Online readership analysis – is bigger better?

Following my post the other week regarding online readership, sparked by some aggressive sales tactics by one of our competitors, I got talking to Andrew Smith of Escherman and we agreed to jointly carry out a more extensive piece of analysis looking at 50 different online news sites.

We selected ten sites each from the following areas – UK Nationals, Business, Marketing, Technology and Consumer. There was no particular selection process, just an attempt to have a reasonably representative sample and we both hasten to state that this is a relatively limited exercise which should therefore be taken with at least a pinch of salt. Particularly since indexed urls have been used as a proxy for content as this can be impacted significantly by site structure (as stated in slide 21), with some sites having sub domains and/or a more complex content directory structure.

However at the same time with the data that is readily available we think it provides some (arguably) valuable food for thought. So after several hours of research, number crunching and graph generation here are the results (I suggest you view in full screen mode unless you have excellent eyesight):

Site data is sourced from Google for the number of indexed urls via the “site:domain” command and from AdPlanner for the traffic data.

We are effectively looking at three areas:

Readership per article – average numbers of UK page views per Google indexed url per month. Where indexed url is a proxy for the number of likely visited pieces of content.
Engagement – time spent per page to indicate how long a reader is likely to be spending reading that content when they get there.
UK Relevance – what proportion of the sites readers as a whole come from the UK and would therefore be likely to be relevant if you were trying to reach a UK audience.
Andrew has provided his take on the results from a PR perspective here. For my part the highlights are:
Unsurprisingly readership per article is much higher for UK Nationals and Consumer than the sector specific publications. However within the performance of UK Nationals and Consumer a handful of sites stood out for having particularly high UK traffic per article being, in order, News of the World, Heat, The Sun, The Mail, Closer Online and Marie Claire.
Interestingly though if you remove these six high scoring sites from the samples then the sector specific sites still achieve, on average, between 30-60% of the readership per article of the remaining UK Nationals or Consumer titles.
Within the sector specific titles there were equally some significant differences in results with Techcrunch Europe, The Register and T3 being at the top end in views per url in Technology; Marketing Week and NMA in Marketing; and is4profit, Startups, Businesszone and Real Business above the average in the Business group.
The top six engagement scores were achieved, in order, by Reuters UK, Information Age, Financial Times, Business Zone, The Independent and The Register. A very different result to the readership per url figures.
This difference was further underlined with the Business and Technology sites achieving on average approximately twice the time spent as Consumer sites. Evidence for both more in depth content and greater engagement, which doesn’t seem surprising.
There are significant differences within each group with regards to proportion of UK traffic. Within UK Nationals the tabloids are generally between 60-75% UK based with the qualities between 30-55%; the FT having the lowest UK traffic proportion with 31%.
Within Business titles the vast majority of sites are UK focussed and because of this their audiences are predominantly UK based also. The exception being The Economist with only 7% of its audience being from the UK according to AdPlanner. Interestingly this seems to reflect the broad geographical interest of its content with even the US only accounting for just over a third of its traffic.
Its a similar picture within the Marketing titles with the vast majority of traffic to the sites selected being UK based. The marketing publication with the lowest UK proportion is Econsultancy with 57% from the UK. This in in part due to around 20% being from the US which seems consistent with their having a US presence.
Finally Technology and Consumer titles have quite varied levels of UK traffic with sites such as Techcrunch Europe and (clearly having the potential for interest from outside the UK) having lower proportions of UK traffic at around 20-40% compared to sites such as T3 and Heat which are between 75-100%.
Though limited the analysis provides evidence for savvy PR people who already know that it is important to ensure that you understand the publications they engage with and their potential to actually reach the readers and communities most relevant to them and their clients and not be blinded by big traffic numbers.
There are many other points that could be drawn out of the results and we would love to get feedback from people on anything they observe or suggestions as to how to refine the analysis and improve the validity of the results.
The other publications analysed not mentioned above were:
UK Nationals

Online Visibility-its not the size of your traffic that counts

At RealWire we have recently become aware that a major wire service is making a big deal out of their website’s high traffic numbers. In fact they have been specifically targeting the market trying to argue that their service is hugely better where visibility is concerned.

