Growing regional websites demonstrate clicks appeal

While ABC's print sales figures yet again make fairly grim reading, a positive story has been simmering in the background — growing online traffic.

While ABCe, the Newspaper Society and Jicreg try to formulate the best way to establish a cross-media measure of audience reach, Press Gazette asked the big five publishers — Newsquest, Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Archant and Northcliffe — to give us what web data they can.

The figures that have been provided all relate to different periods of last year, making it difficult to compare exactly — but they give a general picture of the regional media's online progress. Apart from Archant's websites, none of the sites supplied can be linked solely to one newspaper, but rather a host of titles. It should be noted also that these figures are unaudited and are provided by the publishers themselves.

Johnston Press's group newspaper sales and marketing director Chris Pennock sits on the Newspaper Society's Portfolio Audience Group made up of the major regional newspaper groups. It looks at not only paid-for core titles but the whole portfolio and online in the regional sector.

He said: "There are two schools of thought. One says ABCe is really important and websites need that stamp of approval but there are some advertisers who buy on clicks per thousand and they don't care how many people go on the website overall. I think in the shortterm that is misguided.

"I think it's going to take longer than six months [when the next regional ABC figures are released] before we have an agreed method. Progress is being made and ABC has launched its brand report. There are so many changes going on we have to make sure everything's fully thought out."

Johnston Press offered figures for its 17 regional portal sites during the period January 2006 to January 2007. The publisher's Preston site, which hosts content from the flagship Lancashire Evening Post, has reaped the rewards of major investment. Preston Today saw an increase of nearly three times, from 50,406 unique users per month to 147,502. The LEP site was the first of 70 Johnston titles to be given a full multimedia makeover including online video, podcasting and extensive digital training for editorial teams.

Other high performing regions for Johnston were Halifax (119 per cent increase year-on-year in monthly unique users) and Portsmouth (122 per cent up). Johnston's overall increase in the period, excluding Belfast Today, whose recent launch skews the figures, was 63.8 per cent.

Archant's daily sites were up 109 per cent from January 2006 to January 2007. The best performer was the Evening Star in Ipswich, which gained a considerable amount of traffic when news broke of five prostitutes being murdered on its patch in December.

The majority of Northcliffe's sites have been fragmented and figures cannot therefore be compared year-on-year.

For example, the thisisTheSentinel site's figure was down 0.4 per cent because seven other centres that came under the Sentinel banner now have there own individual sites and are counted separately.

A spokesman for Associated Northcliffe Digital said the overall increase across the entire thisis network was 35 per cent from February 2006 to January 2007.

Trinity Mirror's figures relate to a period from July 2005 to December 2006. Its sites in Teesside, which include the Evening Gazette's site, were the fastest growing, up 42 per cent to 127,679 unique users per month.

Trinity Mirror's Birmingham titles had the second biggest growth, up 32 per cent to 48,171 which took the sting out of the Birmingham Mail's 13.1 per cent print sales decline. Sites in North Wales gained the least viewers, up just three per cent while Trinity's overall rise was 27 per cent.

Newsquest only supplied a combined figure for well over a hundred websites throughout all sectors. The overall figure of all those sites stood at 3,532,641 unique users in May 2006.

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