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Although Google is still the most important source of referred traffic to major news websites, Facebook is growing in importance, driving as much as 8% of total visits to some websites, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

At the high end is The Huffington Post, which generates 7.96% of total site traffic via links posted on Facebook, followed by ABC News (7.35%), CNN (7.05%), The New York Times (6.20%), The Examiner (5.98%), and The Washington Post (4.58%).

At the low end are AOL News, MSNBC, and local aggregator Topix, each deriving roughly 1.0% of total site traffic via Facebook. 

Below, other findings from the study, Navigating News Online, published by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism in partnership with The Nielsen Company.

Among the 25 major news sites studied, 17 (roughly two-thirds) are legacy news organizations (those attached to a news operation that is in another platform such as TV or print). The remaining eight (one-third) are online-only ventures, split between pure aggregators and those that produce both original and aggregated content.

Overall, some 60% of visitors to such sites arrive via direct channels, e.g., typing in a URL, and the remaining 40% arrive via referral sites, with Google the most important player. 

Google's Influence on Site Traffic

Google Search and, to a lesser extent, Google News are the biggest single drivers of traffic to top news sites, together accounting for roughly 30% of traffic to the top the news sites. Google is the lead referring site for 17 of the major news sites and the second-ranked referring site for another four. 

Google's influence varies by the type of site. The two most popular aggregators of local news in the US (as well as Google's news aggregation site, Google News) depend on Google's search engine for the majority of their traffic.*

  • Topix, the top aggregator of purely local news generates 62.8% of total traffic via Google.
  • The Examiner, another local aggregator that also produces some of its own content relies on Google for 51.9% of its traffic.

Among legacy news sites, established brands in their own right, Google is less significant but still an important source, accounting for 36.91% of traffic to the NY Daily News, 27.21% to the New York Times, 26.86% to The Washington Post, and 28.58% to ABC News.  The Chicago Tribune came in at the low end with 21.19%.

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Twitter's influence in sharing of links to news sources is limited, playing a role in only nine of the 25 sites studied. Among eight of those nine, Twitter accounts for roughly 1% of total referred traffic, but accounts for over 3 times that level (3.53%) to the remaining one site, The LA Times.

* "Google" as a referring site includes three Google products that send traffic to a site: Google Search, Google News, and Google Maps.

About the data: Findings are based on monthly averages of data from The Nielsen Company Netview Database, collected in March, June, and September, 2010.

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