Warning: boring, Quant Jock-style details ahead. Readers may experience narcoleptic attacks.
Recently my good friends at the cobrabrigade.com embarked on a new site design. Overall, I was excited by the changes, with one exception. They, like thebiglead.com, epiccarnival.com and deadspin.com, 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 Internet--SI.com 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 Deadspin.com 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 Deadspin.com'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.