Everything You Think You Know About Blog Traffic Is Wrong

Brian Kirsten, a great engineer and a guy whose opinion I really respect pointed me towards a very important article by Niall Harbison entitled “How Much Traffic Does TechCrunch Send You?”  in which he dissects that actual traffic volume which the tech megablog generated for him.

TechCrunch itself is widely attributed to have over 4m rss subscribers alone, on top of the 2m unique site visitors that Compete.com attributes to them.

From Harbison’s post:

As you can see the traffic numbers are fairly small. I say they are small yet the article was popular by Techcrunch standards with over 400 Re tweets yet as you can see the referral traffic is not massive. It’s clear that the majority of people read the site through RSS and very few click through to the actual source of the story. I must say this is how I read Techcrunch too, I rarely look at sites they cover instead scanning the site for latest news.
Traffic from Techcrunch

Okay, that’s readers that actually made it back the the site featured in the article.  There were almost as many retweets on Twitter about the story as there were visits to the link in that story for the company it was about.  That borders on depressing.

But I’m not interested in writing about TechCrunch’s traffic, they pay people a lot of money to analyize it for them.  Let’s look at what numbers like this mean for us and our blogs.

First, the RSS numbers – forget about TechCrunch, this happens everywhere.  You may have a lot of people subscribed, and the rss may (and very well may not) be delivered to them, but that doesn’t mean they actually read the thing.  I’m seeing a lot of information lately on the death of RSS and I’m fairly well convinced.  Myself, I use to to follow a couple particular topics and those topics are almost 100% extracts from Google Searches.  Hence, I don’t really read any site via RSS anymore.

That’s just me.  I know there are some that read blogs almost exclusively by RSS.

Then there’s the “drive by” factor.  Harbison actually did quite well with only a 65% bounce rate.  I generally see massively linked articles on blogs that are much higher.  That’s “one and done” and it does us no good. Those folks aren’t going to become loyal readers or click an ad or do virtually anything we’re going to want them to do.  No comments, no retweets, etc.  Harbison notes a couple good tricks to getting them more involved, including prominently displaying the rss button and facebook page button high on the page, but honestly, didn’t we just say RSS is dead.  Ugh…now I know what it feels like to be in a circulation meeting at the New York Times.  Okay, so let’s fall back and offer them a newletter. No, wait, that’s getting into a lot of work.

I suspect more at the core is that we’re becoming very adept at reading lots of headlines, but honestly, not doing our homework.  Instead of reading, users are scanning.  Give it the old once over, then retweet, or share on facebook.  I’ve noticed a lot of retweets on articles for me seem to happen way too quick, definintely before the person retweeting would have had the time to actually read and dissect a story.

Even more, with all the services surrounding and consuming our blogs, such as Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Digg, and even Google Sidebar, much of the discussion around our posts never even shows up one our pages.  We have to go out and find it, as I found the other day, when a discussion popped up on Facebook about one of my posts, but due to the crappy interface Facebook displayed it in, the readers only got the first paragraph or so, missing important info.

Things to consider:

  • Your headlines are your sales pitch (the stuff people may retweet, or use in links) very, very carefully.    Think about using separate accounts to test titles for a little while so you can see how they perform.
  • Think of Article Pages as Landing Pages – look at your individual article pages as landing pages.  Make your case to the readers there…
  • Consider a “new user” message for anyone that doesn’t have your cookie.  Keep the message short, but give them an idea of where they are, what they can expect, and why they should get it.  Maybe a link to your best of stuff, or some great 101 level content links for the newbie (if your a niche publisher)
  • Offer RSS, offer newsletters, but sell your site.  That’s where you really want them to be.
  • RSS – only offer summaries…no full content.  If they want to read it they ought to come and read it on your site.
  • Find discussions about your content – for your key articles, setup some Google alerts or use Google news to create rss feeds you can watch.  It’s clunky, it’s time consuming, but it’s about the only way you can do it.

I think we’ll need to do more on this.  I’ve barely scratched the surface here.  Thoughts? Bueller?  Anyone?

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