My Failed War Against Slideshows

Look, I tried to make life easier on my reader. I really did. And then views and sales took a hit.

I was promoted to editor-in-chief at Restaurant Business magazine in February of 2020, which was rather excellent timing because a month later everybody would be stuck at home, with little to do but to surf the Internet and read stories about restaurants.

Every metric we had that year would go through the roof. At a time when just about everything was struggling, notably our now-former parent company’s far more profitable events business, the performance stood out. I looked like a genius. Insert Maze, get results.

That made it a perfect time for me to dispense with one of my least favorite aspects of reading any digital publication: The slideshow.

Slideshows are irritating. As a reader, nothing saddens me more than to click on a great headline, only to be greeted by one of those galleries. Worse, many of them feature irritating ads. I often just move on.

They also provide a false sense of performance, both to the publication and the advertiser.

A single slideshow can get a lot of views from a single reader, which manipulates pageviews and gives advertisers the idea that things are better than they really are. Thus, a 10-slide slideshow can get 10 views instead of one. A modest 500 people looking at that show, therefore, could generate up to 5,000 views. That’s a far better performing headline.

Regarding pageviews as a metric: Even without the manipulation, they provide only a limited view of a publication’s overall reach. A media brand should be reaching readers in a lot more formats than just their primary website: Listens on different podcast formats, social media impressions and engagements, views on YouTube, etc.

For years, my publication relied heavily on slideshows to boost pageviews as it looked to establish itself. When I was at a competing publication, we often wondered if that was all Restaurant Business published. Sometimes it was.

Foodservice Director, one of the two publications I now oversee along with Restaurant Business, has in the past gotten as much as 40% or more of its monthly views from a single product, Recipe Report, a slideshow of different recipes.

As a data-focused finance journalist, I do not like data manipulation. And I do not like irritating readers.

So much of our work is done in other formats these days that it’s difficult to truly give an impression of a journalist’s reach by looking at traditional Google metrics. But I digress.

To replace our slideshows, we looked for different ways of telling those stories. We replaced a regular feature on new menu items with a well-designed interactive graphic and shifted some to video that could be used for social media. We did a few “listicles” where appropriate.

Mostly, we just didn’t do them, keeping them only where contractually obligated (a feature ranking the largest restaurant chains) or if they account for 40% of a publication’s views.

The pandemic provided the cover. At points in 2020 and 2021, with people home and restaurants in deep trouble due to quarantine requirements, we did well over one million pageviews per month and sometimes topped two million. And we did this without manipulating our numbers with slideshows.

Alas, such views were temporary. Eventually, quarantine ended. The restaurant business more than recovered. And then other factors intervened. We created a subscription model that kept some of our best stories behind a paywall and limited our views. Various changes on Google search results caused a few headaches.

Then social media tastes shifted to formats like TikTok that are less friendly for media click generation. Facebook has been a particular problem: It was a massive driver of views to Restaurant Business. Its focus away from news and toward whatever nonsense they’re sending us these days cut referral traffic from that channel, as it did for many media companies.

Our pageviews have fallen as a result. And despite my feelings to the contrary, advertisers still look at that number, rather than the number of actual readers our page generates. That, plus a tough economy for restaurants and other businesses along with other factors, have hit our sales numbers.

And so, this year, I told my team that we’ll bring back slideshows.

The goal is to do them where the format makes the most sense. Go ahead and irritate the reader, but reward them for giving you all those views. At least that’s our hope.

We ran one recently on the 10 largest restaurant chains in the U.S. It generated more than 13,000 pageviews as of this writing. Not bad for just about 2,000 actual viewers. Mission accomplished.


Jonathan Maze

Jonathan Maze is the editor-in-chief of Restaurant Business magazine, an award-winning, online publication dedicated to the business of restaurants. He covers fast food, franchising and finance, hosts the “A Deeper Dive” podcast and authors “The Bottom Line” blog and its companion newsletter. Maze has also appeared on The Today Show, NPR, The History Channel and has been quoted in numerous publications.

Maze currently serves on the ASBPE National Board of Directors.

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