Post 112: Chasing eyeballs

I’ve been doing some analysis of the sites over the last couple of weeks.

The signs are very encouraging, for reasons I won’t discuss here in case I give away some commercial secrets.

A couple of incidents, however, are worth discussing. One involves a story we carried about a prominent online game, which generated rather a lot of traffic. I subsequently write another story about the same game and had the same result.

On the one hand, this was good as traffic is always welcome. On the other, the topic is tangential. So even though we could get more traffic by covering this subject in depth, it might not be the right traffic!

I mention this incident because, as I trawl the Net, I see a lot of stories that seem designed to generate traffic. Daily newspaper sites, for example, seem to hone in on a couple of celebrities. These folks are not news. Stories about them look out of place on the sites’ front pages, where they sit alongside tales of national affairs.

I suspect, however, these celebrity tales are traffic generators par excellence.

I have personal experience that lends credence to this theory. With my freelance hat on I have been asked to write local versions of stories with proven eyeball-pulling power, on topics like Apple and Linux, when local tech sites do not have the resources to do so themselves. The brief was ‘Can you write this? We need it for Google but do not have the time to write it ourselves.’

For sites whose bread and butter is Linux or Apple, this makes sense.

But the topics that occasionally drive traffic to TechTarget are not our heartland at all.

Which makes me wonder if it is worth chasing eyeballs. On the one hand, analysis of the stories that generates traffic can be seen as a clear indicator that this is what the customers want, making it seem nutty to reject that positive feedback. On the other, there is always the chance that a big spike in traffic comes from one or two well-placed links, rather than your heartland community. So tailoring output to cater to the spike audience could alienate the steady audience.


I also wonder about the value of  chasing popular topics. Sure, I could spend all day looking for more stories on the topics that have given us big spikes, but I worry that doing so would reduce the variety of the sites and also mean I spend time on relatively trivial matters when I could either be exploring new ideas or applying solid journalistic values to other topics.

Whether to chase the top 10% or the middle 50% is, I suspect, a topic I am alone in pondering.


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