Photo via US Coast Guard
This may seem like a cynical question, but it's one worth addressing. Not because green websites stand to cash in on higher traffic from a high profile environmental disaster -- any enviro site or group with any hint of a moral compass wishes sincerely that they'd never be in a position to do so -- but because rising traffic could be seen as an indicator of heightened public interest in engaging the spill on environmental grounds. So the question is, is web traffic on green sites really rising? According to TechPresident, which published an analysis of the issue, not really. The analysis used traffic-tracking sites to compare the numbers between April and May -- the latter being the month when the severity of the oil spill was clear and its infiltration into the public consciousness was complete. They found that on a whole, the traffic gains for green sites only rose a few percentage points. Some sites saw increased traffic -- Greenpeace -- and some saw, surprisingly, a decrease, like the Sierra Club.
So what gives? Well, thankfully, Josh Nelson, a green blogger, media consultant, and the brains behind EnviroKnow, set the record straight: Of course numbers only appeared to plateau. April is home to Earth Day, and the run up to Earth Day. All green sites see a surge of traffic in April. TechPresident even mentions this in their article but evidently fails to recognize the significance. TreeHugger is no exception (the TechPresident report says that TH saw a "modest 1.4% increase in unique visits from 1.48 million in April to 1.49 million in May").
The fact that most green sites maintained the expected traffic spike from April is indeed a notable feat. When compared to March, the numbers appear largely to be up -- by as much as 17%. There is of course plenty of room for debate over the accuracy of the numbers and the methodology and so forth. But the greater question seems to be, what does this rise in traffic mean?
Obviously, the disaster has raised many questions about offshore drilling, our nation's energy policy, and reliance on oil as a fuel. Perhaps people are simply turning to outlets they believe have expertise in these arenas. Maybe people are logging on to green sites in seeking avenues to help the response. If the trend continues, perhaps we can assume people are taking a greater interest in the energy debate, and the environmental implications of our current practices.
Whether any of this renewed interest actually strengthens the green movement in the long term, or is capable of growing to be a loud enough chorus to inspire a policy shift away from favoring fossil fuels, of course remains to be seen.