Startribune.com: One billion page views served

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.

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.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by David DeCoux on 12/21/2009 - 01:17 pm.

    One billion pages served says a lot about their webservers.

    As for the content the community bloggers have been good and people will read news, no matter how good or bad.

    That said, I often leave a browser open (sometimes on a home machine for days) and I wonder how many times it refreshes over the course of a day?

  2. Submitted by Justin Heideman on 12/21/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    Even with their shady auto-refresh and over-zealous pagination, 83 million a month seems like a lot. They get about 1.5million uniques a month according to compete.com; nothing to sneeze at. However, that means that each visitor is accounting for an average of about 55 pageviews per month, which seems pretty high to me.

    I really wonder if the number he’s giving you includes RSS updates, bots, and spiders, in addition to actual humans. Otherwise, their pagination and auto-refresh is much worse than I thought.

  3. Submitted by Ed Kohler on 12/21/2009 - 01:30 pm.

    If 10,000 people left a tab of the StarTribune.com open during the day or overnight for an average of 8 hours, that would account for 175 million unseen page views per year from auto-refreshes every 10 minutes.

    I don’t know if 10,000 is an accurate assumption, but I’m fairly confident that auto-refreshing pages that no one is looking at accounts for a significant portion of those page views.

  4. Submitted by Erik Hare on 12/21/2009 - 01:54 pm.

    All that, and they complain about MPR getting a few bucks to expand coverage of rural Minnesota.

    If the Strib can’t just bury MPR (and MinnPost, too) with that kind of built-in advantage, there’s no hope at all for them.

    No one even comes close to their traffic.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/21/2009 - 02:31 pm.

    Kudos to the Strib. But keep in mind what the Strib does isn’t all that amazing in terms of technology: we did more than 3.6 billion a year during the glory days of internet.com (2002-2003) across the network, arguably under worse circumstances in terms of a motley set of hardware, much smaller IT and editorial staffs, and a lot slower Web access for most users. Heck, the Strib isn’t even the biggest Web publisher in the state: bestbuy.com and usbank.com both are much larger on every metric. What the Strib has done is amazing in terms of reaching past its natural constituency.

    David is absolutely right when he points out the page-view counts are worthless if they can’t be monetized. The Strib does get a lot of mileage from non-local content — an SEO trick that may end up hurting the site in the long haul in terms of eating up resources.

    Ed — give the Strib some credit. The site is well-positioned in terms of SEO and Google News. Weeding out auto-refreshing has been part of how Compete and Quantcast do business for years now.

  6. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/21/2009 - 02:59 pm.

    I wonder how well McDonald’s would have done had they used the Strib strategy of cutting their burgers into four and five pieces so as to more quickly rack up “one billion served”?

  7. Submitted by John O'Sullivan on 12/21/2009 - 03:40 pm.

    Not sure I understand the criticism about needing to click through endless pages to get to a story. Wasn’t it revealed at your OFON conference that the Strib has more links to stories on it’s front page than NYTimes.com? Furthermore, hopping from story to story is easy with the left rail links and most popular/most emailed links. StarTribune.com is not without its weaknesses, but the accessibility of its stories isn’t one of them.

  8. Submitted by David Brauer on 12/21/2009 - 03:52 pm.

    John, I think everyone means clicking through endless pages to get through a *single* story.

  9. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/21/2009 - 03:59 pm.

    There’s some pretty good research that says readers won’t read to the bottom of a long article. (There’s a reason why your employer dropped the leaderboard at the bottom of your pages, David: I am guessing the clickthroughs were abysmal.) The complaints about multi-page articles don’t have a ton of merit, though admittedly the Strib does take it to an extreme.

  10. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/21/2009 - 04:39 pm.

    Otoh, there are people like me who routinely turn to the last page to find out what got buried.

    News stories are supposed to contain all the most important facts in the first paragraph. If they routinely withheld salient data until the end, news consumers would change their reading habits.

  11. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/21/2009 - 05:40 pm.

    Mark, it has more to do with eye fatigue than the inverted pyramid. UI interface design is pretty advanced in terms of science. For example, that’s why all the new eReaders — Kindle, Nook, etc. — lack backlighting.

  12. Submitted by Justin Heideman on 12/21/2009 - 08:53 pm.

    @John O’Sullivan:

    Yeah, I showed that slide comparing the number of links on the homepages (advance to slide #4). More is not better. Most of what the Strib has is recycled junk and marketing fluff.

  13. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 12/21/2009 - 11:08 pm.

    Is clicking to another page really that much of a bother? I mean, people constantly complain about it, but I’m baffled as to why that’s a horrible thing.

    I find endless scrolling down on a super-long page to be equally tiring and intimidating as a reader. I prefer to click, generally.

    If I don’t want to click, there’s always the Doodledee workaround. I’d encourage you to Google “Doodledee” and “Star Tribune,” but that’s probably too much work (I kid!)

    http://www.doodledee.com/archives/2009/02/19/2743.html

  14. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/22/2009 - 06:24 am.

    Jason: It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have folks like David who express a strong dislike for clicking through on a multipage story. Call him part of the vocal minority. The research is pretty clear that people will not read to the end of a long story or click on the ad at the bottom. On the flip side, about 20 percent will not bother clicking through to the second page on a multipage article, and another 30 percent won’t bother clicking through to the third. When I set up a multipage story — which I do on Yellowstone Insider and Ballpark Digest features, where it needs to be explicitly on the back end — I do so knowing I’ll lose a chunk of audience. But I don’t do it to generate more page views; there are better ways to do that.

  15. Submitted by Brian Elfert on 12/22/2009 - 06:56 pm.

    55 pages a month is less than 2 pages a day. I can believe that the average is that high.

    Of course, the page views would be less if the pages were LONGER! The stories are split into way too many pieces. No story in the printed paper ever has more than one jump unless it is a multi page feature article like the Gang Strike Force.

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