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Snowpocalypse: by the numbers

August 20, 2011

A week of wild NZ weather has wrapped up. How did the country’s news websites perform? Let’s take a look.

First up, here’s a chart of the weekday domestic Unique Browsers on New Zealand news sites.* and did the best.** Just like in my analysis of royal wedding traffic, websites which focus on news generally did better than the portal sites like MSN and YahooXtra. That suggests again that when something major happens, these are the sites people go to to find out what’s going on.
Monday, 15 August 2011 41347 171740 266992 439907 349123 137191
Difference from average 17396 33856 -3524 90135 79720 39461
% above average 73% 25% -1% 26% 30% 40%

You can see while Stuff had the biggest raw increase, the NZHerald wasn’t far behind. Again, TV3 saw a traffic spike that was proportionately huge, but in raw terms pretty minor.

Yahoo’s news site did a lot better than MSN here. Yahoo has been doing more of their own news lately, and the numbers suggest this helped on Monday but not on the following days (UBs fell back to about normal). MSN recorded lower UBs than an average weekday – not a good sign on the biggest news event so far this month.

Traffic at the news sites stayed higher than average through Wednesday and sometimes Thursday, though by then things had calmed down a bit. Stuff was still tracking a bit above expected on Thursday, the rest were back to normal.

No site seemed to win any new regular readers because of the storm, though we won’t be able to tell this really for a few more weeks.

Now, do you like snow pictures? You’re not the only one. Observe this Excel chartiosity, showing domestic page impressions over the past few weeks.

Domestic PIs for NZ news sites

Now, Stuff tracks photos in galleries as page impressions. That’s why its spike is so much bigger than the competition’s, who all saw only a modest increase.

So yeah, people love their snow photos. In fact, from the figures above, I’d estimate that between a third to a half of the clicks on Stuff on Monday were to see a photo. Most of those photos were sent in by readers too. The power of user-generated content, eh?

Web analysts spend a lot of time nowadays talking about engagement, so let’s see what effect the snowstorm had on two common metrics: UB Frequency (roughly, how often people visit per day) and Average Session Duration (how long they spend on your site).

Here’s UB Freq:
Monday, 15 August 2011 1.20 1.60 1.79 2.15 1.87 1.53
% above average 0% 10% 4% 8% 2% 2%

And here’s Average Session Duration:
Monday, 15 August 2011 207 113 71 258 330 264
% above average -7% -26% -9% -19% 1% -2%

Notice how ASD went down? That’s often a warning sign, but not in this case. When we see traffic spikes to a news site, lots more people will visit . But they’re often only coming to see the news updates on that big story. This drives down ASD.

So the  ASD drops above aren’t great, but nothing major to worry about. But wait, what about Stuff and Yahoo? Those drops are huge!

Well yes, but in this case it’s because of the increase in UB Frequency. People were visiting those two sites in particular more often on Monday. But it looks like they were just coming for an update on the snow, and not sticking around. This pushed down ASD because there wasn’t other content there interesting enough to keep them on site.

Stuff’s UB Frequency here is actually quite interesting. Not only is it significantly higher than its competitors, its percentage increase on Monday was 2nd highest out of its competitors.

Meanwhile, the NZHerald had only a small bump in UB Frequency. So it got more visitors (some were probably existing readers checking from home as well as the office), but these new readers only checked once that day, and regular readers didn’t seem to check any more. Stuff, on the other hand, got more visits that day out of either its regular visitors, or its new visitors, or both.

This suggests Stuff’s audience is more newsy than the NZHerald’s, which is more casual. The Herald’s audience didn’t check the site much more often than a normal day. But Stuff audience kept coming back for more. That’s good news for Stuff’s content and approach.

If that’s right, it’s even more interesting, because it’s the casual audience that the NZHerald will find increasingly difficult to keep in the World Wild Web. But more on that in a later post.

* This and other stats in this blog post courtesy of Nielsen NetRatings MarketIntelligence.

** The usual disclaimer: I work for the company that owns


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