Community Site Topix Sees 40 Percent Year-Over-Year Traffic Growth As Political Focus Pays Off

Topix, a site for locally focused online discussion that first launched in 2004, has seen significant traffic growth in the past year. According to CEO Chris Tolles, that’s because of the big bet that the site made on political coverage and discussion.

Traffic grew 40 percent between December 2011 and December 2012, the company says, and there were 12.4 million unique visitors in January. Those visitors are spending an average of 11.5 minutes on the site each month, and a lot of that activity is coming from smartphones — in fact, the company says that more than half of its traffic is mobile.

Back in 2011, Tolles was already telling me that political content was driving the site’s traffic growth, and that he was trying to find the right product and content strategy to take advantage of that interest. That ultimately resulted in the launch of politics-focused sub-site Politix, where users can share political articles, fill out polls, and comment on the news without being (in Tolles’ words) “that guy on Facebook” who’s always annoying his friends with political commentary.

With the presidential election, it would probably be hard to find a major political site that didn’t see traffic growth last year. Note, however, that Topix is sharing numbers for December and January after the election. (Maybe everyone was just enthralled by the sequester negotiations.) Tolles said the February numbers that he’s seen have been solid, too, with around 1 million unique visitors per day.

The company is also announcing some new executives. Mike Sawka, who has been at the company for seven years, has been promoted to vice president of engineering. And Schuyler Hudak, whose experience includes a senior staff position on Jerry Brown’s 2010 campaign for California governor, has joined as director of business development.

Tolles wouldn’t reveal any revenue numbers, but he said Topix continues to be profitable. I also asked if the growth makes Topix a more likely acquisition target, and he replied, “We’re always having conversations, but we’re building a long-term business. … Right now, the chances of us getting acquired and us acquiring someone are about even.”