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April 17, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:09am

BBC, NY Times and Guardian among biggest winners as Covid-19 sends global news traffic soaring

By William Turvill

The Guardian and New York Times overtook their tabloid-style competitors – Mail Online and Fox News – in website traffic terms last month, data obtained by Press Gazette suggests.

The Washington Post and Spain’s El Pais newspaper were also among the best-performing big news brands online, while broadcasters the BBC, CNBC and CNN also improved their traffic significantly in a month when global interest in coronavirus news rocketed.

The websites of Fox News, the Daily Mail and German tabloid Bild all grew readership last month, but at a slower rate than most of the world’s other major news websites.

It was a similar story in the UK, where – according to data from Similarweb – the Telegraph overtook the Mirror online, and the Financial Times extended its online traffic lead over the Daily Star.

However, measurements conducted by other groups, like Comscore, may deliver different results because of alternate metrics.

For example, it is understood that Similarweb does not include Facebook instant article readership – which is understood to be a major traffic channel for Mail Online – in its measurements.

Industry sources spoken to by Press Gazette suggested that titles like the New York Times and Guardian will have benefited greatly from search traffic in March.

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Mail Online and other tabloid news organisations have taken issue with algorithm changes made by Google, which have reduced the prominence of their stories on news searches.

The chart below shows the news websites that attracted the highest number of visits last month, according to Similarweb.

Taking together both its and .com sites, the BBC came out on top with 1.3bn visits over the month, up 27 per cent on March 2019 and 35 per cent from February this year.

Coming in at number six with 569m visits over the month, the New York Times was up 102 per cent in a year and 74 per cent on February. This growth meant it overtook Fox News, on 413m, which was up 23 per cent on February and seven per cent on March last year.

On 436m, The Guardian was up 51 per cent between February and March, and 39 per cent on March 2019. This meant it overtook Mail Online, which was up 18 per cent in a month, but five per cent in a year. The tabloid website revealed last summer that it had taken a major traffic hit after Google made a significant search algorithm change.

The next chart, focusing on US and UK brands, demonstrates the extent to which websites belonging to broadcasters (BBC, CNN, CNBC) and “broadsheet” newspapers (New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post) have grown year-on-year and month-on-month compared with tabloid news sites.

The trend is also present across smaller UK websites, as shown in the final chart. Total monthly visit figures for UK news websites between January and March this year again show the BBC and “broadsheets” outperforming tabloid sites.

The Financial Times, as reported last week, has more than doubled its traffic since the beginning of the year. This means its paywalled website – which has made much of its coronavirus content free – is now bigger than the Daily Star online. The Star itself is up 25 per cent, meaning it performed better than other tabloids.

The Telegraph and Independent websites – which were up 41 per cent and 40 per cent respectively between January and March – both overtook the Mirror, which itself was down six per cent, according to Similarweb.

The Express website was down five per cent, while the Mail Online and The Sun were up four per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

This article has been altered to state that the visitor numbers reported are for the month as a whole rather than daily average visits.

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