Election season is high season for Politico. It covers the polls, the speeches, the analysis, the media coverage, the everything.
Big traffic commonly results — except last month. On the very brink of the 2014 midterm elections, the number of unique visitors to Politico declined from nearly 8 million in August to 5.2 million in September, according to the analytics outfit ComScore. The culprit for the dropoff was mobile uniques, which fell from nearly 4.8 million to 1.6 million.
What about this, Politico? The site’s managers declined to provide an on-the-record explanation.
There are reasons to refrain from panicking. For one, the summer months — which featured the Israel-Hamas conflict and Ferguson — saw a traffic bubble of sorts that was prone to bursting. Another consideration is the underwhelming-ness of the midterm elections. Whereas the public’s interest in previous midterm election cycles (2006 and 2010) has increased as Election Day neared, the very opposite is now taking place, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Between June and October of this year, interest dropped from 51 percent to 50 percent. Not good for traffic.
One Politico source contacted about traffic strategy cited a general sense that “we’re kind of a post-traffic publication.” That is to say, the site gets income not only from online advertising (around 40 percent) but also from print (about 20 percent), the subscription service Politico Pro (in the 30 percent range) and from events. “Our revenue stream is diversified enough that there’s not really a huge emphasis on traffic that filters down to the reporter level. Politico almost never gives reporters their traffic numbers or emphasizes that getting clicks is important, and the focus is definitely on doing good work,” notes the source.
Another unnamed source at the publication — hey, you try getting these folks to go on record! — indicates that the metrics that draw the most attention among managers are “traffic from influentials, newsletter sign-ups and open rates, subscriber numbers and usage frequency and the social sharing of our best work among elite readers.” Politico, e-mails this source, does not and will not sell “mass reach and believe its simply a deal [with] the devil not worth making.”
Susan Glasser, the site’s rising editor and departing editor of Politico Magazine, didn’t respond to inquiries about Politico and its web audience. A source familiar with internal workings tells the Erik Wemple Blog that Glasser views traffic numbers as “supremely important.”
The chart at top, despite showing a plummet at the end of Politico’s trend line, carries some comforting news for the Rosslyn-based outfit: It is Fox-Newsing* Capitol Hill competitors like The Hill and National Journal. On the downside, Politico’s line crossed with Vox.com in the wrong direction during the very month that it pronounced Vox a flop.
*v. trans., to exceed traditional competitors or rivals in audience measures by impressive multiples.