CNET's traffic decline has been widely attributed to the upsurge of tech-related bloggers, though no one has given any actual evidence that this is the true cause. Yes, there are more blogs than ever, and yes CNET's traffic has declined, but this doesn't mean one caused the other.
In fact, although CNET's page views have declined in the last year, I have not seen any data that suggests unique users have declined. So the same number of users are viewing fewer pages. Is this cause for worry? Probably not and here's why: CNET is getting more efficient at serving users.
What has been widely overlooked is that CNET's pages have been redesigned, for the better, over the last year. Each of CNET's product reviews - the heart of CNET's business - are now on one page rather than spread over 4 or 5 pages. So the user who goes to CNET researching digital cameras may have been generating 4 or 5 pages views last year, but is now generating one.
Here's why this is actually a good thing:
* CNET holds on to the user. Keeping all the product review info on one page makes it less likely to lose the user along the way and more likely that a user will click to buy the product from one of the merchants who advertises on CNET. CNET is a sales lead generating machine and making it faster and easier for users to click through to merchants is only a good thing.
* A decline in page views does not necessarily mean a decline in revenue. Like almost all online media companies, CNET sells only a fraction of its overall page views at high CPM rates. The rest is excess inventory which is monetized by ad networks and other remnant ads with much, much lower CPMs. I don't know what CNET's advertising sell out rate it, but I would be surprised if it were more than 50% for all their sites combined. So lopping off 50% of CNET's page views only cuts out the remnant ads - not the high CPMs, for which CNET gets some of the highest rates in the industry.
CNET reports quarterly results on October 23. This will be a good opportunity to see how much, if any, declining page views have had on the company's top line. CNET has a lot of challenges ahead of it, but I think it's premature to write off the company's prospects on just one piece of potentially misleading data like page views.
Full disclosure: I am long CNET. I used to work at CNET several years ago, but have no inside knowledge of the company at this point.