Over the past several years, it’s been interesting to witness the shift from old media publishing outlets such as major newspapers towards new media outlets like web sites and blogs. Even old media outlets that have major web sites aren’t quite the same as the new beasts of dedicated online publishing.
Let me share some actual data with you to highlight these comparisons.
On May 31st StevePavlina.com was mentioned in the New York Times for a productivity-related article. The online version included an active link to StevePavlina.com, one of only three links in the article.
On June 1st StevePavlina.com was mentioned on the Chicago Tribune’s web site in a short piece about waking up early. The article included five active links, three of which linked to StevePavlina.com articles.
This is the second time I’ve been quoted in both of these outlets. I never even spoke to the writers of those articles — they just found StevePavlina.com somehow.
Some friends saw these items before I did and sent me links to them. Their emails suggested they regarded this as a major event or breakthrough for me. One called it a coup. While free PR is always welcome, and I’m certainly grateful for the links from these and any other sources, let’s see what the actual data has to say about it.
So far these two media sources combined have sent about 2,000 extra visitors to StevePavlina.com. In May this site averaged more than 61,000 visitors per day, so that’s roughly a 3% increase in one day’s traffic… or a 0.1% increase for the month. Relatively speaking it’s no big whoop. Writing this blog post will draw significantly more traffic than that.
What about the extra traffic from a mention in offline print publications? It’s essentially nonexistent. Not once have I ever seen a noticeable traffic surge from offline PR, even when my URL is mentioned.
Now let’s compare this with the new media of social bookmarking sites.
In May 2007, StevePavlina.com received:
- 38,117 visitors from Digg.com
- 35,336 visitors from StumbleUpon.com
- 2,883 visitors from del.icio.us
- 785 visitors from Reddit.com
- 817 visitors from PopURLs.com (a social bookmarking aggregator site)
Even the productivity and software blog LifeHacker sent 3,344 visitors to this site in May.
Also in May StevePavlina.com received 3,936 search engine visitors looking for an article about how to cook brown rice.
While there may be a coolness factor to being mentioned in major media outlets — I’ve been quoted in other places like the L.A. Daily News and Self Magazine — the actual data suggests it’s a lot cooler to get Digg’d. Interestingly, my blogger friends will congratulate me when one of my articles gets Digg’d, but my non-blogging friends don’t even know what Digg is. New media has the influence, but they don’t quite have the respect that old media still does. I think that is rapidly changing though.
Keep in mind that as your web site or blog attracts more baseline traffic, even links from popular new media sites won’t create much of a traffic surge. While I welcome and appreciate an extra 78,000 visitors from social bookmarking sites, overall that’s just 4% of one month’s traffic. However, there is a secondary ripple effect from the added exposure, so 5-6% may be a more accurate figure.
Authority vs. Democracy
Overall it’s the combined links and referrals from thousands of different web sites that contribute to building substantial traffic. At least in my case, no single source, not even Google, accounts for a significant part of the whole. Ultimately it all comes down to word of mouth, which is still very decentralized. New media sites help facilitate word of mouth, which puts them in a very powerful position. Old media sites are more authoritarian in their content creation, and consequently, I think their influence is declining, especially with the current generation of 20-somethings.
Even new media sites that don’t involve social bookmarking often give you a shot at participating in the content creation process. You can suggest article ideas or send links to the editors. Most of my own articles are inspired by reader suggestions. While old media has feedback channels as well, the general perception is that they’re still too corporate and aren’t really listening. I don’t think many people genuinely believe that if you suggest a story to the New York Times via their web site that your idea will be forwarded to a writer for consideration within the next few hours. Yet blogs and social bookmarking sites give you that opportunity in abundance.
Social bookmarking has its place, but the downside is that it’s ultimately just a popularity contest, so a lot of strange stuff can get undue attention, there’s little consistency from one article to the next, and there’s a ton of redundancy. You can waste a lot of time browsing such sites and not get much benefit from it. Do you even remember the social bookmarking articles you read last week? Were they actionable?
I think the preferred media of the future will learn to capitalize on the strengths of today’s old and new media by combining great content creation with great listening. It will be neither totally authoritative nor totally democratic but instead will strive for a balance between open feedback channels and intelligent command decisions regarding content. I’ve been moving towards this model myself, using forums for open discussion to better understand the hearts and minds of my readers, but still making my own decisions about what topics to write about. This creates a positive cycle of listening and content creation with a focus on genuine contribution.