Gawker's Traffic Numbers Are Worse Than Anyone Anticipated

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When Gawker launched an aggressive redesign back in early February, the tech blogs were waiting to see what would happen. How would readers respond? (The assumption was that the reaction would be negative -- readers tend to avoid change and reject it when it's forced on them -- but nobody knew just how negative.) Starting about one week later, writers flooded the Internet with posts about not just the reaction -- "Gawker really effed this up" -- but also the numbers. Quantcast found that Gawker's traffic was cut in half, TechCrunch reported; Gizmodo's numbers were almost as bad. Nick Denton, the network's overseer, stood by his design and insisted that the readers would return.

But they haven't. Now that the complaints have, for the most part, slowed to a trickle and the tech blogs have stopped looking into Gawker's traffic numbers, we decided to dig in a bit. What does the network's traffic look like now that two and a half months have passed? Turns out, according to Gawker's public statistics, things are much, much worse than was originally reported. Yes, the redesign cut traffic in half almost instantly, but instead of coming back, even more readers left the site behind.

Here, a graph we put together using the number of unique visitors to the homepages of five sites in the Gawker network -- Gawker, Gizmodo, Jezebel, io9 and Deadspin -- from November through today.* The April numbers are only for the month to-date, but it isn't hard to see, now that we're twenty days in, how many of these sites will need a big boost to even reach March's traffic.

GawkerNumbers.png

What accounts for the steep drop in numbers? While there hasn't been a major news event in April to help traffic spike, it's not as though we're comparing March numbers to those from a particularly great month. As you can see in the chart, the number of unique visitors across each site held roughly steady between November and January.

(Update: Shortly after this story was posted, Nick Denton wrote in to dispute the numbers we used. He says that the site's internal tracker has been broken for two months and sent us statistics from Quantcast. "Those numbers [in this post] are total pageviews from all sources for all sites," he said, referencing his own data, available here. "We were doing about 100m a week. At the low-point, we dipped to 75m. We're now back at 93m.")

The last time I spoke to a member of Gawker's team, I was told that the site is built using Ajax (Javascript and XML) and, when users realize this and scroll through using keys (j/k) to move from one post to the next, Gawker's system doesn't register each of those posts as a new pageview. That certainly hurts, but it wouldn't affect the number of unique visitors, which is what Denton -- and most advertising executives -- is primarily concerned with. It's just another excuse.

Gawker backtracked rather quickly on the redesign, adding a button to switch the site back to a traditional blog format, which allows readers to scroll through post headlines and excerpts in reverse-chronological order. But by then it may have been too late.

*Correction: This post originally implied that the graph displays total unique visitors to each of the five Gawker Network sites represented. The chart shows unique visitors to the homepage of each site, according to Gawker's internal statistics.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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