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Why did Newser’s traffic fall off a cliff?

Michael Wolff, whose two-year-old site, Newser, is frequently cited as a model for the future of journalism, titled a typically provocative blog post yesterday, “I’m Proud to Kill the News.” He made the usual case that news aggregators understand the web better than newspaper websites. Readers, he said, “come to Newser, rather than the New York Times, probably because they want what we are offering: short articles from many more sources.”

Which is fair enough, except that very few people are coming to Wolff’s site these days. As you can see in the chart above, Newser’s traffic has tumbled since peaking at 1.6 million people in May. It now stands at 546,000 monthly visitors, according to Quantcast, well behind other news aggregators with which it’s frequently lumped, including: The Huffington Post (13.2 million), Topix (9.3 million), and Mahalo (8.2 million).

Emailing on Tuesday from London, where he was on assignment, Wolff told me the “traffic falloff reflects our replacement of several distribution deals,” which he described as “primarily traffic exchanges.” I haven’t been able to get further details, but Compete shows that Newser’s leading source of referral traffic after Google is Optimax Media Delivery, which is an ad server. Wolff assured me: “We’ll be back up to normal levels within [the] next two weeks or so.”

Now, I wouldn’t normally highlight this, but I think it helps to demonstrate that not all traffic is created equal (just as “not all links are created equal“). Even when Newser was doing just average, two thirds of its readership was apparently the product of syndication deals. Similarly, while Politics Daily has been praised for amassing a huge audience in its first few months, the majority of that traffic comes from the site’s corporate parent, AOL.

And there’s nothing wrong with those arrangements, but they’re a far cry from loyal readership. When the firehose is shut off, the traffic disappears.

What to read next
Mark Coddington    Aug. 22, 2014
Plus: Controversy at Time Inc., more plagiarism allegations, and the rest of the week’s journalism and tech news.
  • dan bloom

    Part of the problem with Newser is Wolf’s often ascerbic and bitter personality, as if he is king of the world, after James Cameron, that is, and with a guy like this running the show, traffic will slow eventually. He has a high IQ and writes and thinks very well, a great reporter, but his EQ is not so high, and readers can sense that. He needs anger management classes, and I say this as a friend.

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  • Mark

    They bought most of their traffic and did not get it through “organic” methods. Once the flow was cut, they were left with the “real” number and a realization as to their following of customers.

    I guess it goes to show you that big names offline, past accomplishments, doing things the way they “were done” and not adapting to, or understanding the current online landscape can kill. The old way(2007 and before) of online marketing does not fool the new and upcoming generation, and this is exactly the direction they took to look good in the eyes of the stake holders, advertisers and consumers involved.

    I feel cheated!

  • Josiah

    By definition news aggregators can’t really get ‘organic’ traffic via search engines as the content isn’t theirs.

    What this does reveal is the core audience.

    I wouldn’t kick a half million visitors per month out of bed ;)

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  • Robin

    @Josiah: Disagree that aggregators can’t get organic search traffic. That’s, in fact, the main driver of traffic to sites like Digg and (especially) the Huffington Post. But, it takes a lot of clever work and some serious SEO to pull it off; it’s very different from just buying a bunch of clicks.

  • http://toughloveforxerox.blogspot MichaelJ

    Nice data points to demonstrate that clicks do not equal fans and that not all clicks are the metrics of “life time customer value.” Some thing is true of every media or shop. Lots of browsers, small percentage of buyers.

    It helps explain why CPMs in Print and on the web are losing value every day. As soon as it’s possible to measure exchange, instead of exposure. It’s only common sense.

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  • Ian Bell

    How is this any different than any other site out there? Most other news aggregators like or Digg, farm search engines with catchy headlines and good SEO tactics.

    It’s all passer-by traffic. 546K monthly visitors is still nothing to balk at. A lot of larger sites buy traffic as well. It’s not uncommon to see Wallstreet Journal ads on other news sites.

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