Scandal-Driven Web Traffic Offers Lessons for DMers

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There are lessons for direct marketers in news-related traffic surges on the Internet, say Web marketing experts.

"The Internet is event-driven. When there's a newsworthy event, that's a call to action," Larry Chase, author of the book "Essential Business Tactics for the Net," said. "I don't think people sit in their easy chairs and think, 'I've got to surf the Web right now,' but if there's an event that drives them to action, that's the directness of the Web."

During the two days after the release of Kenneth Starr's report on President Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, regional and national news sites saw a 95 percent increase in traffic over the preceding week to 6.35 million unique visitors, according to RelevantKnowledge, an Atlanta-based company that tracks Web usage. Fifty-one percent of the traffic, or 3.6 million visitors, viewed some portion of Starr's report.

The scandal-driven traffic spikes were the highest yet for both news and government sites, though most Web surfers accessed the Starr report on news and portal sites as government sites faltered under the unprecedented load, RelevantKnowledge said. In comparison, normal traffic is 2.48 million visits (Aug. 10-11); Clinton's confession of a relationship with Lewinsky, 3.54 million (Aug. 17-18); the Sudan-Afghanistan bombings, 4.36 million (Aug. 19-20).

The lesson for direct marketers: "Take the learning that the Web is event- or attraction-driven and weave it into the marketing program for your Web site," Chase said. "Have events that force people to action sooner than otherwise."

"The frenzy to see the Starr report is like nothing we've ever seen before," said Jeff Levy, CEO of RelevantKnowledge.

Ten times more Web users read the Starr report online than Clinton's rebuttal, according to RelevantKnowledge. As for demographics, 35- to-49-year-old men and 18- to-34-year-old women accounted for the largest percentage of people accessing the Starr report.

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