We Need New Ways of Judging the Success of Websites

We have such terrible metrics for judging websites! There’s income, and there’s traffic, and that’s about it. But neither of those take into account burn rate, overall expenditure or organization size, just for starters. One way to look at things might be: unique visitors per month, divided by employees. Size of staff is something of a predictor of size of traffic, it turns out! If you have no staff, you cannot make the traffic, for one thing. Obviously there’s a slight variable in this metric—which has to do with number of part-time contributors, freelance and marketing budgets and, of course, certainly at the big behemoth, unpaid contributors. Speaking of, let’s look at the Huffington Post!

The Huffpo has a staff of 203 (among those are 97 full-time editorial staffers), and they’re currently at 26 million monthly uniques (according to their numbers). That’s 128,000 uniques per employee.

The Daily Beast has 65 full-time employees (positively tiny in comparison), and, in November, 6 million uniques, as per Omniture. (comScore reports it as 3.7 million.) The Beast also doesn’t have “free bloggers,” and yet (using their numbers, of course), it still comes up with a pretty good 92,307 uniques per employee.

Slate is now doing 6.48 million uniques (comScore for July to September, as a three-month average). It has but 30 editorial staffers and counting the full team (some of which are shared across the Slate Group), they’re 42 people, coming in at a whopping 154,285 uniques per employee. Slate is also, you know, seven times older than the Beast—and all that time online makes for a nice stream of search results and archive pages.

What other ways can we start looking at what websites are and how they perform? Well, pay rate, sure (though try prying that number out of anyone).

Then there’s traffic versus site income, certainly. Take the HuffPo again—that’s $30 million this year, they say, and they were reporting 26 million uniques via comScore back in March, so let’s just totally ballpark it and say they did 312 million uniques this year. That puts their income at just about 1:10 with readers. Fascinating!

Don’t compare that to print, by the way: the print edition of the New York Times has, very roughly, just a million subscribers. How tiny and quaint, you think? Well, the news division of the Times Co. alone takes in—mostly from the print product—somewhere around $150 million… each month.