's web surge ignites row

By Sarah Arnott
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:08

A row has erupted over how newspaper publishers measure the number of visitors to their websites, as rivals question the stratospheric rise of

The wrangle came to a head yesterday when the April figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the independent organisation that produces media industry statistics, showed yet another monthly rise in user numbers for, pushing Guardian Unlimited off the top of the league table for the first time.

Following the publication of the ABCe report, the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (Jicwebs), an industry body that advises the auditors, launched a review to consider the methods by which publishers count the number of people who visit their pages online. Different newspapers may use different software to measure traffic to their site, and small differences between them can translate into a significant gap in the final figures.

"The evolution of the analytical approaches means that within industry-agreed standards minor variances can occur, depending on the analytics tools being used to count traffic," the Jicwebs committee said in a statement.

"The review will aim to further improve the comparability of the already robust industry standards by addressing these potential variances."

Last month, representatives from a number of national newspaper sites, including Guardian Unlimited, Times Online and Mail Online, approached the ABC to discuss the precipitous rise of, which had seen a whopping 38.7 per cent rise in visitor numbers in March.

The ABCe report for April, published yesterday, confirmed the trajectory – putting's audience up 10 per cent, with a record 18.65 million unique users, in the four-week period.

According to the ABCe,'s 153 per cent year-on-year rise in visitor numbers is at least in part down to a growing international audience. Guardian Unlimited – which saw visitor numbers drop by 0.84 per cent last month to 18.6 million – has a stronger domestic performance. Some 7.76 million visitors, or 41 per cent of its total audience, come from the UK, whereas 6.33 million, or 34 per cent, of visitors are from the UK.

Mail Online is the third-ranked site, with user numbers up 0.38 per cent last month – and 93 per cent year on year – to just more than 18 million. Times Online, in fourth place, fell 4.2 per cent to 15.4 million.

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