the oldest. Their impressive asset bases are perhaps more attributable to their seniority than to the appeal of their underlying methodologies. In fact, impressive innovation in the industry has given investors plenty of alternatives to the super tickers that dominate the space.

The largest ETFs have become so popular for a reason; they generally offer cheap, liquid exposure to core asset classes. But for investors willing to dig a bit deeper, there are some potentially exciting alternatives beyond the big dogs at the top.

Overview:ThisETFis one of three offering exposure to the S&P 500, a widely followed benchmark of large-cap U.S. equities.

ETFAlternatives:Vanguards S&P 500ETF(VOOA) offers exposure to the same index at a lower price point (0.05%), but the most intriguing alternative may be the Rydex S&P Equal WeightETF(RSPB+). That fund includes the same names asSPY, but gives an equal weighting to each component. The result of this seemingly minor difference has been huge in terms of returns:RSPhas outperformedSPYsince its inception in 2003 to the end of 2014 by more than 80% [seeFree Member Report: How To Pick The RightETFEvery Time].

Overview:GLDis one of six ETFs that invests inphysical gold. In fact,GLDis one of the largest holders of gold bullion in the world. ThisETFcurrently has about $28 billion in assets (as of 5/19/2015).

ETFAlternatives:For cost-conscious investors, iSharesCOMEXGold Trust (IAUA) should be rather appealing. The iShares fund holds the exact same asset (physical gold) but charges 0.25% instead of 0.40%. That material differential virtually guarantees thatIAUwill deliver better returns over the long run.

Overview:This popular fund offers cheap, easy access to hundreds of emerging markets stocks.

ETFAlternatives:There are a number of interesting options in theEmerging Markets ETFdb Category; a couple of our favorites include the RydexMSCIEqual Weight Emerging MarketsETF(EWEMB+), which maintains a much more balanced portfolio, and theSPDRS&P Emerging Markets DividendETF(EDIVA-), which targets dividend-paying equities from emerging markets.

Overview:ThisETFoffers exposure to developed markets outside the U.S. including Europe, Japan, and Australia.

ETFAlternatives:There are a number ofETFs that offer exposure to theEAFEregion. Interesting alternatives include theMSCIEAFESmall-CapETF(SCZA), currency-hedgedMSCIEAFEHedged Equity Fund (DBEFB+) from Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, and the dividend-weightedDEFAFund (DWMA-) from WisdomTree. Vanguards Europe PacificETF(VEAA) offers similar exposure asEFA, but has a much lower expense ratio.

Overview:ThisETFis linked to an index that tracks over 850 emerging market stocks.

ETFAlternatives:Investors can save about 52 basis points in fees by switching to (VWOA), which tracks a very similar basket of securities. Other alternatives for exposure to emerging markets include the dividend-weighted Emerging Markets Equity Income Fund (DEMA-) from WisdomTree and the State StreetSPDRS&P Emerging Markets Small CapETF(EWXA).

Overview:The second most popular S&P 500ETF,IVV, maintains a slightly different structure thanSPYthat may be more efficient for buy-and-holders.

ETFAlternatives:Another option for exposure to large-cap U.S. stocks is the Equal Sector WeightETF(EQLB), which maintains equivalent allocations to each of the nine major sectors.

Overview:This popular trading vehicle offers exposure to the tech-heavyNASDAQ.

ETFAlternatives:First TrustsNASDAQ-100 Equal Weighted Index Fund (QQEWB-) is an interesting product. ThatETFincludes the stocks of theNASDAQ100 but with an equal weighting (about 1%) assigned to each. The result is a more balanced portfolio that avoids big concentrations in names like Apple and Microsoft.

Overview:The most popular fund in theInflation Protected Bonds ETFdb Category,TIPis a low risk fund that has become popular in part because of lingering concerns about inflation.

ETFAlternatives:There is no shortage ofETFoptions for combating inflation; we like WisdomTrees Global Real Return Fund (RRFC+), which combines exposure to U.S. and internationalTIPSwith commodity exposure. Short-termTIPSare also intriguing as these bonds should be less sensitive to interest rate hikes that often accompany climbs inCPI.ETFoptions in this space include the 1-5 Year U.S.TIPSIndex Fund (STPZB+) and the 0-5 YearTIPSBondETF(STIPA-).

Overview:For broad exposure to U.S. stock markets, the cost-efficient and incredibly deepVTIis tough to beat.

ETFAlternatives:Though the efficiency ofVTIis impressive, there are actually options in theAll Cap Equities ETFdb Categorythat are cheaper, such as Charles Schwabs U.S. Broad MarketETF(SCHBA).

Overview:ThisETFtaps into high quality corporate debt, making it useful as a core holding in many portfolios.

