Full disclosure: I was a contributor at Gawker in 2009.
How has Gawker’s major redesign altered their traffic? It all depends who you ask and what measurement service you decide to use. They all seem to paint a slightly different picture and everyone you speak to will give you a different explanation for why it is so. Gawker had been using the measurement service, Sitemeter, that they proudly displayed prior to the redesign, and still exists on Gawker’s UK site in the old reverse chronological format they tossed away.
The new format launched on February 10th, and you can see the massive drop off on that very date. Gawker’s editor-in-chief Remy Stern claimed the Sitemeter was not working anymore. The new format of the site was created in such a way that the measurement could not be accurately detected by that type of tool. So let’s toss out the Sitemeter entirely since it seems incapable of giving us a true look at Gawker’s traffic.
Instead, we’ll look at Quantcast, which shows a steady decline in pageviews for Gawker since the end of January. Additionally, unique visitors fell off a cliff shortly after February 7th and have struggled to reach their previous levels ever since.
The way the site is designed now, without getting too technical, does not make it easy to be crawled by search engines. This is a pretty serious oversight by Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, who had been beta testing this design for quite some time. Gawker had to deal with a massive security breach just before the launch, where hackers had wide ranging access to user account data, internal chat logs and the source code for the current redesign.
Stern posted a screen shot of Gawker’s internal Google Analytics to counter what others were saying about Gawker’s drop in traffic, but the numbers he posted are prior to the redesign. Denton even publicly (he habitually “leaks” his company memos) acknowledged that the new design has caused traffic from Google to drop “significantly”.
Denton seems to be pretty sure of himself in thinking that the future of the web is not in blogs but in the magazine design he’s now embracing; a design more suited for an iPad or even a television. Most times when everyone has doubted Denton, like when he reorganized his network by selling off some sites and folding together others to prepare for a bad economy which he correctly predicted would hit the Internet ad marketplace hard, standing by what he believes has paid off.
His sites have grown more profitable and increased their audience since that time. Oddly enough, the editor during the period who followed Gabriel Snyder and helped grow Gawker from the New York City inside-baseball media rage of the creative underclass to the national tabloid it is today was essentially pushed out to make room for the current EIC, Remy Stern, and his site CityFile, which has yet to be fully integrated into the Gawker network. Chris Batty, head of sales at Gawker left the company after an unresolvable disagreement with Denton over the new direction the redesign was taking the network towards.
Denton said regarding the redesign: “We got ahead of ourselves — and now we’re rowing back.”
The question is, will it be too late for Gawker to row back after losing roughly 50% of their audience in the process, and more importantly, was it all worth it? Denton has proved everyone wrong before, with the odds stacked against him, and he’s going to try to do it once again.