However they don’t mention the following three crucial issues about the traffic to their site.

1. That volume of traffic is clearly going to be affected by quantity of content.

2. The time visitors actually spend reading their content.

3. The relevance of those visitors to the content.

At RealWire we are always keen to make sure that discussions are based around the facts so let’s look at each of these in turn to see how our readership, engagement and relevance are all in fact apparently superior to Big Wire Corp’s.

Quantity of content

Q: Which is the more “popular” of the following two sites?

Site A – 1 piece of content and 1,000 page views in a month
Site B –  1 million pieces of content and 1 million page views in a month

Well according to their literature Big Wire Corp would apparently see Site B as a more popular destination because it has 1,000 times more page views. Makes sense, bigger is better right? Wrong.

Site A’s one piece of content has been viewed 1,000 times, whereas each of Site B’s stories has only be viewed once on average. Now which site is more popular? Site A of course.

Now let’s apply this concept to Big Wire Corp’s website.

First of all let’s get an idea of volume of content. The Google “Site:[url]” command gives you the number of unique pages indexed by Google on a particular site – a good proxy for the amount of content.

In this case the answer is 406,000.

Next we need an idea of traffic to the site. Google AdPlanner provides estimates of monthly page views.

In this case the answer is 7.5 million

I we then divide page views by content, we get an estimate of the number of views per article per month. Answer 18.5.

RealWire’s equivalent data from the same sources is
Content – 5,500
Page views – 200,000* (less than 3% of Big Wire Corp’s figure)

This gives 36.4 page views per article per month.

Twice the Big Wire Corp figure suggesting RealWire has higher readership for each article.

*I happen to know that the page view figure is too high in RealWire’s case (we do have analytics of course) but it could equally also be so for Big Wire Corp and so until I can get a hold of actual numbers for them I am being consistent.


Q: Which of these two sites is engaging its readership the most?

Site A – average time spent on each page 2 minutes

Site B – average time spent on each page 5 seconds

Site A obviously. Each of the readers are spending 24 times longer reading an article on average than on Site B.

So let’s apply this to Big Wire Corp again.

Again Google AdPlanner can help. It tells us how many visits the site receives and how long each one lasts. From this we can get Time spent per Page as follows:

Time spent on page calculation

Big Wire Corp numbers

Time spent per visit = 3 minutes 50 seconds (230 seconds)
Total page views = 7.5 million
Total visits = 3.5 million

Time spent per page = 107.5 seconds or 1 minute 47.5 seconds

RealWire numbers

Time spent per visit = 8 minutes (480 seconds)
Total page views = 200,000
Total visits = 64,000

Time spent per page = 153.6 seconds or 2 minutes 33.6 seconds

43% more than Big Wire Corp suggesting readers of RealWire content are more engaged.


Q: Which of these two sites is most likely to have the most relevant readership to a UK relevant story?

Site A – 100% of visits from the UK

Site B – 1% of visits from the UK

A: Site A – Yes I know these are getting ridiculously easy now! :-)

Big Wire Corp’s market report focusses on US usage of their site when comparing themselves to others such as RealWire. However given that the vast majority of their content is from US companies it will come as no surprise that the vast majority of their traffic does as well. Google Ad Planner again helps us out.

US traffic – 76% of total

But the majority of RealWire’s clients and therefore content are from the UK. So what’s Big Wire Corp’s UK traffic like?

UK traffic – 3% of total.

And RealWire’s UK traffic? Well AdPlanner estimates around 75% but the real figure is nearer 45% or 15 times the Big Wire Corp figure.

Suggesting that RealWire’s traffic is around 15 times more likely to be relevant.


When evaluating traffic between sites it is imperative that you don’t get drawn in by the size of headline traffic numbers and that you consider:

a) normalising traffic for levels of content

b) how engaged the readers are

c) how relevant the readers are

Or you could find yourself reaching some very misleading conclusions. Just ask Big Wire Corp :-)

* Hattip to Andrew B Smith for highlighting the value of Google Adplanner for such analysis