ETFAlternatives:There are plenty of choices in theCorporate Bonds ETFdb Category, but two in particular stand out as compelling alternatives toLQD. Fundamental Investment Grade Corporate Bond Portfolio (PFIGB-) from PowerShares andSPDRBarclays Capital Issuer Scored Corporate BondETF(CBNDB) from State Street both implement alternative weighting methodologies that are more intuitively appealing than the cap-weighting approach common in fixed-income funds.

Overview:ThisETFis one of several in theTotal Bond Market ETFdb Categorythat focuses on high quality U.S. debt, including Treasuries and investment-grade corporate bonds.

ETFAlternatives:For cheaper exposure to the exact same index, investors actually havethree different ETFsfrom which to choose. The cheaper options are Vanguards Total Bond MarketETF(BNDA), which charges 0.08% and can be traded commission free on two platforms, and Charles Schwabs U.S. Aggregate BondETF(SCHZA), which charges only 0.06% the cheapest bondETFout there and can be traded commission free on the Charles Schwab platform.

Overview:ThisETFis linked to a broad-based index of small-cap U.S. equities.

ETFAlternatives:Vanguards Russell 2000ETF(VTWOA) offers access to the same index at an expense ratio that is 0.03% higher than IWMs but is available to trade commission free on Vanguards trading platform. State StreetsSPDRRussell 2000ETF(TWOK) also tracks the same index, but charges 0.08% less. For a twist on the index, Rydex offers an equal-weighted version in its Russell 2000 Equal WeightETF(EWRSC+).

Overview:ThisETFincludes large-cap stocks maintaining growth characteristics, such as higher pricing multiples and expected earnings growth.

ETFAlternatives:For purer exposure to style factors, the Rydex S&P 500 Pure GrowthETF(RPGB+) is a better choice here [see all thelarge-cap growth ETFs here].

Overview:ThisETF, which includes investment-grade bonds, was already mentioned as an alternative toAGG.

ETFAlternatives:ViewingBNDas a one-stop shop for fixed-income exposure is perhaps a bit short-sighted, as this fund does not include exposure to many of the higher yielding corners of the fixed-income market or international securities. The Madrona Global BondETF(FWDBC) is much more expensive, but also much more representative of the global fixed-income market.

Overview:SLVis the most popular option for investors looking to add exposure tophysical silver.

ETFAlternatives:For access to physical silver, Physical Silver Shares (SIVRB) and Silver Shares Covered CallETN(SLVO) are the only other options out there.SIVRis the cheapest option and is available to trade commission free on the Charles Schwab platform. PowerShares DB Silver Fund (DBSC) offers exposure to futures-based strategies, while Silver MinersETF(SILB-) allows investors to access stocks of mining companies engaged in the extraction of the precious metal.

Overview:This safe haven fund focuses on short-term bonds issued by the U.S. government, an asset class that generally performs well when stocks struggle.

ETFAlternatives:There are dozens ofshort-term bond ETFs; 1-3 Year US Treasury Index Fund (TUZA-) offers similar exposure to Treasuries, while the iShares 1-3 Year Credit BondETF(CSJA-) focuses on short-dated, investment-grade corporate bonds and the 0-5 Year High Yield Corporate Bond Index Fund (HYSA-) taps into short-term junk bonds.

Overview:ThisETFis the previously mentioned value counterpart toIWF, focusing on large-cap stocks with value characteristics such as high dividend yields.

ETFAlternatives:Again, a pure valueETFfrom Rydex stands out as a potential alternative toIWD; the S&P 500 Pure ValueETF(RPVB-) is linked to an index with much stricter value requirements for inclusion [see allLarge-Cap Value ETFs].

Overview:This is the onlyETFlinked to perhaps the most widely followed stock benchmark in the world: theDow Jones Industrial Average.

ETFAlternatives:DIAis not the most balanced product in the world; it has only 30 components, and the price-weighted methodology of the underlying benchmark can result in a top-heavy portfolio. There are a handful of othermega-cap ETFsavailable, including the iShares S&P 100 Index Fund (OEFA-) and Rydex Russell Top 50ETF(XLGA-).

Overview:The largest country-specific international equityETF,EWZoffers exposure to many of the largest Brazilian companies.

ETFAlternatives:For those looking to tilt exposure towards smaller companies, both the Market Vectors Brazil Small-CapETF(BRFA-) and Brazil Mid CapETF(BRAZB+) could be interesting. For exposure that is nearly identical toEWZ, the currency-hedgedMSCIBrazil Hedged Equity Fund (DBBRA-) offers access to Brazil without exposure to the value of the Brazilian currency.

Overview:The inclusion of two physical gold ETFs on a list of the 20 largest ETFs highlights how popular this asset class has become.

ETFAlternatives:BesidesIAUand (GLDA-), there are two other physical gold ETFs: Physical Swiss Gold Shares (SGOLA+) holds bullion in Swiss vaults, while Physical Asian Gold Shares (AGOLB-) stores its gold in Singapore. There are also plenty of options for achieving exposure to gold through stocks of companies thatproduce and extract the metal.

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