Based on the celebratory tone emanating from the Daily Mail's offices recently, you would be forgiven for assuming that Norman Tebbit had returned as the Conservative Party chairman.
In fact, the cheers followed the release of the ABCe figures for July which, the Mail was happy to trumpet, showed its MailOnline operation (which covers both the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday sites) as the second most popular UK newspaper website, based on total numbers of unique visitors.
It trails in behind the Guardian Unlimited websites, but the ABCe figures put it ahead of its rivals, including telegraph.co.uk and Times Online. MailOnline's strong performance, which is mainly attributed to a high proportion of overseas visitors, once again opened up the debate over online audience measurement and ignited the strong rivalry between the newspaper groups.
While the Guardian group of sites remains ahead on most measurement scales, the Telegraph is happy to trumpet Hitwise data, which places telegraph.co.uk at the top of its rankings of UK users.
All groups seem agreed, however, that the numbers of UK users are the important measurement, because that is the figure that UK agencies and advertisers trade off, and pay the closest attention to.
And there is good news here for MailOnline too. While just 22 per cent of its overall unique user figure came from the UK, this still amounts to a significant performance from a site that has been perceived as lagging behind those of the other groups (MailOnline says it has increased UK visitor numbers by more than 100 per cent year on year).
Stephen Miron, the managing director of MailOnline, says: "We believe publishing transparent UK traffic figures can only be of benefit to advertisers, and we challenge our competitors to now do the same every month."
Its rivals welcome MailOnline's decision to have its UK monthly figures audited for the first time. As Shaun Gregory, the director of new media at Telegraph Media, puts it: "We welcome any such moves that add value to transparency and accountability in the online space.
"It was a good debut and more competition can only be good for consumers, advertisers and our own business. We like to play and win in a competitive space."
1. The ABCe figures show that MailOnline had 11,865,039 unique visitors for July. A rise of 162 per cent on the corresponding month in 2006. Its UK unique visitors totalled 2,666,260, also a significant rise. By other measures, MailOnline is also competing well. Hitwise has it as the fastest-growing UK newspaper website in terms of capturing market share of total UK internet visits.
2. Guardian Unlimited remains the market-leading UK newspaper website by most measures. The ABCe figure for July saw Guardian Unlimited claim a total of 16,058,979 unique visitors, well ahead of any of its rivals. Its UK audience performance is considerably stronger than MailOnline's. According to ABCe figures, it had 5,915,583 unique UK users in July, some 37 per cent of its total audience. The alternative measure-ment system Nielsen Netratings (which also claims to cover a newspaper site's unique audience) has Guardian Unlimited at the top of the tree, with 2.41 million unique users. Timesonline.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk and dailymail.co.uk are ranked in third, fourth and fifth places respectively.
3. Telegraph.co.uk has always made great play of its number-one slot in the Hitwise data, based on UK users. This led to a spat with its rivals earlier this year when Telegraph Media ran an advertising campaign claiming to be the most popular UK newspaper website. In terms of the overall ABCe figure, telegraph.co.uk comes in behind its quality rivals with 8,992,526 users in July. However, it claims 3.5 million UK unique users, 39 per cent of the total and up 91 per cent year on year.
4. Times Online has invested heavily in a relaunch of its website earlier this year, and it continues to compete strongly. It is in third place in the quality market in terms of total users (its ABCe figure for July showed 10,536,915 unique users). Times Online's ABC certificate does not break out its UK numbers, but, according to Nielsen data, it has 1.74 million unique users, putting it just ahead of telegraph.co.uk in the Nielsen methodology.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Year-on-year growth in audiences for online newspaper sites (in some cases of more than 100 per cent) is undoubtedly making them more attractive to advertisers. However, the figures are still relatively low compared with the top general interest and social networking sites. Yes, MailOnline gets 170,333 UK visitors a day, but this is arguably small fry compared with its print edition and other web news sources. As Katy Eyton, the head of online at Manning Gottlieb OMD, puts it: "There are so many other big sites and ways to reach people."
- Agencies are also wary of crossover in audiences. Eyton says that in many cases, up to 70 per cent of UK newspaper website users also read the print equivalent, so care needs to be taken in deciding the role of the online advertising. This may have a role in building frequency and audience engagement rather than reach.
- On the one hand, heavy investment in online content and on the other, the potential to build revenues.
- Most newspaper owners are attempting to build the idea of cross-selling, pitching their website audiences as part of a media package. Most prominent among these has been Telegraph Media. Gregory says: "Our restructure around customers and buying points is now complete. A total of nine hubs focus on delivering integrated, multimedia packages. More importantly, the teams are obsessed about how to build campaigns that become more effective and reflect the ever-changing media consumption patterns."
- Obsessed or not, some agencies say that despite the increased scale of online newspaper audiences, these are still often sold in isolation as bolt-on banner campaigns to support press activity.