Is The Blogosphere Really Much Smaller Than Most People Think?

Regrettably, I have to disagree with Michelle Malkin, one my favorite bloggers who’s particularly in my good graces right now because she actually suggested that her readers chip in to RWN,

“By the way, Hawkins is quitting his job and will be blogging professionally. If you’ve got a little extra dough, please consider sending some his way.”

Michelle has a phenomenal blog and if you like RWN, you’ll probably like Michelle’s blog as well. Make sure to bookmark her….ah, that’s enough talking up Michelle’s blog. Anyone who can get gigs filling in on Hannity & Colmes doesn’t need my help to build her traffic =D

Anyway, Michelle wrote a post called, “How Many Americans Read Political Blogs?,” that basically concluded blogs have a much smaller audience than people think. Here’s the crux of her argument,

“According to the Wall Street Journal, “Some eight million Americans now publish blogs and (4.8) million people read them, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.”

…So how many people read political blogs? Let’s make some back-of-the-envelope estimates. Start with the two biggest blogs:

-According to the Pew survey, 120 million American adults “use the internet.” According to Alexa.com, 245.5 people per million users read Daily Kos on any given day. That implies 29,460 U.S. adult visitors per day, which is surprisingly consistent with the figure (34,000) reported by Comscore Networks for November 1, 2004, here.

-Alexa says 208.5 people per million users visit Instapundit on any given day, which means Insty is visited by 25,020 American adults per day.

Let’s continue, again using Alexa’s reach figures multiplied by 120,000,000 users. Ignoring minors, we get the following results:

Power Line: 19,200 U.S. visitors per day
Little Green Footballs: 17,700 U.S. visitors per day
Talking Points Memo: 16,800 U.S. visitors per day
Wonkette: 15,240 U.S. visitors per day

These figures seem shockingly low when compared to the hit counts based on SiteMeter statistics. The main reason, again, is because SiteMeter is counting visits whereas the above figures refer to visitors. A smaller reason: the SiteMeter figures capture non-U.S. readers and minors whereas the above figures do not.

…If Alexa’s figures are in the right ballpark, the top 100 political blogs, in the aggregate, probably average about 100,000 U.S. adult visitors per day. That’s not small potatoes but it is a far cry from the inflated Pew figures cited by the Wall Street Journal this morning.”

Even though I disagreed with Michelle’s conclusion, I probably would have let it ride on something less important. However…

— I could see this really discouraging smaller bloggers who might think that even the A-list bloggers don’t really have that much traffic, so why bother. Just look at what Fresh Bilge had to say after reading the post,

“Michelle Malkin is probably right (as usual). Weblog readership is still very small. Some bloggers are playing wishful games with half-understood server statistics. The truth is, we put a lot of work into our sites, and we want to believe those big numbers.

— Then there’s the possibility that this might lead to MSM headlines that say something like, “Famous Blogger Michelle Malkin says no one reads blogs.” That wouldn’t be a good thing either.

So, I emailed Michelle and tried to convince her that she was off-base. Unfortunately, I don’t think she bought what I was trying to sell her. So let me try to make my case here.

1) Although Alexa can be quite useful in trying to get a general idea of how popular particular websites are, it is an imperfect tool which uses statistical sampling, not actual counts of traffic. That means stat trackers are ALWAYS superior to Alexa if you’re trying to find out how much traffic a website has.

Put another way, Alexa is like early exit polling numbers while the stat trackers that are on the pages of blogs are more like the actual vote. Which would you trust more?

2) If you’re arguing based on Alexa statistics that the traffic of blogs is enormously inflated, then you are in effect saying that the entire political sphere on the web is much smaller than people think. Let me explain what I mean. After running the numbers using Alexa, Michelle concludes that,

“Power Line has 19,200 U.S. visitors per day.
Little Green Footballs has 17,700 U.S. visitors per day.
Talking Points Memo has 16,800 U.S. visitors per day.
Wonkette has 15,240 U.S. visitors per day.”

However, if you look at The Top 125 Political Websites On The Net Version 5.0, which I compiled using Alexa statistics, you’ll find that,

Powerline pulls more traffic than Sean Hannity.
Little Green Footballs pulls more traffic than Lucianne
Talking Points Memo pulls more traffic than The New Republic
Wonkette pulls more traffic than the The New Yorker.

Personally, I think it’s highly unlikely that influential websites like Lucianne and Sean Hannity’s homepage are only pulling let’s say 15k /16k people a day.

3) Site meter is not the only statistics tracker out there. There are plenty of other trackers that actually measure unique users. Now, is it likely that a few users get counted twice because they switch computers, change IPs, don’t take cookies, etc, etc? Sure, but the stat trackers are not THAT FAR off.

That’s why I believe that Michelle’s estimate of only “200,000 U.S. adult readers” of blogs has to be very low when you take a look at the broader picture.

According to my statistics tracker, Right Wing News is pulling somewhere in the 7000-8000 unique user range M-F. Now keep that in mind and then take a look at the traffic numbers from blogads (which I believe counts impressions made by users that can see java). You’ll find that…

Daily Kos is 32 times RWN’s size.
— Instapundit is 13.6 times RWN’s size.
— Little Green Footballs is 9.25 times RWN’s size.
Eschaton is 8 times RWN’s size.
— Michelle herself is 3.75 times RWN’s size.

Heck, if you just took the unique visitors I get per day and multiplied by 32, you’d get more than 200,000 U.S. adult readers for Daily Kos ALONE.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that blogger influence comes mostly from “The Who,” Not The “How Many.” Furthermore, there’s no doubt that there is a lot of room for blogging to grow. However, we’re not tiny and practically irrelevant any more either. Maybe that was true at one time, but times have changed…

*** Update #1 ***: Charles Johnson, the web savvy owner of Little Green Footballs, has posted on this issue as well.

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