As the UK Daily Mail readies for its assault on the Australian market, a survey of news website traffic shows dramatic fluctuations among the big players over the past year. The ABC, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph were the big winners while the Herald Sun, The Age and Ninemsn recorded the biggest declines.

The rankings, based on Nielsen unique audience data for September-November, suggest two key findings. First: with a smart strategy, putting up a paywall need not crater your website traffic. And secondly, the Gillard government’s decision to amend the ABC charter to include digital services was far more significant than it seemed at the time. The ABC’s booming online presence did not cause the commercial media’s woes, but it is another headache for outlets desperately chasing digital eyeballs.

Populist News Corp Australia site rose from third to first under the leadership of editor Luke McIlveen. No wonder Mail Online has poached him to run its Australian operation next year. nabbed top spot in April and held on for six consecutive months. The site’s rise was helped by News’ decision to close opinion site The Punch in March and integrate it into

Nielsen online ratings: unique audience September-November

Ninemsn news sites dropped from first to third, shedding 14% of their unique audience. Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald held steady in second place despite a soft paywall going up mid-year. The figures for the month of November show in top spot with a unique audience of 2.94 million. Curiously, the unique audience for southern sibling The Age slipped by 16% over September-November while competitor the Herald Sun declined by 19%.

The ABC’s news websites recorded the biggest increase of the major sites: a whopping 42% year-on-year increase in unique audience. The Daily Telegraph managed to achieve a substantial 35% increase despite going behind a paywall mid-year. All News Corp’s local NSW sites, such as the Manly Daily and the Central Coast Express Advocate, now redirect to the Tele which helps explain the big boost.

British import The Guardian lifted its traffic by 34% on the back of a mid-year launch of its Australian operation. The Australian held steady with a unique audience of 1.24 million a month.

Even before it launches down under, Mail Online is already breathing down the necks of the big players. The mass-market juggernaut had an average unique audience of 1.14 million over September-November, up 4% over the same period last year.

Among other prominent news websites, The Australian Financial Review recorded an average unique monthly audience of 356,000 over the past three months and Crikey 220,000. Philanthropic outfit The Global Mail peaked with 52,000 in September.

A Nielsen spokesman said the company refined its online measurement system in May, which may have had some effect on year-to-year data.

Commenting on the overall figures, Monique Perry, Head of Nielsen Media, said: “During 2013 unique audience numbers have remained stable but engagement levels have significantly increased. Even with the fanfare of new arrivals — on average two new websites a month — the larger sites have grown, not lost share of time online.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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