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Year in Review: Popular Online Articles

What Everyone Was Reading in 2011 on Independent.com

When we launched Independent.com as a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week daily news, arts, and entertainment Web site in April 2007, we knew the world of journalism was changing, but we never could have guessed how quickly and dramatically the online component of The Santa Barbara Independent’s media empire would grow. Today, during a normal week, we publish dozens of articles that never make it to our printed pages, from breaking news reports and up-to-the-minute event listings to our regularly contributing community of online columnists, press releases from the business and nonprofit worlds, contests, polls, battles of the bands, and more.

In 2011 alone — at least up through Christmas Day — we tallied more than seven million (!) pageviews, according to our internal analytics, with about 100,000 people clocking in a half-million pageviews each month on average, as confirmed by outside web tracking sources. That makes Independent.com by far the most visited news Web site on the South Coast, a title we’ve been proud to hold pretty much since we started this machine.

Expect some cool changes for 2012, including a retooled homepage, as well as a growing focus on our social media campaigns. But before we get there, we figured it would be enlightening to take a look back at the articles that really soared in 2011, ones that online readers simply could not get enough of. Some of them reveal a genuinely broad interest in Santa Barbara-based stories, others reflect the oddities of Internet traffic virality, and others show a combo of both. So here’s a little rundown on the posts that excelled, and a little bit about why we think they did.

Before getting into specific articles, it’s worth noting that while our homepage is by far the main entry point, it only accounts for a bit more than 20 percent of the traffic, meaning that lots of folks are going straight to specific articles (likely via Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Edhat, and other similar services), or that people prefer going straight to the specific sections that we’ve created. For instance, readers who apparently don’t care too much about the Arts or Living stories go right to our News page (independent.com/news/news), whereas others appear to be on constant watch of our popular Obituary page (independent.com/obits). Our daily Events page (independent.com/events) continues to command a powerful role in getting the word out, and plenty of folks seemingly head straight for the Opinions page (independent.com/news/opinion), with the Arts page (independent.com/a&e) and the Food & Drink page (independent.com/food) coming in behind those.

But enough about sections. Let’s see what went viral and why.

The number one most popular article on Independent.com in 2011 goes to:

Republican Budget Ends Medicare as We Know It, by Congressmember Lois Capps. Clocking in nearly 20,000 page-views on Saturday, April 16, the day after it was published, the article also solicited 32 comments from our very active readership. The reason? It got picked up by MediaTakeOut.com, “the most visited urban website in the world.” So why’d an article by Lois Capps get picked up by an “urban” Web site and then blow up our readership that day? We can’t exactly say, but we’ll take the hits.

The second most visited single article (and #12 of the most visits to any one Independent.com page per year) was: Daylight Saving Time Begins This Sunday March 13th

This one was a press release submitted by the City Fire Department, and got picked up and featured by Google apparently, giving us a big bump for an otherwise standard annual story.

The third and fourth most visited articles in 2011 were both based on the recent, tragic saga of the two Santa Barbara men who got lost in the desert near Randsburg, California, only to be discovered a few days later dead, having driven off a 500-foot cliff while off-roading in the middle of the night. The specific articles were: Two Santa Barbara Men Missing in Desert and Missing Men Found Dead. This series of events gripped not only Santa Barbara, but much of the off-roading community, as well as Californians and Americans at large, as the story made CNN and other major media outlets.

The fifth most checked out single story on Independent.com was the In Memoriam: Huguette Clark, written by the late heiress’s estate manager’s daughter, Barbara Hoelscher Doran. New York City newspapers began focusing on the final days of Clark’s 104-year-long life, so when she died, it set off a national media maelstrom, which our exclusive and thoughtfully penned obituary benefited from. What will become of Clark’s waterfront estate in Santa Barbara remains a question, as her attorney and accountant last week were forcibly removed from controlling her estate by a New York judge and are potentially facing criminal charges.

Our sixth most visited story of 2011 was actually from the 2009 Jesse James Hollywood trial: Ben Markowitz Takes the Stand. This article apparently soared from people searching Google for more info on the case, with particular rises on January 29 and July 4.

As you might expect in our star-crossed world, celebrities certainly give occasional bumps to web traffic, whether it’s an interview with comedian Daniel Tosh, number seven on our list, or number eight on our list, coverage of the Kim Kardashian wedding in Montecito. Another 2009 story about a sorta-celeb came in at number 11 on this list, a story about UCSB grad-turned-ESPN broadcaster Josh Elliott, also powered by interested folks using the Google machine.

Being still a recession-ish year, a July article about the Tracy Porter store going out of business came in at number nine in most read stories, apparently fueled by former customers wondering what happened to the once-thriving company.

Disaster fears never hurt web traffic, which is why the March 11 article about the tsunami warning triggered by the 8.9 Japanese earthquake came in at number 10 on our list of most popular posts.

Even for weekly newspapers like us, the power of video on the Internet is sure to drive traffic, especially when we are the first ones to post the footage, as we did when the police released footage of the Tony Denunzio arrest on December 2. He’s been charged with DUI, but whether that warranted the ensuing beating he got, as shown on tape, will remain a matter of debate for years to come.

Aggregators such as StumbleUpon.com continue to play a big role in driving Internet readers to Independent.com, as that Web site did for the May 15 article Mayor Files Lawsuit to Block End of World. Triggering a bevy of responses, as well as plenty of snickering in civic circles, Nick Welsh’s satirical response to Reverend Harold Camping’s prediction that May 21 would spell the end of life as we know it managed to make people laugh and think at the same time.

So there you have it, our 13 most read individual articles for 2011. As you can tell, the rhyme and reason for each is variable, which is to say that there’s not a lot of meaning behind why one article explodes and others do not. So to hedge our bets, we’ll just keep doing what we do best in 2012: reporting all the news with the accuracy, speed, style, intelligence, and historical memory you’ve come to appreciate from The Santa Barbara Independent.

Happy New Year!

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