The Verge’s Dramatic Redesign Boosts Loyalty Even as Readership Dwindles

The publisher, like much of the industry, has seen traffic steadily decline

When The Verge launched its redesigned website last September, editor-in-chief Nilay Patel admitted that the effort was motivated, in part, by a desire to capture readership from Twitter users fleeing the platform.

One year later, the Twitter prediction has proven prescient, and thanks to new site features and ad products, people are coming back to The Verge more often.  

From January to September, The Verge saw its readership increase 15%, according to Patel. In the same timeframe, its loyal user base, which it defines as a reader who visits the site at least five times per month, increased 62%. (Twitter, now X, has lost 13% of its daily active users since Elon Musk bought the platform in October 2022, per Apptopia).

“Our total user base is growing, but specifically, the user base is shifting to loyal readers,” said Helen Havlak, the publisher of The Verge. “So, the site is doing a great job of converting fly-by readers into loyal readers.”

Despite these increases, in the months following the September 2022 redesign, The Verge saw year-over-year traffic decrease every month except for June 2023, according to Comscore. From September 2021 to August 2022, the publisher averaged 17.3 million visitors per month, per Comscore. From September 2022, when the redesign occurred, to August 2023, the site averaged 11 million monthly visitors.

The technology publisher is not alone in this drop-off; website traffic has been down across the industry, the result of fewer social and search referrals, among other factors. And even the most meticulous redesigns can result in short-term declines in traffic of between 10% and 15%, according to web design consultant Deborah Carver, founder of The Content Technologist.

Loyalty over fly-by scale

According to Havlak, the drop in overall traffic—or algorithmic audiences—is a less meaningful metric than loyal users. She also expects total traffic in Q4 to outpace total traffic from the same time period last year.

Some, like The Verge, will have an easier time focusing on loyalty over a fly-by scale. Its homepage is consistently the highest-trafficked single page across the entire Vox Media portfolio, according to Patel, and its strong brand identity and 11-year lifespan have helped it cultivate a devoted audience. 

“We have to make something that inspires people to pay us directly,” Patel said. “We have gotten drunk on cheap algorithmic traffic for too long, and all of those pipes are about to get flooded by bargain-bin content.”

Stickier site features boost loyalty

The Verge redesigned its website to resemble Twitter because social platforms have historically done a better job than publishers in building products that people come back to, said Patel.

To channel the spirit of a social interface, The Verge introduced its news feed feature. It also unveiled Storystream, a hybrid product that combines live blog and article formats to cover events that unfold over days or weeks, such as a trial. On average, readers spend four minutes longer on these “slow blogs” than traditional articles, said Havlak.

The new interface also led to an uptick in the clickthrough rate for content on the homepage, which has risen 25% on desktop and 48% on mobile, according to Havlak. 

Comments, too, which the new site has made more prominent, have increased in volume—total comments are up 90%, while comment rate is up 248%. The Verge views commenting as a proxy for engagement, although Carver is reluctant to do so.

Early success from more native ads

The facelift has also opened up opportunities for new ad products, according to Patel, though the publisher declined to provide specific revenue figures or performance metrics.

One, called Quick Posts, acts as a native ad that the publisher can use to promote in-house products like newsletters or product review guides.

In September, the publisher unveiled a proprietary ad product that appears in the news feed. The seamless fit and familiar user experience of the feature aims to increase ad performance, although the publisher said it was too soon to share success metrics.

The news feed product also uses the same dimensions as social creative, which could make it an easier buy for advertisers, said Paul DeJarnatt, vp and head of digital at Novus Media. 

“A redesign on its own doesn’t convince me to buy media from a website. We make decisions based on data,” DeJarnatt said. “But if the redesign encourages the reader to engage more with ads, then maybe.”

This article has ben updated to include traffic numbers.

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