Right-wing outlets remained the fastest-growing news websites globally in December, according to Press Gazette’s latest analysis of the most popular news websites.
In an updated global ranking of the top 50 English-language news sites prepared by SimilarWeb for Press Gazette, pro-Trump right-wing title The Epoch Times made it into the ranking for the first time after seeing a 421% growth since December 2019 from 10.2m to 53.4m visits per month – more than any other site in the top 50. Backed by the Fulang Gong sect, Epoch Times has become a home for anti-China conspiracy theories around coronavirus.
Another pro-Trump site, The Gateway Pundit, also saw huge growth in December as the now-ex president of the US was eschewed by mainstream media.
News- based social video platform BitChute, which has been described as a right-wing alternative to YouTube, also entered the list following a 216% growth in clicks from 13.9m to 44m.
Breitbart and the Gateway Pundit (both right-wing news sites) maintained their spots on the overall top 50, coming in 32nd and 36th place respectively.
Last month’s fastest growing news site, pro-Trump US website Newsmax, fell out of the top 50 altogether.
The rest of the top 50 continues to be primarily made up of mainstream news websites from the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
BBC.co.uk and BBC.com combined once again came out on top with 1.3bn website visits in December which, while slightly lower than last month’s figures, is up 43% since December 2019. Next most-viewed was CNN with 838m sessions on its websites (CNN.com and edition.CNN.com), although this was 38% lower than the 1.4bn visits that CNN’s two sites received in November.
The next largest websites belonged to the New York Times (433m visits, up 78%), Mail Online (375m, up 8%), The Guardian (347m, up 32%), Fox News (332m views, up 2%) and the Washington Post (298m, up 103%).
With a handful of exceptions, such as the Metro and Buzzfeed, all the sites in the top 50 reported year-on-year growth in views. However, all but 14 saw a month-on-month fall in traffic compared to November.
The rise of the non-Fox right
With 53 million visits, the Epoch Times was the 40th most popular English-news website in the world in December. SimilarWeb data shows that traffic to the anti-Chinese regime site, which was founded in 2000 by Chinese Americans affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement, had been steadily growing before spiking in November. The Epoch Times counted 17.7m views in October 2020 before leaping to 44.5 million in November and 53.4 million in December.
In recent years, the New York-based nonprofit news outlet has taken an unashamedly pro-Trump stance which according to the Atlantic has coincided with a rise in its fortunes. Since Trump’s ousting, the publication has continued its support of the former president using its pages to call into doubt the election outcome.
With 44 million visits BitChute, the other right-wing site to enter the list in December, ranked 47th for popularity. Since launching in 2017, the UK-based social video platform has quickly grown thanks to its absence of moderation and willingness to accommodate hate speech. The self-proclaimed “free speech” site has gained notoriety for giving a voice to white supremacists, anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracy theorists and propagators of Covid-19 misinformation.
According to SimilarWeb data, visits surged 29% in the month to November 2020 and rose again by 6% in December. Although users can post content in various channels – not only news- the site’s news and politics content has drawn particular attention.
Earlier this month, Press Gazette reported on the rise of alternative right-wing news sites which in recent months have caught up on audience figures of US conservative stalwart Fox News.
Where does major news website traffic come from?
In addition to the number of website sessions, the SimilarWeb report for Press Gazette also examined the source of online traffic for the largest English-language news outlets.
The majority of visits to large websites continued to be either direct – i.e. web users go straight to them – or originate from online searches.
Influential conservative news aggregation site the Drudge Report came out on top for direct visits (90%), followed by Breitbart (76%) and Fox News (71%). Among the sites with the lowest proportion of users making direct hits were Newsweek (10%) and US News (12%), which instead received most traffic through ‘organic search’ – i.e. unpaid search results.
Top for organic search were US News (85%), Cosmopolitan (84%), Forbes (72%), Hello magazine (70%) and express.co.uk (70%) – largely unchanged from November.
Paid search – where site owners pay to appear high up in search engine results, accounted for almost none of the clicks to the top news sites. Only a handful of news sites, among them Bloomberg and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), used paid search at all. Even then, paid results accounted for less than 1% of their traffic.
When it came to social media network referrals, Facebook was the main referrer for most news websites coming out as the number one source for 46% of sites. Second-place Twitter represented the top source of social media referrals for 34% of sites.