This chart shows a 937 percent increase in traffic to Phoenix New Times blogs between January 2008 and January 2009. Click for larger image. Compete.com
A recent report says that Phoenix-based Village Voice Media, one of the largest alternative weekly newspaper publishers in the nation, has been “gaming” a social media network to boost the number of hits on its various websites.
The report from a Minnesota blog called TheDeets.com took a closer look at reports that CityPages, the local alternative weekly there, saw a startling 700 percent increase in web traffic in about two months. The increase in traffic meant the newspaper was bringing in lots more cash from web advertisers.
Much of that traffic, the report found, came from the popular social network Digg, where users nominate and vote on stories. A story that gets enough votes to land on the font page of Digg can bring thousands of extra eyeballs its way, and therefore more ad revenue. The report basically showed that Village Voice Media employees all over the nation have been collaborating to vote stories onto Digg’s front page.
You can read the lengthy report yourself to get all the details. But it seems to show there’s a fine line between being really good at promoting a news organization through social media and supposedly “gaming” the system.
Take the chart above for instance. It looks at the website of the Phoenix New Times, the flagship of what used to be the New Times alt weekly chain before its owner purchased Village Voice Media. The top line in red shows fairly steady traffic for phoenixnewtimes.com over the past year, while the bottom line in blue shows a huge, 937 percent increase in the number of readers of the Phoenix New Times blogs over the past year.
A search on Digg shows that Phoenix New Times stories and blog posts are regularly posted to the site — and often by the Village Voice Media employees cited by TheDeets.com report. However, what it doesn’t show — and what is clear to any avid reader of the Phoenix alt weekly — is that the publication has launched a heavy effort in the past year to increase the number of blog posts on the site. One of the New Times most-updated blogs, Valley Fever, was launched in March 2008, and commonly sees four or five posts or more each weekday. This is the kind of strategy that tends to bring locals back daily.
In other words, while the Digg links may be artificially boosting the Village Voice web traffic at times, there’s also a lot to be said for the constant updates and work being put into the newspaper’s web strategy. There’s no such thing as a weekly newspaper on the web.