UPDATE: Since my original post, I’ve received some new information from Dan Barkin, The News & Observer’s senior editor for online, about traffic to newsobserver.com. He — and others today — have pointed out that audience counts really depend on how you define your market. Statewide audience really doesn’t matter to ad buyers. Agreed, but I think it does matter in terms of editorial impact on issues of public affairs.
In an e-mail, Barkin said that “Some recent Media Audit numbers showed that WRAL.com reaches 51% of Triangle adults. Newsobserver.com (net of all of our sites) reaches 41.5% of Triangle adults.”
He said newsobserver.com reached about 50 percent more people in July and August of this year than the same months last year, but he also noted that page views had jumped only about 15 percent in those two months.
Original Post (12:55 p.m.):
Following up on my interview that aired earlier this morning on WUNC radio, I just got off the phone with Matt Tatham, the director of media relations for Hitwise. His company provided the data for the WUNC story, and I wanted to know more.
And, once again, the care that needs to be taken when talking about online audience numbers becomes apparent. According to Hitwise, WRAL clobbered The News & Observer online during August, but I think the clobbering was done in a manner that is slightly different than the one emphasized in the story.
As they say on Marketplace, let’s do the numbers …
WRAL.com received nearly 2.5 times the number of visits to newsobserver.com from all U.S. Internet users in August, according to Hitwise. WRAL received 0.0072 percent of all U.S. Internet visits and The N&O received 0.0029 percent.
In North Carolina, WRAL also dominates The N&O. It also received more visits that The Charlotte Observer’s site. But more North Carolinians turned to Yahoo to get their news online than any other source. In fact, national news sites dominated the state’s online news consumption. Here’s the ranking from Hitwise:
- Yahoo News
- The Weather Channel
- Fox News (… Uh oh, do I sense GOP troubles in the Tar Heel state come November?)
The Charlotte Observer ranked eighth and The News & Observer ranked 17th in visits.
WRAL’s strength comes from its apparently near complete domination of the local market. The CBS affiliate gets 88.24 percent of its visits from within the Raleigh market and only an additional 0.07 percent of its visits from the rest of the state.
The N&O gets most of its visits from outside the Raleigh market. Just more than 38 percent of its visits come from its own circulation area, but it gets about another 15 percent of its traffic from the rest of the state.
But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that WRAL’s Web site gets five times more hits than the N&O’s site. I think the better to say that the portion of WRAL.com’s traffic that comes from the Raleigh area is five times the portion of of newsobserver.com traffic that comes from the Raleigh area.
Now, it took me about five minutes to craft the wording of that last sentence and I’m still not sure I’ve got it 100 percent correct. The point is that reporting Web traffic remains a dicey business. And that’s one — of many — reasons that it is difficult to sell online advertising.
It’s important to note that Hitwise does use the same technique for measuring traffic as other audience metrics companies like Nielsen and ComScore. And news Web sites themselves measure their own traffic using yet another method. The details of those differences are beyond my ability to summarize succinctly here, but suffice it to say that four companies can have four different counts for traffic to the same Web site. From my experience, each method has strengths and weaknesses.
For this story, we’re only talking about “visits,” which Tatham said Hitwise defines as one person visiting a Web site the first time during a 30 minute period. So if I visit WRAL.com once at 9 a.m. and another time at 9:15 a.m., that’s one visit. But if I visit at 9 a.m. and 9:31 a.m., then that’s two visits.
We are not talking about “unique visitors,” which are more widely known as “people.” Based on the numbers from Hitwise here, we can’t say how many people visited any of these sites. Usually, however, the number of visits is greater than the number of unique visitors because people often visit sites more than once during a set time period.
We also aren’t talking about “page views” — which I think is the best metric to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. The number of page views to a site is usually greater than the number of visits because people often click on more than one page on a site each time they go there. Sites that emphasize breaking news get a lot of page views per visitor because people come back to the site frequently, looking for the latest information. CNN or Yahoo News are examples of this traffic pattern. But newspaper sites tend to generate more page views per visit because their stories are longer and the sites tend to put less emphasis on incremental developments.
As I speculated on air, weather seems to be driving WRAL’s audience. Tatham said that the top search term that sent online news seekers to WRAL was “WRAL weather.” Branding terms, such as N&O or News & Observer, accounted for the top five terms that sent news seekers to newsobserver.com, he said. After that came terms related to generic “Raleigh news” and “classifieds.” Further down the list came terms like “NCCU football” and other event-driven terms.
All of this supports my mantra that news Web sites need to either get big or get niche. To paraphrase Jeff Jarvis, figure out what — or where — you do best and link to everything else.