Friday, January 11, 2008

Bloggolalia: Are Blog View Numbers Inflated?

Warning: boring, Quant Jock-style details ahead. Readers may experience narcoleptic attacks.

Recently my good friends at the embarked on a new site design. Overall, I was excited by the changes, with one exception. They, like, and, had added the "More" tab. So anytime I wanted to read a complete post that looked interesting, I had to either open an entirely new window or stop browsing posts and open that post up in the original viewing window.

Now, I had seen this type of format once before on the makes you open multiple pages to read their articles. I hated it then, and I hated it now. Why were bloggers deliberately selecting site designs that ruined the readability of their pages? And what about people on dial-up, who now had to load multiple pages at once to get their blog fix instead of just one page? So why does anyone do this method? Sure, it gives you more pages to sell ads on...but could it be that it inflates your page views as well?! Perhaps some of the blog growth we've been hearing so much about is inflated...and if that's so, maybe the blog bubble has already burst and we haven't noticed.

I went back to to check the source of this annoying new trend. I remembered that even there, a lot of people didn't like the new site redesign when it first came out, and complained. As I said above, the only other reason to have the "more" feature would be to increase ad revenue (see more ads as you see more pages) and increase page views and visits. (Visits might also increase because Google Reader won't always show the "more" part, which forces you to visit the site). Look at's visit numbers in the last year. Notice the jump?

In the first few months of this year, Deadspin had some ups and downs in their site traffic. Blogging traffic is decent overall, but we're finally starting to see the end of the growth curve and a shift into maturity. (Sadly, some of our favorite bloggers may be laid off as the Internet ad revenue dries up in the soon-coming recession. The problem is, that will probably occur the same time the reading audience stops growing--roughly 10 months from now).

Nick Denton and Co. rolled out a site re-design on (drum roll) June 28th--a site re-design that was not initially popular. And what do we see? A substantial reversal of the trend in July! From a sports perspective, this makes no sense. After all, the NBA and baseball were both taking place in June...and in July, all we have is baseball. Also, school is out in May in most places, not June, so it can't be back-to-school traffic. But we see a jump. Interesting!

And it's not just Deadspin. I went and checked the sitemeter records for all other available Gawker properties--links follow. Gizmodo, Jezebel, and Kotaku all show massive jumps from June to July that are the largest or second-largest of the year. Gawker and Lifehacker show smaller but significant jumps. However, Gawker and Lifehacker use the "More" feature much less on their posts (they have fewer long columns), and, if my research is correct, may have started the site re-designs before Deadspin did.

The flaw in my logic? The site redesign may be a smaller factor, wiped out by a larget trend. For example, October also had a large jump in viewers for many of the same blogs. Was there another site redesign then? Or, was September lower than usual because of the back-to-school effect? If that's true, then I can't say that site redesign inflates viewing numbers. It's an Internet mystery! Any guesses? Of course, it's probably the vernal equinox or sun spots in July, ha, but I kind of like my theory.

Bottom line? There's nothing evil or wrong about inflating your views by changing site design, if the viewer will go along with it. There's no blogger in a devil suit here. But if you're interested in the business of blogging, you should be aware that not all the number jumps are due to an influx of new eyeballs and hands.

For the record, the last two blogging months were the highest views and page counts I've ever gotten; so this isn't bitter "Why won't you read me!" whining. I just want to know why my favorite sites keep adopting irritating site designs.


  1. A few things -

    The new Gawker redesign takes you back to the front page of an article after posting, so in multi-page threads, so you may get an extra hit there (type message, hit enter, sends you back to the first page, then click the "go to end" arrow to go back to the end of the thread). I cannot recall when that started, but it may have been around the June redesign.

    While October wouldn't normally get you the back-to-school boost, Deadspin has a hearty baseball fan base. The All Night threads tended to approach 1,000 comments. I'd imagine the boost in October could be tied to that - if the 2006 stats were available, you would likely see a similar boost.

    A quick review of the "Redesign" tag shows articles in Dec, Oct, and Jun 2007.

    I am also trying to think of a legit consumer-friendly reason to have the "More" tab. The only reasons I can come up with off the top of my head would be for items which are NSFW, or an extremely lengthy article which you may excerpt on the front page, then post the full article on the second page (causing one link through). Things like SI's articles, though, are inane and infuriating.

  2. Very well researched, and thought out. Well done, MC.

    As a blogger, especially one on the same network as Cobra (meaning: I'll bet SML will likely undergo a similar redesign soon), I understand the incentive to increase views. More view = more cash. So I can't hate on Gawker Media (and SI) for doing that, and, like I said, I'm probably going to go that route, too.

    Now, as a reader: I hate SI's page, but I'm okay with it on Gawker Media sites. Sites like Deadspin have their appeal in the many comments, etc, so clicking on the article is the only way to get at that (you couldn't have the comments on a site like that on the front page). And, if the post doesn't appeal to me, I skip it altogether.

    And as a reader of Cobra's site, I liked the new design. It's much more user-friendly, and the site doesn't crash on me anymore!

    But yeah, I see your point, which is "Don't believe that this was done purely for the reader's benefit; it was done to increase page view numbers". Absolutely agree. But if it also makes it easier for me as a reader, I'm okay with it!

  3. Though I'm not a fan of "more", and don't use it, but there's one reason I'd consider it at this point.

    At Storming the Floor, we post about 5-6 articles a day from our various writers, and I've noticed recently that often the first post of the day has fallen off the end of the page by 6pm, when we post our preview of the night's TV games. If I wanted readers to be able to at least see those headlines, "more" would help. I don't get the sense anyone actually looks at the sidebar "other posts" thing.

  4. Since my site was mentioned....our re-design had nothing to do with extra views and all of that. It had to do with allowing our readers to see what our posts were without having to scroll all the way down the page, which can be annoying. Now, instead of scrolling, they can see what we wrote that day, get a little intro of it and read more of it if they want. Some people would rather read Buck Rampage's posts than my ranting, so this makes it easier to do that. We just thought it would be more user friendly.

    I do keep track of how many visitors come to our site but I don't deal with the ads so I don't know, or want to know, how it all relates. We are actually a site out there to just write down our thoughts, not make cash.

    Your explanation as to why sites do this makes sense for the larger sites. Nice work on researching that, as usual.'s nice to look at something new every once in awhile.

  5. JB*, yes, covering the NSFW bits would be nice. The other day I was reading Blog X at an open portal at a library and suddenly found myself confronted by a large picture of a semi-clothed woman. For good measure, the page froze. Um, yeah, not good times. Arguing against people's right to post what they want is rather useless, but please, at least give us some warning/a choice.

    SML and Cobra, maybe you're right that it prevents crashing. But see, for readers like me who want to read all your posts, it makes it a lot harder. I have to right-click and open in new window 7-8 times a page--that's a huge pain. The "more" design caters to your least loyal readers, who just are browsing and might read one full post. Seems like poor logic to me; but please, it's just my opinion and I mean no offense. Like I said in the post, there's no "evil" here, just annoyingness.

    Extra p, I would think a sidebar with a list of posts (as Cobra's site does nicely) near the top has a better chance than requiring readers to scroll down on the same page...but it's a good question, and could go either way.