New York Times draws more “addicted” Web visitors than Huffington Post, which relies on “passers-by”

Early reports Thursday about Huffington Post surpassing The New York Times website in traffic illustrate a critical oversimplification: unique visitors do not equal page views.

The two indicators often trend in the same direction, but not always. In fact, during the month of May after the death of Osama bin Laden, when many news websites reported record traffic — measured in page views — the top news sites had fewer unique visitors than they did during the previous month of April (see chart below), based on one set of comScore numbers.

That’s not necessarily surprising. Sites can drop in uniques and simultaneously drop in page views. Or, visitors hungry for information about the terrorist leader’s death may have consumed more news during a single visit than they typically do (hence lower uniques, higher page views). It’s also possible that news magazine sites like Slate and The Atlantic benefited more from a bin Laden bump than commodity news sites, if readers were looking for analysis and context.

Huffington Post and The New York Times increased uniques in May, according to both sets of comScore numbers I received. That could be particularly good news for the Times, post paywall.

There’s also an important consideration beyond the raw number of unique visitors to a site: loyalty. What percent of visits come from “addicts” and what percent from casual users, particularly during breaking news? (More important for news sites, how many casual users discover your site during breaking news then stay to become addicted users?)

Quantcast estimates show that three-quarters of visits to come from 15 percent of visitors described as “addicts.” A majority of visitors to the site (51 percent) are regulars. At Huffington Post, the majority of visitors (65 percent) are “passers-by,” while the majority of visits are from regulars. Only 1 percent of visitors to are “addicts,” according to Quantcast’s direct measurement of the site.

The loyalty differences have important business implications, especially to The New York Times, which has an additional measure — and benefit — of loyalty: paid digital subscribers.

For another day: This “competition” between HuffPo and the NYT is a false one, whether comparing the size of the “newsrooms” (which does not simply equal the number of employees) or the size of their audiences. The question is not: Who is winning? The question is: What are their respective roles in the news ecosystem and why does that matter to their audiences and to journalism?

Here’s a comparison of unique visitors for March, April and May (I’m awaiting a figure for AOL News uniques):

News site May Uniques (000) April Uniques (000) March Uniques (000)
Yahoo! News Network 73,000 88,000 87,000
CNN Network 64,000 76,000 80,000
MSNBC 45,000 51,000 54,000
AOL News ? 40,000 47,000
The New York Times Brand 34,000 33,000 38,000
Huffington Post 36,000 30,000 31,000

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  • Poynter

    According to Quantcast, which tracks their sites directly, 65% of their users are passers-by, so I’d say it represents a substantial majority of their users. I’m not intending to comment on the quality of that audience; the value of it really depends on their goals. –Julie

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    But another thing: I just clicked on one of those “related training” thingies that are nestled up there with the “related posts.”
    These are ads for paid — and pretty expensive — seminars run for profit by this blog. But published in the ads colum? Nahh, that would be too much like Truth in Advertising.  Let ‘em snuggle down in he correspondence zone, as though they were something comfy and participatory.  Hey, this is lamestream journalism we’re selling here.

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    I thought I was a New York Times addict — until they went back to pay-per-view. Then I thought I’d try Ariana.
    Fond I could stand the Huffpo for about a day and a half: there’s bloody nothing there! It’s nothing but a bunch of tables of contents to tables of contents, one come-on directing you to another come-on. Feh!
    My guess is after messng around here and there for a few more days I’ll end up paying for the WSJ and puttng together my own screen aggregating half a dozen of my favourite blogs.

  • Victor Acquah

    Is this a validation of the “passers-by” segment for the likes of Huffpost?  It is generally assumed that the “passers-by” segment are not quality traffic.  Are you making the case that for an aggregator like Huffpost, their core audience is actually the passers-by segment? ( in terms of how people use the site or consume content on it) .

    It would be an interesting observation on several levels. Would keep an eye out for Steve Myer’s article. thanks.

  • Poynter

    Victor, I’m happy to expand on it. Rather than look at the two news organizations through a binary win/lose lens, it’s worth examining their different places in the news ecosystem. Though they both publish something we all refer to as “news,” they have different goals, different business models, different types of influence. And looking at their roles is more illuminating than looking at their metrics without context. Their roles could help us understand what people rely on them for and what they seek elsewhere, in another part of the ecosystem. Both of those things illustrate more generally how the craft, business and use of journalism is changing. Steve Myers is going to write about this more so stay tuned. –Julie

  • Victor Acquah

    Julie – Would be great to see you expand on the very last point – “The question is not: Who is winning? The question is: What are their respective roles in the news ecosystem and why does that matter to their audiences and to journalism?”