Once a month, I feature your best comments in a post. We could do that today. We could talk about Michelle Bell’s story on the flight attendant who allegedly injured one of our readers or my tirade against airline codesharing, both of which are approaching the century mark for comments.
But that’s not what you want to talk about. I know what you want to discuss.
This month, it’s not the comments that appeared, but the ones that disappeared that have you in a lather.
Specifically, it’s the barbs aimed at this site’s publisher for having the audacity to break our stories into two or more posts.
Adding insult to injury, when you tried to post complaints about the format change, our moderators deleted them.
Don’t be mad. They were just doing their job of keeping the discussion on topic, in accordance with our published comment policy.
But today is different. I’m writing a post about the comments that we didn’t publish and I’m going to explain why. And yes, you can leave a comment on this story.
First, a little background: As you know, there’s no charge for the stories and advocacy on this site, but we sell display ads in order to cover the costs of hosting, development and IT. A few months ago, we started working with a company that uses machine learning to optimize ad impressions.
During the lean summer months, I was self-funding the site, which means I was paying the development bills from my personal savings. Those of you who know me well also know that I came close to running out of money (I also had some personal issues unrelated to the site that nearly pushed me into the red).
We needed to hit a minimum level of traffic to pay our bills. And that’s where the SEO gurus from our advertising company came in. They took one look at our traffic and told us we had a problem. Plenty of people were coming to the site, but they weren’t staying.
To fix that, they suggested three things: First, install a “related posts” plugin that would suggest other stories to read. Second, split longer posts into multiple pages. I’ll tell you about the third in just a minute.
The first recommendation was easy to implement. But like many of you, I hated the second one. Splitting posts into two seemed like clickbaiting.
Then I looked around the web. I noticed that Yahoo! Finance, which often publishes my syndicated stories, also had adopted the split format. I noticed the many celebrity sites that go way overboard with page-splitting. And as someone who probably consumes way too much news, I also noted that page jumps are a mainstay of almost every newspaper.
Of course, I realize that a page jump forces you to click on another page, and I’m well aware that it allows more ads to be displayed for the benefit of our advertisers — but after doing my due diligence, I was willing to try it.
The result: Traffic is up — way up.
Page views rose 19 percent to 681,270 sessions in November, compared with a year ago. We had a 21 percent increase in the number of users (212,208 vs. 175,996). Most of the traffic growth came in the last week of the month, after we’d made the formatting changes. And for the last two days, our traffic has been pushing the 30,000-daily page view mark.
With this kind of traffic, we’re definitely able to pay our bills.
Let me be clear: I still strongly dislike the page split. If I could, I would have no ads on this site. But we’re dealing with the economic realities of publishing online.
It could be worse. Remember that third option? The SEO gods ordered me to install a plugin that forces you to disable your ad blocking software. Forbes and the Los Angeles Times do that. I flat-out refused to obey the web traffic deities on that command.
All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that I share your multipage rage. I would eliminate it if I could, but I don’t want to go back to the days when I couldn’t afford to pay for hosting. Believe me, this is much better than having no site at all.
Back to your comments. The least helpful ones went something like this: “Does anyone else hate this multipage format? Make it go away!” While I can understand the anger, posting that in a comment is just inviting the rest of the commenting class to pile on. Unnecessary.
Some of you were more diplomatic. You sent me a letter to the editor (very good!) and asked me why we’d made the change. I tried to explain. I was thankful for your more civil approach.
The most useful comments were the ones that suggested ways to make it better. For example, several readers asked us to add a “single page” option, which we did. Unfortunately, our content management system won’t allow us to display the page option at the top of the page — we’ve tried.
So that, my friends, is why we’ve started splitting our pages.
I should note that this isn’t a final decision. We’re going to see how this plays out over several weeks. There’s a chance our November traffic spike is just a fluke and that the multipage layout had nothing to do with it. If that’s the case, I will be the first in line to kill this feature.
I welcome your comments on this issue. Please remember that the stories, company contacts and the advocacy work we do here still costs you nothing to you. I’m determined to keep it that way.
Update (12/3): Great discussion! A quick clarification or two: The page breaks are generated by a plugin, but we can also manually add a page break through a <!–nextpage–> command. We do that on some Q&A stories, where the question goes on one page and the answer goes on the second.
We don’t write stories to a certain length in order to add more breaks. That would be truly evil.
You can bypass the multi-page process any time by adding “?singlepage=1” to the end of the URLs on this site.
The plugins we use are disappointingly unsophisticated. They don’t allow us to avoid the scrolling and they don’t let us place the page options above the post. If you can find a WordPress plugin that allows us to fix that, please let me know.