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Fashion’s Online Numbers Game: Faking an Audience

“The elfin teenager…has amassed an impressive following of 4 million readers with her blog Style Rookie.” – London’s Daily Mail on Tavi

“I have no where near 4 million readers.” – Tavi Gevinson

Despite a straightforward statement to the contrary, wildly inflated numbers about fashion blogs and websites abound. Sometimes the numbers come from the bloggers and websites themselves – with no verification, other times they’re seemingly pulled from thin air.

Let’s make something clear from the start: we firmly believe that traffic numbers aren’t the only measure of success, or even the best measure. It’s why we rank blogs by influence, and why a high traffic blog like Coco Perez doesn’t overtake a lower traffic blog with a more engaged audience in our ranking. We are of the belief that the best blogs or sites are not necessarily those with the highest number of uniques or pageviews.

We also know that traffic measurement sites, directly installed ones like Quantcast included, can miss visitors.  Even programs like Google Analytics don’t always record every visit. Panel based measurement services like Hitwise and ComScore can be entirely inaccurate for smaller sites with less than 1 million visitors per month.

That said, writers and publishers are inflating numbers for fashion blogs and websites at a scale that would put Bear Sterns to shame.

Take, for example, Dirrty Glam. In a recent writeup on Fashionista, the site claimed 1 million users per month. In comments on the story we raised doubts about this number. Lauren Sherman, editor, explained “I actually had our writer double check that it wasn’t pageviews because it would make a heck of a lot more sense. But they insist it’s uniques.”

We’re going to insist that Dirrty Glam lied about their traffic when speaking to Fashionista, or defines a unique visitor as something completely different than the rest of the web. While traffic estimates are rarely 100% accurate, it’s nearly impossible that a site with 1 million unique visitors per month would be ignored by all of them. Yet Quantcast has no data to show, Alexa puts their overall traffic rank below the top 1 million sites on the web, and Google Ad Planner has no information on the site.

Update (05/03/10): Dirrty Glam editor Alie Suvélor contacted us with a copy of Dirrty Glam’s press kit which lists stats at 1,000,000 hits per month (which is plausible), not 1,000,000 visitors. The Fashionista interview was translated from French to English, and Suvélor says the correct measurement was lost in translation, not intentionally stretched.

The next imaginary traffic number comes from StyleSpot, a Los Angeles based celebrity style site launched last year – and it’s a whopper. The primary source of a recent Wall Street Journal article on which celebrities influence consumer behavior, the site claims to have approximately 10 million unique visitors per month. We aren’t saying they’re lying – okay, we are. We could link to Quantcast and Alexa, but we’ll summarize here: Style.com, Conde Nast’s nearly 10-year-old, well promoted, well established, very well linked fashion site, receives around 1.8 million unique visitors per month according to Google Ad Planner. Yes, StyleSpot claims to have nearly 10 times the audience of Style.com.

Really? That has to be a misprint – perhaps they meant 10 thousand. No?

We contacted StyleSpot and Christina Brinkley, the author of the Wall Street Journal article, for comment but haven’t heard back.

Is Sandra Bullock really the most likely celebrity salesperson for fashion?

At best, the falsified traffic numbers claimed by publishers makes them look ignorant, and completely dishonest at worst. At best, journalists have not made any attempt to fact check information from publishers, and are okay with using obviously false information so long as it supports their story at worst. This isn’t quoting traffic figures from a month where there was a spike in traffic, or massaging data to put the best statistics forward, these are out and out lies.

The Wall Street Journal story, while an interesting subject regardless of numbers, likely relied on StyleSpot’s purported large sample size to report a trend. If you have 100,000 total clicks, and 15,000 people click to visit a retailer based on Sandra Bullock’s red carpet look, versus 100 for Carey Mulligan, it’s a well founded observation to make that Bullock is more influential commercially. If the sample size is smaller, and the comparison is 20 clicks on Bullock’s outfit to 7 on Mulligan’s, it automatically becomes something which may be of interest for the publisher, but not a significant pattern where conclusions about a wider audience could be drawn.

Truth in Advertising: Fashion Site Audiences by the (Real) Numbers

Dirrty Glam

Reported: 1 million users per month, in 15 countries

Google Ad Planner says: no data available for any country, including France

Reality: The true monthly unique visitor count is nowhere near 1 million, or even a tenth of that. A site with 1 million users would not be completely off the radar of every traffic measurement site.

StyleSpot

Reported: 1o million users per month

Google Ad Planner says: no data available for any country

Reality: Ha. Not one tenth of one percent of what’s claimed. StyleSpot’s PR person deserves a raise.

Style Rookie

Reported: 4 million, prominently debunked by Tavi herself

Google Ad Planner says: 180,000 estimated uniques (cookie based) worldwide

Reality: With the constant stream of media attention, partnerships and press, Tavi’s audience could be as high as 200,000 visitors/month or more – there is sometimes a lag in reporting for Google Ad Planner. Not 4 million, but nothing to scoff at, and a significant audience for any independent publisher.

Style.com

Reported: 688,819 users per month

Google Ad Planner says: 520,000 uniques per month… in the US alone. 1.8 million total worldwide

Reality: The total US audience may have decreased since the re-launch of Vogue.com as a completely separate site, but the worldwide audience is likely far greater than reported.

Elle.com

Reported: 1,431,000 unique visitors per month

Google Ad Planner says: 1.1 million unique visitors in the US alone, 1.8 million total worldwide

Reality: Quantcast, which measures visitors directly on this site, reports 1.4 million US people visiting per month, and a total of 1.9 million including international visitors

Vogue.fr

Reported: 296,000 unique users per month

Google Ad Planner says: 170,000 users in France alone, 220,000 total worldwide

Reality: The reported figure was taken from September data, which is a month where many fashion sites see their highest levels of traffic (likely due to Fashion Week coverage). Though the figures aren’t an exact match, the Google Ad Panner figures may be on the low end of estimates, but are accurate enough that they wouldn’t miss millions or hundreds of thousands of visitors to a site.

Google Ad Planner, while not 100% accurate, has one of the most comprehensive databases around. Consider that they have access not only to publishers in the AdSense network, Analytics users and search engine users in multiple countries, but through their acquisition of DoubleClick, one of the largest international advertising tracking systems around. We decided to run a few sites through to verify publisher audience claims.

Worth noting, sites less than one year old without more than 100,000 visitors per month (including Signature9) may not appear, even if they use any of the aforementioned Google products. Dirrty Glam, the site which claims to have 1 million users per month, is 2-3 years old based on claims of being founded in 2007.






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