Compete: Twitter.com Now 1.5X as Big as NYTimes.com

Last Updated Jul 9, 2009 1:56 PM EDT

June was a big month in the news biz, headlined by the rebellion in Iran and the death of Michael Jackson, which in turn meant it was a good traffic month at major news sites. After months of declines, The New York Times saw its web traffic grow by 3.45 percent to 15.5 million visitors, according to figures just released at Compete.com. CNN web traffic grew by 5.26 percent to 28.6 million.

The real news, however, was that Twitter rebounded from a flat May to surge by 16.57 percent to attract just under 23 million uniques in June. That means, according to Compete, that the micro-blogging service is now one-and-a-half times as large as The Times on the web.

The critical thing to remember about this comparison is that much of Twitter's traffic occurs not online but via mobile devices; and that much of The Times' usage occurs offline with its paper editions. But in all-important battle for eyeballs seeking news online, Twitter has utterly eclipsed The Times over the past few months, and now is closing in on CNN.

Compete ranks CNN as the 27th top website in the U.S.; Twitter the 42nd, and The Times as 64th. The analytics service also calculates Twitter's annual growth rate at an astronomical 1,164.11 percent. What is a crucial challenge for all media companies is how to convert some of the new visitors during news peaks into return visitors.

Part of this challenge is studying which sites are referring visitors to you during a news spike. Among the top referral sites will be Google News and Google Search.

As Salon CEO Richard Gingras pointed out earlier this week, "...inbound links from Google, aggregators, social recommendation sites, and social media sites are vital sources of new uniques. One may not keep them all as regular users but you at least get a crack at them."

Typically, news cycles wax and wane over the summer months somewhat more lethargically than during the rest of the year. But this year may prove to be an exception, given the various diplomatic and policy initiatives undertaken by the Obama administration, the continuing global recession, and the conflicts in Iran, Iraq, Palestine, China, and Afghanistan, not to mention the crises being provoked by North Korea.

If there are several more big story spikes this month and next, one result could be that Twitter would grow fast enough to eclipse CNN as the leading news media source on the web.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.