Why HuffPost is top of traffic charts for politics news, but not top of mind

When you count the number of Americans who visit political news websites each month, as comScore does, you see that The Huffington Post's politics site is the No. 1 most trafficked.

But when Pew Research Center pollsters called a sample of over 1,500 U.S. adults in January, hardly any cited HuffPost as a source they "turn to" for campaign news online. (See comparison table below.)

What's going on here?

Sources people told Pew they turn to for campaign news online (%) Websites people actually visit for politics news, according to comScore (January '12 monthly unique visitors in millions)
1. CNN (24%) 1. HuffPost Politics (11.5)
2. Yahoo (22%) 2. CNN Politics (8.7)
3. Google (13%) 3. NewsMax.com (5.7)
4. Fox (10%) 4. Politico (4.9)
5. MSN (9%) 5. Real Clear Politics (2.9)
12. Huffington Post (2%)

This seems to be the most likely explanation: While the Huffington Post excels at reaching large numbers of people through its search- and sharing-optimized site, nearly two-thirds of those visitors are "passers-by" who visit only once a month, according to Quantcast.

Meanwhile, at CNN.com only one-third of the audience are passers-by.

So, HuffPost Politics reaches more online Americans than any other politics site, but perhaps so many have such fleeting encounters that when asked later by a pollster they don't think of it as a key part of their news diet.

Update: AOL Vice President of Communications Mario Ruiz says by e-mail, "While interesting, the Pew findings do raise questions -- for instance, according to the survey, it’s not just HuffPost that isn’t top of mind for campaign news but also sites such as the New York Times, Twitter and Drudge Report."

Internal Omniture data shows a more loyal audience for HuffPost Politics than what Quantcast indicates about the Huffington Post overall. Ruiz said 82 percent of visitors to HuffPost Politics return at least four times a month, and 47 percent return daily. He also says comScore data shows HuffPost Politics receives more average visits per person each month (5.4) than CNN Politics (3.4) or MSNBC Politics (2.0).

So, if the HuffPost Politics audience is pretty loyal, there would need to be another explanation for why 2 percent of Pew survey respondents named it as a key source. Some other high-traffic sites including Politico and RealClearPolitics also rated low in the Pew survey. As our report noted yesterday, "What people say they do is not always aligned with their actual behavior."

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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