County tourism website traffic plummets under The Union’s watch, data shows

From late 2011 to 2015, we managed the contract for the Rood Center after we outscored other applicants in a formal RFP, including the Regional Chambers. My website management experience was substantial, included being a founding editor of CNET, which later was sold to CBS for $2 billion. I was Editor of a website called that we built from scratch and wound up generating 1 million page views per day.

Upon winning the contract, we were attacked, literally, by the local rightwingnut political contingent from the get-go because of my personal blog. You can read about it here, in a report from YubaNet. The attacks were personal and nasty! Read the article.

But as it turned out, we did a great job of managing the County contract for four years, growing the website and its reach, and the Board of Supervisors thanked us in this letter. “Thank you for the excellent job you have done maintaining and monitoring Nevada County’s website, ” it read. And it was signed by all the Supervisors.

We enjoyed reporting to the Rood Center but decided not to reapply after 2015 because we felt the ERC was going in the wrong direction and not being attentive enough to tourism, or arts and culture — our passions. In fact, our own contract with the ERC had expired even before the group remembered to ask us for the third extension while it reviewed applications. It was insulting and unprofessional.

The contract wound up going to The Union newspaper. (An ERC marketing committee was formed at the time that included several employees of The Union, including its publisher). Since The Union has managed the contract for $20,000 annually, I’ve pointed to numerous blunders (examples are here , here, and here), and the traffic has plummeted.

In December 2015 — our last report — we reported 39,960 unique visitors for the period July-December 2015. In July 2017, The Union reported a mere 17, 966 unique visitors for the period January-June 29, 2017. Visits and page views also have declined sharply, the data shows.

Around June 2016, the and web sites were redesigned to be more mobile friendly to help “ensure the sites continued growth, success and integrity” — something we had long proposed in our reports. But as the latest report states: “Traffic for  Q1,Q2 2017, is about the same as it was over the prior period Q3, Q4 2016, roughly speaking.”

Here’s a screen shot from out last report. By this time, we already had agreed to two three-month contract extensions; Lani Lott’s contract as the ERC Tourism Manager had expired, and a Tourism Committee comprised of tourism stakeholders had been disbanded. This group helped generate content for the website. The report is here.

Here’s a screen shot from the ERC/The Union’s most current report. It is a pitiful “analysis.” The report is here.

This data is all a matter of public record. But there’s more.

The Union’s latest report about, included in the ERC report from July 5, 2017, includes incorrect information. (The Union’s report is seven pages from the bottom of this document. Read it for yourself).

* It reads: “But since we don’t have access to the data used in prior years, in this report we will look how the first half of 2017 compares to the second half of 2017 for several important metrics.

This is incorrect. The Google Analytics data was included in the regular public reports to the Rood Center going back to 2011-2015. It is ALL a matter of public record, including on the County’s website

* In its so-called solutions to grow traffic, The Union writes: “We see huge opportunity in expanding the audience beyond Google with promoted posts on social media, starting an email newsletter, and even push notifications.

WTF? This has been a routine in the past: We regularly promoted posts on social media (423 Facebook posts for 2014-15, for example — many of which were paid sponsorships), as well as a regular email newsletter from the Tourism Manager Lani Lott (who collected 2382 consumer emails — of which 1,046 where collected and utilized in 2014, as her June 2015 report said). All of this information was included in public reports and archived on

Each morning, we would promote the posts aggressively on Facebook — to pages in Sacramento, Reno and the Bay Area. We do not see that now, which might explain the shrinking “reach.” We know how much hard work is required to grow traffic: It consumed our morning schedule and was 24/7, including vacations. You have to “feed the beast” to grow traffic.

The Board needs to rethink the ERC’s contract from top to bottom. The lesson is not to let “good old boy” politics dictate public policy in our towns. It is a Podunk strategy. And it holds our County back.

We are not the only ones to identify problems with the ERC’s plan. “Truckee does not see the benefit of the ERC’s current direction” is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

3 thoughts on “County tourism website traffic plummets under The Union’s watch, data shows”

  1. Interesting Yubanet article about that 2011 BOS meeting. There should have been a cover charge to cover the entertainment provided by those Tea Party clowns.

  2. One of the problems with our community is that the ones who claim to be the most knowledgeable about economic development, broadband access and other business-related matters aren’t— our “know-it-alls” Rebane and Steele are often shining examples. Russ Steele writes: “( was originally designed to be a desktop recreational planning tool, not a smart phone information source. Smartphone users, especially the 18-34 cohort of users, prefer smartphones over tablets and laptops and apps over browsers. It is time for a major upgrade to GoNevadaCounty.” In fact, just underwent a major upgrade to become a “responsive” website for smartphone users, as well as laptop and desktop users. That issue has been addressed. The declining traffic under The Union’s watch stems from too little compelling content, inadequate “sharing” of the content with social media sites, an inadequate SEO strategy, etc.

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