Audience vs Traffic

One of things you rarely hear spoken about in internet business is traffic. I don’t mean traffic numbers—those are everywhere. I mean traffic itself. What it is, what it means, what constitutes value, etc. You don’t see blog posts talking about how page views can be (and very much are) gamed to create the appearance of more page views. Or, that one million uniques means little if the length of time visitors are on the site (aka, session time) is less than one minute without their returning back to visit. That’s like a million people driving by McDonald’s but never actually going into the restaurant. I won’t even get started on flawed analytics services. Unfortunately, the market as a whole hasn’t evolved to where it’s begun to notice things like this. Blogs and media still cite flawed analytics sources in articles, and few ever reference important stats like session times and repeat visitors. That says a lot about the place the market is in.

Advertisers, media/blogs and investors still put ridiculous demands and expectations on sites to have fast, high traffic numbers. Nevermind that it took Twitter three years to become Twitter as we know it—in most minds, all sites should be at MySpace and Facebook levels or they’re not worth looking at. It’s driven a lot of web companies to put an intense focus on generating traffic, with very little effort on creating audience or a truly meaningful product. I can cite at least a half dozen or more real world examples. Nevermind that categories online will perform differently, with different numbers. In the minds of web 2.0, Cat Fancy should have the identical size in audience as Time Magazine. It doesn’t matter if only 50k people love cats enough to subscribe to an outlet dedicated to cats. In the eyes of the internet world, millions should.

But what a lot of companies are secretly finding out is that traffic does not mean there is an audience, at that at the end of the day, the audience is where the value is. Boasting giant page views and unique visitors means very little when those you are driving to the site are not sticking around, using it or returning. I know of at least four that have come to 9 with the problem. Some have come unaware of what would motivate an audience to visit them or how to make them stay and return. Newspapers are dying because they did not put enough real time into truly developing audiences for their sites. Guess who is next.
Patricia Handschiegel

Good for you, Patricia. Right on. One of my goals is to build audience. I don’t give a crap about pageviews. They’re a meaningless measure. Audience will come from Facebook, comments, Twitter, Qik, Viddler, YouTube and other social media services.