January 22, 2007

Yahoo News is the 2006 online traffic winner

2006 2005
Yahoo News 31.4 27.2
MSNBC 25.9 26.2
CNN 21.3 21.9
AOL News 21 20.9

After several years of tight competition at top, Yahoo News pulled away some from the pack among news websites in traffic, according to year-end figures from comScore Media Metrix.

The leader board is still dominated by the same four sites as in previous years, a Big Four of Yahoo News, MSNBC, CNN and AOL News. But Yahoo News, whose parent company had a rough year on Wall Street, put some distance between itself and its rivals by growing in unique visitors by 16% last year. The others were flat.

Comscore and Nielsen//NetRatings are the leading firms servicing the online advertising industry with Internet audience measurements.

Overall, Yahoo News averaged 31.4 million unique visitors a month in 2006. Second place MSNBC had 25.9 million, followed by CNN (21.3 million) and AOL News (21 million). In 2005, Yahoo News led MSNBC by only 1 million visitors per month.

While Yahoo was growing, MSNBC was down 1%, CNN was down 3%, and AOL News grew by just 1% in 2006.

Newspaper websites were also winners in 2006, even if that is a double-edged sword of sorts. While newspaper industry in print suffered from circulation declines, slowing revenues and additional layoffs last year, a number of online sites that include major papers showed solid growth in traffic.

The combined websites of Tribune Co.–which includes the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and Newsday among others—remained the most popular newspaper company group online. Traffic to its collective sites grew 14% in 2006. The New York Times, the number six site overall, saw 27% growth last year. The Washington Post, number 13 on the list, was up 14%. Belo, which is number 17 and whose digital media properties include the Dallas Morning News web site, enjoyed an increase of 11%.

Despite relatively flat growth rates for MSNBC and CNN, other television news websites fared well last year, with double-digit increases for all. The grow rates were 20% at ABC News (number 7 overall), 34% at CBS News (number 9), at 10% at Fox News (number 11).

Two popular British news sites were also ranked among the 25 most popular news sites in 2006. According to comScore data, the BBC News is now ranked the 12th most-visited site in the United States while the Guardian finished the year at No. 25.

There seem to be several reasons for the impressive growth spurt at Yahoo News. Its homepage underwent a major re-design that was unveiled to the general public in July 2006. One significant change is that headlines are now prominently displayed on the email landing page, and the complete news site is just one click away.

Yahoo also offers a boutique of non-news components on its homepage. Research shows these get heavy use by consumers and are generally not available on other news sites. These features include e-mail, music downloads, search, and instant messenger. It may be then, that more users are consolidating their various online tasks by going to one site.

Whatever the reasons, Yahoo News now averages 5.5 million more unique visitors per month than its closest competitor. Moreover, it enjoyed substantial visitor growth in a year in which its main rivals were essentially stagnant.