Let’s look at the numbers for last year. A few are black, but most are very, very red.
Why the Big Drop in U.S. Readership?
Many writing sites that post user-contributed content saw the number of unique views drop last year. Associated Content, Helium and Triond all experienced serious drops in U.S. readership. Most writers for these sites blame the new Google Panda algorithm. On the other hand, ExpertsColumn’s U.S. readership grew, and Squidoo bounced back from Panda. Google’s algorithm change does not offer a complete explanation of the change in the market.
Most websites featuring user-generated content lost readership:
Readership of Sites Featuring User-Generated Content, U.S. Data from Compete.com*
UV’s = Unique Visitors, K = Thousands, M = Millions, Range = number for month with most UV’s – number for month with least UV’s
Table 1. Websites exerting less editorial control.
Notes on Tables:
* Data from Compete.com. Many advertisers regard U.S. data as the “gold standard” of web metrics.
**Yahoo announced the replacement of Associated Content with Yahoo!Voices (voices.yahoo.com) in December 2011. Yahoo!Voices had 3.79M unique U.S. visitors in December 2011.
*** The writing on Wikipedia is the subject of a recent satirical anthology, “[Citation Needed]: The best of Wikipedia’s Worst Writing” by Josh Fruhlinger and Conor Lastowka, and this book is very funny.
- The two sites on the list that repost articles, ExpertsColumn and HuffingtonPost, had the largest growth. It’s wrong to generalize from two examples, but reposting may be worth investigating. In fact, reposting good writing may not be a bad idea at all.
- About.com, the website with the most stringent requirements for credentialing writers, was almost flat for the year.
- In terms of the absolute numbers of unique visitors, Associated Content was the biggest loser last year. Even adding the Yahoo!Voices’ December number of unique visitors to Associated Content’s December numbers (999K + 3.79M = 4.79M), the Yahoo! sites lost 8.6 million unique visitors. The drop in unique U.S. viewers is 64.3 percent, which exceeds the percentage drop of every other loser on the list except Suite101.
- The range of the data for every site except ExpertsColumn is larger than the December to December change. Readership numbers at most sites take huge bounces during the year.
- Readership of Google News has been flat since the introduction of the Panda algorithm. Too bad algorithms don’t understand irony.
Could Bad Press about Bad Writing be the Cause of the Drop?
In 2009 and 2010, Google, Inc. was publicly embarrassed by posts criticizing it for putting poorly written articles from Associated Content at the top of Google News searches. For example, Farhad Manjoo described Associated Content as “a wasteland of bad writing” and lamented that the site published articles “bulging with hot search terms” so that “it gets more visitors than just about every news site online….” Scott Rosenberg wrote the critical posts “Google News gets gamed by a crappy content farm” in Salon and “SEO mills: That’s not fast food it’s bot fodder” in Wordyard.
This bad press certainly contributed to Google’s motivation to devise the Panda algorithm that pummeled user-generated content sites. Beyond the effects of the Panda algorithm, the bad press and the experience of reading terrible articles may have made U.S. readers, particularly those who use the Internet as a news source, stay away from Google News and move to reposting sites that screen content, like Huffington Post.
Recommendations for Triond writers:
- Consider reposting articles on ExpertsColumn.
- Check out Squidoo. Some writers have reported bad experiences with Squidoo, but the site deserves investigation, if only because it appears to have done something right.