Blog traffic and a question for online media

How should sites like CNET attract and retain visitors?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read
Top 10 Feeder Sites for The Open Road

I was looking through the visitor traffic to The Open Road this afternoon, interested to see from which sources most of the traffic derives. It turns out that CNET is the first and second most important source of traffic for my blog.

This may not be a good thing.

On the one hand, it means that CNET is delivering additional content to its existing customers, keeping them with the brand. I don't have access to CNET's data but I'd hope it means that people stay on CNET's site longer and therefore end up "spending" more advertising clicks with CNET.

But on the other hand, could it also mean that rather than creating net new customers it's simply cycling its existing customer base, pushing readers around to different pages within its content network but not necessarily generating additional page views. If true, it's a phenomenon that must be common to all websites: keeping customers is easier than finding new ones.

CNET.com Delivers Traffic

So how does a media site generate net new customers? Search-engine optimization (only 10 percent of The Open Road's visitors find the blog through search engines). News aggregators (It's a pain to administer, but Digg, Slashdot, etc. can generate significant traffic). Etc. CNET is probably better than most in these areas but reviewing data for this blog made me realize just how much work it is to be seen by new "eyeballs."

Frankly, I'd love to easily know which blogs/etc. my friends and colleagues are reading without having to wade through the noise of Facebook (which has a feature that allows for promotion of articles and such). If there were a way to see that in my RSS reader, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

That's the problem of finding new customers. But how should media sites keep them? Only 28 percent of the visitors to The Open Road are repeat offenders. That means that 72 percent of the people shuffling through only come once. What would it take to get them to return? To subscribe via an RSS feed? Undoubtedly some were caught by a headline and then figured out the blog's content wasn't a good fit for them upon closer inspection. (Heck, you all probably feel this way. :-)

But how do media sites make content sticky so that a casual passerby might decide to invest more time in a repeat visit? CNET, perhaps, should be putting links to other blog posts and articles (mine and those from others) to the side of this blog so that people stay with the site even if they don't find the blog useful. Perhaps this would be enough to generate a positive experience worth repeating.

That said, a media site's goals and those of its authors might not always be the same. There are roughly 8,500 people who read this blog somewhat religiously (meaning, they return regularly to the site to read posts). This is nice but for me, personally, this blog is a success if a core group of 100 or so influencers in the open-source world read on a regular basis. That's my metric.

But for CNET, it must measure a blog's success on absolute page views and/or click-throughs because this is how it makes money. There must be more efficient ways for CNET to attract and retain new visitors to The Open Road and hence to CNET.com. But how? This, to me, is the big question looming over online and print media.

How do you generate loyalty when media is "disposable"? Making the question doubly difficult, even if you can generate loyalty, what do you do when loyalty becomes "cheap" through ad-blocking?

I'm glad I'm in open source. It's much easier than this media gig. :-)