U.S. News Sites Struggle To Keep Direct, Search Traffic

News sites are in a battle these days to maintain readership to ensure that advertisers get the most from their budgets. Total traffic to the top 100 media sites has fallen 12.8% -- down 1.2 billion from May 2017 to April 2018.

While direct traffic to news websites tops the list as the No. 1 traffic source, search follows as the second-largest, responsible for 21.8% of the top 100’s traffic between May 2017 and April 2018, according to Similarweb data released Tuesday. Some 48% of that traffic is branded, according to data released Tuesday.

Similarweb analyzed the top 100 news sites in the U.S. during the past year, along with examining the breakdown of traffic sources. For the keywords, the company exported the top keywords sending traffic to publisher sites and identified keyword categories such as celebrity death and metoo perpetrators.

Branded search keyword patterns and the top eight keyword group topics ranged from Trump, Hurricane, iPhone, MeToo, and Bitcoin, to Celebrity Deaths, Net Neutrality, and Shootings.

For organic traffic, sites that received traffic from “Trump” related keyword were politico.com and thehill.com, with 2.2 pages per visit and bounce rates of 75.2%, and 1.9 pages per visit with a bounce rate of 69.7%, respectively.

When visitors went directly to the publisher sites rather than through organic search from engines like Google, the pages per visit and bounce rate improved. For example, readers who went direct to politico.com to search on “Trump” related keywords visited 3.9 pages and had a bounce rate of 44.1%. Those who searched on the same keyword on thehill.com visited 3.2 pages with a bounce rate of 46.2%.

CNN received the most traffic from the keyword “trump” at 16.7%, while CNBC received the most traffic from the keyword “bitcoin” at 16.2%.

There have been bittersweet success stories such as when The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) stopped participating in a Google program back in June 2017 that allowed site visitors from the Google search engine to bypass its paywall. The publication saw a 44% drop in traffic, per one report, but its subscriptions soared.

Similarweb data show that traffic to the nytimes.com fell from about 265 million to 252 million in the U.S. on desktop and mobile from April 2017 to May 2018. Washingtonpost.com fell from about 192 million to 182 million. Huffingtonpost.com traffic fell from 152 million to about 109 million, and bbc.com fell slightly from 113 million to 109 million.

Social also sends traffic to news sites, but the percentage continues to decline as news publications attempt to adjust to Facebook’s algorithm changes.

Facebook was responsible for 3.3% of traffic to the top 100 media sites in April 2018, declining from 5% in April 2017.

Reddit and Twitter also fell year over year. YouTube is the only social-related traffic source Similarweb tracked that rose slightly.

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