In the 40% of traffic that comes to top US news sites from outside referrals, a combination of Google Search and Google News is the biggest single driver, according to [pdf] a May 2010 research report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and The Nielsen Company. Data from “How People Interact with News Online” indicates on average Google was responsible for 30% of outside traffic to these sites.
Google was the lead referring site for 17 of these major news sites and the second-ranked referring site for another four (see chart for top 25 US news site lists compiled by Nielsen).
Google Most Influences Local News
Google’s influence varies by the type of site. The two most popular aggregators of local news in the US (as well as Google’s news aggregation site, Google News) depend on Google’s search engine for the majority of their traffic. Topix.com, the top aggregator of purely local news (and the number 20 news site overall), acquired almost two-thirds of its traffic from Google. Examiner.com, another local aggregator that also produces some of its own content (and the number news site overall), relied on Google for 52% of its traffic.
To legacy news sites, Google was a less significant but still important source of audience. At these sites (which make up 17 of the top 21 sites for which there is referring data) Google represented an average of 28.4% of the traffic per site.
Google’s influence was smallest on those sites that are themselves aggregators or something close to it. Yahoo (search and news combined), competes most directly with Google through its own search engine; it draws just 2.7% of its traffic from its rival Google. AOL and MSNBC do not have search engines but do offer email, news and a number of other online services; their news sites AOLnews.com and MSNBC.com drew 3.9% and 10% of their traffic, respectively, from Google).
Facebook Grows in Importance
In 2010, all but one of the top sites for which there was referral data derived at least some of their audience through Facebook. The one exception was Google News, whose content links to other sites. For five of the news websites studied by Pew and Nielsen, Facebook ranked as the second- or third-most popular driver to their content.
At the top was Huffingtonpost.com, which derived 8% of its traffic from links to Huffingtonpost.com content posted on Facebook. At the low end were AOLNews.com, MSNBC.com and the local aggregator Topix, which each derived 1% from Facebook. The New York Times was near the higher part of the spectrum; 6% of its traffic came from Facebook.
Twitter Has Low Influence
Despite its growth and the amount of attention it receives, the micro-blogging service Twitter appears at this point to play a relatively small role in sharing of links to news sources, according to Pew and Nielsen findings. Of the top 21 sites for which there were data, Twitter showed up as referring links to just nine. And for all but one of those nine, LATimes.com, Twitter sent only about 1% of total traffic.
3 Behaviors Drive Remaining Traffic
While Nielsen does not break down the 60% of direct news site traffic, it does confirm that three behaviors make up the mix. First, people go to a site directly. That a user has that page as his or her home page, or types in the URL address itself. Second, a user can be referred to one page on a news site from a different page on that same domain, or self-referral. Third, hundreds of sites, according to Nielsen’s estimates, send between one and four individuals to a site over the course of a month and thus are not named specifically.
1/3 of Adults Pay for Local News Content
A little more than one in three (36%) US adults pay for local news content, according to a previously released study from the Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence in Journalism. “State of the Media 2011” indicates 33% of adults pay for a local newspaper subscription, 1% pay for a local news app, and 5% pay for other local news content.