At the News Rewired conference this morning, Twitter got a lot of attention. Journalism.co.uk, who organised the event, were keen to push the #newsrw hashtag. And, naturally, during the Building Online Buzz session, Twitter emerged as one of the better mechanisms for driving traffic to a website. But another, supposedly dying technology turned out to be as important, if not more so: email.
No-one sings the praises of email much. It’s full of spam and over-CCed messages to let you know that a blue Ford Focus is clogging up the CEO’s parking space or that Kate in marketing has a pile of buns to celebrate her birthday. Yet, even for sites and campaigns that you’d expect to be flash-mobbed by a tweet from the likes of Stephen Fry, email is still one of the big sources of traffic for email.
For all the work that people put into search-engine optimisation, the search engines turn out to be pretty poor drivers of web traffic compared with the other means. It’s folks recommending stuff to other folks that drives the traffic.
“Not many people search for our website. It’s mainly people who were directed to it,” Mike Harris, public affairs manager of the Libel Reform Campaign.
Vikki Chowney, editor of Reputation Online, said: “Thirty to thirty-five per cent of our traffic comes from Twitter.”
But another third comes from email - mainly from the newsletters that the site sends out. “Our email newsletters are phenomenally popular and we still get a tremendous amount of traffic from them,” she said.
“The king will continue to be email,” said Tony Curzon-Price, editor-in-chief of Open Democracy. Although the traffic drivers are still changing - Curzon-Price went through a potted history of web traffic generators from listservs through to Facebook - he pointed out that some communities are still very focused on supposedly old-hat things such as web-based bulletin boards and forums.
In his afternoon keynote, Marc Reeves, editor of the Business Desk West Midlands, said: “Eighty per cent of our web traffic is driven in the hour-and-a-half after the email is sent, so we know it works.”
“Because we are not playing the SEO game, the headlines are really important. It’s the headline that drives the traffic through. We are not bothered with SEO juicing because the minority of our readers come from the search engines,” said Reeves.
If the Web 2.0 stuff worked for the site, Reeves would use them more, although it does have a Twitter feed and the other things you would expect. But, he emphasises: “Our readers are not Web 2.0-enabled so why force them down that path?”