Oct 20, 2009

Unique audience for newspapers going down (and a lot) according to Google trends... and not only in the US

What is really going on with newspaper sites?

I was doing some research for a client of ours about unique visitor trends for newspaper sites. I had in mind some Nielsen numbers (US). So, I was thinking that things were pretty good. Even, and you know that, if I have MUCH doubt about the accuracy of their numbers.

So, doing my research, I found this interesting post "Visualizing the decline of the destination web, the rise of the social web". A post that tries to demonstrate that brand destination sites are at risk and are losing audience. The guy is using a tool that we use too: Google Trends labs. A tool that measure essentially part of the audience of a site from Google. You type the URL of a site (like: http://www.nytimes.com, in my example) and you have a good idea about traffic trends for the site. Then, for more details, you can click at the bottom on "Get more information..." (ie: nytimes). You're in Google Ad Planner.

So, I decided to check on traffic for some newspapers in the US. I was VERY surprised.

For example, since the October 2008 election and according to the tool, the NYT has lost more than half of its UV from Google. They are even way below its traffic in July 2007.

Then I did the same for 10 other ones (click on their name to see the Google graph):
1- Washington Post
2- Miami Herald
3- Los Angeles Times
4- Boston Globe
5- Detroit News
6- Chicago Tribune
7- Seattle Times
8- Las Vegas Sun
9- Chronicle (Houston)
10- Philadelphia Inquirer

To make it simple, the trend is about the same for everybody but Las Vegas Sun. They are losing a lot of UV/Google juice at least since October 2008 (some before). While I understand that the election has been driving the traffic up, the story that those numbers are telling is quite different than the story from Nielsen about the increase of unique audience for newspaper sites. And the disconnect is not small.

So, I decided to have a look at news sites in Canada, in France and in the UK. Just to see if the trend was somewhat different.

1- Globe and Mail
2- National Post
3- La presse
4- Toronto Star
5- Vancouver Sun

Same story, they are losing UV and a lot for most of them, except The Vancouver Sun.

1- Le Monde
2- Le Figaro
3- Libé
4- Ouest-France
5- Le Parisien
6- La Voix du Nord

Here the story is a little bit different but the traffic is not going up. Often flat. It is not as bad as in North America. Except for Libé and Le Monde that are losing a lot of UV.

1- The Guardian
2- Telegraph
3- Times Online
4- The Independent
5- The Scotsman

According to Google Trends, they are also losing a lot of UV. Some as much as in the US.

So what is going on with online news? And what is the value of Nielsen measurement?

Did we reach an audience cap already? Is the number of players making it more and more difficult to grow UV? Working with Jeff Jarvis on the project New Business Models for News, we have been surprised by the very high market penetration that most of the local news sites enjoy today.

So what is next? How do you explain those Google numbers?