Is there a larger meaning behind Gawker’s meteoric rise in web traffic?

Is there a larger meaning behind Gawker’s meteoric rise in web traffic?

Yesterday The Awl published a memo from Gawker Media owner Nick Denton claiming –using Comscore figures — that Gawker Media had surpassed every major newspaper except for the New York Times in terms of web traffic (it seems he didn’t count web-only Huffington Post, though The Awl included it).

“The network as a whole drew 17.8m domestic visitors for the month,” Denton wrote. “Let’s put that in context. How do we stack up, against the established names in online news. Last time we measured ourselves against the traditional newspapers’ online operations, we were fourth. But we’ve overtaken both the Washington Post and USA Today, according to Comscore. And, in this category, we’re behind only the New York Times.”

I wondered after reading this what metrics were being used. Was Comscore simply adding up the unique visitor counts of each individual Gawker Media domain and counting that as the total unique visitors? And if so, was it accounting for cross-pollinated traffic across the different sites under the network? For instance, this Jezebel post was linked to as a headline on Gawker today, so does this mean the unique visitors that followed that Gawker link were counted twice?

I posed this question to Nick Denton via email and he had a characteristically short response: “All separate visitors. There is no double-counting.”

I also wondered if this milestone is somewhat arbitrary. After all, it’s not as if an individual site within the Gawker Media empire had surpassed all these newspapers, but rather it’s the combined traffic of all Gawker sites together. Using these rules, then the Wall Street Journal should also be able to include traffic stats from the New York Post, FoxNews.com, and every other news site owned by News Corp. However, one could argue that each Gawker Media blog is focused on a specific niche that would be covered by a general news source like the New York Times (e.g., Gizmodo covers tech and the NY Times has its own tech section; Kotaku covers video games and the Times likely has its own video game reporter), so therefore it’s only in aggregate that it makes sense to compare Denton’s empire to a single newspaper.

I asked a spokesman for Compete — which tracks web traffic for individual domains — to put these comparisons into a larger context. Was Denton comparing apples to oranges? After first noting the difference in techniques between Comscore and Compete, the spokesman said, “[A] pressing question that this article doesn’t seem to address is why they chose Unique Visitors rather than page views as their metric. For ad supported networks, pageviews are often more important than unique visitors, because it equates a better understanding of the number of eyeballs coming to the site in a given month.”

The Compete spokesman also lent credibility to Denton’s statement that there was no “double counting” of unique visitors in the estimates, saying that Comscore has the ability to organize traffic by “property” rather than just by domains and subdomains.

Of course Denton even acknowledges that within the larger context these site comparisons don’t mean much. “The newspapers are now the least of our competition,” he wrote in the memo. “The inflated expectations of investors and executives may one day explode the Huffington Post. And Yahoo and AOL are in long-term decline. But they are all increasingly in our business. And we have a long way to go before we can surpass them.”

Given that these other media giants are fighting just as much for ad dollars than any other newspaper company, I’m fairly certain that the day Gawker Media gets more visits than AOL and Yahoo, we’ll all be impressed.

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