The Online Ecosystem Of Scandal

August 31st,  2014 is a date that many celebrities want to forget. In what’s being called one of the biggest celebrity leaks of all time, around 200 private photos of celebrities in various states of undress found their way on to the imageboard site 4chan. The public loves a good scandal and, soon enough, they were engaging with gossip sites all over the web to find out what was happening. What was intriguing about the whole affair was that the unknown hacker exploiting people’s fascination with celebrities leaked the pictures in exchange for a paltry amount of Bitcoins, while other in the online world used the scandal to boost their webtraffic and make potentially much larger profits.

Other than feeding my personal curiosity, this data provides a good picture of traffic flow from big sites, through medium, to small sites, providing marketing opportunities and brand exposure. These next few examples reveal an interesting pattern.

 The Web Analytics of Top Gossip Sites During the Scandal

Viewing the visits graph of PerezHilton, which ranks 6th in the US for the Celebrities and Entertainment News category, you can see how big of an impact the leak had on websites under this category. The day before the scandal hit, traffic for the site was just under 400,000 desktop visits. However, on the day of the leak, traffic leapt up to over 1.3 million visits and peaked the day after that, on 1st September, with over 1.5 million visits. To put this in some perspective – this was a  200% increase in traffic compared to what the site usually receives on average. As you can see, the traffic gradually dropped back to its regular numbers. According to this article from 2009 the CPM for Perez Hilton is $6. Assuming that over the three day period Perez Hilton drove an additional 3 million visits, their ad revenue increased by $18,000.


Traffic to PerezHilton between 9th Aug ’14 – 5th Sep ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

Another popular website in this category – Celebuzz, ranked 15th in the US for the Celebrities and Entertainment News category, also demonstrated a massive growth in traffic once the details of the scandal had been unleashed. Traffic did not spike until 1st September, but when it did, it increased by 200% of the daily average. This spike cannot be explained by anything more than the public’s taste for a scandal.


Traffic to Celebuzz between 9th Aug ’14 – 5th Sep ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

TMZ , which ranks 1st in the US for the Celebrities and Entertainment News category, found that their traffic also skyrocketed as a direct result of the leak. Traffic rose by 33% on the day of the scandal and rose by a further 50% on 1st September with over 3.6 million visits. This is a significant rise in traffic for the number one site in this category. It highlights again just how keen the public were to investigate the celebrities fall from grace.


Traffic to TMZ between 9th Aug ’14 – 5th Sep ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

One of the biggest spikes I found was for The Hollywood Gossip, ranks 17th in the US for the Celebrities and Entertainment News category. This site had an increase by close to 500% between 30th August – 31st August. Traffic then peaked slightly higher on 1st September.


Traffic to The Hollywood Gossip between 9th Aug ’14 – 5th Sep ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

The Scandal’s Source

It wasn’t just gossip sites that benefited from the leak. 4chan helped launch the scandal and their traffic duly shot up in a huge spike. Between 30th – 31st August the traffic shot up by 200%. The following day topped even this huge spike with a 300% increase in traffic. This enormous traffic increase shows just how lucrative a scandal can be for the website which launches it.


Traffic to 4chan between 11th Aug ’14 – 7th Sep ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

Traffic Flow

Who was referring all this traffic to 4chan and what could it tell me about the sources who were creating a buzz about the scandal? Would it be all low rent sources or did it capture the imagination of different sectors? Using SimilarWeb PRO I investigated the referrals and found interesting results. The majority of referring sites were highly respectable outlets such as online news outlets Buzzfeed and Gawker providing the most traffic; broadsheet newspapers such as The Guardian also featured in the top 15 referrals whilst tabloid sources were nowhere to be seen. These findings indicate that scandal now has a sophisticated interest in it especially due to the questions it can raise over privacy concerns and the reliance on technology.


Referrals to 4chan between 11th Aug ’14 – 7th Sep ’14 by SimilarWeb PRO

So What Is A Scandal and why is it related to online marketing?

Scandals can be viewed as their own little industry. One where gossip sites rely on a scandal to drive traffic to their site in search of answers and where referrals are key to driving traffic towards the traffic source. All the various players in this industry help to keep the ecosystem in check, so as interest in one scandal begins to subside, the gossip sites will actively seek a new scandal to drive traffic to their site. Sites such as 4chan will aim to provide these scandals as the exposure it gives to their brand is immense. In turn these sites will turn to hackers who are seeking a quick payment to give them financial stability. Ultimately, as long as humans maintain their somewhat unhealthy desire to see celebrities fall from grace then the scandal industry will only get bigger and bigger. And while this ecosystem feeds itself, money is being made from ads, affiliation or subscriptions, and gossip sites gain new visitors that just might turn into regular readers.

About the Author -

Pavel Tuchinsky is a marketing analyst and blog editor at SimilarWeb. He came from the world of International Economics, passionate fan of e-commerce and technology.

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