July a stellar month for The Batavian, but room to grow
July was big for The Batavian -- we signed our 48th sponsor (the goal was 50 by the end of July, so we didn't quite make it, but maybe we'll do better in August (our goal for August is 60 total by the end of the month) -- and more people visited The Batavian more often than ever before.
The final traffic numbers surprised me. Our previous audience record was set in June. It was such a big jump over May that I figured that unless some would-be robbers again miscalculated and picked a bank in Genesee County as an easy mark, July traffic would fall short of June.
Now, you may be thinking, "But Howard, there was that tornado last week -- that had to boost traffic," and it did, but as I watched the numbers come in even before that big news story, I realized July's traffic was getting a lot closer to June's traffic than I anticipated.
Thank you to all the new and established readers who make The Batavian your first choice for local news.
The Batavian is the #1 online news source for Genesee County.
Now, that last sentence surely just made a few people over at our cross-town rival a little red faced. They don't believe it's true. That's fine. They don't have a lot of experience in looking at online audience data. I've been doing it for nearly 15 years, so I'm happy to explain why and how I make that claim.
Our friends over at the Daily News have been running ads at Dwyer Stadium that proclaim thedailynewsonline.com is the area's most visited Web site, and "it's not even close."
Within the past week, the management over at the Daily started running an online ad that implies the same claim and links to a site called Compete.com to demonstrate how much bigger the Daily's online audience is than The Batavian.
Now the most amazing thing about this ad isn't how disingenuous it is (and it's very misleading), it's that it marks the first time that "the paper of record" has made any sort of official acknowledgment that The Batavian even exists.
The problem with leaning on Compete.com is that no online professional believes any longer that its stats are anything close to accurate. It, along with Alexa, are completely discredited. Compete.com is too easy to game. All you need to do to boost your traffic numbers is get your IT guy to install the Compete toolbar on every employee's machine and wham, your traffic numbers jump.
At this point, I have no interest in Compete as a source of audience information, so I wouldn't even have looked at the site yesterday except that the Daily linked to a page comparing its site traffic to The Batavian's.
Compete.com pegs the total number of people who visited The Batavian at 18,000 (and says it declined over the past month). That's just plain, flat-out wrong. Worse yet, the folks at the Daily know it's wrong.
A newer third-party measurement service is Quantcast. It will measure traffic for any site that signs up for the service, and the traffic data of member sites is publicly available. Both The Batavian and the Daily are measured by Quantcast (which is how I know that the Daily folks have some clue Compete's numbers are way off base -- they also watch the Quantcast numbers). Again, Quantcast under reports our traffic (the latest Quantcast number is 25,000 people visiting the site over the past 30 days, which is an under count by about 11,000 people), but the site does provide the folks at the Daily some indication that Compete.com isn't a trusted source of audience data.
Here at The Batavian, we pay close attention to our audience numbers as measured by Google Analytics, an industry leader and one that many of my peers in the profession trust (FWIW, I've served on the Newspaper Association of America's Audience Development Committee and have acted as an adviser to a major audience research company). According to GA, more than 36,000 people visited The Batavian in July, and nearly 35,000 visited in June.
Now, I'm not sure if the Daily uses GA. I do know they measure their own traffic with an application called MerlinStats. MerlinStats, which the Daily cited in a print ad it ran recently bragging on its online traffic, is a product of Town News, a company owned by the newspaper conglomerate Lee Enterprises, based in Iowa. Town News provides the Daily with its online content-managment system (the software that powers its Web site). Town News also provides the Daily with something called a SWAT team, which is a service whereby Town News sends high-pressure sales reps into a local market to sell as many ads as possible in a one- or two-week period. The conflict of interest should be obvious: The same company that provides the Daily with the stats that it uses to sell its ads also makes money off those same ad sales. It must show strong traffic numbers in order to justify the expense of the Daily's content-management system.
All that said, I won't dispute that the Daily, overall, gets more people visiting its site than The Batavian. Quantcast tells me as much, and even as it undercounts The Batavian's traffic, it surely undercount's the Daily's traffic by some equal proportion.
So, when the Daily folks say "the area's most visited Web site," in a sense they're not lying.
