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Startribune.com: One billion page views served

A milestone in a troubled year.
By David Brauer

OK, it’s been a tough year for the Strib, but check this out: Sometime on Tuesday, Startribune.com will serve up its one-billionth 2009 page view, according to deputy digital editor Dennis McGrath. That’s up about 20 percent from 2008.

I know, I know — startribune.com makes you click through endless pages to get through a single story, and engages in annoying page refreshes. But still: You hung in there a billion times, Mr. and Ms. Internet Surfer. There must have been something on that site you wanted to see. McGrath says startribune.com has added several goodies in the past year, including video, more chats, a better mobile site, community bloggers, prep sports and expanded weather coverage. Of course, huge events have helped: the U.S. Senate recount, Favreapalooza and the Twins pennant run.

While MinnPost — and every other local news org in town — would kill for 83 million page views a month, it isn’t unprecedented for a big-deal newspaper company. According to the non-authoratative Nielsen Net Rankings, the Strib ranked 29th among newspaper sites in November in another measure, unique visitors, after finishing 19th in October. Still, the Strib regularly places in the top three for the amount of time users spend on a newspaper site. So even if you discount refresh tricks, you still have one of the most-viewed local news properties around.

The page view milestone comes even as the Strib pay-walled off some Purple content for Access Vikings, which McGrath acknowledges holds down traffic. It’s less certain whether withholding Sunday “print exclusives” until Wednesday web publication hurts the stats. McGrath says that analysis hasn’t been run, though I’ve talked to other execs who think the numbers aren’t punished, in part because more folks click on a work day than a weekend day.

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Still, it’s too bad a billion page views doesn’t equal a billion dollars, or the paper wouldn’t have traipsed through bankruptcy court this year. As noted in Chapter 11 filings, the web only accounted for 7 percent of the Strib’s revenues, so online popularity is no panacea. You can argue fewer page views might be better for business, long-term. Strib board chair Mike Sweeney has already talked of a sweeping 2010 site redesign — could less story-chopping and needless refreshes boost reader satisfaction and also advertising impact and revenue? McGrath says it’s too early to discuss details, but we can only hope.