If searching for the news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing the news may be among the most important of the next. – Navigating News Online, May 9, 2011

According to research released today by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, in the first nine months of 2010, Facebook drove 8 percent of the traffic at the HuffingtonPost.com. Overall, the giant portal — with more than 500 million accounts — drove 3 percent of traffic to 21 of 25 news sites in the study.

Pew: Twitter Referrals To News Sites

Pew: Twitter Referrals To News Sites

Twitter is also driving traffic, although at percentages generally smaller than Facebook (approximately 1 percent versus 3 percent). This relative difference is not surprising, given the variance in account numbers (175M versus 500M) and account types (multiple and business versus “one account per person”).

Nevertheless, for at least one news site, the LA Times, Twitter trumped Facebook in absolute referrals. This begs the question: how is the LA Times using Twitter compared to the other news organizations in the study?

Google was also part of the study.

According to the Pew analysis, “Most of visitors to Google News (not the larger search aggregator Google.com) do click to a news story.” Although there is no a winner-take-all element in Google News click lottery, some sites get more click-throughs than others: nytimes.com (14.6%), cnn.com (14.4%) and abcnews.go.com (14.0%). Given Google’s propensity for elevating content based on its credibility (think referrers, erh, links), what is it that these three sites are doing that others are not? In other words, why are people linking to and talking about stories on these properties, thus driving them to the “top”?

The report details the top 25 news sites (pdf) during the first three quarters of 2010:

  • One is a wire service news site: Reuters.

Updated: A Word Or Two About Drudge
The Pew Report also found that only three sites ever generated more than 10 percent of the traffic to any news site: Google, Yahoo and Drudge. I’d like to point out — since I didn’t see anyone else do it — that Drudge generates a lot of traffic to properties owned by Rupert Murdoch. No other site analyzed in this report came close. Here’s the top five (of 21) on the Drudge referrer list:

  1. New York Post (News Corp) : 19%
  2. Washington Post : 15%
  3. FoxNews.com (News Corp) : 11%
  4. Boston.com : 11%
  5. ABCNews.com : 11%

The New York Daily News, also a News Corp property, saw 9 percent of its traffic come from Drudge. There was no politically liberal corollary in the analysis.

Pew : Facebook Referrals To News Sites

Pew : Facebook Referrals To News Sites

A Word On Methodology

This data included all of the top 25 news sites according to Nielsen…

The usage data included 2 main measurements, visits per month and time spent per month. A visit, or “session”, is defined as “a continuous series of URL requests.” By Nielsen’s definition a session is ended after 30 minutes of inactivity, and that session is then logged as being however long the average session is for the site. For example if a user is reading a NYT.com story and leaves the tab open for more than 30 minutes, that session is ended and the time spent for that session is logged as whatever the average session on NYT.com is. These visits were then broken out by what percentage of the audience visited once per month, twice, etc. up to 10 or more times per month.


[The referral] data set included 21 of the top 25 sites. The Wall Street Journal, BBC.com, Bing News, and Reuters are structured in a way that prevents Nielsen from capturing this data.

A “referral” is when a user clicks on a link to get to one of the top 21 sites. For example if a user clicks on a link to a story on CNN.com that was embedded in a story on the New York Times, then that counts as one “referral” to CNN.com from NYT.com. The resulting percentage is a percentage of the traffic to each site that comes from other sites. Because of the way some sites are structured it is possible to be “referred” from within the same site. For example money.cnn.com and cnn.com are different subdomains, if a user clicks from money.cnn.com to cnn.com is counted as a referral from money.cnn.com.

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Written by Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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