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USA Today Make Over a Success?

It’s been over a month since USA Today launched their new social-network-influenced redesign. The initial response was extremely negative; within a few days there were hundreds of comments on the announcement story, and over 90% were negative.

Today, MediaPost reports that USA Today’s online registrations are up 380% since the makeover. (It doesn’t mention how much of the 308% increase was created by visitors who registered for the sole purpose of complaining about the redesign.) Also up is their unique visitors (increased 21% since February, according to Nielsen//NetRatings). Last month they had 40,000 comments on the site.

So is USA Today’s social make over a success? If those numbers were our only indicators, I’d say yes.

However, there are a few other sources we can look at. Alexa, while far from a perfect measure, shows a downward trend over the last year, which the redesign did little to forestall. Other news sites, like CNN and MSNBC, show a similar decline over the same period.

I’d judge that while increased registrations, unique visitors and comments are one measure of success, if USA Today was hoping to reverse their diminishing popularity, they didn’t succeed there.

  • http://www.searchmarketingstandard.com Andrey Milyan

    Jordan,

    Don’t forget that we are not talking about Search Engine Land or Marketing Pilgrim here. They are much more than a website.

    Why are you assuming that their diminishing popularity can be reversed with a site redesign? Maybe they have terrible reporters, biased coverage, etc. And if others like CNN and MSNBC have the same problem, maybe it is just the diminishing popularity of big brand media in general.

    So if we don’t assume that USA Today has redesigned the site to improve its overall fortunes than we can safely say the new design brought improved participation online, and therefore is a success.

  • Jordan McCollum

    I didn’t say their diminishing popularity could be reversed with a site redesign; I’m saying that if it was their goal, it didn’t work. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that they were hoping to improve their fortunes with a redesign, however.

    I don’t think that major news sites are suffering a decline because they all employ terrible reporters (but I do think they’re biased). I think it’s probably an indicator of a slow paradigm shift.

    But I don’t think that USA Today redesigned their site to improve the world or increase participation out of the goodness of their hearts. You’re right that USA Today is more than just a website—they’re a business. The bottom line is money whether that’s through selling offline subscriptions or online subscriptions (which are often rated based on traffic coming to the site).

    The effort might be a success to us in that it’s gotten people who might not normally participate online to do so, but if it’s not really profiting USA Today, it won’t last very long.

  • rick gregory

    Jordan,

    That depends if traffic is the measure of success for them. Certainly an upward trend is better than the opposite, but increased traffic is only one way to increase revenues. Increasing the number of visitors who click on a CPC ad will also accomplish this goal even if traffic remains flat. Of course if they’re reliant on CPM ads, pageviews will matter more, but there again increased engagement might help if the pageviews/per vistor number rises.

    Oh, and can I ask a favor? Stop using Alexa. Please. Yes, I get that you disclaimed it, but saying “This is crappy inaccurate data… but I’m going to draw conclusions from it” is just inconsistent. Your point might be good – or Alexa could be drastically wrong and we’re discussing a phenomenon that isn’t real. Given Alexa’s known bias due to how they gather data you simply can’t use them to talk about general population behavior. Stating that you realize this.. but then proceeding to do so anyway just undermines the point.

  • Jordan McCollum

    And use what, instead? Compete’s data is only current through February, before they premiered the redesign. (However, Compete also shows a gradual downward trend since about May 2006.)

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Using Alexa data is fine if you simply look at the trend for that site. You can’t accurately use Alexa data to compare non-tech sites with tech sites, but you can use it to gauge the overall growth (or decline) of a site.

  • rick gregory

    Hmmm… OK, I do see your point. I still worry about the change over time in the attitudes of the Alexa (or Compete) users… if they shift away from mainstream media over time those sites will show a decline in traffic… but if the Alexa users are too far from the mean then that decline would not be accurate. I don’t know that that is what we’re seeing here, but it’s a concern. Sadly I don’t have a solution.

    Oh and I looked at Compete… yes they show the same trend – but note that they also show a significant spike in engagement for the last month that they track.

    Finally, I would not expect a redesign to affect unique visitors. Pageviews per visitor hopefully, but I wouldn’t expect a design change to bring in new people. Drive away old ones perhaps…

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