Traffic to the world’s 50 most popular news websites fell by almost a quarter (24%) between January and February, according to Press Gazette’s latest analysis of traffic to the most popular news websites.
Global visits to the top 50 English-language news sites combined fell to 6.6 billion in February, down from 8.7 billion the previous month, according to data from web analytics company SimilarWeb, with traffic nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.
Numbers were significantly lower than the 9.4 billion peak in visits during last November, the month of the US election.
Yet, while visits were down compared to January, traffic was still 14% up year-on-year.
A number of right-leaning and alternative sites saw both the biggest individual drops and gains globally in February.
Pro-Trump US website Newsmax was the fastest growing site year-on-year with a 337% surge in clicks and views up from 8.5 million to 37.2 million.
At the other end of the list, the Drudge Report, Breitbart News and Fox News were among the sites that shed the biggest proportion of their audiences compared to last February.
Influential conservative news aggregation site the Drudge Report saw its year-on-year visits fall by 41% from 71.4 million to 42.4 million, while visits to Fox News were down 22% to 261.9 million.
Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik was also among the sites that saw the biggest year-on-year drop in visits. Although the site made it into the top 50 for the first time since Press Gazette began publishing SimilarWeb rankings, entering in 38th place, monthly visits were down 34% from 73.9 million in February 2020 to 48.9 million.
Views to the Drudge Report, Breitbart, Sputnik and Newsmax together accounted for 3% (176 million) of the 6.6 billion total visits to the top 50 sites in February.
A number of the fastest growing sites identified in Press Gazette’s last analysis including the Epoch Times, which is backed by the Fulang Gong sect, right-wing YouTube alternative BitChute, and pro-Trump The Gateway Pundit, fell out of the top 50 altogether.
As in previous months, the rest of the top 50 is primarily made up of mainstream news websites from the US, UK, Canada and Australia, which command the bulk of visits.
BBC.co.uk and BBC.com combined once again came out on top with 1.2 billion website visits in February which, while 16% lower than the previous month’s figures, is up 23% year-on-year.
Next most-viewed was CNN with 710 million sessions on its websites (CNN.com and edition.CNN.com), although this was 37% lower than the 1.1 billion visits that CNN’s two sites received in January.
The next largest websites belonged to the New York Times (379 million visits, up 16% year-on-year), Yahoo Finance (330 million, up 102%), Mail Online (310 million, down 2%), the Guardian (296 million views, down 3%) and Fox News (262 million, down 22%).
Most sites in the top 50 continued to report year-on-year growth in views, but every outlet except Yahoo Finance saw a month-on-month fall in traffic compared to January.
Where does major news website traffic come from?
The SimilarWeb report for Press Gazette also examined the source of online traffic for the largest English-language news outlets.
The majority of visits to large websites continued to be either direct – i.e. web users go straight to them – or originate from online searches.
The Drudge Report came out on top for direct visits (90%), followed by Newsmax (82%) and Breitbart (76%). Among the sites with the lowest proportion of users arriving directly were US News (10%) and Forbes (14%) which instead received most traffic through organic search – i.e. unpaid search results.
Top for organic search were US News (87%), Cosmopolitan (85%), Hello magazine (74%) and Forbes (74%).
Paid search, when site owners pay to appear high up in search engine results, accounted for very few clicks to the top news sites. Only a handful of news sites, among them Bloomberg and Australia’s ABC and News.com.au, used paid search at all. Even then, paid results accounted for less than 1% of their traffic.
Facebook was the main social media referrer for most news websites coming out as the number one source for 25% of sites – putting it significantly ahead of second-place Twitter which represented the top source of social media referrals for 15% of sites. Twitter and Reddit were more commonly the second-most popular social media network referrer.