Summary:

New Nielsen numbers for March show that traffic at the new online-only version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer tumbled — but Seattlepi.co…

imageNew Nielsen numbers for March show that traffic at the new online-only version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer tumbled — but Seattlepi.com owner Hearst Corp. says its own internal numbers actually showed a substantial increase in visitors.

Nielsen says that in March the number of unique visitors to Seattlepi.com dropped 23 percent to 1.4 million, making it the 32nd largest newspaper website in the U.S . Considering that the P-I closed its print edition and went online-only on March 17, the fall off in traffic this month could potentially be even steeper. Also an ominous sign for the P-I: The number of unique visitors to rival Seattletimes.com jumped 70 percent to 2.2 million, perhaps an indication that it may be picking up some Seattlepi.com visitors. In February, Seattlepi.com had the lead.

However, Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer said that the company’s own numbers from Omniture show that there were 4.5 million unique visitors to Seattlepi.com in March, up 9.6 percent from a year ago. “The larger argument (which will not be won today) is that Nielsen’s methodology is flawed. Nielsen’s ratings are based on a statistical extrapolation of a small number of selected users — a statistical guesstimate,” he said. “The numbers have been stable, which we have been encouraged about.”

Of course, a drop is not so surprising since in shuttering the print edition, Seattle P-I owner Hearst Corp. also cut about 80 percent of its staff and lost a valuable marketing tool for its website. According to Seattle-area news blog Publicola.net, Hearst actually expected that traffic would drop between 25 percent and 30 percent initially, before increasing within three months.

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