This just in: media moguls like to lie about traffic.
Earlier today, Gawker writer Adam Weinstein criticized Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson for changing an article about BuzzFeed’s surging traffic to reflect the positive affects of their heavy-duty journalism investments, as opposed to their extensive advertorial relationship with Facebook.
Gawker CEO Nick Denton responded with his own claim in the comments section, noting, “Not that there’s anything wrong with BuzzFeed buying traffic on Facebook, but we don’t. Slow and steady.”
‘Slow and steady’ may be accurate enough by the Internet’s standards, as Denton has been publishing Gawker for over 10 years. However, the main driver of Gawker’s traffic growth in recent years– viral mastermind Neetzan Zimmerman — recently left for a news startup, and with no heir apparent to fill Zimmerman’s 30 million unique views/month, Gawker will continue to ride backseat to BuzzFeed, Upworthy and other hypersocial media phenomena for the foreseeable future.
Also, Denton was lying; Gawker does ‘buy traffic’ from Facebook. Writing in the comments section, Gawker ad executive James Del noted, “For posts that are published on the Studio@Gawker Kinja or individual brand Kinjas, we do occasionally utilize Facebook and Twitter ads to reach a wider audience for stories that are organically performing well. The company we use to buy those ads is a company called Simple Reach, which was actually started by some guys who were tangentially involved with Buzzfeed’s early traffic experiments.”
So there you have it: Gawker is working with some former BuzzFeed, uh, ‘tangential’ associates to boost their ad traffic. And anyway, as Valleywag writer Sam Biddle notes, the phrase ‘buying traffic’ is just a journalist’s scathing label for ‘advertising.’
Later in the comments, Denton owned up to the Facebook purchases, noting that only 20,000 page views in the past two months — or 0.003% — has come from social media ads. He also asserted that BuzzFeed ‘buys significant amounts of their traffic, and Gawker doesn’t.’
As I wrote yesterday, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti also downplays the utility of Facebook advertising for the site’s overall traffic, claiming that advertorials drive less than 5% of total viewers. Peretti, clearly, does not think that 7 million+ viewers/month is significant.
So are Peretti and Denton both delusional?
No, and they probably are not lying about the numbers (at least not directly). The more interesting question is, how else are new-media moguls ‘buying’ traffic?
Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures has previously written about the ‘underbelly of online marketing,’ and how even the most mainstream of media companies have intelligently hacked their way to growth. Not to say that Gawker and BuzzFeed don’t publish legitimately high-quality content, but Denton’s purported love for ‘the greater good, truth through conversation’ will never, ever come before his love for the greater traffic numbers.
That, in fact, is why Denton’s a great publisher: A journalist’s love of reporting combined with a businessman’s shrewdness for data. Just don’t ever hold onto anything he promises — a mogul’s words, like his power, are a smooth surface.