What might explain USAToday.com’s traffic drop off?

So what’s up with USAToday’s traffic?

Obviously, before it’s big redesign, traffic was declining, but it’s fallen off a cliff since the relaunch.

Is the problem the design, or is the UGC/participation model failing, or is it something else?

Before we jump to conclusions that its UGC/participation, look at the past 12 months of traffic for Bakersfield.com:

We (clarifying point: I’m no longer affiliated with Bakersfield.com) relaunched the site in March 2006, with the UGC/participation tools being added a month or so later. As the graph above shows, traffic has been steadily climbing.

Bakersfield.com’s success could be related to improved site navigation, or boat loads of more video or the participation tools. The point is, it’s hard to believe participation tools are hurting USAToday.

WashingtonPost.com, a constantly evolving site, but one that went through some significant home page tweaks in about the same time frame as USAToday’s relaunch, is also showing steady growth:

WaPo is also heavy into user participation and conversation.

Based on just these couple of comparisons, either something is terribly wrong with the USAToday design, or there is some other unknown factor that is hurting USAToday’s numbers.

For sake of one last comparison: NYTimes.com

Again, steady growth (so it’s not an industrywide trend against national news sites).

10 thoughts on “What might explain USAToday.com’s traffic drop off?

  1. The first explanation that comes to mind is that compete.com is not accurately measuring the site’s traffic.

    When I look at our traffic stats and compare them to what compete.com is reporting, compete.com is off by a very wide margin.

  2. For spotting trends and tendencies, I think there is something worthwhile to compete.com or alexa.

    That said, I’m sure we’ll see some ABC/Nielsen reports before long that either confirm or rebut these trends.

    That’s a pretty dramatic drop off … I know people from USAToday and Gannett read this blog … maybe somebody from there will volunteer some more reliable information.

  3. few of the stats make sense to me – the Nielsen/Netratings don’t bear even cursory examination.

    But even it they are accurate what they tell us about the past may have very little relevance with regards to the future. Spectacular success almost always bucks trends.

    Look at Harry Potter and what it did for teen readers. Maybe there is a reason that Apple doesn’t do any market research.

  4. While at the EPpy conference, I spoke with the folks at Pluck, the vendor which runs USAToday.com’s social networking tools. They rattled off a long list of growing stats that they claim are the effect of the redesign. From what they said, traffic and registrants should be up significantly.

    Alexa and Compete are novelties, and not for research. I would never use their numbers in a newspaper story, for example.

    But I’d also never take a vendor’s word for it. So, we’re left to wonder.

  5. I believe that the traffic is accurate given what I have heard from a USA Today staffer. But…here’s the key question, are these pageview numbers or uniques? The answer, I was told, was pageviews. In that case, we are looking at (possibly) it taking less clicks to get to where you need to go. Just a thought and always the “risk” if you will to creating a more navigable design.

  6. Eliza, I believe Compate.com is trying to measure unique visitors.

    And I’ve seen more than once that improved navigation means fewer pages views.

  7. Maybe the problem is that it’s a national news site. You compared USAToday with NYTimes.com and WaPo. I wonder how the other ones are doing.

    There is a lot of competition in national/world news on the Web. Maybe USAToday.com is losing the battle simply because someone has to lose.

    It’s not a great theory but I like it better than the “too-efficient design” theory.

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