SUN Online passed 18 million unique users for the first time in December, defying the traditionally quiet Christmas holiday period as it became the only national newspaper website to post a month-on-month increase in traffic.
The News International website, which incorporates both the Sun and News of the World's online offerings, saw a 15.42% month-on-month increase to post a record 18,961,552 unique users in December, up from 16,427,790 in November.
Year on year Sun Online was up 81.02%, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic published today.
Sun Online's network, which includes thesun.co.uk, newsoftheworld.co.uk, page3.com, dreamteamfc.com and sunbingo.co.uk, had a previous record high in October last year, when it pulled in 17,127,539 unique users.
The collapse of Woolworths and predictions of house price falls were not enough to help any of the quality national newspaper websites increase traffic last month compared with their November figures, which were boosted by coverage of the US presidential election.
Guardian News & Media's guardian.co.uk, which publishes MediaGuardian.co.uk, remained the most popular UK newspaper website, with 22,829,024 unique users in December, a fall of 12.34% month on month. Guardian.co.uk was up 43.08% year on year.
Telegraph Media Group's Telegraph.co.uk remained the second most popular UK national newspaper website, drawing closer to guardian.co.uk by pulling in 21,051,959 unique users in December, despite a month-on-month fall of 8.3%. Telegraph.co.uk had a year-on-year increase of 99.55%.
Mail Online had 19,663,467 unique users in December, a fall of 5.78% month on month but up 44.27% year on year.
Times Online recorded 19,116,658 unique users in December, a fall of 11.49% month on month but an increase of 71.09% year on year.
Independent.co.uk had 8,752,008 unique users in December, a month-on-month drop of just 1.53%, but a year-on-year increase of 165.86%.
Mirror Group Digital's network of sites, which includes Mirror.co.uk, recorded 5,324,463 unique users last month, a fall of 10% month on month. A year-on-year comparison was not available.
"We had a really good Christmas and New Year period," said Sun Online editor Pete Picton. "We hit that with good stories at a time when everywhere else was quiet."
Showbiz and television were the highest-ranking areas of the site over the month with stories about Amy Winehouse the highest rated, Picton added.
Sun Online also benefited in December from increased aggregation from sites like digg.com and delicious.com, he said. "It was a formula of good content, then us seeding that well to get pick up," Picton added.
Sun Online drew 34.42% of its audience from the UK in December, a lower figure than the 42% domestic audience share it received in November, to record a total of 6,534,562 UK unique users. The site recorded a total of 302,859,902 page impressions last month.
Guardian.co.uk drew 36.87% of its December traffic from inside the UK – 8,416,168 users – and had 192,372,123 page impressions in total last month.
Last month 32.68% of Telegraph.co.uk users, or 6,878,870, were from the UK. Telegraph.co.uk had 173,681,725 page impressions.
Times Online drew 6,768,188 users from the UK – 35.41% of the total online audience, and total page impressions for December were 125,621,215.
Independent.co.uk drew a larger proportion of its online audience domestically, 41.13%, with 3,599,870 UK users. The site had total page impressions of 38,308,353.
However, Mirror Group Digital had the highest proportion of domestic users among UK national newspaper websites last month with 55.36% – 2,947,871 users – of its total. No page impression data was available.
Mail Online had the lowest proportion of domestic users with 30.32% of its global audience coming from the UK, 5,961,607 unique users. Last month it also recorded 150,736,006 page impressions.