Late on May 1, just days into its big relaunch, The Slatest got a gift it couldn’t have asked for: Osama bin Laden was killed. Josh Voorhees, The Slatest’s dedicated blogger and editor, pumped out four dozen updates in 18 hours while Slate reporters got to work crafting the story’s second-day narratives. May 2 ended up being The Slatest’s biggest ever traffic day.
“The fact that we were able to have stories like that right away, when people were so voraciously interested, was a great gain for Slate’s overall coverage,” said Katherine Goldstein, the Slate innovation editor who ran The Slatest’s relaunch.
What’s she’s more proud of, though, is what came next: “We’ve been able to grow those numbers beyond a newsy bump in May.”
In the three months since Slate reimagined The Slatest — itself a reimagining of Slate’s iconic aggregation feature, Today’s Papers — the section’s numbers are up across the board, Goldstein told me. Pageviews are up 43 percent, Google referrals up 47 percent, Facebook referrals up 79 percent, and Twitter referrals up a whopping 86 percent. And all during the typically slow summer news season.
This April’s redesign of The Slatest was Slate’s attempt to catch up to competitors in a space that Slate arguably invented in the 90s: aggregation. In addition to bringing on Voorhees, The Slatest underwent a number of editorial, visual, and technical changes. The homepage got bigger, bolder photos and graphics, à la HuffPo. It became more like a blog, replacing thrice-daily news summaries with individual story write-ups. Story pages also now feature more prominent sharing tools. Goldstein thinks that helps explain the section’s big Facebook and Twitter bumps: Readers are more likely to share stories than link roundups.
And as Slate editor David Plotz told me in April, The Slatest’s URLs were rewritten to “shine in the dark like neon to Google.” Links now include story slugs, not ID numbers, an improvement that’s slated, if you will, to go site-wide next month. Referrals and search traffic, Goldstein said, now make up a larger share of Slate’s overall traffic.
One surprise: Goldstein didn’t expect so many readers to complain after Slate cut back its email newsletter from three editions a day to one. They wanted more email, it seems, not less. “People really have come to have a habit of relying on the newsletter for their news, and that’s a way we have sort of habituated people,” she said.
The newsletter is now sent twice a day, at about 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Newsletter clickthroughs in July were up 72 percent over April, according to Goldstein’s data, thanks in part, she thinks, to a redesign of the letter itself that makes stories more irresistibly clickable.
The audience has also made it clear that there’s no such thing as too much news, Goldstein said. At first the team worried about over-saturation — turning off an audience that appreciates Slate’s take-a-deep-breath sensibility. Not so. “We’re now at 12-ish or so items a day, whereas we started with about seven or eight,” she noted. “We found that it gives us more opportunity to reach people, do different kinds of stories.”
Or, put another way: “More is definitely more when it comes to news on the Internet.”