Of course, the Daily defines "area" as Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties. Here at The Batavian, we only care about Genesee County. Of course, we draw traffic from the other counties, especially Orleans, but we've never promoted the site outside of Genesee County. The Daily has a promotional vehicle known as a print newspaper that drops into the other two counties on an almost daily basis, so of course their overall traffic is going to be larger than The Batavian's (at least for now).
What really matters from our perspective is Genesee County.
There is no 100-percent reliable method to compare traffic from just Genesee County between The Batavian and the Daily's site, but Quantcast gives us a clue.
Before I give you the numbers, a little perspective: First, we've already discussed, Quantcast is under reporting traffic for both the Daily and The Batavian. Second, Quantcast can only measure geographic traffic based on where an ISP reports a computer is located. I suspect that a lot of what gets reported as Rochester traffic for The Batavian is really Time-Warner customers living in Batavia, because TW has a tendency to identify many of its accounts as Rochester residents.
Any flaws in Quantcast's data are going to be shared, on a statistical basis, by both The Batavian and the Daily equally. In other words, it's an apples-to-apples comparison.
So, when you look at Quantcast's geographic report and total up the numbers for the two sites, Quantcast reports The Batavian had 8,616 Genesee County visitors (meaning individual computers tracked by a GC-based IP address) versus 8,331 for the dailynewsonline.com. (Report compiled Aug. 2, 2009.) (Note also, that both sites most likely draw a significant portion of its local traffic from people living in GC, but working in Rochester and Buffalo, and only checking either site during the day while at work -- we're confident that The Batavian's local traffic is at least in the 15,000 people range per month, and the Daily's GC traffic is within the same range).
What the Quantcase comparison shows is that it's conceivable to concludeThe Batavian clearly has a larger local audience than the Daily's site, but at worst, it's a statistical dead heat, so for the Daily to claim "it's not even close," or to throw up ads on its own site implying it's the #1 as a local online news source is clearly misleading.
We feel quite justified in claiming the Genesee County #1 online crown, especially when you also factor in the greater frequency of return visitors to The Batavian as compared to the Daily (as measured by Quantcast).
And looking at the Quantcast charts below, the day may soon arrive when, based on the trends, The Batavian's numbers not only beat the Daily's Genesee County numbers, but its three-county coverage as well.
You'll note that one site's trends are tilting down while the other is tilting upward.
The bottom graph shows dramatically that when the Daily proclaims at Dwyer, "the area's most visited Web site, and it's not even close," the "newspaper of record" isn't making a credible, honest statement. The statement "it's not even close" has never been true and now, arguably, the "most visited" claim is also false.
One other thing advertisers should consider when comparing The Batavian's online audience with the Daily's: On The Batavian, your ad can potentially be seen by every site visitor. On the Daily, all ad positions are shared by multiple businesses, so advertisers compete against as many as nine other banner ads for display time. That means potentially up to 90 percent of visitors to the Daily's site will have no chance to see your ad. Or to put it another way, if 45,000 people visited the Daily's site in the past month, only 4,500 had an opportunity to see your ad. But on The Batavian, potentially 36,000 people could have seen it. So on a charge-per-person basis, ads on The Batavian cost much, much less (based on what I've seen of the Daily's rate card and have been told they charge).
I hope this doesn't come across as bashing the Daily. I respect the people who work there, especially the many fine newsroom people I've met. But when management spreads misinformation about online traffic -- for the good of The Batavian in this highly competitive situation --I think I need to set the record straight. I just can't let the Daily go around promoting misinformation about my business and remain silent.
For full disclosure, below is what GA reports as The Batavian's key statistics for the past three months.
Glossary: Unique visitor is a single person (really a single computer) visiting once or multiple times in the measured period; Visits is all the times all the people came to the site in the measured people (one person might come once and another seven times and together they would account for eight visits); Page views is the number of times a Web page is downloaded into a Web browser. A single person on a single visit might account for two or three or four page views (the Daily averages many more page views than The Batavian because of significant differences in how content is displayed on the site and critical navigation differences).
- Unique visitors: 25,553
- Visitors: 82,485
- Page views: 199,046
- Unique visitors: 34,800
- Visitors: 114,519
- Page views: 277,524
- Unique visitors: 36,207
- Visitors: 121,394
- Page views: 284,615
Of course, you can do much to help our numbers grow -- e-mail stories to friends, tell all your friends and family about the site, put a bumper sticker on your car, spread the word through your church or civic group newsletter, ask me to speak to your local group, etc.