Saturday, October 25, 2008

Websites Benefiting from Election

Not surprising, but in case you needed the numbers:

Post-Partisan Reflection

While a drop-off is expected, many publishers say this period of intense interest has accelerated a shift in the way people receive news and has likely converted many to online–news junkie status for good.

Oct 20, 2008

-By Mike Shields


The saw its user base soar a whopping 457 percent

The saga of Hillary, Obama, Palin and McCain has been a boon to news and political Web sites, which have seen audience numbers balloon as the 2008 presidential election has unfolded. What happens after America’s favorite obsession is satisfied on Nov. 4?

While a drop-off is expected, many publishers say this period of intense interest has accelerated a shift in the way people receive news and has likely converted many to online–news junkie status for good. Still, some are taking steps to stave off a decline in traffic.

Since last September, has added over 13 million unique users, pushing the site to 43.2 million total users, per Nielsen Online. Rivals Yahoo News (up nearly 5.7 million uniques to 38 million) and CNN (up 6.4 million users to 37 million) also have enjoyed robust growth. Even former also-rans have made tremendous strides—among them, (up 8 million uniques to 17.2 million) and (with 14.9 million users, nearly double compared to a year ago).

Growth is even more exponential for pure political sites. The left-leaning saw its user base soar a whopping 457 percent to 7.5 million uniques. Similarly, junkie-aimed sites Politico and Real Clear Politics enjoyed massive growth, albeit off considerably smaller bases.

But are all these players looking down the barrel of serious hangover in 2009? Not necessarily. “You will probably see some drop-off in the category,” said Charlie Tillinghast, president of “But it should stay at a much higher level.” Added Mitch Gelman senior vp, senior executive producer of “Traditionally our growth has been a pattern of stair steps. This has been an absolutely exceptional year.”

Publishers across the board say that while they’re attracting many newbies in this closely followed election, few are “light users”—the kind that might come on board during events such as natural disasters.

“I’m not all that concerned about post-election,” said Jeremy Steinberg, vp, digital sales and business development at, adding that engagement metrics like visits per user, pages per user and average time spent were all up this year. “People that are coming in and finding us are staying. If we had seen a drop-off in engagement, I might be concerned.”

Given the stories this election cycle has produced, which have kept consumers rapt, many predict users simply won’t be able to walk away. “Because this campaign has had such captivating characters, I don’t think [drop-off] will be huge,” said Jim VandeHei, Politico’s co-founder and executive editor. “People are realizing that Washington is central to their lives.”

The pure political content sites may be somewhat more vulnerable to traffic dips, yet most expect to net out with more base users. “Every election (since 2000) we’ve had higher highs and higher lows,” said John McIntyre president of

Of course, there’s the shaky economy that will surely interest Web readers well into ’09.
“Things will not be miraculously getting better all of a sudden,” said Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post.

And users might be compelled to watch the markets as much as they’ve watched the White House race. “The world has turned a lot more serious.” Said Tillinghast. “What you don’t know might hurt you.”

Still, The Huffington Post has started preparing for post-election life, adding multiple vertical channels like Living and Green over the past several years. Those now account for half of the site’s traffic. Huffington cited a recent nonpolitics blog posting by actor Ryan Reynolds which was linked to by popular gossip Perez Hilton. According to Huffington, 72 percent of users who linked to that posting didn’t come back, but the rest did. “Those [types of things] bring users who don’t particularly care about politics,” she said. “That’s how you build audience.”

Maintaining audience traffic will be the task going forward. To that end, recently unveiled theForum, where users can create profiles, link to Facebook friends and debate current events. The site is also likely to look to replicate its success with was designed to more seamless blend text, photos and videos in a clean, highly integrated interface—on other channels. Plus, Gelber promises major coverage of the upcoming 2010 census. plans to add more community features, and will expand usage of its recently launched daily live video series The Strategy Room beyond election coverage. “We saw an opportunity there that none of our competitors have taken advantage of,” said Steinberg.

Meanwhile, plans to repurpose many of its nifty election-coverage tools—such as allowing users to jump to a specific spot in debate video coverage using keywords—for use in nonpolitical news stories.

For its part, Yahoo News has begun to roll out a more user-friendly redesign. But Scott Moore, Yahoo’s senior vp, head of U.S. Audience, said that the move is more about capitalizing on what he predicts will be a prolonged surge in news interest. “We are in the midst of a very powerful news cycle…there is a real sea change going on here.”

Huffington is equally confident that news will remain popular, particularly if the election nets out a certain way. “We are not looking at that (a traffic drop off) at all,” she said. “If Obama wins, it will generate a tremendous amount of excitement, particularly among young people. If he doesn’t, we don’t know.”

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