Media & PR

What drives traffic to news websites?

The Newspaper Marketing Agency’s latest (September) figures for the sources of web traffic to newspaper websites paint a useful picture of which social media sites really matter – and which don’t.

The top ten domains that referred UK traffic to newspapers during the month were:

  1. Google
  2. Yahoo
  3. MSN
  5. Facebook
  6. AOL
  7. Wikipedia
  8. Ask
  9. Twitter
  10. NewsNow

There are several lessons to be learnt from the list.

First, notice the absence of social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Digg or StumbleUpon. Although the traffic benefits of getting your content shared on such sites are widely touted, in practice  for UK audiences they are often a very niche route. Moreover, the once that often gets the least mention – StumbleUpon – is actually the one that drove the most traffic to news sites. There are some exceptions, such as the Telegraph’s success with Digg, but overall this is an area of relatively limited benefit.

Second, although Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Ask have all in their different ways lost out to Google, they still generate a lot of traffic. Their role is rather like that of CDs to the music industry: it may be doubtful how much of a future there is for them, they get very little discussion and rarely generate news, but look around closely and actually quite a lot of people still use them.

Third, the BBC plays a key role in driving website traffic – a reminder of how offline and online PR can closely interact.

Fourth, Facebook and Twitter are major sources of website traffic. Although there are many stories that are not well suited to direct coverage on Facebook and Twitter, even for those stories the sites can drive a major part of the traffic to coverage elsewhere.

But perhaps the most important lesson is that statistics such as these often throw up results which highlight sites and services that get a lot of discussion but don’t generate traffic and little mentioned sites and services that do. In other words – don’t forget the value of hard data.

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