Numbers geek that I am, I keep trying to plumb the MinnPost.com traffic numbers that pour in by the hour, to better understand how we’re doing.
It has taken me a while, but I’ve come to realize that the numbers that get watched and reported on the most in the Internet world – unique monthly visitors and page views – do not tell us much. In fact, they have great potential to mislead.
A much better measure for MinnPost is how many visitors come back often to the site – in other words, reader loyalty. These are the visitors who create a community. I am happy to report that the loyalty of our readers is growing far faster than the number of unique visitors.
In October, 2008, MinnPost.com had about 180,000 unique visitors – in other words, users at about 180,000 different computers came to the site at least once. In April, that number was 200,000, for an increase of 11 percent. But based on calculations on data from Google Analytics, the number of people who visited MinnPost.com three times or more rose from about 11,000 in October to 23,000 in April, more than doubling. The number who visited at least eight times in the month tripled, from about 4,500 to 13,500.
Unique monthly visitors is a remarkably volatile number for a site like ours, subject to huge spikes from a single story. In March, for example, MinnPost.com jumped up to 408,000 uniques, because Eric Black’s article about investigate reporter Sy Hersh’s revelations during a talk at the University of Minnesota brought more than 200,000 people to the site. The overwhelming majority of them came once, as a result of a search or a link from another site, and left after reading just the story they were led to, never to return (at least that month). They came from around the country or beyond, and most likely have no ongoing interest in Minnesota or MinnPost.
(These one-time visitors also distort our page view numbers, though not quite as dramatically. What really distorts page views is the practice of some sites to auto-refresh, which creates new page views while you’re reading the same page.)
So while our April uniques were half what they were in that seemingly heady March, our loyal reader numbers actually were substantially higher in April.
Frankly, we’re not sure exactly why our reader loyalty has grown so rapidly. Nor are we sure yet how to keep that momentum, or how to capitalize on it to help us achieve our business goal: breaking even by 2012 on revenues from donations by individuals, advertising and sponsorship.
But my intuition is that this growing reader loyalty is a very healthy sign. After all, regular readers are more likely prospects to join the roughly 1,500 households that have made tax-deductible donations to MinnPost. And regular readers who live in and care about our community are clearly far more valuable to advertisers and sponsors than a one-time visitor from New York or New Zealand. (In fact, MinnPost does not show its local banner ads to readers outside the region, in order to ensure that advertisers are reaching people who might respond to their message.)
Have you increased the frequency of your visits to MinnPost.com? If so, we’d like you to tell us why. Which journalists or kinds of stories attract you? What might persuade you to visit even more often? You can comment on this article, or you can email me at jkramer [at] minnpost [dot] com.
Joel Kramer is CEO and editor of MinnPost.com. He can be reached at jkramer [at] minnpost [dot] com.